by Craig Rogers
All you had to do was listen to the finalists for the RAP Awards last month to know that the state of our art keeps advancing. Hopefully, this column will help you advance right along with it. This month it's a look at a jingle produced by a RAP Awards finalist several times over, Rich Van Slyke from 96 Rock, WKLS/Atlanta.
One of the first things Rich said to me when we started this interview was, "When I started radio production, I was not a musician." (He doesn't count his junior high days with a tuba.) Well, I'd say he qualifies as a musician now. Just give a listen to the piece we're spotlighting this month, a jingle for Denny's restaurants. The music was produced in Rich's home studio. The voices and final mix were done in the studios of 96 Rock. The equipment list for the two studios is long...take notes.
At 96 Rock: Pacific Recorders production mixer-20 console, Orban DSE-7000 DAW, Eventide UltraHarmonizer, Lexicon PCM 70, Panasonic SV-4100 DAT, Studer A810 reel, Studer A 727 CD player, Beyerdynamic M88 TG mikes, Sony HX Pro cassette, Sharp Hi Fi VCR, Ensoniq TS 10 keyboard, AKG K240 headphones, ITC 99B cart record deck, JBL 4311 monitors.
And when he goes home, Rich has arranged the following in his soundproofed basement studio: Tascam M2454 console, Otari MX 5050 1/2" 8-track, Otari MX 5050 1/4" 2-track, Sony DTC-700 DAT, Aiwa cassette, ART SGE effects processor, Onkyo CD player, Yamaha NS-10M monitors, Burhoe speakers, Ashly SRA-120 power amp, Sony MDR-V6 headphones, Valley People Dynamite compressor, Roland W-30 keyboard workstation, Roland U-220 synthesizer, Korg M3R synth, Roland MKS-50 synth, Gibson Les Paul guitar, Fender Stratocaster guitar, Peavy Fury bass, Marshall 50 watt half stack guitar amp, EV RE-20 mike, Shure SM57 mic, sync box. Whew! This boy's got some toys!
Rich started writing the jingle on electric guitar, figuring out the melody and where chord changes would occur. Once he has the melody and the form of the song (in this case chorus-verse-chorus-verse-jam to finish) he starts laying down the rhythm track in his home studio. The rhythm tracks are assembled drum by drum, beat by beat, using sampled drum sounds from the W-30 keyboard. It's more like hunt and peck typing than actual drumming.
The rhythm tracks are not recorded onto tape, but as MIDI information into the sequencer within the keyboard. Think of the sequencer as a 16-track that records instructions to play a particular sample instead of recording audio material. A big plus for budding musicians is the quantizing feature. With this turned on, the sequencer will correct any slight timing errors in the rhythm track. Instructions for the snare are recorded on track 1, for the kick on track 2. The hi-hat is added to track 3, toms on 4 and cymbal crashes on 5.
The snare is laid down first on beats 2 and 4 for a number of measures: pop-(rest)-pop-(rest)-pop-(rest)-pop...etc.. The kick is laid down next with one kick on beat 1 and a double (eighth note) kick on beat 3, so a measure now has this cadence: Kick-pop-kickick-pop. The hi-hat is laid down next. Rich now has the basic rhythm. The toms and cymbal crashes will come later.
To divide this basic rhythm track into the various sections under each verse, bridge and chorus, he picks up his guitar and plays and sings along with the drum track. This is where he finds the points where the drum track needs changes. For example, after the opening chords, there are two eighth note snare hits and a cymbal crash before the first lyric. Rich makes that change in the rhythm track at this point. Then he starts playing and singing along again until he finds another part that needs to be changed. For example, in the two bars under the spoken lyrics, the snare drum is gone. He stops and removes the snare from that portion. During this process, Rich adds the cymbal and toms where needed in the transitions between each section.
Note that Rich is not recording his voice or guitar at this point. He is simply playing along with the drum track to find the points where he needs to modify the rhythm to fit the structure of the song. After completing one chorus and one verse, he has about 22 seconds of rhythm. For the second chorus and verse, he simply copies this section for the next 22 seconds. Then, under the "jam" portion, where the announcer does the voice-over, is the basic rhythm track from the chorus, repeated out past :60.
When the rhythm track is complete, Rich hooks up his sync box directly into the input of track 8 of his 8-track. When he starts the reel in record, then starts the rhythm track playing from his keyboard, the MIDI output of the Roland is fed to the sync box and turned into SMPTE time code that is recorded on track 8. SMPTE is a time code used in video. Video consists of 30 frames each second. Each frame has its own "time code address." For example, 12:03.19 refers to a point 12 minutes, 3 seconds and 19 frames into a production. Now, we're not using pictures, but having that specific address information on the tape is quite useful, as you'll see.
When the reel is "striped" with time code, Rich changes a switch on the sync box from "stripe" to "read" and the box now reads the timecode from the reel. With the timecode Rich can wind the reel to any point and start it, and the sequencer with the rhythm track will synchronize itself with the tape. For example, if he winds the tape to a point 12 seconds and 15 frames into the production, the sequencer instantly finds that point in the rhythm track and is ready to play from there!
Now it's time to make some music. Rich mikes his Marshall amp with the SM 57. Two tricks Rich has for getting that "rock" sound from his Les Paul: First, keep the mike several feet from the cabinet to capture some of the sound of the amp in the room and not just the amp; and second, saturate the tape. The rock guitar sound we are used to hearing is due in large part to some distortion from the amp and the tape compression that comes from hitting the tape at +3. These levels wouldn't sound good on a voice track, but the distortion is part of what makes a rock guitar sound like a rock guitar.
Rich puts on headphones to hear the drum track, cranks the Marshal (about to 11) and plays along, recording the guitar to track 1. Then to thicken up the guitar sound, he plays and records the same guitar part three more times to tracks 2, 3 and 4. Two of these are panned hard left and two hard right.
The bass is recorded to track 5 with a direct line routed through the compressor, then into the console. The reason he goes direct is a practical one: he has no bass amp! He uses lots of compression, an 8:1 ratio with quick attack and slow release to bring down the transients and keep the sound level. Again, Rich says, saturate the tape.
Note that the only audio on the 8-track is four tracks of guitar and one track of bass. The drums are all still being played back from the keyboard via MIDI.
The instruments are then mixed down to DAT. On mixdown, Rich EQ's the guitar and bass. The guitar gets a 10dB boost at 4-5 kHz. Reverb on the guitar and drums is through a customized program on the ART, with a 3.5 second decay in a large chamber.
When EQ'ing the bass, Rich will give full boost to one band of the parametric EQ, then slowly sweep the frequencies until one jumps out as the best place for the boost. Once he's found that frequency, he'll adjust the amount of boost. This is a good technique to bring out any instrument or sound that may get lost in a mix. Using cut instead of boost, you can carve out a niche in a mix for the voice talent.
When the final instrumental mix is on DAT, Rich takes it to the 96 Rock studios. He loads the two track instrumental mix on to tracks 1 and 2 of the DSE-7000. Rich sings/speaks lead on track 3. The voice-over tag goes on track 4. A former staffer supplied the backing vocals. There are two separate tracks for this. In essence the backing singer sings along with himself. One take goes to track 5 and is panned left and the other on track 6 is panned right. Rich also recorded another set of backing vocals (sung in a falsetto) to tracks 7 and 8, but he opted not to use them in the final mix.
When recording singing vocals, Rich says the technique we learned for voicing spots is all wrong. We're taught to cozy right up to the mike to take advantage of the low end boost of proximity effect and to reduce popping. When singing, keeping about a foot between the singer and mike gets much better results. He uses no compression on the vocals.
Reverb from both the UltraHarmonizer and Lexicon is added as the mix is sent to cart for air. Rich combines a Lexicon reverb (program #4.0 "Rich Chamber") with a customized program from the UltraHarmonizer (#107 Reverb Factory, predelay to 0, decay to 2.2, hi freq cut to -6 and lo freq cut to 0). He also gives a 3 dB boost to the vocals at 6 kHz "for definition". Finally, it hits the air and everyone, including the client goes "Wow!"
This is one great spot and it sounds best when played loud! You'll of course find it on The Cassette. Terrific work by Rich!
If you'd like to have a production featured in Producer's VU, send me a tape. I'd particularly like to spotlight some station image and sweeper production. This can be one of the most demanding areas for a Production Director. If you've got some killer station sweepers, send me a few and we'll show the world how ya done it!