by Craig Rogers
The spotlight this month is on one of three spots in a series produced by Craig Jackman and writer Renaud Timson at CHEZ/Ottawa for Hitchen Electronics. Listen to the spot on this month's Cassette, Cut 1, Side B. One of the spots, in which one character's stereo blows up immediately after the other character mentions the great repair service of the client, was on January's Cassette. The spots are all similar in premise and production. In this spot, it's the same two guys, but this time the TV blows up. It is a very entertaining, realistic sounding production.
It's easy to get caught using lots of flash, high energy music, zips, zaps and whooshes to grab a listener's attention. For exactly that reason, a spot that sounds like an entertaining slice of real life can hook a listener and get the advertiser's message across without the listener even realizing they've heard a commercial. But painting a realistic sound picture is difficult. Our ear can tell in an instant whether a conversation sounds as if it is taking place in a real or artificially created space. Likewise, stilted unnatural conversations call attention to the poor writing and performance instead of the message.
Craig and Renaud are such masters of the "slice of life" spot that their technique is transparent. The message is center stage. Referring to their method of writing and production, Renaud says "We like, as we call them, the sub-tle nuances." Renaud and Craig have worked together for six years. Knowing each other as well as they do, Renaud says when they are creating in the studio, they "are not only reading from the same book, but we're even on the same page, the same word!"
The creative aspects of production may be outside the scope of this column, since they are more dependent on the software in the producer's cranium than the hardware in his studio. I'll leave the writing about the creative end to Andy Capp, John Pellegrini, Mark Margulies, etc.. For now, let's get into the studio and see how Craig put this spot together.
Here's the tour of Craig's studio: Wheatstone SP-6 Console, PSV Model 4 monitors, Alesis ADAT, 1 each Panasonic SV 4100 DAT and Panasonic SV 3700 DAT, 1 each Denon DN-870-FA and DN-950-FA CD players, Rane DC-24 Compressor Limiter, Digitech TSR-24 digital reverb/multi effect, Yamaha SPX-90 digital reverb/multi-effect, (2) Fidelipac Dynamax DCR-1000 floppy disk player and (1) recorder, (2) Ampex ATR-100 reel recorders, Tascam 122 mk2 cassette deck, Technics turntables, (2) Beyerdynamic MC-740 condenser mikes, (3) Shure SM-81 condenser mikes, (1) Microtech/Gefell PM-860 condenser mike, handful of Shure A95U line matching transformers used when recording in-studio bands live to tape, (2) large bags of potato chips (special one-time purchase, used on this session only).
Craig's predecessor at CHEZ, John Crow, had a recording studio background and taught Craig to "make it as clean as you can going to tape." So, all voices on this spot were recorded to DAT with no compression or EQ. Craig says he likes the flexibility of recording uncompressed to tape. "There are some spots that don't need compression. It's going to get compressed as it goes out over the transmitter; why do I need compress it twice?" If he compresses at all, it will be as the finished spot is recorded for air to the Dynamax "darts" (digital carts). Compression is light, generally a ratio of 2:1.
The spot was constructed backwards. Craig recorded the tag for the commercial first, simply because the voice talent, Geoff Winter, was the first available. Geoff used the 740 mike in the voice booth and was recorded to DAT.
Craig and Renaud then recorded their portions to DAT. Craig was running the machinery in the control room and was miked with the Microtech Geffel. Renaud was in the voice booth and was miked with the MC-740. Renaud was panned full left and Craig full right. With the full panning, and the physical separation of the mikes, each voice was recorded to a separate channel of the DAT with no bleed from the other mike. When this DAT was then recorded onto the ADAT, each voice ends up on its own channel (Renaud on 5, Craig on 6. Geoff was recorded to 7). Craig said he could have recorded voices straight to ADAT, but usually goes to DAT first. When recording, he likes to start the tape and let it roll. That can capture an occasional out-take that will lend new life to a spot. With the DAT he has a 120-minute run time instead of the 40 minutes on the ADAT.
Since the tag was in the bag, Craig and Renaud knew how much time they had for the body of the spot. They paused where they wanted the TV explosion effects. The effects were then fit into this hole. And yes, they were eating chips during the take. Since this spot is one of two they cut during this session, they each went through an entire bag of chips! Craig said it was a race to the water fountain when the session was finished.
The TV explosion is a composite of four different effects from the Sound Ideas Series 1000. There is the arcing of AC current, junk crashing, glass crashing, and a smashing headlight. Craig began his career in TV, so he thinks visually when constructing a scene like this. Here's the picture he had: The TV short circuits and arcs while the back falls off, the innards fall out, and finally the screen breaks. Craig laid down the AC current as a "base." The remaining effects were recorded in the order listed to fit the pause in the voiceover.
These four effects were laid onto individual tracks (1-4) of the ADAT, then mixed to the DAT to balance between them. This transfer is necessary since Craig wanted a stereo pair with the effects. However, at this point there aren't two open tracks on the ADAT to bounce to and with his early model ADAT he can't bounce internally. (The new ADAT XT does have this capability). This stereo mix from the DAT was then transferred back to the ADAT onto tracks 1 and 2. This opens up tracks 3 and 4. They were used for the music under the announcer tag. It's a cut from Primo Promos from Techsonics. Craig wanted "something electronic" for the music bed to reflect the electronics store. Since the bed was longer than the tag, he clipped the bed at the end of a phrase. Then to smooth out the abrupt ending, he ran it through the "Platinum Plate" reverb on the Digitech to add some decay to the end of the bed.
The background effects of the TV program is a mono cowboys and Indians bed from the Sound Ideas library. This was recorded dry to track 8. On mixdown, Craig ran this through a modification of the "Pitch Change C" program on the SPX 90 to add some stereo presence. Channel 1 was set up 12 cents, channel 2 down 8 cents with a 10 ms delay. Some dry signal was mixed in with the effect. This slight delay and the pitch changes gave a highly realistic sound of a TV in the background. Craig says, "That's a standard program I use when I want to spread a mono sound out in the background. I call it 'Spaciousness'."
(I've adapted Craig's "Spaciousness" program for my Eventide Harmonizer. I used his parameters for the pitch shift and delay to modify the "Dual Stereo Shift" program. It should be easily adaptable to just about any effects box.)
Craig also added some light compression as he mixed everything down to "dart" for air. A final mix of all productions is archived to DAT and kept on file for about 18 months.
My thanks to Craig and Renaud for taking the time to let us into their studio this month. If you've got a production you'd like to share with other RAP members, drop a tape in the mail or give me a call. Producer's VU will be taking March off as The Cassette will be filled with the RAP Awards! Good luck, everyone and see you in April.