R.A.P. Interview: Karlo Zsolt

Karlo Zsolt, Radioman, Imaging Producer, Budapest, Hungary

Karlo-ZsoltBy Jerry Vigil

Karlo showed up on the R.A.P. radar during the recent Produce Dave Foxx 2 competition, which he won with a superbly produced promo for Z100. But he is certainly not new to the game. Imaging is his specialty, from the very beginning of his career, and his work has been heard across the biggest stations in Hungary since the early 2000s, and later in the UK and the US through work with ReelWorld. Karlo is currently working with Wise Buddah’s new IMGR service. A language barrier prevented a more inclusive interview with Karlo, but thanks to his proficiency with English, we were able to pick his brain on a few subjects. Log on to rapmag.com to check out some awesome audio from Karlo on the RAP Soundstage.

Karlo: My theory is that your destiny and what you were born to do is going to find you no matter where you are or how far you feel you are from reaching your dreams. One day you will make it happen.
JV: How did you get your start in radio?

Karlo: The whole story of me working in radio started in a dark and cold cellar. During high school I was a volunteer in a computer shop, and under the shop there was this dusty cellar, which was offered to me by the boss in return for restoring it. One night, a director of an up and coming radio station was knocking on my window. Their network card failed and he asked me if I could quickly open the shop so he could buy a new one. After I helped him he asked me what I was doing there at two o’clock in the morning. As an answer to his question, I proudly showed him my first recording studio ever. Only 3 weeks after this night, my productions were already going on the new radio station, and I was offered an audio imaging production job by the director.

One and half years after that, I auditioned for the Hungarian national Sláger radio station owned by Emmis. After two years I received many invitations. During that nearly 10 year long period I had the opportunity to work at the most remarkable radio stations, not only as a production leader but as a presenter as well.

JV: Aside from your obvious talent in the production room, to what else would you attribute your success to?
Karlo: I am a perfectionist, and I have achieved a lot by working as diligently as possible. I also had a pop band that was very successful at that time. Shortly after planning a music career at college with my friend, we got a record deal and became a very popular duo all over the country. We recorded our album at our own recording studio, which was such a big deal in 2000. But for me, being on the stage and doing music was only planned for 5 years and not more. It has always been important to me to have the strength to walk away from anything that doesn’t inspire me anymore. I feel like I need to challenge myself constantly and have new goals in order to grow.

I have been through a lot, and I have seen a lot of things. I was the production and creative leader of a radio station that had been purchased by an enormous radio group in order to get us out of their way. We were building such a powerful brand that it is still recalled ten years later by many. They had the money and we had only one thing against them: pure talent.

JV: What happened after those 10 years in Hungary?
Karlo: In 2010 I felt like there was no space for me to grow in Hungary anymore. I was listening to radio stations from the Netherlands, UK and USA, and I knew that level of production skills could only be learned and achieved abroad. So in 2011 I finally made up my mind and decided to move to the UK to learn production on a professional level. I came up with a very creative video CV and launched a website with my audio references. I was so determined to succeed in moving there that I was sending 5-10 letters daily to different radio stations and production companies, to well-known experts in the business. I’ll never forget, when I met the production leader of Smooth Radio, an older man passed me and recognized me, which I found really strange as it was my first time being in Manchester. To my surprise, he congratulated me and said that he had never seen a video CV as creative as mine.

I was so determined that I even went to the hospital radio just to be in a radio environment. I knew that I could make a lot of connections there too because radio people go there to volunteer and help with a noble goal. I kept it a secret from my family that every Wednesday I went to a hospital and collected the songs from the patients for the evening request show.

I was riding a bicycle because I couldn’t afford the bus season ticket, and I was caught in the rain every other day, but I knew every day that I spent in England brought me closer to my dreams. With the support of my great friends Richie Lee and John Scott, I started to work at Spark FM radio in Sunderland, and within half a year we won 3 Gold awards at the Student Radio Awards.

One day in north England, the sun shined on me after hundreds of emails were sent along with numerous recognitive and encouraging replies. I recieved a reply from Anthony Gay, who is the European director of Reel World production company. He wanted to meet me. I went to Manchester and after the meeting I was offered an internship opportunity, so I moved to London. After 7 months of being there, there was a moment of my life that I will never forget. It was always my dream. I just call it knock, knock, knock. All the stuggles and difficulties of the seven months seemed so far away, and a new feeling overcame me instead, one that can’t be described easily. It was all worth it. I am here! That three knocks on Reel World’s door was a dream come true, but I knew it was going to be a huge challenge.

I learned a lot from Andy Jackson and George Taylor and I spent all my time trying to improve and develop. Many times I worked all night long to put four or five versions of a promo on George’s desk the next day. In September of 2012 I recieved a freelance job at Reel World. I truly enjoyed working there and I think I learned the most during this peiod. I had more and more new projects and it was such a great experience to hear the result of my work on the radio.

JV: What happened next?
Karlo: At the end of 2013, the London RW team moved to Manchester so I went back to Hungary. Since then, I have been working as a freelance audio imaging producer, but I still consider the continous learning necessary. I keep up with the trends on a daily basis, and I listen to the best radio stations in my freetime. In my opinion, professional humbleness is very important and you can never be so self-conceited to think that you are the best. That’s the reason why I regularly keep in touch with my mentors and consult with them in person when possible, and I learn continously.

JV: Tell us about the process you went through to produce the Dave Foxx promo.
Karlo: First thing, I collected the best songs to use. After that, I listened to the keys and the tempos, and I collected some acapellas and built the dynamic and happy beatmix. I used instrumental versions because I wanted to change some hooks (refrains). For example: “Boom clap, the sound of my heart, the beat goes on...”. I finished this part with “Z100” in the same key as the original melody. I recorded the “Z100” in my own studio with my 2 best friends who are very talented and beautiful. Please check them out: http://www.nyarilanyok.com.)

I used this trick in the Rather Be song as well. I put the “we play the hits” slogan in the piano part with the same melody. I compressed Dave’s voice and put it in the right place. After that I used some drops because these are very useful. Every time I use drops like this in promos, they seem to sound happier. Finally, I created the sound imaging tricks to add more dynamics, and the last step was the sound fx -- impacts, breakers, risers.

JV: What did you think after you heard all the other Produce Dave Foxx entries on the RAP CD?
Karlo: That’s an interesting question. I heard the all promos and noticed that only a few producers used acapellas and instrumentals, and the most important thing, the rhythmic flow that we must keep in the promos from start to end. I think I used more vocal parts in the promo -- I used other singers (female voices) and added new vocal layers to the instrumental parts, like “Z100” and “We play the hits”. Although in my promo, I did use one BPM change because I started with a slower BPM.

JV: Do you do any voice work or just production?
Karlo: Sometimes I use my own voice if I need a short drop, and some stations use my voice for commercials. My voice is young and energetic, so they use it mainly in club spots.

JV: Do you create many of your own sounds and imaging effects, or do you use some imaging production libraries in your work? If so, which ones?
Karlo: I use very cheap but very useful packages. For example, http://audiojungle.net/item/radio-imaging-fx-pack-2/129022. However sometimes I use my own SFX. I have made some of my own risers and impacts. I bought some very good analog software instruments and created new sounds with them.

JV: How is Hungarian radio different from radio in the UK or what you’ve heard online from the USA?
Karlo: The first thing that’s different is the “language” -- Hungarian stations don’t use drops with feeling [emotion?]. For example: “Go! Come on! Turn it up!” etc. -- neither in English nor in Hungarian. Although they play all the big hits, they never use hooks, refrains, and acapellas in the branded intros. So there are many, many differences between Hungarian audio imaging and imaging in the UK and the US. They use VO and sfx only. Hungarian stations have less tools for great imaging. Some stations use jingles, but this is not fashionable in Hungary. The morning show is very important and famous like in every country in the world.

JV: Any parting words for our readers?
Karlo: I consider myself fortunate as all my life I have been doing what I love to do. My job is my passion. There were some tough times when I could have easily given up. When other people were partying and relaxing, I was learning and practicing day and night. Of course it is necessary to get our minds off work sometimes but to stay focused as well because time flies so quickly; we don’t even realize it, and we stay in the same position for four or five years without making any progress.

Some people will say about success, “It’s just because you are lucky”. A little luck is always needed in life, but before anything, it is always up to us to change things. It is only us who can create our success.

There are two things in life that I consider really important. One of them is that I have learned the importance of taking the little steps on the road leading to your dreams. Each of these little steps will teach you something that will build up the whole path going in the right direction. You have to be willing to learn and grow each and every day in order to reach your goals.

The other thing is that we can’t waste our time on negativity. We have to block out negative energy from everything that we do. We have to step out of our comfort zone in order to succeed in life. No matter what other people say, we have to keep pushing our boundaries. I made a few mistakes when I let people too close to me, but I decided that I would never let anybody take my dreams from me.

At the beginning of September I received a very honorable invitation by Anthony Timmers to the Imaging Days in Amsterdam. Throughout this fantastic program I had the chance to meet fantastic people from all over the world. Spending two days with the experts of this profession inspired me a lot. I already have a lot of plans and ideas for the future that I would like to bring to life, and I feel like the time has come for me to achieve them.

Karlo welcomes your correspondence at karlo@karloproduction.com. Check out more audio and info at www.karloproduction.com.

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