Jeff Berlin-WXKS/Boston: "Kiss Concert 18"
by Craig Rogers
This month, we drop in on the studio of Jeff Berlin at WXKS, Kiss 108 in Boston. Jeff digs into a promo he produced for the annual Kiss Concert that features some of the biggest names in pop. Read here about how Jeff produced the promo and hear the final product on The Cassette.
The concept was to hype early ticket sales to this year's concert based on the strength of previous year's lineups. Voice-over is by Keith Eubanks. Kiss doesn't usually use Keith, but contracts with him for a month for the Kiss concert material.
Jeff is working with Pro Tools version 3.2 running on a Mac7100 with 40MB RAM and a 1-gig hard drive. Two 442 DigiDesign interfaces give him a total of 8 inputs and 8 outputs. He has a JL Cooper MIDI controller to give him real faders to work with. To see it all, he has a 13-inch monitor which he calls "the porthole." In addition to the items you'll read about, Jeff has a 14-input BMX-1 board (circa 1979), Otari MTR-10 reel-to-reel, Panasonic SV38OO DAT, 2 Studer A730 CD players (analog output stage redesigned in-house), 2 Technics SP-1O MKIl turntables, 2 lTC cart machines, Roland S550 sampler, Orban 424A gated compressor/limiter, dbx noise gate, 2 Urei LA4 compressors, Urei 1178 2-channel limiter, Howe Audio Phase Chaser, Pinnacle RCD5040 CD ROM recorder, and the following mics: Neumann TLM 170, Shure SM-7, and an EV RE20.
The first step is to record Keith's voice into Pro Tools in mono. Jeff then assembles various pieces into the read he wants.
The effects and music are from the "Tech-X" package from FirstCom. He'd just received the disc, so to familiarize himself with the contents, he let the CD roll as he recorded it into Pro Tools. He then picked the elements he wanted and moved them where needed.
For the opening fade-up effect, he reversed the voice track and effect under it. This was done by playing these tracks from Pro Tools and sampling the phrase with his Ultra Harmonizer H3000B. He then reversed the edit points to play the sound backward. He fed this through his Orban 622B parametric equalizer, cutting around 100Hz and 200Hz with a wide Q. This was then run through the "End Echo" program of his Lexicon LXP-5 reverb/effects unit to get a long reverb. This reversed sound, with EQ and reverb, was recorded into Sound Designer II where he flipped it again (Sound Designer is a separate piece of software running on the same computer as Pro Tools). With the echo now preceding the source, he has a fade in. He imports this processed .wav file from SD II into Pro Tools.
Underneath this processed v/o phrase is a quick series of fx from the Tech-X package. Jeff says he uses these as punctuators. Their position is determined by the copy. "It's all copy driven. I'm creating a sonic architecture based on whatever Keith is saying, using the sound effects as I would commas and periods or underlining."
Underneath the first mention of the concert, you'll hear the cheer of a concert crowd. This comes from a live album. Jeff can't remember which one, but makes this recommendation for using applause from live concerts: "...look for a show recorded in Paris." He says the lack of a large venue in Paris precludes many major artists from stopping there. So when one does play there, the crowds are immensely appreciative and quite vocal. "Supertramp Live in Paris" is one he recommends.
Three of the artist hooks (Aerosmith, Etheridge, and Duran Duran) were laid in the old fashioned way, in real time. He started Pro Tools in record and played the CD at the appropriate spot. He found this was faster than recording them in, then clicking and dragging them into place. He already had the Seal and Secada cuts in Pro Tools from previous productions, so he imported them into this one. He noticed the tempos of these two songs were similar so he matched them for several beats.
Notice the beeps that separate and accent each music hook. The beeps line up with the music beats. To accomplish this quickly, Jeff would loop a measure of the music then use the Pro Tools "Identify Beat" command to generate a MIDI grid. This allows him to place the beeps exactly on selected beats. He does this with each bed. "It's very quick," Jeff says, "quicker than trying to nudge things where I want them."
As the music montage progresses, the pitch of the beep drops. Jeff started with a 100Hz tone. The pitch changing was done in Sound Designer II. He had several different pitches for use with different song cuts. These beeps were used frequently in subsequent KISS 108 concert promos as well.
On the list of artists, Jeff created an effect he calls a modulated EQ. He first solo'd Keith's voice track, ran it through the Urei LA4 compressor, then through the Orban EQ. These feeds were through his patch panel because he would be using Program and Audition for more effects, as you'll see.
The Orban EQ offers four frequency controls for each channel. He set the Q for the two midrange controls as narrow as possible. The EQ was brought up on the board and assigned to Program to feed back to Pro Tools and to Audition to feed the LXP-5 to add reverb ("Large Bright Room"). Then, as he fed Keith's voice through the EQ, he twisted and turned the frequency knobs for the midrange controls, sweeping the frequencies. This was all then recorded back into two new tracks on Pro Tools.
After the list of artists, Jeff has another series of effects on the word, "Now." He used Pro Tools to play it back at half speed and sampled it with the Harmonizer. He played it back from the Harmonizer into Pro Tools, with the pot open to get some intentional digital feedback. This is the "ring" you hear.
The George Bush drop-in ("I say we've got to do what we've got to do") comes from the CD "A Poke in the Ear with a Sharp Stick." It's followed by a familiar cartoon effect from the Hanna Barbera library. Jeff edited a music bed from Tech-X to fit the next Keith phrase. It ends cold with the phrase, "...we announce the lineup...." This allowed him to have a moment of dead air to grab the listeners attention again. The scream is a drop-in of unknown origins Jeff has had on file forever.
On the tag, you'll hear an ear-catching stutter in the music trail. To get this, he erased 150ms increments of the bed.
With Pro Tools, Jeff can assign any of the internal tracks to any one of the four physical outputs of the system. On the mix to cart, Jeff assigns all tracks except Keith's voice to outputs 1 and 2 of Pro Tools. He uses outputs 3 and 4 for some additional reverb on Keith's voice. Output 3 is assigned to PGM to feed the cart and AUD to feed the LXP5 on a large hall setting. Output 4 feeds Keith's list of artists to the Harmonizer for additional effects. Jeff uses the MIDI control of Pro Tools to call up the Harmonizer's "Filter Delay" program on this output. With the MIDI control, any changes he makes to the Harmonizer program will play back automatically on subsequent playbacks. However, he didn't make any changes to the program with this mix; the MIDI was to enable him to recall the same program in the future when he recalls the production. These reverb effects were added in real time as he went to cart.
There's a lot in this promo, and you can check it all out on The Cassette. You can reach Jeff at WXKS at (617) 393-7740 or e-mail
Next month, Producer's VU sits behind the board with Don Lawler of Target Marketing in Memphis as he creates a crowd of ticked-off termites!