by Craig Rogers
So you can't carry a tune in a bucket. You've absolutely ruled out ever producing a jingle featuring your singing. Well, not so fast, buckaroo. You may be shortchanging yourself. You've got to give it a try at least once. And what better way to try than all by yourself in a soundproof studio? Greg Williams of WMC-FM/Memphis says he can't "carry a tune in a bucket," but that didn't stop him from producing a catchy jingle for the WMC morning show. Greg says he felt like a cross between Paul Shaffer and Weird Al Yankovic while singing it, so try to carry that picture with you as you listen to his production on The Cassette.
Greg was asked by the WMC-FM morning team, Ron and Steve, to produce an open for a bit called "The Know-it-Alls." As the Know-it-Alls, Ron and Steve can answer any question posed by a caller, no matter how difficult...as long as the caller is a set-up. Greg wanted to do something other than just a corny announcer voice over a stager, so he went to his production library for inspiration.
In the FirstCom Sound Designer II library, he found a disc with sitcom theme sound-alikes. As he listened to a cut titled "Cool Cats," he said the lyrics just started coming to him. The phrase "Know-it-Alls" fit perfectly with a repeating phrase in the music. Greg said, "It was true 'stream of consciousness production', thank you Dennis Daniel," (a phrase Dennis coined in his Tales of the Tape column in the June '91 RAP). Greg started singing along with the bed and the rest of the lyrics just came. He even called his wife to bounce some ideas around. She came up with the best and toughest rhyme: "Their IQ numbers soar like Copernicus, if they knew any more, their brains would burst." I think that's about as far as you can stretch a rhyme.
With the lyrics and music in hand, let's step into the WMC production studio and take a look around: EV RE20 mikes, JBL 4311 monitors, Auditronics Series 850 console, dbx160XT compressors, Eventide H3000B, Otari 5050 reels, ITC cart deck, Marantz CDR610MKII CD recorder, Nakamichi MR-1 cassette deck, Otari DTR-7 DAT, and the Orban DSE 7000.
Before describing Greg's procedures on this piece, first some background on his control board. Usually, a DAW like the DSE sits off to one side of the board. The producer then has to sit at a 90 degree angle to the main control board to use it, not the best position for monitoring. So WMC's chief engineer, Paul Barzizza, came up with a great solution. Auditronics is based in Memphis and Barzizza has a good working relationship with them. He designed and Auditronics built the board that Greg uses so that the DSE control surface fits flush in the middle of it. This allows the producer to face the monitors and have all faders for all sources directly in front instead of forcing the user to swivel to use the DSE.
Now let's produce! Greg started by recording the music bed in stereo to tracks 1 and 2 of the DSE. Then he switched the output of the DSE to Audition. He also switches his monitors to audition so that he can hear the DSE output in his headphones.
He then assigns his mike to both Program and Audition. Program feeds the DSE and Audition allows him to hear himself as well as the DSE output. Now with track 3 ready to record, Greg starts the DSE in record. He sings every other phrase in the lyrics, like so: "Know-it-Alls... (skip a phrase here)... Know-it-Alls... (skip the next phrase)... Their IQ numbers soar... (skip some more)... If they knew anymore... (and skip again)... Ron and Steve are the Know-it-Alls." Then he disarms track 3 and readies track 4. Then listening to the music and lyrics recorded so far, he sings the missing phrases: "...Ron and Steve are the... Ask 'em anything... Like Copernicus... their brains would burst... Know-it-Alls." This allows him to overlap phrases and build a chorus of Gregs. He also used a slightly different voice on each take to create the effect of different singers. One voice was a bit breathy. The other was a strong, full voice. Compression on the voice tracks was 4:1 with gain on 1.0, threshold on -20.
Greg uses tracks 5 through 8 to stack up harmonies, one mono voice on each track. These tracks were paired off and panned hard left and hard right. Since each contains its own harmony part, panning them out helps spread the chorus of voices. Again, he used some different voices on the backing vocals to help create the chorus effect. The exception was the phrase, "Ask 'em anything" where he used the same voice for all takes. There weren't any fancy chord charts or music scores. Greg just sang what he thought blended well. If it didn't, he'd just Undo and try a different take! Greg advises would-be Pavarotti's to avoid doing too many overdubs of backing vocals. It can easily become too cluttered. For example, on the phrase "Know-it-Alls," Greg stopped with four voices because that's what sounded good.
After recording all the vocal parts, Greg erased the area on each track where he had paused, primarily to get rid of headphone leakage, but also to free up some memory. He then bounced down all the vocal tracks to a stereo pair on 7 and 8. He added reverb using program #107 Reverb Factory from the Harmonizer. During the final mixdown, Greg compressed the full mix at 2:1.
Greg's passes on this advice to other DSE users: when preparing to bounce or edit, copy all your elements to a point later in the production. Do your bounces and edits on the copy so you don't mess up the timing of various elements on the master at the head of the production. And if you do mess up, the master is there for you to copy and begin again.
Thanks to Greg for this month's featured piece, especially since neither of us was sure it would happen. Throughout June, he'd been waiting for his pager to go off, not for a last minute revision, but for an addition. Congratulations to Greg and his wife Lisa Frith on the birth of their daughter Rebekah Maye!
Next month, Ed Brown from KSHE/St. Louis welcomes Wayne Gretzky to town.