By Rick Allen
All the recent changes in recording technology have changed the way we approach creativity in radio production. Things have changed rapidly. Not that long ago there were Production Directors who would have killed for a 4-track analog tape deck in their studio. Now we have many Production Directors in place turning out great work who have never touched Mylar tape or risked losing a finger with a single-edge razor blade. Radio has moved from the “linear” recording techniques found in multitrack analog recording to the new reality of “non-linear” hard disk recording.
In the past, by definition, linear style “flowed.” With analog recording, all the elements of a promo were designed to flow together. The smoother the transitions, the better the producer. Producers avoided any jolts in intensity. The object was to get the sweeper to blend into the next element.
Then technology gave us the “non-linear” hard drive recording workstations. This gave audio producers the same control over their sound that video producers had over their visuals. This gave rise to the imitation of the MTV style of hip edits. It was fresh and all the rage, but it was born from video production. It worked perfectly for TV, and for a while, it got the attention of radio listeners because it was different. However, what best serves TV does not necessarily serve the best interests of radio. Research began to show that listeners were tiring of the “beep beep buzz buzz” TV style of radio sweepers and promos just as they had tired of Lost in Space lasers a few years back. It became a style of imitation, not a signature of radio, but a copy of MTV. Listeners seemed to begin to demand originality. However, many stations couldn’t break the habit.
It was at this point that a few highly creative production people started to look for the “next” sound. One style that seems to be taking off with some major market Creative Directors is a morphing of the linear and non-linear styles. They use jarring edits when those kinds of edits are called for. They high pass the EQ on the voice when it makes sense. On the other hand, in a more linear tradition, sometimes they flow from music cut to music cut instead of using quick edits. They can match beats of different music tracks to create a seamless montage. They are even overlapping voice tracks to create attention-getting promos. And the good news is, the world of non-linear workstations makes linear style production easier than ever before. You can adjust an edit until it’s perfect. You can try an effect and “undo” if you don’t like it. In fact, the undo feature gives us total freedom to experiment. If you have a crazy idea for an edit or effect, try it. Don’t be lazy; try it. If it sounds terrible, undo it. The new technology gives us every reason to experiment. In just a few seconds you take the chance and you just may discover a great new effect that makes your production sound really different.
Bottom line, it’s fun to get creative ideas from other places (like we did with the beeps and buzzes of MTV), but adapt these ideas to serve your role in radio. Mold them to work for our medium. Be creative, or we’ll become stagnant and boring. Always look for ways to sound different. Sometimes the ideas come from advances in technology. Sometimes they come from taking the best production ideas from the past. Sometimes they come from trying something different. Sometimes the “next” style is simply a blending of two already existing ones. Try it...try anything. We all know that being creative takes more time, but our jobs and our industry depend on it.