R.A.P. Interview: Jesse Simon

Jesse Simon, Imaging Producer, Rogers Radio Group, Calgary, AB, Canada

Jesse-Simon-headshotBy Jerry Vigil

This month’s R.A.P. Interview stops in Calgary, for a first-time visit with Jesse Simon, Imaging Producer for the cluster of Rogers stations there. Jesse entered two promos in the recent Radio And Production Awards which tied each other for the first place trophy win in the Medium Market Promos category, a rare feat indeed. If you’ve heard the promos, you know why. They both easily deserve the top spot. Jesse tells us about the promos, where the concepts came from and how they were produced. Jesse is also a musician and music producer who puts his skills in this area to good use in radio production. We pick his brain on this and many other topics well worth your read. Hear the winning promos once more on the R.A.P. CD this month, along with some additional material from Jesse’s mixdown folder. Enjoy!

JV: How and where did you get your start in radio, and what were some highlights along the way to where you are now?
Jesse: I got started in radio actually because I wanted to get into music production. There was an evening course offered in Calgary at SAIT where I took radio broadcasting. The evening course is Audio Production 220, which is kind of an introduction to audio production. I took it as an evening course just thinking this was the only thing being offered that was somewhat relatable to music production, and that’s kind of where I wanted to go.

So I took this evening class and it turned out that it was also kind of an intro course into radio and the broadcasting program at SAIT. I really started to enjoy what I was learning about radio, so after finishing the course, I thought I would apply for the broadcasting program. I applied and I didn’t get in, so I waited a year and worked and then applied the second time around and didn’t get in once again.

There’s a really high amount of people that apply and very few get into the program. The second time I had applied, I didn’t get in but I got put on a waiting list, and I was right at the top of the waiting list. About two weeks later, Steve Olsen from SAIT called me up and said, “Hey, you’re in.” So that’s how I got my start in radio, just applying at SAIT and eventually getting in. While I was in the program, I decided that I was really enjoying what I was learning about broadcasting and radio, and so I thought I’d go down that path.

JV: What happened after SAIT?
Jesse: I basically did my few years there, and into my second year at SAIT, my fiancé – at the time we were just dating – she had moved down to Lethbridge to do some university. So I thought it would be really nice if I could get a practicum down in Lethbridge because at least I’d have someone to stay with while I was on practicum. I managed to land a practicum at a station in Lethbridge called Rock 106. They also had a sister station called 1077 The River.

I went down there just trying to do some production and whatever I could do to get my feet wet with whatever they would allow me to do. I was there for three weeks, and at the same time I was also working at Rogers Calgary radio group, overnight opping and that sort of thing. I came back from my practicum, back into Calgary for a few weeks, opping and finishing up my year of school, and I got a call from Gord Robson, who was the Program Director at The River at the time. He passed away a few years ago. He was curious if I would be interested in a full-time position as the evening announcer on Rock 106. Of course I jumped at the chance, even though announcing wasn’t really where I wanted to go -- I always wanted to be in production. But I knew that this would be a good opportunity, and at the time they didn’t have a full-time producer, so all the jocks were doing their own production. I knew I was going to be able to do some production down there, and then it just kind of morphed from there.

JV: When was all this happening? When did you get started at SAIT?
Jesse: I started in SAIT in 2001. In the first year I was going to SAIT I had Kelly Kirch call from Sportsnet 960, The Fan, in Calgary -- I guess it would have been CFAC Country at the time. He was looking for a part-time op to run that station as well as do some opping on Rock 97 and Lite 96 in Calgary. So I applied for the job and I got it and just did some opping at first. That’s where I got my start, and I worked up the ladder from there.

JV: So you’ve been in Calgary all this time?
Jesse: Pretty much my whole career except for the time that I was in Lethbridge. First I started in Calgary opping while going to school, then I moved down to Lethbridge for three years, and then I came back to Calgary and started back with the Rogers Group here.

JV: How many stations does Rogers have there in Calgary?
Jesse: There are four in Calgary. There’s actually five stations based out of our Calgary building. We have 96.9 Jack FM, we have Lite 95.9, we have Sportsnet 960 The Fan, our sports station, and then we have 660 News. Those are the ones that are in Calgary. We also run out of our building, 106.5 Mountain FM, which is in Canmore, about 45 minutes west of Calgary. We basically do all the production out of Calgary. The station is in Canmore; we just do all the production. They have a morning show host out there, but everything else is voice tracked and produced from Calgary for that station.

JV: Your title as Imaging Producer, is this for all five stations?
Jesse: Primarily the two FM’s, Jack FM and 95.9, but yes, the imaging producer role has kind of morphed into kind of an imaging director kind of role over the last two years where I’m overseeing imaging on all five radio stations. I primarily take care of the FMs, but I have two other guys that assist me taking care of the other three stations, and then they help me out on the FM’s, too, when I need that as well. There’s Don Richard, who is the morning show producer for Matt & Eric, the Jack FM morning show. He helps out after he’s finished his morning show production. He helps me out with a bunch of the imaging. And then Chris England -- who used to be up in Grand Prairie – we recruited him about a year and a bit ago when we had an opening. He’s come down and he’s expressed some interest in imaging, so we’ve got him working on some imaging stuff as well.

JV: Let’s talk about your winning promos. Both of them were done for Jack FM. One was a Bon Jovi promo, and the other was for the Big Bag of Cash promotion, the Door-to-Door promo, which featured the girls going door to door collecting cash. How did that concept come about? It was a great idea.
Jesse: We’ve been doing the Big Bag of Cash for quite a few years now, and it’s one of those promos where you’re trying to reinvent the same old/same old every time it comes around, and what can you do? The way that we have been developing promos over the last few years is actually by collaboration. My boss and I -- who’s the Creative Services Director, Dave Lloyd -- and he and I will sit down and look at the contests. Between the two of us, we typically write almost all the programming promos for the station. We used to have promotions write them, but Jack’s such a funny beast and it’s so personality driven that you really have to get your head wrapped around Jack, as far as the sarcasm, the comedy. If you don’t really get it, then it’s really hard to convey a really good, solid promo on the air. So Dave and I have been working on Jack for a long time -- Dave even longer than I.

We basically just sat down one day and said, what can we do to tease this same contest we’ve been running for the past four or five years? Something new, something different. So we decided to go along the lines of, what has the Big Bag of Cash been doing over the summer and how is it preparing for the next go around? Kind of goofy, but we had a few concepts in mind.

One was a PSA concept that I never did submit for the awards, but the promo turned out great. It was kind of a PSA that spoofed the Sarah McLachlan pet PSA’s that run in the midnight hours up here in Canada. I don’t know if they run in the States. We did a spoof on that and it turned out really well. For the other one, we just thought it would be funny if we had a couple of kids going door-to-door collecting cash like they would for a bottle drive or something to raise money for their school. But instead, we had them going around collecting money for the Big Bag of Cash, like it was a big poverty spoof. We happened to have a web developer that works with us. He just recently left, but his name’s Brad Weskett. He has two girls who have done some voice work for us in the past, and they did a really good job. I had a sit-down with him for about 20 minutes and sent him home with a script. He’s a musician, so he has a little studio at his house as well. I said, “Here’s the script. Here’s exactly what I’m looking for. Do your best. See what you can come up with.” He came back and nailed it.

Jesse-Simon-Jack-BBOC-Door-To-Door-ScreenShot

JV: Wow, so he directed his daughters and they did the performance.
Jesse: Yeah. They’re pretty young, so it’s hard for them to really feel comfortable in a big studio with some guy they’ve never met talking to them one-on-one. The few times we used them in the past, we just basically told him what we were looking for, kind of gave him some notes or an email with a couple of ideas, and then he’d take it and go talk with the girls. For the promo, he came back with about 15 minutes of audio for just their few lines, but there was some real good stuff in there. It was just a matter of digging through and finding the right inflections. They did a fantastic job, though.

JV: It was excellent. I sounded very pro, and that’s a brilliant idea to let daddy get the tracks at home. That’s Trevor Shand that’s the main voice on these promos, right?
Jesse: Yes. That was something we recently started doing, taking a different direction with Jack in about August of last year, and really took a swing with it in September, as far as music and as far as imaging and style and such. One of the things that we wanted to do was to get Howard Cogan -- who’s our main imagining voice on the station -- we wanted to get him off the promos. We wanted to just kind of have him be the center guy for all the imaging and use him for shots here and there in promos. But we wanted someone else for the promos, someone specific with more personality. Julie Adam, our national Program Director for Rogers radio, had cut a deal with Trevor Shand for company-wide use. So, wherever there’s a Rogers station in Canada, we have exclusive access to him, which is great. So we had him in the wings, and we’d used him on a few things here and there in the past, but come September when we were trying to figure out what we were going to do for a new promo voice, we just thought, “You know what? Let’s send Trevor some stuff and see what we can come up with. He sent some stuff back and I’m just… I’ve said this time and time again, I’ve never worked with more of a pro, you know, a guy who just gets it. He’s a producer and a voice guy, which is great because sometimes it’s really tough. I mean, I’ve worked with a lot of great voice people, but Trevor is one of those guys… he’s a producer first and a voice guy second, so he gets where I’m going in a lot of cases. I’ll explain to him when I send him a script, “Here’s what we’re doing. Here’s what I’m kind of thinking.” But I’ll always say, take your liberties. If it’s not on the page and you hear it, by all means toss it in. Ninety-nine percent of the stuff he sends or gives me that isn’t on the page ends up making it into the promos.

JV: The Bon Jovi promo, again, more excellent copy. What inspired that spot, dare I ask?
Jesse: [laughs] You know, that was one that I had written myself. It was a last-minute promo that had come through, and I just decided I was going to sit down in the studio for about 20 minutes or so and bang out something.

We have meetings between me, the Creative Services Director, Dave, our Program Director, Gavin Tucker, and then our two promotions ladies, Lacey Kapler and, Lisa Ussellman. Basically, the five of us sit down every two weeks in our Program Director’s office and discuss what’s coming up over the next month and a half or so, just so we are all on the same page and there’s nothing being thrown at us out of nowhere.

One of the things was this Bon Jovi concert. We wanted to blow it up a little bit. One of the girls had mentioned just off the cuff, “Oh, all the ladies are going to want to go to that and all the guys are going to get lucky, I’m sure, after that concert.” Like the girls will go and the guys will just get lucky. So that’s what I went with. It was just something that someone had said in the meeting. I’m not sure who said it, but I just kind of thought, “Oh, that’s funny. I probably could build something and Trevor could probably have a good time with that.” I wrote something, we got a few ladies to help out and it was fun.

JV: There was a technique in that promo, when you were transitioning from Living on a Prayer into the next cut, where you stuttered the vocals from Living on a Prayer to the beat of the drum on the next cut. That was awesome. I can’t say I’ve ever heard that exact technique anywhere before.
Jesse: Oh, thanks, I appreciate it. Again, it’s my music background. I still do a lot of music production and I’m a drummer as well, so I play with rhythm a lot. That’s kind of one of my things. I love doing music mixes. I love doing beat matches. I love mixing electric music. I love mixing acoustic music. Whenever I can use a music thing, I tend to try and throw that in. It so happened that there was a really cool snare drum intro on that song and I thought, Why not?”

JV: I take it you’re a musician; do you compose music as well?
Jesse: Yeah. I write a little bit, not a ton. Primarily I just play drums. I do produce music, though, so I work with a couple of musicians, and I will co-write with them. A former producer that I used to work with in Calgary, he’s now in Toronto, at KISS 92.5, his name is Ron Tarrant. He and I, when we worked in Calgary, discovered that we were both musicians and started up a music project called Lost in Film. It was just spawned from him being in a band for a while, and he left the band and was going through relationship woes and stuff, and so he started writing. He was asking my opinions on a lot of the songs, and he found out that I played drums. He was asking if I could track some drums. I have a pretty big home studio as well where I do track drums and have that all set up, so I started tracking drums for him and he would track guitars. Eventually he moved to Edmonton and we continued. That’s the great thing about Pro Tools, you can just pass sessions back and forth. So he’ll start something and send it to me. I’ll record some more and send it back. Then he moved to Toronto, but we finished the project. We finished it a year-and-a-half after starting it.

So yeah, I do a lot of music. I also write with a few other friends and I’ve done a few freelance projects as well, just producing and recording some EPs for some bands and stuff.

JV: Promo lengths do not appear to be an issue there. These two winning promos were 50 seconds and 1:10 in length. I don’t hear promos that long coming from the States. What’s the policy on this at your stations?
Jesse: It’s funny you bring that up because we just had a meeting like two weeks ago talking about promo length and how we could start bringing them down. You know how it goes -- as a producer, you want to have your open slate, free to go wherever. For the most part, in the past few years, we’ve been pretty lax on our promo length. However, we try and keep them as short as possible. If they go a little longer, there had better be a good reason why, and it better be entertaining from start to finish. It better not feel like you’re listening to a minute-long promo, if it’s a minute long. But now we’re starting to cut them down. I’m really challenging myself to try and keep them right around the 30 mark, 40 if it’s something really good and we have music cuts to fit in there as well. They’re typically under 40 now, but yes when we first started doing this stuff with Trevor Shand and whatnot, we had a little more freedom as far as the length.

JV: I want to back up for a moment. You mentioned Dave Lloyd as the Creative Services Director. It seems most guys with that title are also the imaging person. What are his responsibilities as CSD?
Jesse: He was the imaging person, actually. What happened was, I was working in Calgary. I got hired as a commercial producer and left the Rogers group and went over to Energy 101.5, which was a CHUM-owned radio station that they had launched in Calgary. I went over just before that station launched. They hired me as the Production Director over there. So I went over to Energy and I worked there for about two years, and Dave was the imaging producer while I was the commercial producer at Rogers. I left to take on the Production Director role and Dave stayed as the imaging producer. Then there was some shift in the creative department and the production department and Dave ended up taking on the Creative Services Director role, but in doing so he had told Rogers in Calgary basically, “Look, if I’m gonna take on these responsibilities I need another guy in as an imaging producer.” They said, “Well, who would you want to get?” He thought of me right away, so he called me up and said, “Would you be willing to come back?” We had a talk and the offer was a pretty good offer, so I ended up going back to Rogers.

So now Dave oversees basically the entire creative department and the entire production department. He spends a lot of time managing creative now because a lot of the creative done out of Calgary is actually done for all of Alberta. We have two small markets in southern Alberta, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, with a total of three radio stations. Then we have two markets in northern Alberta, Grand Prairie and Fort McMurray, and a total of three radio stations between the two of those as well. And then we have Edmonton, and there are three radio stations in Edmonton that we own. The creative department out of Calgary writes primarily for Calgary, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Grand Prairie and Fort McMurray, and then we have the Edmonton group writing for Edmonton stations and also helping out with the northern stations.

They were kind of looking for someone to umbrella the whole thing, and so that’s where Dave stepped in, and then that’s how my role evolved, because he needed someone that he knew and trusted that could do some good work to make sure that the imaging didn’t fall by the wayside.

JV: So you don’t have like a company Production Director. He’s pretty much it, right?
Jesse: Yeah, for our group. Now that’s not to say that that’s the way it works across Rogers, but for our group, currently, that’s the way it is. Who knows what happens in the future? I know his responsibilities are getting bigger and heavier, so I’m sure that there’s a possibility of something like that down the road, but who knows.

JV: Have you tried any other workstations other than Pro Tools, or is that what you started on and have just stayed with?
Jesse: I used to work on Soundscape. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Soundscape. We used to run Soundscape when I first started at Rogers. It was awful. It was a DAW-based program too, but it was not very good. When I first started out I was actually working on SAWPlus32 and a little bit on QBase as well. I also worked on Nuendo for a little while and even a little bit of Logic. Oh, and Digital Performer. I’ve worked on them all. One isn’t different than the other as far as I’m concerned, but Pro Tools has kind of been my go-to for the longest time.

I guess I like the versatility of Pro Tools. I like the fact that producers can share projects back and forth. If I want to track drums at a studio in Los Angeles, I can and I can fly back and mix them on my home studio, or I can sit on the plane and mix them in my headphones on my laptop. I just like the versatility of Pro Tools, so that’s kind of my standard.

JV: Regarding the imaging at your stations, when you have a set of IDs that you need to produce, do you have a programmer that’s basically saying, “Here’s what I need and here’s what I want it to say,” or do you and maybe Dave work on the copy for those things as well?
Jesse: A lot of the copy comes out of Toronto. We have a couple of writers out in Toronto that write for the whole company here and there. Our Program Director and Dave and I will often sit down and discuss what is coming up, determine if there are specifics that we need for imaging, and then we’ll send it off. Now if it’s stuff for Jack FM, Jack is kind of a topical beast in that we’re constantly turning over splitters and imaging on that station for what’s going on in the world, and we’ll handle of lot of this in-house with some help from Toronto. What we end up doing is we’ll get a bunch of stuff back from Toronto and we’ll go through it and go, “Okay, yeah this works, this works, this one works, this doesn’t, this doesn’t, this doesn’t.” We’ll pare it down, and oftentimes we’ll end up going, this is a really cool concept, but could we take it in a little bit different direction? We are in the Jack wheel all the time. Our guys in Toronto are great and they write some really good copy, but they’re not in the Jack wheel all the time, so sometimes we make adjustments to what they write.

JV: How do you keep your right brain fresh and ready for new ideas?
Jesse: Good question. You know, it’s just bouncing ideas around. Rather than trying to hold it in and trying to do everything myself, it’s trying to bounce ideas off of other people. The other thing that I really like to do is network with a ton of other producers. I’ll send stuff off to Chris Pottage in Toronto and say, “Hey, man, take a listen to this. Give me an idea. Am I on the right track?” I’ll write a script and forward it to one of our writers who has a real talent for getting some of the humor that we try to convey on Jack. They’ll go, “Here’s where I think it works and here’s where it doesn’t or what I’d improve on.” So for me, it’s just kind of bouncing ideas off of as many other people as I possibly can. We have so many talented people at our company. We’ve got Chris Pottage and my buddy Ron Tarrant, and Dave Lloyd is a master at writing stuff. Guys in Vancouver, like Dave Cockram and different people, I can just forward things off to them or bounce ideas off of them.

JV: You mentioned in an email that you’re a traveling man, taking the opportunities to meet producers in other markets.
Jesse: Well my wife and I have been spending the last five or six years traveling quite heavily, so as much as I possibly can, whenever we go somewhere, I typically try to line up something. For instance, a couple of years ago when I was working at CHUM, we went out to visit some friends in Toronto. So I spent some time with Wade Taylor at CHUM in Toronto. I’d never met him face-to-face. Once in a while we’d email back and forth, but I got to spend some time with him in his studio.

There’s Chris Pottage when I was working with Rogers too, I spent some time touring around and picking his brain a little bit. I went to Australia about five or six years ago and before I left I thought I remembered reading in Radio and Production and listening to the CD, and the guy that stood out to me as a fantastic producer was a guy by the name of Vaughan Jones on the Sunshine Coast. I remember when we were planning our trip going, “I’ve got to meet this guy and maybe he’d take me for a tour of the station.” I emailed him ahead of time and said, “Would you mind?” We lined up a time and I met with him when we were in Australia. He took me for a tour of their mammoth setup there. I picked his brain a little bit and got some ideas of how they do things there and some of his concepts and stuff in production.

Most recently, this past summer, we took a trip to New York, and of course I emailed Dave Foxx before I left. I said, “Man, if you have some time, would you mind taking a few minutes? I’d love to sit down and chat with you.” He said, “Absolutely, no problem.” That was his response right away. “Just let me know when you’re gonna be in town and we’ll line something up.”

He was kind enough to tour me around the Clear Channel operation there, and he sat down with me in a studio where I could pick his brain a little bit, and he showed me a few things and that was great. I love seeing what other people do in this business. You’re sitting in your studio all day trying to come up with new ideas and new concepts and new tricks and sometimes you go to the same well, as far as your production tricks and tips and techniques and whatnot, so it’s nice to go out of that well and dip into someone else’s well, as far as what they’ve got in their toolbox or arsenal.

JV: I was looking at the waveforms of those two winning promos and was noticing a good amount of dynamic range; the mixes looked as good as they sounded. I would guess you’re background as a music producer plays into how you mix your promos. I’m speaking very generally here, but I think radio producers can very easily rely too much upon the compressor to find the mix and just not worry too much about levels. But that’s not something you can do when producing music.
Jesse: I remember when I first got into the business, I had mixed a few things when I was working down in Lethbridge and I had sent them up. I remember asking Dave Lloyd one day -- I was going to be in Calgary for the weekend -- I said, “Would you mind meeting with me for an hour or so on Monday morning if you’ve got some time. I’d love to just see what you do and pick your brain a bit.”

So he met with me and we sat in his studio, and I remember him opening up a session in Pro Tools of a promo that he had just produced for Rock 97. He opened the volume envelope on Pro Tools and I was blown away at how many breakpoint moves were in there. I asked him about it. I said, “How long did it take you to put in each one of those little breakpoints?” He said, “You know what? It took me a long time, but that’s how you get a good mix. You sit and you manipulate every little piece.”

That blew my mind, and I remember years later as I got a little bit more into music production, talking to some music producers and reading Sound On Sound magazines and everything else, looking at people’s Pro Tools sessions and what they do, watching videos on the Waves website and seeing how some of the world-class music producers mix and going, wow, they really spend time on that main vocal to make it pop, rather than just slamming it with a bunch of compression, limiting it and just leaving the volume at a decent level.

Of course if you’re banging out a million promos in a week, sometimes you just have to do something like that, but in my role I’m fortunate enough that I can sit down and really take the time to manipulate my mixes. So if you were to open up a lot of my mixes and open up the volume envelopes on all my tracks, you’d probably be pretty floored at how many breakpoint moves and how many little tweaks I have here and there, between really fine tuning volumes in the mix, and the EQ’s. By the way, if people ask me, “What’s your favorite plug-in? What do you love going to?” my favorite plug-in is the EQ. That’s it. It’s nothing fancy. I know it should be a telephone manipulator or a tap delay – well I do like using tap delays, don’t get me wrong -- or a flanger or some cool distortion or something, but it’s EQ.

JV: So in a mix like on those two promos, are you using some compression on the voice tracks or on busses or on the final?
Jesse: I end up usually using AudioSuite plug-ins to add a little bit of compression right off the hop, so I just affect the whole file. I have a few settings that I have saved, and I end up throwing a little bit of compression on the entire voice file. I have most of my voice files bussed to voice track masters, and on the masters sometimes, depending on what I need, I might put a little bit of limiting or a second compressor sometimes, depending on how heavy the promo is or what kind of music I’m using.

But I don’t go to fancy as far as doing a ton of bus-outs. When I’m working on stuff for Lite 99, I always have a reverb bus-out, and I send all the voices to the reverb all the time. It’s just a little bit, a hint  coming through on the mix, but it gives it a little more of a bigger presence -- not so much foreground presence, but just background presence.

There was a producer that I was recently speaking with. He was asking me some tips and tricks on how to work on this mix for a spot they were working on. I said, “Think of your mix as a 360 around you. You’ve got a bubble happening around you, and you’ve got sounds happening behind you and beside you and in front of you.” I said, “Now, think of how you create those, how you make those sounds sound like they’re all around you, in a stereo world.”

If you have something right next to your ear, of course it’s going to be really clear, so you want the EQ to convey that. But if it’s behind you, it’s probably going to be a little muddier and it’s going to be backed off of the mix because you’re not hearing it so much in front. So I might pull out some of the top end in the EQ, and throw it a little bit further down in volume as far as the mix goes and that sort of thing, just to convey that 360 spectrum.

I try to do that as much as possible, and the Door-to-Door promo is a good example of that, where you have the kids coming down the street and they’re walking up to the door -- but you have to make it lightning fast, right? And they’re not just walking away and you’re going to fade them out; you’ve got to make the pans work and the volumes work and the EQ change as they’re walking away, and that sort of thing. I like to automate the EQs a lot because if something’s coming into the mix and going away, I don’t want it to just sound the same up front as it does in the distance.

JV: What about a promo where you have several different cuts of music? Will you try and manipulate the volume of the music of each different cut separately or will you run all the music tracks through a bus and try and control levels that way?
Jesse: I do them all separately. And something else I do quite a bit is EQ ducking on the music too, just to let the voices pop a little bit. So if my voice was sitting really comfortably at the 4k mark or something, I’ll duck out a little bit of the 4k in the music – especially in rock music and stuff where I find it really difficult to get voice tracks to cut through, especially, for instance, on Sports 960, our AM sports station. We have Jim Cutler as our voice on that station. He’s got a really big, booming voice, and the way we like to image that station is with a lot of rock tracks, a lot of stuff that’s really heavy, a lot of bottom end, lots of thrashing guitars. Sometimes it’s really hard to get a voice, where it sits so present in that area where those guitars sit, to pop through your mix. So what I end up doing is I’ll do EQ ducking on the music where he’s talking and then again automate the EQ so that the ducks come out when the music’s just running on its own.

JV: After you’ve basically put all the elements in place and you’re just tweaking the mix on a 30-40 second promo, it sounds like you’d spend what… a half hour just mixing?
Jesse: Oh, probably even longer than that. On that Bon Jovi promo, I probably spent a good two or three hours just working on the mix once I finally got it all edited together. There was a music promo I did a few years ago that I think I probably spent, in total, somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 hours or something just on the mix. It was a 48-second promo, if I remember correctly. And the music cuts – trust me, the music cuts took a long time as well. This promo took me probably a solid week of time spent on nothing but that one promo. It was pretty nuts. I remember going into Dave’s office when I was working on that. I said, “Just give it to me straight. Am I slow? Am I just that bad that I’m just not that good that it takes me so long?” He told me the same thing, “I’ve worked on promos that have taken me an entire week to record, mix and finish – an entire week on one promo.”

So I guess what’s fortunate for me is I’m in a position where sometimes I’m allowed those timeframes. Not all the time. Trust me, these last few weeks have definitely not been like that. But occasionally, I have the time to spend extended amounts of time on one element or one promo or one handful of splitters.

JV: What would you say is one of the most important things you’ve learned about creating good promos? If an intern was sitting in there watching you work and they asked you that question, how would you answer that?
Jesse: Conveying a message to your voice people as clearly as possible. It’s so hard nowadays. I find that a lot of times what you end up doing is just forwarding copy to your voice people rather than in-studio. We used to do a lot of ISDN sessions, and we used to do a lot of sessions where I’d have a voice person come in and we’d work with them. But that’s become more and more a thing of the past. So being clear and concise with your voice people and gaining that trust, and them understanding where you’re going as far as the imaging goes on the station, I think that, along with having good creative, are key.

For instance, the Door-to-Door Bag of Cash promo, as much as the concept was a cool idea, I couldn’t wrap my head totally around what we were doing with the whole campaign. We had about three or four promos that I think we produced in total. The Door-to-Door one was just one of three or four. The concept was there, but I couldn’t quite wrap my head around how to write it. I’m a producer first. I wouldn’t say my writing skills are all that great, but that’s okay because we have a team of great writers. We have some people in our group that can really convey those messages.

So I think just asking for help. If you can’t do it, then ask for some help and collaborate rather than just trying to sit in your studio by yourself and be a one-man show.

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