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Promotional ideas and technique. Always radio, always positive.

Imaging Days 2015 – day one

Here’s our live blog from day one.

The Imaging Days is the world’s only event dedicated to radio imaging. It’s all happening here in Haarlem, Amsterdam across Monday 5 October and Tuesday 6 October. Here’s my live blog from day one in chronological order:

1000 CET: Dom Nero of Hot 97, New York

dom nero

Dom’s from Hot 97 in New York. He’s a big believer in “message first” imaging and says the ability to play a musical instrument of experience of live DJing is of huge benefit to any imaging producer.

Quick tip – learn to play a musical instrument

Dom’s sound is intensive but clean. He pays a lot of attention to clipping – or rather, how to avoid it. He checks the output levels of every plug-in in the chain to ensure no peaks are being clipped along the way.

He’s playing a voice drop from Jay Z – “Be Jay for a day” is “another Hot 97 experience money can’t buy” says the vo. “Beyonce not included” is the funny payoff.

When you have a cool drop like that they promo’s already done says Dom Nero. He’s making the point again that the production is there to support the message and the stronger the message, the less you need to add.

I’m at the front of the Hall, but Rade Santrac is at the back. From there it looks like this:

Dom uses Soundtoys plugins and rates them as amazing. Of course he has the full Waves stack in there too and says the L2 limiter is one of his favourite plugins if you don’t drive it to hard.

Dom mixes in colour. His ProTools sessions are colour-coded to make the mixing panel more glanceable.

dom nero colour

He’s talking about radio’s “Theatre of the Mind” which, for Dom, means letting the script and the message flow, not getting to bogged down in stutter effects and scratching which is a cliche of the urban format.

Dom’s taking questions about which editor and plugins are the best. He says “there’s yet to be a plugin that you can say ‘make me a kickass promo’ to”. It’s about the craft of the user much more than the kit.

If you want to ask a question at this event you have to catch the soft cube with a radiomic embedded in it. This man managed it…

Microphone box

It’s called Catchbox.

1100 CET: George Taylor with IMGR

George from IMGR

George plays a demo video of IMGR and introduces Simon Palframan from Bauer’s Kiss in the UK.

Ryan Drean is a fan.

Simon talks about authenticity. He takes voice pull-outs from DJ shows that he’d never script.

Quick tip – listen to the normal speech of DJs for bits you can take and lift into production

Simon uses Razor for vocoding. He does his vocoding all in one batch and then pulls the bits back into Ableton Live for retuning. This guide shows you one way of doing that.

George discovers its hard to manipulate your ProTools session while holding a microphone. Simon steps in to help.

george and simon

Chris Ward from Bauer is unpacking an “old skool and anthems” session for his city stations.

He built some short voice drop elements and then used them to bookend a sequence of beatmatched music hooks.

George takes a question from voice artist Mark Chadwick in the hall. “At what point do you leave a piece of work? I’ve been working on a demo for two years!”

Here’s how Mark sounds

Simon says he has to just keep cracking on with new ideas. Sometimes he leaves things unfinished and then goes back to add “further dressing” to them. He has such a volume of work at Kiss he has to keep moving on.

Matt Fisher from BBC Radio 1 asks George why he uses his own voice in his imaging so much. George declines to do some singing live. He rates Waves tune and Autotune for vocal overdubs and says your own voice is a very powerful tool.

Quick tip – use your own voice for overdubs to help intelligibility of vocal lines and speech drops

1200 CET: Arjan van Lierop (Sky Radio) and Guido Springer (Radio Veronica)

Arjan and Guido

Guido is showing us his processing chain for a male read for a Bryan Adams promotion. His station style is relatively traditional and he uses a simple eq, compression and then light multiband limiter in the voice chain.

Arjan reflects that everybody has their own approach to imaging and shows us the workflow for a promotion he made for the Sky Radio new years party.

He starts with the promo script in text. He goes through the script line by line thinking about how to embellish the promo with music and effects.

He’s picking songs from the station playlist in this example and uses Mixed in Key to help identify song hooks that will mix well together.

With a little tweak, Michael Jackson’s Got to be Startin’ Something and Fireball by Pitbull mix incredibly well together.

He builds the basic structure of the promo with the voice track, music blocks and some effects but without much attention to the transitions at first.

Then he goes through section by section and works on the song hook transitions, adding filtering and a’capella to “clean up a mess” he says, percussive fills to bridge into the next song and some crowd cheering effects because this is a party promo.

Where there’s a transition to a slower song has added a falling ‘firework’ effect that leads into the slower song.

Once this is complete the sound is quite busy so he’s adding some alternating filter effects to the voiceover to make “more fun” and help the voice cut through the dense backing mix.

Guido takes the mouse.

He’s showing us a typical music positioner promo for Radio Veronica. He is aiming to get a beat through the whole promo and has picked a drum loop for this.

To this he’s adding the kick and snare from Madonna’s Holiday plus an 808 hi hat sample to make his own loop.

Together these elements are “the base and glue” that stick everything together and make a solid sound he says.

He’s aiming to make this a 30″ promo so works out that he has about 15″ to play with between the necessary top and tail. Guido likes to keep vocals in the music well away from the voiceover. The v/o is always over an instrumental section.

We’re going through plugins now. Guido eschews Waves in favour the ML4000 and AC101 from McDowell, plus the Filter Freak from Soundtoys.

He’s filtering out a lot of harmonic energy from sounds like the kick that he only needs for low energy oomph.

How loud is loud? Guido uses a loudness meter to confirm what his ears are telling him.

All this, I should have said, is happening in the Ableton Live environment which looks like this…

Guido Sprenger Ableton Live

1400 CET: The Reelworld session

It’s time to Make Great Radio with the team from Reelworld. All delegates get this free MacBook sticker. We understand a version for Windows is in development.

make great radio

This session is all about authenticity, says Paul Fernley from Reelworld, as he plays a montage of the company’s work from the last year.

Now we’re talking about BBC Radio 1 Xtra with producer Ben Marks.

Ben Marks of Reelworld

Ben says that he was inspired by the rhythm of ra di o 1 x tra. The “tra” even sounds like an urban shout.

He’s using words like skank and bashment now. I might need a translator.

Back on more familiar territory now as Ben explains that he wanted to reflect the nation’s urban scene with a fvo from the South, a rapper mvo from the North and a distinctive “spice voice” that could be dropped in.

They searched around the college scene in order to cast the right voices and singers. Also, YouTube and Soundcloud proved to be rich seams to tap.

In the end they settled on five voices, none of which had ever been used in radio imaging before.

Their creative plan did not include any sung vocals but then they found Bex (Labrinth’s sister). Her vocals became one of the most talked-about aspects of the 1Xtra package.

It’s time for a plugin recommendation. Effectrix is used to add a range of impact effects to the Tra of 1 Xtra.

Clarity must come first before effects but “As long as you have clarity coming down the centre of the mix you can go mad behind it across the stereo”.

Ben is conservative when it comes to processing on the mastering chain of his mixes. He uses a bit but leaves the station output processing to do the rest.

There’s a session here tomorrow on Optimod and Omnia processing and what it means for the imaging producers.

Here’s the audio we’re listening to:

reelworld 1 xtra protools

It includes a Bashment style patois line that Ben has tuned in a cheeky way and a custom backing track that he’s cut into a dancehall rhythm at one point.

Now, in another cut, Ben is talking about going into a session with a Ragga vocal performer to “just do stuff”. He asked his talent in advance to think about freestyling some words around “music for the nation” etc. In the session it became clear he hadn’t prepared so Ben coached him through some ideas in the studio.

Ben listened to Trinidad carnival Soca music for stimulus he could give the vocal performers some ideas to work with. Soca is all about turning up the music, feeling and loving the music so it was perfect inspiration.

A question from the audience – what’s in the vocal chain? Well, it’s compression and EQ from the SSL plugin and also the Waves API plugin. He goes for a light, bright sound and lays tuned vocals on top of each other to boost clarity.

Lots of questions coming now – what mics did he use for the vocal elements? Some of it was recorded at 1Xtra with the station’s normal DJ mics and vocal processing so that didn’t need much extra work.

How does Ben do scratches? Answer: he emulates a record deck scratch using Veri-fi to push the sound down and then up in reverse.

How much time between winning the pitch until completing the project asks another audience member? Answer: he had a meeting at the beginning of week 1, had all the pieces he needed one week later and then took the best part of a further week to deliver three complete tracks. Fast work and, as Paul Fernley says, there’s never enough time.

1500 CET: A panel session chaired by Ryan Drean.

Panel session with Ryan Drean

Discussion chaired by US imager Ryan Drean. He has Andreas Sannemann from Benztown Branding, Marc Vickers Creative Director of the UK’s Wise Buddah and Kelly Docherty who runs all imaging teams serving the iHeart Media network in the US.

Innovation

The subject is innovation and Kelly Docherty says she has hired nineteen of the world’s most proficient imaging professionals to work across her group’s formats, coming up with innovative ideas.

Marc says reaching innovation for clients starts with understanding why the client loves certain stimulus. The client relationship is essential – you have to be aligned with your commissioner.

When a production works well, you’re really aligned and innovating together.

Is there genuinely anything in radio imaging asks Ryan?

Kelly says they were working on some music promos and found they sounded exactly like some previous work. They make so much at iHeart they are forced to innovate. Constantly creating new ways of saying the same thing.

Ryan asks Andreas: where’s the line between innovation and knowing that something will definitely work?

Andreas says there are still a lot of individual station producers in Europe, unlike in the US networks. Often those networks just need something they can take, tweak and get on the air.

The challenge for the future is developing turnkey solutions at scale.

Kelly says creative people are scared of failure, but you have to have failure to have success.

Marc agrees: it does hurt, he says, but after a while you look back at the project and realise why you went down the wrong road and why it failed and how to avoid doing that again.

Technological developments

We’re discussing tech – everything is now in the box, says Marc. That’s going to keep moving forwards and anybody with talent can make great music and audio. The way work is shared is advancing too and will continue to explode online.

Managing talent

Kelly says her team is pretty new. There have been several different organisational structures proposed for how her group hubs its teams but that’s all settled now she says.

Her greatest challenge is now organisation and following the changing priorities of the company. The creatives have local and national responsibilities to juggle and priorities have to be reassessed several times a day.

Andreas likes to have a mix of people in his teams that bring different skillsets and talents.

By contrast Marc’s colleagues are more likely to have a broad range of skills. He likes to find young, raw talent and people who can do something phenomenally well but are probably still “rough diamonds”. He takes years to take people and develop their talent.

Questions from the hall

Someone called Steve Martin asks Kelly how she keeps in touch with the listeners and what they want. She says you have to get out of the studio and live a real life.

Marc adds that you have to take responsibility for taking breaks, getting a bit of perspective and taking a walk in the real world.

James Stodd from Celador asks what advice would you give your 12 year old self if they want to get into radio imaging.

Kelly says if you want to be a vo, listen and mimic everything on the tv and radio your hear.

Marc says put the 12 year old in front of ProTools, immerse them in Led Zeppelin and say “go, create”. Other tools are available – like this free browser based software used in schools.

Andreas suggests he regrets not becoming a professional soccer player and would tell a 12 year old to do better. He tries to push his children into everything they enjoy and show signs of doing well.

On the question of managing creative people, the panellists agree that you have to have respect but that respect must be earned. Marc admits, as a creative, to have been a nightmare to work with at times. He seems a pussy cat now.

1615 CET: Matt Fisher of BBC Radio 1.

Matt will be telling the story of this epic video mashup. Only when you can do this can you can stop learning from him…

Matt Fisher's protools session

Here’s Matt Fisher, talking with his hands.

Matt Fisher

Matt is explaining that the typical Big Weekend promo would be an artist line-up promo but that idea had become tired.

So Aled Hayden Jones (editor of weekends at Radio 1) and Matt came up with the idea of doing a mashup. Matt’s inspiration was the work of Daniel Kim and he proposed that he would mashup every artist in the Big Weekend.

But that is not an original idea.  After all, Capital had done something similar with DJ Earworm.

What makes this original is the fact that this is 100% for radio first and very much about the audience. Radio 1 also has the relationship with artists to record original material. Thirdly, the BBC has a unique bank of material, from events to Live Lounge sessions, to draw on that makes this something that only the BBC could do.

This project relied on:

  • Harmonic mixing
  • Acapellas and instrumentals
  • Constant experimentation
  • Planning and booking for artists.
  • Matt will be talking to Ryan Drean on day 2 at 1100.

Quick tip – learn how to do harmonic mixing and the Camelot key wheel

Camelot Wheel

We’ve just watched Mashup in the hall and it drew the biggest round of applause at The Imaging Days so far. True love for the ambition and creativity of the BBC from the delegates here.

Matt explains that the root track in the mix was by David Guetta and was in B Minor at 128 bps. So they anchored all the station imaging across the weekend to those characteristics.

Because it was made for radio first, the mashup was played as a playlisted song.

It also broke out into beds, drones and promos for the Big Weekend… all creative elements led back to the mashup.

Here’s how the tracklisting looks – Matt points out that there are very few plugins in the session, and just a few risers and impact effects but never in the front of the mix.

Matt Fisher's session

Quick tips for harmonic mixing – Audio Key Chain helps you match tracks by identifying their keys and Acapellas 4 U is a great source of song parts.

Matt said that the Mallory Knox song he wanted to use was in a totally incompatible key and at far to slow a tempo to incorporate into the mix… so he called up the band, invited them in and asked them to sing their song in a different key at 128 bps. They agreed.

All the artists were happy with the mix. Only Muse hinted at ‘surprise’ that their song was cut to a 4/4 and Taylor Swift’s people asked for specific sign-off which they granted.

Great session from Matt which has got the hall here really buzzing. Next up, at the top of the page, will be Kelly Doherty, vice president of imaging (job title of the day) at iHeart Media.

Chris Stevens bonds:

1730 CET: Kelly Doherty of iHeart Media.

The final session of the day is about managing and inspiring creative people from the vice president of imaging at the biggest US radio group.

Kelly Doherty of iHeart media

Kelly says her group has a series of strategies such as “get more listeners on the air”. The goal is common across the group but she gives that task to individual producers who specialise in each format they operate.

Some key drivers for her business:

  • Music is my everything. It gives me vision, adrenaline and inspiration.
  • Nothing is impossible – extravagance comes from the “wouldn’t it be cool if…” conversations

Kelly is always honest with her producers. They are under a lot of pressure to deliver and don’t need her to point out every flaw in their work – they know already. Instead, she touches base with them, treats them like she wants to be treated. “It’s called a team for a reason” says Kelly.

The team comes together to talk through the group’s priorities twice a year. Only occasionally do the imaging producers get to meet the top management of the group, but when they do it’s electric and creatively stimulating.

Quick tip for management – if you don’t ask you don’t get. That’s how Kelly got the VP title!

Kelly says that getting the job title of vice president inspired her onto bigger and bolder ideas.

Another key driver:

  • Disassociate from drama. Don’t get caught up in it – we’re creative people and it’s easy to be curious and bleed imagination.

Kelly is playing some audio. She plays some KIIS FM top of hour sequences which include audio from the station’s shows. Taking audio out of context can work out perfectly so make friends with the station engineers and get hold of the audio from live stage events to plunder.

Kelly uses SAW, an ancient piece of software that still does the business for her.

Compared with European CHR imaging, US stations like a lot of shouting!

Kelly says “I’m only playing top of hour IDs because I just love them!”

We hear a KIIS top of the hour ID, the first ever made by Kelly for Ryan Seacrest. Kelly points out that it has a couple of happy accidents in it – they way the audio dropped into the track just happened to fit the beat first time. Hearing it on the air for the first time was “just the greatest feeling in the world”.

Here’s to the crazy ones – Kelly references the famous Apple Computer advertising quotation. She reflects that creative people are the crazy ones. They focus, the feel deeply, go from emotion to depression in the blink of an eye, they take work personally, are their own worst critics and have deep insecurities.

Creative people are afraid of failure, they’re audio perfectionists who should step away sometimes. Acknowledgement feeds their adrenaline – sometimes just calling up your colleagues is reassuring – and negativity feeds their insecurities.

When creative people are overwhelmed, Kelly reminds them that they don’t have to “run the whole marathon”, they just have to start it and take the first steps.

We’re hearing a Jingle Bell promo. Kelly wants to hear something different. “You can only promote it the same way so many times – different is good”. On this occasion her promo used The Cure as a bed – it worked for the promo but was totally out of the station’s music position.

The corporate guys at iHeart (S&P teams) really like imaging says Kelly. They come with ideas and enthusiasm.

Production is a small part of Kelly’s job – leading the creative team is the main job. Leading creatives is not like working with other people. They take everything personally. You can’t tell them that it’s just business.

A question about PPM (the people meter data that drives US radio ratings). Has it changed imaging?

The data suggests that audiences drift as soon as the music stops so “hurry up and be creative” has become the mantra. We’ll do it, says Kelly, but the imaging will run at a million miles an hour and the listeners won’t hear everything they need to.

It’s become a real challenge but you do get used to it. We have to take a lot of the creativity out to keep the important messages in. On the upside, 7 seconds doesn’t have to take long to make.

Kelly says it’s always fun to listen to European radio – she names Capital. Chris Nicoll will like that.

And that’s day one complete. See you tomorrow. If you have questions or comments please tweet @earshotcreative

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