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Promotional ideas and technique. Always radio, always positive.

The Imaging Days 2014 – day two

The Imaging Days

This page is assembled in reverse chronological order by session so start down the bottom if that’s important to you.

1800 CET

We’re saying thank you to Anthony Timmers who organised the event. There’s another one in 2015 and the dates are already announced for 5 and 6 October.

1710 CET

It’s Chris Hartgers and Niels Franken from Radio 538 of the Netherlands. This is a station all about CHR imaging with the station’s two producers. It’s a show-and-tell on their production processes to end the conference.

2014-09-09 17.13.19-2

Laughs in the auditorium as they play the current 538 sound, followed by the sound of the station from ten years ago. The old stuff really doesn’t cut it today.

These guys are best of friends for ten years, have the same tastes and have followed similar paths through production companies including PURE jingles before landing at 538.

Example 1

They open-up a ProTools session (as has become the typical style of this conference) and, voila, it’s a busy Justin Timberlake promotion. We’re now taking it apart, bit by bit to hear the elements that comprise it.

Niels says he included some recognisable music hook samples to catch the attention of real Justin Timberlake fans. There are lots of delays on the main male voiceover and the sound effects of cheering girl fans. The promotion was for a competition for tickets.

An audience member asks how they got the mvo to cut through the busy mix. They took out a lot of LF from the track (Chris Nicoll at Capital does that with Howard Ritchie’s vos too), then there’s some further filtering and some mighty compression and Niels says he’s careful not to put the music too high in the mix.

Example 2

Here’s a promo from Chris that’s mostly beats, autotune and Will.i.am elements because this is a Will.i.am promo. They have some sweary words that would make your mother blush in the promo but apparently that’s ok because this is Holland.

We see some plugins. The Phase Mistress from Soundboys is a popular favourite. Costs £179. Chris loves his heavy compression. The audience gasps when they see his settings.

Another of their favourite plugins for tonal delays is Effectrix by Sugar Bytes. It seems to give a tuned vocoder-style sound and can also do other powerful sequenced manipulation.

The discussion moves onto mastering and these guys use a lot of limiting. They say they require their audio to scream out of the commercial break and this is how they do it.

Power intros

Niels says the most important part of the power intro is the beginning. It has to give impact and establish the tempo of the track. He uses a crunchy effect to cut through and then straight into the beat.

The fvo says 5 3 8 with individual syllables tuned to the station logo and in the key of the track. Lots of filtered delays bouncing off the vocal bits too. The delays go on for what sounds like 10 seconds!

Niels uses a thing called the Oxford Inflator but has no idea what it does. I looked it up…

The Inflator is a unique process that can provide an increase in the apparent loudness of almost any programme, without obvious loss of quality or audible reduction of dynamic range, yet avoiding damaging increases in the peak level of the signal. The inflator process can also bring power, presence and warmth to programme material and even provide headroom overload margin above digital maximum with a subtlety and musical character reminiscent of tube systems.

So, more loudness then. Niels makes the point that their station processing (by Orban) is so good that they really don’t need to do a lot of mastering on their power intros.

Chris and Niels say they don’t really follow the rules. There’s a lot going on their sessions, they limit hard but they say that to their ears it sounds great.

A question from Slovenia – how do they get the same sound as each other? They say they grew up together, have the same cultural tastes and their lives have been in sync throughout their development. Their projects are interchangeable. And loud.

1600 CET

In a schedule change, it’s Ryan Drean on stage. He’s talking about what he calls the new reality of wearing many hats. For Ryan, that means a way to maximise your value as a person who makes sound.

Ryan Drean

Ryan Drean

Ryan doesn’t want to be “that American guy” at the conference but does want to bring a little bit of America to the event. He promises Dave Foxx will be involved in some way later.

Bring value always – in all ways is his first big thought. While working at KSCS, Ryan survived five waves of firings while others were pushed out of the door. Why? The others said no before they said yes. Ryan always added value.

Think about a plan B. What if they closed down all radio stations tomorrow? Would you end up producing Ke$ha records?

Here are some signs you might be replaced or fired… pulled of a project, suddenly what you know matters to others, conflicts suddenly disappear, you can no long see your future within the company or the thing you do no longer has focus, or if the money is running dry.

That’s enough negativity.

Now Ryan talks about diversification as a source of new value. He says build clients, build your skillset both in and outside your company and both inside and outside the industry. Video is an obvious place in which to diversify. Finally, he says it’s important to concentrate on the real revenue streams.

Ryan’s a company man – he loves the security of working in a big corporation but he says you must always respect the source of the money and should never get precious about your work. Money talks. Don’t mess with it.

Creative trends start outside the US but money trends start inside it, Ryan has noticed. That’s just how things work so get ready for US-style consolidation to reach us here in Europe.

Ryan plays excerpts of Dave Foxx and Eric Chase from a recent podcast he made. A really good listen. They agree you have to always try to learn something new, even if it’s time consuming.

Now its time for a list.

Five things you can do to be better.

5. Business conduct – follow-up on conversations, stick to your turnaround promises.

4. Communication – the business of communication needs to get better at communication. The good communicators really stand out.

3. Upgrade to an SSD hard-drive on your main computer.

2. Do you. Invest in yourself and get yourself the correct tools. This means not wasting money on stuff that doesn’t match your skills.

1. Passion. Flaunt it.

Ryan moves to a discussion about hiring and casting for talent. He says if you’re in that market as a buyer or a seller it’s important to know your market and the pricing that’s appropriate. Some jobs are worth taking for less money. Don’t always go for the biggest number.

Also – put yourself among the right people for good things to happen and remember that you are choosing them as much as they are choosing you.

Critique – ask for it and remember that negative feedback is good if you know what you need to gain from it. If you send someone something always follow-up to get the critique. Use the critique you get – not for your ego but to improve. Actually use it.

Workflow and process list

1. Have a back-up plan. Back-up your work always, both locally and off-site.

2. Templates – try them at the least. Ryan’s not a big fan of them but he knows others find them brilliantly valuable. Maybe you will too.

3. Presets – name and save them with a sensible notation that you can go back to when you need them.

4. Clouds – find one you like and use it for offsite back-up. Go to the forums to find a good one for your workflow and tech.

Cool tools

1. Have one portable drive (backed-up of course). Firewire, USB3, Thunderbolt.

2. Use Audio Hijack, YouTube Ripper to steal things says Ryan.

3. In the US, Ryan subscribes to New Music Server and Play MPE to access new music.

4. Calendaring – get into good personal scheduling habits.

5. Mighty Text – this is a utility and Chrome plugin that pulls your mobile phone SMS into Gmail.

6. The “Zero inbox” theory. Ryan likes this a lot as an ambition but still doesn’t always achieve it.

Some free stuff that helps

1. Use the wide world of people who love to tell you how smart they are.

2. Forums and specialist sites. For example…

3. KVRaudio.com

4. TheRecordingRevolution.com

5. Protoolsusers.com

6. 99sounds.org

7. /r/RadioImaging on Reddit.

8. www.FreeRadioFX.com – delegates at the event got a code to use this free. I’d better not share it here.

That’s enough lists. Now we’re onto video. Is it “the next digital” by which I think Ryan means the next dramatic change to sweep our production world. There’s some good news if it is:

Ryan’s final thing… it’s only radio. Keep some perspective. Nobody will die if you screw up that promo.

1540 CET

The organisers are filming everything, plus interviews. They say they’ll put online everything they have rights to share in the next few weeks.

2014-09-09 15.43.35

1500 CET

George Taylor from IMGR, the new CHR production service from Wise Buddah, promises a geekfest of exposed settings.

George is listening through to some tracks to use in a short piece of imaging.This is a build-up from the ground of the main components. He auditions several tracks before finding the one he likes. He’s always listening for “the drop”.

He recommends the Mixed in Key tool  (£36) to help understand how to mix two different tracks together. George also likes Universal Audio plugins (each one is around £250 – £400) which he says have a really lovely sound and for adding harmonies he rates the Antares Harmonizer (£180).

The other plugin he uses are mostly from the Waves series. George says he’s always used Truverb (£100) to give a big verb effect and has always used the same settings for years.

When putting elements into the track stack, George puts everything in at -10dB so there’s plenty of headroom on the output Bus. Good tip that.

He’s explaining how he puts eq and compression on a particular element. He has four different dynamic controllers in series, each one doing just a little work but together achieving a very solid and punchy sound.

This is really getting into a lot of detail but George is full of charm and is making it easy to follow – certainly a lot easier than I can achieve on this blog. The audience is lapping it up, taking notes and many pictures of George’s big screen.

Tuning – George says that for CHR he goes “the extra mile” by tuning virtually all the voice elements in his mixes so it all fits the music more strongly and adds some “fairy dust” to the overall sound.

What about effects? George rates the work of Ben Neidle but doesn’t want the effects to be the star of the show in his CHR work. He adds some sounds for impact and sparkle and to help with segues out of songs.

Finally on this demo, he’s looking at mastering and believes that if the mix is right you don’t need to do too much in the final stages. He widens the mix, adds a bit of linear mulitband limiting which makes the bottom end a bit beefier, then adds a compressor from Universal Audio and a peak limiter, then another multiband and the Universal Audio maximizer on a 3 band setting.

Sounds like quite a lot to me. Maybe I’m old fashioned.

George explains that he needs his CHR imaging to stand up to today’s EDM records. The key, he says, is use multiple plugins in series but only drive each one lightly. The additive effect will give the loudness and presence you need.

He plays a demo of IMGR. You can hear more about that on the latest Earshot Creative Review podcast.

Question to George about what were his big “a-ha” moments. He says moving from hot AC at Trent FM in the UK to working in a dedicated production company, Pure Tonic (now part of Reelworld), to do CHR was a real eye-opener that moved him up several notches.

He says anyone who wants to get into this field of work must follow their passions.

Just totting-up the cost of the plugins George recommended in this session. At least £1300’s worth, possibly more.

1400 CET

Uunco Cerfontaine

Here’s Unco Cerfontaine of Sky Radio and he’s starting with a history lesson of Sky Radio in the Netherlands. Did you know that commercial radio in the Netherlands only became legal in 1988?

Uunco explains how the station has had to change through the decades as music tastes have modernised. You don’t want to be famous for something that’s no longer popular, he says.

The music cycle changed several times, through dance to rock then in the latest decade AC became poppy which worked in the station’s favour.

He talks about Rhianna, Pink, Adele and Michael Buble – it was the right time to add more modern music to his AC station.

Sky Radio has always had “musical” jingles rather than effects and sweepers and therefore they are more important to Sky than to other stations in the market. Also, Sky Radio doesn’t have DJs so the jingles have to make all the transitions work.

The new jingles had to support what he calls “Modern AC”. For jingles this means no trumpets which Uunco says are outdated. Don’t play him this then.

The new Sky Radio sound went live in 2012. The logo changed in new jingles from Wise Buddah and he plays some which segue with songs from the playlist. The strapline is “enjoy the music” and lots of the cuts are designed as a pace-changing transitions.

Most recently, there’s been a further change to the sound to accommodate the rise of electronic dance music which is so pervasive it is spilling over into his modern AC format.

The latest jingles have a far firmer drum and bass feel to them in recognition of this trend. Branded intros use filtered and treated vocals.

Mark Vickers gets the credit for making the latest work. The full package is here on Wise Buddah’s site.

1245 CET

Giel Beelen, Ryan Drean and Jeoen “Jingle” Van Inkel

Giel Beelen, Ryan Drean and Jeoen “Jingle” Van Inkel

Giel Beelen and Jeoen “Jingle” Van Inkel appear on stage with Ryan Drean. Giel and Jeoen are on-air talent from 3FM and Radio Veronica. They’re world-famous in Holland.

Ryan’s asking them how important are the jingles to them. Giel says he will pick any audio so long as it makes his show sound “horny”. There’s some discussion to exactly how one might determine that metric.

Giel plays a lot of audio on his show from an iPad. It doesn’t seem to be working very well on the event wifi but he’s trying to play a piece of audio from Armin van Buuren as an example of an element he’s found, liked and adapted for his show as a stager.

Jeoen plays an acoustic rendition of Ed Sheeran singing a custom recording of Passenger. “He’s got the best f***ing morning show” go the lyrics.

Ryan says producers love it when talent pays attention to the detail of the imaging and use it well.

Giel responds that each category of audio has its own value – imaging – drops – soundtracks of movies to support emotional interviews. He’s thinking much more widely about sourcing production elements than just imaging packages and in-house production.

They end with a great, measured voice recording from Morgan Freeman who tells the radio story of Jeoem Van Inkel. “…and there’s not a thing you can do to get him off the air” he says. Has to be the best voice performance we’ve heard today.

Giel asks music library producers to make more “normal music”.

Jeoen talks about playing sound effects on the air and how computers make that easier. He play more than one at a time now. He also unpacks a pick flight case in which he has a sfx trigger keyboard and various other bulky-looking kit that he takes everywhere. After the iPad failed earlier, perhaps that’s still wise.

1200 CET

Erik Huber of Reelworld talks about the nuances of music that jingles exploit to help radio stations enhance their feelgood power. He asks what feelgood means for listeners and how that translates into what he does in the studio, creating things out of thin air as a creative process.

We’re hearing some audio. It’s a Euro jingle with solo female vocal, minor key, aggressive sound effects and “poke-in-the-ear” processing on the vocals. This is for listeners who connect with today’s EDM sound. Erik says this is a away to communicate to a listener that the station is “part of my tribe”.

Now something softer and more jolly. Lots of vocal harmony too and a Wake Up with Whoopi cut with ‘scat gospel’ vocals. Is that a genre? It all goes to show the thought processes that affect the work before a note is written.

Erik invites the audience to choose between a CHR or an AC case study. They choose CHR by a landslide.

He’s opened up a Logic session and is going through the tuning of kick drums, filters, reverse reverbs on vocals in some detail. He is remarkably open about the plug-ins and techniques he uses to achieve the sound of the KTU jingles on air in New York.

He’s plays the same jingle without the end chain in circuit and debates whether it’s best to mix with the end chain defeated or not. He seems to suggest he prefers it there.

Erik says he likes to emulate what’s happening with the latest commercial releases but recently they’ve started “sounding like shit” which is a challenge so they have an internal standard at Reelworld as a control.

Veronica

Another jingle unpicked track-by-track. This one’s from Radio Veronica and Erik said it was an remarkable project in part because the Dutch singers were incredibly talented.

He’s playing an acoustic jingle now – largely acoustic guitar and vocals and describing how different it is as a mixing challenge to preserve the delights of such a delicate stringed instrument.

Another focus in his mixes is the relationship between kick drum and bass. He sometimes zooms right into the waveform to ensure the transients of both instruments are pointing in the same direction when they hit!

Erik apologies that he cannot play the new Heart work today. This is because it’s not on air yet. Cards close to chest on that one. The client will want control over the comms I expect.

He’s taking questions on snare drums – he stacks four typically on a country jingle – and monitoring – he doesn’t really care because it has to sound good on everything. He likes the Egg though because they’re accurate, clean and he can listen on them all day.

Finally, Erik says how awesome it is to be in a room of people who do this stuff. His overall attitude is one of a modest, open and constantly curious gentleman. As a client. you’d be happy in his studio.

1100 CET

Lenja Faraguna plays Martin Luther King’s I have a dream speech.

She credits Anthony Timmers for having the dream of organsing the Imaging Days. Not quite the same as ending civil rights inequality but still heartfelt praise.

Lenja also teases the audience with the prospect of winning this…

The Equaliser Key Hanger - Yay!

The Equaliser Key Hanger – Yay!

Lenja says that imaging producers are not in the radio business – they’re in the feelgood business and the people business.

It’s about making people feel good and Lenja has research to show that radio beats other media for key metrics that relate to human connection: its makes me feel alive, it’s good for gossip, it speaks my language, I can talk back at it, it puts me in a good mood and it’s a friend. Pay attention sales reps – that’s in your next client presentation, right?

Look – it’s on a chart – it must be true…

“Radio is a friend and friends matter to each other – they don’t scream and sell at each other”.

Lenja plays audio from veteran US programmer Chuck Blore. He talks about Kiss listeners in LA. They’re like each other and they like each other. Kiss is the station for people like me, for people I like. There are Kiss listeners like me whom I relate to… and then all the others.

Lenja talks about radio’s business target to achieve share of market but says you have to have share of mind and share of heart first. It is important that every little detail of your marketing tells one story so people connect with you more deeply and you are uniquely and permanently consistent.

If you don’t do this people will make up their own meaning about your brand.

This will sort the boys from the men – you need to be consistent says Lenja, but don’t ever be predictable. Instead, be memorable.

Lenja now has a room of men standing on their chairs. She’s enjoying the power! Look at things from a different perspective is the take-out of this exercise.

They're like putty in her hands.

They’re like putty in her hands.

We can sit down now.

Make conversations human-to-human, not b2b. Be real and raw and relevant.

Use active verbs to stimulate visualisation in the mind of the listener. Like Alfred Hitchcock.

There’s a competition now to create an ad and an jingle for the Imaging Days 2015. If only all briefs came twelve months out. Lenja plays the theme from Jaws as inspiration and asks the audience to write while it’s playing. Gosh. Not much feelgood yet!

Now the same exercise with Eine Kleine Nachtmusik playing.

Meanwhile, Jo Godfrey will be pleased to know that the models in bikinis haven’t turned up today. They could have made the bed though. *cough*

Back to Lenja’s creative challenge and audience members are reading out the scripts they’ve written. A nice metaphor about shepherds and sheep from one writer, another about the excitement of playing with a great white shark in a pool of inspiration.

Nice end to the session. Lenja’s won everybody over to her feelgood mission.

1030 CET

International radio consultant and author Valerie Geller joins via technology from the US.

Tell the truth. Make it matter. Never be boring – it’s Valerie’s time-honoured route to making powerful radio.

She’s talking about the audience which is always the best starting point. Audiences want to be entertained, informed, inspired, engaged and connected.

This is as important to imaging as to anything you do.

Valerie asks:

1. Is your message clear and simple?

2. Is your jingle memorable?

3. Can your listener sing the jingle?

4. Just because you’re tired of it, it does not mean the listener is.

Loving these checklists? Have another one…

1. What’s in it for the listener?

2. Is it relevant?

3. Does it matter?

4. Do you care?

5. Do your listeners care?

This is what separates art from craft. Valerie charms the audience by saying they’re all great craftspeople, but being a great artist requires more.

Making Powerful Radio - you must do all this

Valerie is now talking about show-prep and multiple sources of creative inspiration that connect with audiences. Strong back-up of what Chris Nicoll was saying earlier in his session.

Valerie reminds us to use social media as a source of content, not just an outbound promotional channel, but to always use material with permission. They’re very litigious in the US!

Airchecking is your way to improve your output. What former Radio 1 controller Andy Parfitt always loves to call “the gift of feedback”. Always listen back and consider ways in which the messaging can be simpler, more focused, more strongly connected to listeners… are you always telling the truth, making it matter, and never being boring?

Some advice now on using Social Media to get the word out and how to be personal. Radio is personal so it’s well aligned with the way social media works. If someone follows you, follow them back.

Now a top-level reminder of good business practice – product, promotion and permanence.

“Never get people into the circus tent if the elephants don’t know the tricks”. You only have one opportunity to make a first impression so get the product right before you put a load of promotion behind it.

An audience member asks Valerie how to tell when a piece of production or jingle is burnt but she cannot hear the question because the line is bad. She promises to appear in person next year. Warm applause from the audience and Lenja Faraguna takes the stage.

0930 CET

Here we go again. We’re off and running with Chris Nicoll of Global Radio – he looks after all the imaging for Capital FM, Capital XTRA, Capital TV, The Vodafone Big top 40 Show and the Summertime Ball Jingle Bell Balls.

Chris Nicol of Global Radio at The Imaging Days

Chris Nicoll of Global Radio at The Imaging Days

Chris says he has eight in his team. It’s the biggest creative production team in Global. He thinks of the team as an internal production company.

Chris says that each member of his team has a specific focus of activity. Some do show mixing, others specialise in creative writing but it sounds as if there’s a good degree of cross-over.

“Sometimes the best ideas come from the restrictions you set yourself”.

Chris warms to his theme of working within “the creative box” which is a restrictive mindset that aids creativity.

What’s in the box? Language choices, the music we pick – today it’s EDM, sound effects, voices, including drops and samples from artists, production techniques that the team has agreed to do or not do for each brand… he is conscious of what Simon Palframan does on Kiss and avoids that, client messaging and finally templates.

Now he’s playing a video about templates and workparts – it shows how he files his workparts in the team for quick working. Each type of audio – artist drops, cash money effects, listener audio etc. is kept in its own labelled folder tree so it’s easy to find. You’re never too busy for good housekeeping – it’s just when you’re at your busiest that it will help you out.

All producers in the team use the same template for making Capital’s imaging. All the filters, compression and routing are already set-up – it aids speed and consistency across the team’s work. Chris is a fan of a vocoder-alternative plug-in called “The Mouth”.

Chris has moved on to a chat about the creative stimulus that feeds his team’s thinking. Everything from music to prod tech to topical news stories can spark an idea and he encourages the team to take inspiration from many sources. He quotes Steve Jobs’ famous phrase “everything is a remix”.

We’re onto a case study shown in ProTools – it’s a branded intro for Jessie J’s song Bang Bang. Chris shows how he marries lines that make sense with rhythmic production, enhanced with hand clap samples to strongly brand the song as part of Capital’s imaging.

More imaging now – “At Capital we’re famous for having the biggest balls”. Ew.

Ah, they’re talking about the Jingle Bell Ball and the Summertime Ball.

This is getting really geeky now – we’re looking at some filter settings on the Air Vintage Filter.  All thought of balls and the notional size of them is forgotten.

Chris takes votes from the hall on what we want to see next. The Summertime Ball opener wins. This is what the track lay-down looks like…

Summertime Ball stadium opener

Some interesting points about mixing sound for Wembley Stadium:

1. The stadium emphasises bass so Chris goes carefully with LF content in his mixing.

2. He can afford more dynamic range in the stadium than on the radio. This helps him put Howard Richie’s voiceover well clear of the rest of the mix to guarantee the audience can hear all the words.

Some rules in the team:

1. Beat the competition – not just the real competition but through a competitive spirit within the team.

2. Nothing goes to air until it’s approved by Chris. Someone has to be a gatekeeper, and it’s him.

3. Producer World Tour – this means networking, idea sharing and shared experiences within the team and with external contributors. A great time to bitch about the sales execs. (He’s joking of course… probably).

4. YOLO – you only live once. Get out and do it now.

We’re talking S&P now. “S&P activity is your radio station’s version of a credible musician selling out”. It has to be integrated and credible to the brand and relevant to the listener. He plays examples for a movie launch, Skull Candy headphones and Google.

See the Google case study here.

Want to read about day 1? It’s over here.