"Pipers Pale Ale" from Ross McIntyre, 100.3 The Q, CKKQ-FM, Victoria, B.C., Canada
by Craig Rogers
So you think you've seen it all come across your production board? When's the last time you had to mike a bagpipe player? That's part of what Ross McIntyre of CKKQ/Victoria, B.C. got to do in a campaign for a local cottage brewery. You can hear the results on The Cassette in a couple of terrific vignettes to promote Piper's Pale Ale.
Besides the bagpiper, there is one other unusual aspect to this production: the client provided a production budget (collective gasp)! Ross says having a budget was in itself, "quite extraordinary. We were trying to treat this from the perspective of service above and beyond, something a client may in fact get from an agency." The account exec was very up front with the client about the cost of these extra services and the client was willing to provide the budget to move his commercial to the next level. The client was already a fan of 100.3 the Q and believed in radio, so two large hurdles had already been cleared. He saw the value in enabling the station to devote the extra time to creative and production, including hiring the appropriate talent and of course, a bagpiper. This is the first and only time Ross has had the luxury of a budget.
The process began with a brainstorming session with Ross, writer Dan Kahan, the client and some other wacky Q staffers. Of all the ideas tossed around in the session, the one that brought the most consistent response was that of BAGpipers being confused with the BEER, Pipers. The concept brought up a good number of humorous possibilities. As Ross says, "The bagpipe is right up there with the accordion as far as comedic value."
As the creative process went on, it was decided it would be difficult to carry the bagpipe gag for a full 30 seconds. They decided instead to do a series of 15-second vignettes that would be piggybacked for each 30. Each vignette puts the bagpipers wherever one might normally store their Pipers Pale Ale--the trunk of the car, the closet, the fridge, etc..
With a budget, Ross says he became a "project manager." The typical production time table of instant turnaround was gone. He had to explain to the AE that production would take longer. He had to work within the schedules of outside talent, namely the announcer and the bagpiper. And, he needed the scripts approved before production began. Ross explained that is just spending the client's money wisely. If you have to hire the talents once to do the spot and then again to do revisions, that's money wasted. Once Dan had the scripts ready and the campaign was approved, then Ross started auditioning talent.
First, Ross auditioned talent for the bit players. Of the three staffers he auditioned, the afternoon driver from the AM station was the best Scotsman. The receptionist, who Ross says is a great mimic, played the part of the wife. The morning man from the Q played the husband. The announcer is an outside talent the brewery had used on a past campaign produced by an agency, so he was a given. The bagpiper is a local performer.
Ross and the creative team treated this production just like an agency would from beginning to end. He even booked a block of four hours in the studio to devote to producing the spots. He says, "This is one of the more luxurious times I have had in executing creative."
Now, let's head into the studio. Here's what he's working with: Ramsa WR8616 4-buss console, RE-20 mike, dbx 166 compressor/limiter/gate, Aphex Type III Aural Exciter, Yamaha Rev 5 reverb, dbx 263x de-esser, Tascam 122 Mk II cassette, Denon DN970FA CD player, Tascam DA 88 with RC848 remote, Tascam DA-30 Mk II DAT, 360 Systems DigiCart with 1 gig hard drive, Tascam 42-B 2-track, JBL 4408 monitors.
All the various voice tracks and the piper parts were recorded to separate files on the DigiCart with no compression. (We'll get to the details on recording the piper a bit later). Then Ross laid down the background ambience to the DA-88. These effects came from the Hollywood Edge library and an old vinyl disc reissued on a CD called "75 Spectacular Effects." One effect went to tracks 3 and 4, the other to 5 and 6. He then bounced down these four tracks to a stereo pair on 7 and 8.
For the wife, Jennifer, the Q receptionist, was about 5 feet back from the mike in Ross' 8' x 8' v/o booth. To simulate her calling to her husband from the distance, Ross ran her voice dry to track 3 panned hard left with two different effects recorded to 5 and 6. The first is a 25 msec delay from the Rev 5. This is panned left of center. He then fed that delayed track back through a Large Hall Chamber reverb on the Rev 5 set to a 100 msec delay. This reverb was summed to mono, recorded to track 6 and is panned right.
The car trunk opening and closing is comprised of four different sound effects: two different household door hinge creaks and two different car door noises for the release of the lock and the thunk of the trunk lid closing, all from the Hollywood Edge. These were all recorded onto separate tracks, then mixed to the DigiCart for balance and recorded back to track 4 on the DA-88. This put the effects on one track instead of four. This helped Ross keep them in a consistent spot in the stereo picture and maintain the proper balance between effects.
The pipers start playing when the trunk is opened (as pipers are wont to do...). When Ross was recording the piper, he had him do several takes of several tunes. This gave him a stockpile of different melodies for different vignettes. It also gave him several takes of each tune. He then stacked different takes of the same tune to give the illusion of three pipers crammed in the trunk. Since the female talent is done at this point, the pipers occupy those tracks (3, 5 and 6).
When the trunk is slammed shut on the pipers, they play on, muffled by the trunk lid. Ross set up an EQ curve rolling off the high end and mids. He punched this in and dropped the fader level as he recorded each track from the DigiCart to the DA-88. (A tip from Ross on how to achieve the same sound without EQ: twist the tape so the backing instead of the oxide runs against the heads).
The music logo is from the Sound Designer II Library. The opening of the beer bottle is from the Hollywood Edge. Ross compressed the effect at 4:1 to really put it "in your face." This music and sound effect logo is used on all the vignettes. Music shares tracks 7 and 8 with the outdoor effects and the bottle open shares 4 with the trunk effects.
With so many tracks sharing different bits of the production, Ross stresses it's important to record items at the proper level in the mix to make the mixdown as simple as possible.
For the second 15-second vignette, track assignments are similar to the first. This time, the pipers find themselves in the refrigerator. In this scene, the wife is shouting from down the hall. Ross found an excellent reverb on the Rev 5 called Rehearsal Room. He panned the dry voice hard right and the reverb slightly off hard right to bring out the space.
The party walla was a bar background from the Hollywood Edge sweetened with some general background voices that Ross had recorded and had on file from other productions.
In this spot, one of the pipers speaks from within the fridge. Ross added a tight reverb to that spoken line to make him sound like he was in the fridge. The reverb is recorded to the same track as the voice.
So you've come this far and you're still wondering how to record a bagpiper? Well, here's Ross' technique: "A monkey could mike a bagpipe and make it sound good. The sound is so huge, it's not really challenging to get decent mike placement." In reality, Ross miked him in the voice booth from about 3 feet away with an RE-20.
On mixdown to DAT master, Ross used the dbx 166 as two separate mono compressors to compress the voice tracks. The announcer was compressed at 4:1 and the characters were compressed at 2:1. The mix on the DAT is then sent to the DigiCart for air.
These are top notch spots any agency would be proud to call their own. But it's not always just time and money that make productions like this possible. Take it from Ross, who cut his teeth in 2 and 4-track rooms: "The one common denominator in everything is imagination...you're only really limited by your imagination." So get in there and just imagine. Me, I'm going to imagine I'm having a cold Piper's....