The Imaging Days 2016 – day two morning
Earshot’s plugin-by-plugin coverage of The Imaging Days event continues. All the morning sessions in day two right here, live from Die Lichtfabrik, Haarlem, Netherlands.
Davis Mwasaru has travelled from Nairobi in Kenya to be at the event. He’s a long term friend of Earshot and you can hear examples of his work for Kenyan stations QFM and Easy FM in this edition of the Earshot podcast from 2013.
The first session in today’s planned schedule has been dropped because the speaker has been in hospital. He’s out now but not sufficiently well to present. It’s a shame because Oskar Dekker was due to speak about the much-misunderstood subject of transmission processors, such as those from Omnia and Orban. Ironic really: the only session featuring Optimods can’t be heard. We hope Oskar’s recovery will be Fast, Medium-Fast or Medium-Fast 2. [enough processor jokes: Ed]
Niels de Koning & Joost Van Den Brink
Niels and Joost
Niels and Joost are from Belgian-owned CHR station Q Music in the Netherlands. The station boasts a weekly audience of 3 million and is currently the fastest-growing radio brand here. A sister station operates under the same brand in Belgium.
Q Music presenters
They play a brand positioning video. Extremely colourful with lots of listener involvement. Their strapline is ‘you make us Q’, so the brand is very focused on the audience.
Video grab from Q Music demo
Their audio imaging is produced with help from Brandy jingles, a Belgian audio branding company.
They run ‘mood’ promos at the bottom of the hour, every other hour. The production is changed every week, sometimes more often. Their mood promos are basically music positioners.
At the top of the hour Q Music runs ‘TOTH Intros’. This is a break from the norm for CHR radio in this market. They play a before-and-after demonstration. The previous imaging was a traditional top of hour ramp with DJ over, musical logo and sung tail ‘Q is good for you’. Now, their TOTH Intros fuse much more into the music. Every Intro is custom made for a particular playlist track. Any track that could be an hour starter has one. They include vocal elements, a logo melody and produced voice drops but noticeably less presence from the DJ.
Niels and Joost open up a ProTools session to demonstrate what’s going on within their music positioning mixes. They use their own percussive loops and effects (risers, mostly) to blend the tracks. Their mix contains tempo changes which they introduce gently, sliding up from one tempo to another rather than scrunching all the music elements to fit a common beat.
Tip your hat to this hi-hat tip
If one track in your mix sounds a lot brighter than another, consider adding a sharp hi-hat to the duller one rather than using EQ to bring the two closer together.
If you want your voice elements to cut through more, just try dipping the music track in the upper mid frequency range, not all the bass and HF elements too. That’s enough to ensure intelligibility of speech without a lot of audible pumping on the backing track. The C6 tool from Waves works well for this…
Niels and Joost’s C6 plugin
Best question of the day: what are they talking about in the promo?! To laughter, Niels and Joost apologise for the amount of Dutch in their promos.
Enda’s here, feeling appropriately energised. After all, this building used to be a power station.
They’re asked about their station output processing which, says a questioner in the hall, is very heavy in Holland, even more so than in Belgium. They agree and so produce everything with a loudness of -8dB. They find it sounds pretty much the same on air as in the studio if they do this.
They have an Orban Optimod in their studio with settings that match their station output processor so they can test how things will sound before they hit the air. Good tip if your station can afford it.
They demonstrate the solo vocal tracks they receive from their jingles provider. The vocalist has sung “Q Music” in a variety of different ways, clean so Niels and Joost can use bits of the recording in many ways.
Finally, they describe how they work with their PD to choose the tracks that will receive specific imaging Intro treatment. It’s a normal part of their playlisting process now. Some elements get used on their station in Belgium, as well as that in The Netherlands.
Jean-Paul Van Druten & Anthony Timmers of Spine jingles
Spine jingles is a company run by the organiser of The Imaging Days. This session is a look at some of the work they’ve been doing in their first year of operation.
We hear a demo of some of their work: it’s interesting to hear how they really love a big block harmony on the end of all their jingles. With Spine, Everything ends on a vocal triad: a Spinal chord, if you like. That’s a sound you hear a lot in mainland Europe still, but less so in the UK and US.
Jean-Paul is the producer, using tracks written by an external composer whom he refuses to name.
He is showing us how the tracks are built up for a 10 second jingle. He starts with kick, then adds snare, hi-hats and other percussive elements. Next, a rolling bassline and a rhythmic synth bass come in, followed by other low-end harmonies.
Some melody appears with an arpeggio figure and some jumping warped synth leads. It’s becoming more friendly with the melodic elements which now include guitar, ‘Bieber’ whistle and a twee synth top line. This is a fresh AC cut.
Anthony is interviewing Jean-Paul about the choices he makes. Jean-Paul is a fan of the Slate plugins but also uses an SSL EQ module by Waves and some of the standard tools that come within ProTools.
Now we’re seeing a sales video for Spine’s own plugin,
UPDATE: I’ve been corrected: it’s actually called Spine Cray, not Gray. I just assumed “Gray” because they showed it and it was coloured, er, gray. Come on, you’d think the same wouldn’t you, or am I grazy?
One button (it looks like a central heating thermostat) promises to ‘change your mix’. It appears to widen the stereo width. Jean-Paul says it widens the sound “in a safe way”.
Here’s another single control plugin: One Knob by Waves…
Jean-Paul uses it on the synth parts. He cranks down the filter to dull the top end of the melodic synth parts towards the end of the track, to make space for the vocals.
Making space for things is a theme of this session. Jean-Paul also uses the Waves ‘Centre’ plugin to create a central hole that the vocals will be able to nestle within.
We’re hearing the effects alone now. Jean-Paul rates the Vengeance Sound effects and also uses some effects from TRIL (see yesterday’s sessions for more on that).
Ryan Drean in the audience asks about Jean-Paul’s synths. He uses a lot from Native Instruments and for CHR he likes the Massive, Nexus and Bassline synths. In this ProTools session the synth parts are already bounced down to audio files.
Finally in this session we look at the final limiter, from Slate. It’s very transparent says Jean-Paul. He argues that to ensure the kicks give impact on air it’s important to be very light on final limiting. He’ll add more for CHR but in the AC format he likes to leave the station processing something spiky to get its teeth into.
Christian is from 89.0 RTL in Germany. We’re listening to his demo. His sound is very clean with frequent breaks in the music track for clean speech to poke through. Lots of impact here.
Christian has three special skills in his Swiss Army Knife: he’s fast, creative and unique.
He took a training course in ProTools. He learned ways to speed up workflow, for example by eliminating the time-consuming normalisation of many different clips. He uses the tap-to-beat feature in ProTools to jump quickly to the next transient.
Sometimes, an audio clip doesn’t have it’s natural hit point at the top of the audio. For example, a vocal drop that says “let’s go!”, the word ‘go’ would naturally sit on the beat: ProTools lets you mark those sync points and then they’ll automatically snap to the beat grid.
All these tricks make more time to be creative and Christian likes to be very organised so he can quickly find useful audio when his PD requires something produced at short notice.
On a power intro, he’s demonstrating how to stretch an RTL accapella vocal to fit the beat of the track by Calvin Harris and Rhianna. He now changes the key down 3 semitones to match in key and then uses the x-form plugin by Avid to make it sound more natural.
Not everything’s natural though – he’s using Waves Tune to manipulate a voice drop “This is Rhianna” into the key of the track in a very deliberately synthetic way.
Christian goes through the accapella of the song vocals and collects all the vowels, removing transient and sibilant consonants. Then he uses the ‘Structure Free’ plugin that comes with ProTools to ‘play’ the consonants on a keyboard. You don’t need a lot of fancy instruments and plugins to create interesting and creative sounds is his point.
To the jumpy staccato vocal figure he’s created, Christian adds reverb “to make it bigger” and delays “to make it move”.
For sound effects, Christian uses Production Vault. He says he doesn’t make his own sound effects “because I cant”. Good answer.
Christian’s demo uses a lot of short breaks in the music tracks: I ask about his philosophy for this. He answers that it’s about managing the attention of the listener. He loves cutting elements to the beat in a cool way but a continuous beat is not as surprising as something that stops to command your attention and make you go ‘hey, what?’.
And now it’s lunchtime.