Andrew MacKenzie, Hedquist Productions, Fairfield, IA: “Goodyear”

producers-vu-logo-2By Craig Rogers

That “agency sound.” Those of us in radio com-mercial work aspire to achieve that “agency sound.” On occasion we do. To do it more frequently, all we need are the two things an agency has that we don’t: time and money. Suddenly, you can audition and hire the perfect voice talent instead of having to beg the receptionist. You’ll have a day or two to polish a spot instead of getting at 4 p.m. a four-voice, whiz-bang club spot with singing dogs that starts at 6 p.m..

1298VU HedLogoOkay, even I know that working with agencies has its share of headaches and last minute emergencies. But still, there are those jobs when you do get a bit of time and a decent budget and you can produce your own miniature epic!

Andrew-MacKenzie dec98Andy MacKenzie of Hedquist Productions in Fairfield, Iowa produced this month’s mini-epic for Goodyear. The spot was written by the Goodyear agency. Drop in The Cassette to hear Andy’s work and read here about how he produced it.

Andy uses Pro Tools 3.2 running on a Mac Quadra with 36 megs of RAM. The system has 8 outputs. There were 35 tracks used in this production. Each effect and voice has its own track or pair of tracks.

The spot was inspired by last summer’s asteroid disaster movies. Andy says they needed the sound of that “Texas-sized asteroid,” but no one at Hedquist had seen the movie yet. So they developed their own.

“We needed something big, rumbly and low end as well as intergalactic,” Andy said. Not your typical description in the sound effects index. So Andy combined a number of effects to create a meteor hurtling toward Earth. Included were an earthquake for low-end rumble, a volcano that reinforced the low-end rumble but also included falling rocks and debris, a fireball, regular fire effects, and a cut called “alien control room” for an electronic drone. These all came from the Sound Ideas library. Andy also Foley’d a vacuum cleaner. He turned on the vacuum, then slowly pulled it away from the mic. He then used Sound Designer II to reverse the audio. When played back, it gradually became louder until it switched off. The perfect background whine for an approaching asteroid.

All these effects were recorded onto their own stereo pair. Andy then bounced down all these effects into a single stereo pair for the meteor. The volcano started low, almost non-existent in the mix and was brought forward as the spot moves on and the meteor closes on Earth.

Opening the spot is a fireball effect from the Sound Ideas library. The alien control room is more prominent in the mix here.

The music is authentic “B” movie soundtrack stuff from the DeWolfe Library. The cut is called “Desperation” and comes from their “Movie Archives” series. Andy said he thinks this is real soundtrack music DeWolfe likely purchased from studios. The music set the scene perfectly.

The crowd screaming is a compilation of two screams. One comes from Jeffrey Hedquist’s personal collection. The second is from the Dimension effects library. This is a library recorded in holophonics, a recording technique that adds dimension to a sound. The script originally called for footsteps as well, but the crowd sounds alone offered more drama. Andy bounced these two effects to a stereo pair.

Traffic jam effects also came from the Sound Ideas library.

The sound of a meteor hitting the earth isn’t found in most of your libraries. And it certainly isn’t practical to Foley. On top of that, the script instruction for the impact was “break their radios.” Since no single ordinary effect could possibly fill the bill, Andy again created it using several effects. The heart of it was found on a trusty old vinyl library from Elektra. The perfect sound was a plane crash. Even though it came from vinyl, no clean up of the effect was needed. There’s a lot going on in this spot, so any surface noise was buried. Andy edited out the drone of the engines that preceded the crash. This was combined with another crash and another fireball from Sound Ideas. These effects were also bounced to a stereo pair. After the impact, Andy brought up a bed of crickets chirping.

Andy used no compression on the effects to maintain the dynamic range as the meteor grew closer.

So far, we’ve got a lot of effects. What about the v/o? Well, at Hedquist, they don’t just grab someone from the office staff to whip out a voicer (at least not for this commercial).This is another part of the process that makes for the “agency sound.”

Voice talent David Shatraw is in New York City. He recorded his v/o at Full House studios there. Jeffrey directed the voice-over session via a conference call phone patch. Also on the call was the Creative Director of the agency. David was mic’d with a Sennheiser 416. The finished take was delivered to Hedquist Productions in a few short minutes via DG Systems.

So how does a four-man production house in Fairfield, Iowa find talent in New York City? Jeffery has an amazing database listing over 6000 voices. He has them classified by over 60 characteristics such as quality, texture, age category, and whom they may sound like. The database includes spots they’ve done and any dialects they can perform. By searching for such characteristics as “young,” “hip,” “high energy,” and others, Jeffrey narrowed the field to about 25 candidates. They selected a dozen to play for the agency, then auditioned the agency’s top choices on the copy. The entire process took about two days, a fairly typical turnaround time.

Through his career, Jeffrey has established relationships with studios all over the country. So no matter where his talent is, he can find a place for them to record. Now, with ISDN so prevalent, he can record a distant session at his studio instead of waiting for a FedEx package to arrive.

Once the v/o arrived, Andy dumped it into Pro Tools and edited as needed to fit the effects and voice together. Lastly, Jeffrey voiced the location tag.

When all finished, Andy has a terrific piece of theater. Drop in The Cassette and check out his work.

Next month, start 1999 with a clean slate as we step into the confessional with a promo from Don Elliot of KFI/KOST, Los Angeles.