Dan Taylor, Director of Creative Production, WYNY-FM, New York
by Jerry Vigil
This month's R.A.P. interview takes us once again to New York with Dan Taylor, Director of Creative Production at WYNY. Dan is well known in the C&W circles for the production seminars he's hosted at the Country Radio Seminars for the past three years. He has also hosted seminars at recent NAB conventions. With 13 years in the business, Dan had some very interesting information for us. Here are some of the highlights of our chat with him.
R.A.P. How did you get into this crazy business anyway?
Dan: It started in 1976 when I was in high school in New Canaan, Connecticut. The school had a lot of extracurricular activities including a complete television production studio. My primary interest was in the audio, not the video, so when we did shows, plays, and things like that, I was the guy that came up with the sound effects and other audio. I got my interest through that.
This was also the time of the disco craze, and the school did a lot of sock hops. I was the guy playing the records. These sock hops eventually became a big hit, and I started getting more into the personality part of it. I did a lot of these discos for other schools and private parties, so throughout high school that was my thing, doing discos. I wouldn't just seg records though, my thing was doing more of a jock show--making fun of the principal, joking around with the guy that showed up without a date, and that kind of thing. It was more personality oriented.
When I graduated, I went to WNAB in Bridgeport. I basically ran the board for a syndicated show than ran overnight. They needed a guy every 15 minutes locally to do the cutaways, the weather, play a jingle, and get back to the show. Between breaks, I'd spend time in the production studio playing with the jingles, editing them, re-editing them, and just having a lot of fun. I did this for about 3 years. I'd do engineering work, too. I remember wiring all the remote starts for the console while I was on the air.
R.A.P. Where did you go after WNAB?
Dan: I heard about a job opening at CBS FM, so I sent them a tape. They listened to it and they didn't like it, so I called and said, "What else can I do? Can I come down and audition?" They said, "Fine." So I went down the next day and auditioned with an engineer. I did a one hour show into a dead mike. At the end of the meeting, the Program Director said, "OK, we'll get back to you." A couple of days later they called and offered me the job. I started at CBS-FM when I was 19 years old doing the overnight show.
R.A.P. How long were you at WCBS?
Dan: I did overnights there for 11 months and was then offered a job at WHN. I gave my notice and went over to WHN and did overnights for about 6 months and was then offered the afternoon show. So I was about 21 years old when I started doing afternoons in New York. I was rated one of the top 15 afternoon drive jocks in America by R&R while I was there, which was kinda nice. On top of that, I got to do some production work. I got back into production again. Back at WCBS-FM, it was a union situation which made it awkward to do production; I couldn't touch a console. I could walk in, turn on my mike, and wave to the engineer, but that was it. So there was a lull there.
R.A.P. You host some syndicated shows as well. When did you start doing that?
Dan: That started while I was doing afternoons at WHN. I presently host 3 syndicated shows: Country Today, Trivia Quiz, and Country Quiz. I also did some stuff for the NBC Network, plus appearances at Radio City Music Hall, Meadowlands Arena, and those appearances that become a part of the job of being a personality at a radio station.
R.A.P. Were you doing much production at WHN?
Dan: I got to do the fun stuff. I told the Program Director that I'd like to do the special creative production for him without getting bogged down with dubs and stuff like that. It was a perfectly good understanding between us. If a contest came about that I thought I could add some spice to, I'd cut some promos. If I didn't want to do it, I didn't have to.
That's when I started buying things like synthesizers, vocoders, and things like that. Eventually I decided to get more involved with this aspect of production because the radio stations I worked at didn't really have the equipment. Most of the production I did at WHN was on a 2-track and 2 full tracks. That's all they had. But by working with less stuff you learn more. You have to experiment. It's amazing what you can do with a 2-track and 2 full tracks.
R.A.P. How long were you at WHN?
Dan: The WHN thing lasted for about 7 years, then the station folded. I lucked out and started the next day at WNBC. We did a weekend format there called the Time Machine. So I did weekends there for about a year, and I was the fill-in guy for Imus when he'd go on vacation, or when the mid-day guy wasn't in.
I also did a lot of production and promos for NBC while I was there. Most of the stuff I did, I did outside of the station. I'd get an 8-track from a friend or wheel my stuff over to their house. Back when I was at WHN, I built a custom road case that contained all the equipment I used. In it, at the time, was a Bode Vocoder, a little mixer, a line amplifier, an Orban 622B equalizer, a Urie 1134 stereo compressor, reverb, and a Harmonizer. Everything was wired to a balanced 48 pin ADC jack field, so when I wheeled the stuff into the studio, I could plug it right in. At WNBC, with the union deal, I couldn't use this stuff there, so I would go to somebody's house and hook it up.
Eventually, WNBC went under and I started working at WYNY. I now do weekends and fill-in along with production.
R.A.P. Were you titled Production Director at WNBC?
Dan: Not really. Again, it was the same kind of deal with the union situation, so I couldn't do the dubs and all the nuts and bolts stuff. I was not labeled Production Director at any of the stations I worked at. I was the creative guy that would go in and basically do the promos, bits for Imus, contest elements, and stuff I wanted to do. It was a lot of fun.
R.A.P. Your title now at WYNY is Director of Creative Production. Explain that position.
Dan: Again, I'm just the guy that goes in and makes the magic with the promos. If there's something special to be done, I'll try to do it. The title just gives me the reigns to go in and do promos, ID's, or whatever the case may be. When it comes to the nuts and bolts stuff of dubbing spots and voicing spots, they have somebody else do that.
R.A.P. You do weekends, fill-in, and creative production. That sounds like a pretty nice gig!
Dan: It is, but it's expensive to have somebody do that, unless you have somebody on the air staff now that can do it. What happens is the guy doing production is usually inundated with a lot of stuff. He's got spots coming in on Friday morning, a contest that starts on Saturday morning, and it's awkward to get all this stuff together; you're easily distracted. If you're trying to make a sound effect and a salesman comes in with a last minute spot, or the copy gal comes in and she's all frustrated and you stop to try and make her feel good, it's awkward, and that's the problem; you get distracted easily. If you can have just one guy that goes in and does promos all day long, it's amazing what you can come up with. A lot of stations do that, but it's an extra bit of money on the payroll, and when it comes to budget cutting time, people scratch their heads and wonder why they need two guys doing the same thing. But it really isn't the same thing. One guy is doing spots and the other guy is doing the creative stuff. One guy's baking the cake and the other guy's putting the icing on it. I like to be the guy putting the icing on. It's fun.
R.A.P. You've been hosting the production segment of the Country Radio Seminar for the past three years. Tell us a bit about what you do.
Dan: The first year I presented a whole reel of promos and ID's. The way I presented it was to take everything apart and show how it was put together. Everything was done with 2-track. I was thinking about going in there with my synthesizers and all that stuff, but I was thinking a lot of markets didn't have that kind of stuff, because 3 or 4 years ago, the price of that kind of gear was ridiculous. Nobody had a sampler or an Eventide Harmonizer. So I went in and explained what you could do with less stuff. Then they'd leave saying, "Hey, I can do this on my Otari and my Tapecaster! It can be done!"
Today, however, radio stations have a lot of nice stuff because the prices have come down. Multi-track machines have come down in price drastically. I've got a Prophet 5 synthesizer that cost about 5 grand when I bought it and you can't give it away for 800 bucks now. I know somebody who has one of the first Roland drum machines. I think it did a hand clap, a cowbell, a bass drum, and that was it! The thing cost a fortune! Today you can buy one of these things for under a couple of hundred bucks.
I explain this at the Country Radio Seminars. Prices have come down now to where it's feasible, and it's also available at your local music store; you don't have to buy it through a catalog. You can go down to your local music store and work a trade deal out. People do this all the time now for prizes. There are many stations giving away synthesizers as prizes. Geez, get 10 of them and give one to your Production Director! You'd be amazed what you can do with one of the cheap Yamahas or Casios. Just put some reverb on it, a flange effect, or a Harmonizer, and you'll be amazed at the sound you can get out of it. You can bury the cheapness of it.
R.A.P. How do you feel about overproducing something with too much special effects?
Dan: You've got to know when to stop. Just because you have 8 tracks and 10 processing units doesn't mean you need to use them all. The biggest problem I've seen with many stations, is that they use too much of the stuff. I think Bumper Morgan said, in one of your interviews, that you really need everything in moderation.
The last seminar I did was with J.R. Nelson, who was with Z-100 and now with Legacy. J.R. and I agree on the same thing; everything has got to be in moderation. Don't flange everything because it's going to get tiring and then the PD is going to say, "Lets don't use it." Then all of a sudden, this thing sits in the rack collecting dust, and the GM walks in one day and says, "What's that thing with the dust all over it?" And you say, "That's that thing I begged for," and the GM says, "Oh, and we're not using it?" Then your death is signed. You've got to use everything in moderation, a little at a time. If it sounds like it's too much, it probably is.
R.A.P. What are you using synthesizer-wise in your home studio?
Dan: The first synthesizer I got was from Radio Shack for 300 bucks. I got this one mainly because I needed a generator for my vocoder. Then I got rid of that and got the Prophet 5. After a while I got the Mini-Moog and just fell in love with that thing. Then I got a Roland Jupiter 8. These are 3 old units that don't have MIDI on them, so I really don't use MIDI right now.
R.A.P. Are you a musician?
Dan: No, I'm not. I just use the synthesizers to makes noises and do rhythm beds and things. I did some song stuff, but it took a lot of time because I had to mark it all out, layer the tracks, and do it slowly. This is where MIDI comes in handy, because you can stack up a couple of synthesizers and all of a sudden it sounds like you're the phantom of the opera playing this beautiful music and your fingers are doing very little. That's what I like about the MIDI thing, it's very handy.
R.A.P. So you mainly use the synths for sounds only?
Dan: Yes, I get a lot of sound effects and things from them, but I also go into the real world to get sound effects. I'll use weird sounds for the back of promos, whether it's the sound of a car played backwards, or the sound of an elevator motor or something like that. I might take the elevator sound, play it backwards, and slow it down to give me a tone for a contest bed. Or, I might modulate it through the vocoder and get an effect that is arpeggiating with the vocoder to a keyboard to give a weird sound to it. I use a lot of sounds that are recognizable, but they're processed to a point where you don't recognize them, but you kinda know what it is. A lot of the stuff I do is primarily sitting at the tape machine and playing a sound backwards, or editing it at some weird position and trying that out. It works out pretty good.
R.A.P. Most of your time has been spent on country radio. How does this hot electronic production fit in with this format?
Dan: Country music hasn't lent itself to the sound of synthesizer stabs and bullets in the past; Today though, it does. I think a lot of (C&W) stations are realizing that they're competing with stations that are CHR and urban. Why should they sound like what people seem to perceive country music and country radio to be? The station gets more of a slick sound by adding these extra things, and it jumps out of the radio a little bit more on a country station.
R.A.P. What's something you'll do with the synthesizers for music beds?
Dan: There's a lot of dance records out there that have different mixes of the song on the record that are great for promos. I'll play them backwards and I'll speed them up. I never play them at the right speed. The nice advantage of doing it with country is that none of our listeners are ever going to recognize D.J. Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince, especially if I'm playing it backwards! So you've got a nice up-tempo screaming promo with a good disco beat. I'll take the rhythm track of a dance record and add my own synthesizer stuff to it. I'll add some extra stabs, glides, or portamento stuff, and I'll change the whole concept of it. It's amazing what you can do!
Sometimes, if you have a vocal eliminator, you can take a great piece of music that has some 12 year old singing some weird boom-chaka-laka on it, and just vocal-eliminate the voice out. You lose a lot of bass in the middle, but you can fix that up with your synthesizer. Then you can take the beat of the music and play your logo over it. It sounds like a custom piece of music and it really isn't.
R.A.P. What are your thoughts on deadlines and turnaround times for promos?
Dan: My biggest problem is finding the time to do everything. This is a problem I've explained at the seminars. What I always try to say to the PD's is, "Give your guys some time to do something." If the guy or girl can go in the studio, mess around for a while, and come up with some ideas, it's so much more rewarding down the road. Of course, we all know that radio is a last minute business. Friday afternoons are hell at the radio station because there are 24 spots that have to go on, and somewhere in between, a contest has to start and you've got to go on the radio or whatever. It's a problem, so utilize your time the best you can and try to stay one step ahead of what's going on at the radio station. That way, if you need an extra contest bed, you've got something in the can. That's why having a setup at home, to me, is so nice. Now I can sit at home, and if I get an idea in the middle of the night, I can sit there and do it.
R.A.P. Do you see synthesizers, samplers, and MIDI gear finding their way into the smaller markets?
Dan: I can see it going in there, but I can also see where it is a question of budget. Let's take a station that is not number one in their market; their in a competitive situation to be number one. Production is important to bring the elements together, but a lot of times the GM doesn't see it that way. He says, "Gee, I'd love to spend the money on the synthesizer, but if we don't put some billboards up, we're not gonna be number 3, we're gonna be number 9!"
Management finds it very hard to justify spending money on a little box when they can put a billboard up for almost the same price. But like I said before, the price has come down on the stuff, so why not? It adds a polished sound to the radio station, and the stuff is not as expensive as it used to be. Unfortunately, the propensity of a radio station in a smaller market tends to lean towards more instant gratification, like billboards, a newspaper ad, or that car you're giving away. In answer to your question, I say, why not? It's a great idea! Production adds a lot of sizzle to a radio station. If you listen to a radio station in a small or medium market, and it has stuff on the air that sounds real good, that station stands out against another radio station. There's no question about it. Of course, the rest of the station has to equal what you're doing. It's got to be done right.
R.A.P. What's in the future for Dan Taylor?
Dan: I'm really happy with what I'm doing now, but I don't want to be on the air forever. I don't want to be doing it to a point where somebody is gonna come in and say, "You know, you sound too old for the radio station." What I'd like to pursue eventually is doing film sound. I've done some work with sync to picture, and I really loved doing that.
Dan's love for what he's doing is reflected on this month's Cassette. His production seminars are well worth attending. Look for him next year at the Country Radio Seminar.