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Ideas and technique to help you promote and image radio

Imaging Days 2015 – day two


Here’s our blog of events from day two of The Imaging Days 2015 as it happened.

1000 CET: Studio Brussel

This session is a demo from the number three station in Belgium, presented by Steven Lemmens.

Out of the top five stations, guess how many have sung imaging?

Well, here’s the market rankings and of these stations, only Studio Brussel has no sung imaging on air.

Top 5 belgium stations

Steven explains that his programmer gives him free reign to do just about anything with the station imaging so long as he doesn’t introduce any sung imaging. For his programmer, that’s a major point of difference in this market.

He describes Studio Brussel as an ‘office listening’ station, but the production and music is pretty hot while avoiding some of the clubby EDM sounds that MNM plays in abundance.

The station plays fast and loose with the traditions of the clock format too. For example, to maxmise flow, they play the long rising intro of the Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony under a break that ends with a clean voiced ad. In the UK, Ofcom would raise a regulatory eyebrow to that practice.

“Harmonic mixing” has become a key theme of this event. (‘Key’ – geddit) and Steven is explaining how he has employed tuning technique in order to make custom intros to his high rotation songs.

Steven says “you cannot underestimate the value of an artist talking about your brand”. He tries always to get artists saying the main positioning lines for the station such as “Life is music” and their charity “Music for Life”. Far more powerful than the station voiceover doing it, he believes.

He’s particularly fond of a voice drop from Kurt Cobain. Would you run a drop from a dead artist?

Want to see how the station advertises itself? Here you go:

Having said that the station never does sung imaging, Steven is now playing lots of custom sung artist vocals created for power intros. He managed to get the actual artists into the studio which adds incredible value if you can do it.
idea icon - tiny

Here’s a nice idea that any station can do: when adding unfamiliar new songs to the playlist, interview the artist about the song and run a produced clip from the interview over the intro until the song is established with listeners.

Let’s get some quick takeaway tips in…

Quick tip: make production shorter – you always can

Quick tip: always pick distinctive sounds

Quick tip: only make what you really want to hear on the air

Quick tip: talk to your DJs about how to use the imaging you make.

A final point of advice from Steven:

Never disturb the listener. Always add value. Less is more.

A clever, thoughtful man and a provocative start to day two.

1120 CET: Panel session chaired by Ryan Drean

Who’s on this panel then…

Day two panel session

Good – that saves a bunch of typing.

Matt Fisher starts by discussing the way BBC Radio 1 likes to ‘own the music’. That’s a real priority for the station right now.

Steven Lemmens says they don’t have access to the artists easily so they have to badger the record label, repeatedly explaining what they do until he gets results.

Dom Nero says a lot of people assume that Nicki Minaj and Jay Z just pop into the station every day but it doesn’t work like that – you have to work on the relationship to make things happen.

Dom’s explaining how he promotes his Hot Summer Jam event and, for once, he had good notice on the booked artists. This allowed him to plan something original that would catch the listener’s attention. He plays a piece featuring Nicki Minaj.

He’s written a script in which Nicki imagines the excitement of doing the live gig, prepping in the dressing room, the build to the set as she walks up the steps backstage and the thrill of appearing in front of thousands, live.

Matt Fisher says it’s great shame that the most creative stuff also has the highest burn. He would only run a highly ‘creative’ piece for about one week before refreshing it.

Steven says that he’ll take some elements from the promo and then give them to the DJs so they can pick-up the message. This means the message can get a high number of impacts without a single piece of audio burning out.

Power Intros

Matt says that Radio 1 does not run power intros, largely because everybody else does and the BBC always wants to be distinctive, but he does want to introduce them in an original way if he can.

Instead for now, he tags tracks to help promote events and special programming. It makes the tracks stand out even more. He also describes a way that his team builds a 20″ intro into the third song in the clock hour – this keeps the DJ link down to 20″ and improves music flow.


Why doesn’t hip-hop radio run jingles?

Dom Nero says that traditional jingles don’t sound ‘street’ enough but he’s really keen to use sung branded intros because they’re powerful and maybe the next big thing in urban imaging involves sung elements.

Matt’s describing the Radio 1 Summer Mix – he jokes that they had the original idea of playing some music on the music station! It’s an hour of music, some beatmatched, some not, and celebrating the breadth of the Radio 1 playlist. The Summer Mix was also available as a DRM-limited download and it drove more than 100,000 downloads in the first week.

What’s your greatest wish?

Ryan asks the panelists what one thing they’d want to make their station really pop.

Dom: More money. Not just in the paycheck but for production.

Steven: Less commercial clutter on the air. This gets a round of applause from the hall.

Matt: A crystal ball to look into the future.

In May 2016, Matt will throw away all Radio 1’s imaging and start again. He had an idea from James Stodd (Celador) of letting the audience make the imaging. He also wants to ensure the next Radio 1 imaging is visual.

Good tips there for anyone looking to pitch for the work.


Dom Nero wants to ask the other panelists a question… he gets the special throwable question mic to use!

Where is the next fresh production talent coming from?

Matt Fisher says it’s a question that concerns him very much, so the BBC will set up an internship, probably three months long, to nurture new talent in imaging. The scheme is not ready to accept applications yet – they will advertise it when it’s ready to roll – but he wants to propagate the next line of imagers and he doesn’t mind if they go off to another station afterwards.

Yes, they’re deep in their screens and that’s a current challenge and an opportunity for radio.

Good session – now we’re off to…

The Buddah Bar

The Buddah Bar, from IMGR, Wise Buddah and No Sheet Music.

1300 CET: Brand like a Rockstar

Brand like a rockstar

Bart van Gogh is celebrating 40 years of Netherlands production house Top Format. He’s here today to introduce Canadian radio programmer and author of Brand like a rockstar, Steve Jones.

Steve’s book is full of “lessons from rock n’ roll to make your business famous”.

He’s starting with a basic reminder that brands are not logos and slogans. They have meaning to you.

Laughs from the audience as he shows a series of dodgy logos from brands that got it wrong.

He’s telling the story of the voice casting of James Earl Jones as Darth Vader. Dave Prowse’s voice was not menacing enough – audio changes everything.

Let’s have a top ten countdown of tips for better branding.

10. Consistency.

ACDC logoACDC have never changed their look, their music or their attitude. They just do rockin’ rolling’ partying, driving and women. That’s the ACDC brand. The font never changes. You can write anything in the ACDC font and it screams rock and roll.

But consistency is not the same as always being the same. It’s about living up to expectations. Just look at The Beatles, he says. They moved through different phases: their consistency comes from their ability to dictate the trends. They were first with everything.

9. Start out small

When Bob Marley started making music the word reggae didn’t exist. The genre only exploded when Eric Clapton came to Jamaica and recorded I shot the Sherrif, the song Marley wrote. Bob Marley’s career built from there, but it worked because his work was genuine.

Starbucks started tiny in Seattle. Apple grew from humble roots. Their core values have not changed.

8. Be different. Don’t be better.

Who here has ProTools – loads of hands go up. Well that’s not your competitive advantage, says Steve.

Average musicians

Average musicians

The band Kiss started as Wicked Lester. They were just average musicians and still are. The difference is that when they became Kiss they added the facepaint, the blood and the spitting.

The most profitable bobsleigh team in the world made millions from losing. It’s Jamaica. They’ve even lost at training races. Against themselves.

This flight attendant may not be the greatest in the world, but he’s one of the most original and memorable.

7. Create an experience

It’s not enough to create a product or a service.

Jimmy Buffett had one mediocre hit song called Margaritaville.  From that he built an empire and an experience enjoyed by millions. Looks hideous to me though.

Harley Davidson is an experience for its customers.

6. Live up to expectations.

Remember how great U2 were in the 80s? They looked raw and still had that religious overtone.

Then in the 90s they “went weird” and became a totally different group. They knew they were off track but needed to get it out of themselves.

Coors launched “Rocky Mountain sparkling water”. It flopped because it violated our expectations of Coors – and the feeling we get when we drink six of them.

5. Find your one thing.

Remember Foreigner? “You’re as cold as ice…”

They had fourteen great songs but had a huge problem when they were outsold by Lynyrd Skynyrd who only had one song. People would pay out to hear “Sweet Home Alabama” in a way they would never pay to hear Foreigner, even with its wider repertoire.

Ryanair is the number one passenger carrying airline in Europe. They never set out to be number one, they just wanted to be the leading discount airline. Funny hearing this insight from a Canadian – surely they have their own bad boys of low cost aviation.

What’s your one thing? Being today’s number one hit music station? Well, good luck with that says Steve.

4. Take calculated risks.

Steve tells the story of the Bob Dylan session where the guitarist Al Kooper was asked to play organ. He took a calculated risk and ended up with one of the most hypnotic and memorable organ performances in music.

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

3. Know your enemy

It’s not just knowing your competition – it’s knowing everything about them, what your listeners think of them and what their listeners think of them.

You need your competitors – they help to define you.

Superman exists because Lex Luther is going to end the world. If he kills Luther he would have no reason to exist.

“If you love the Netherlands football team you want to beat Germany. You don’t want them to go away”. I like this man – he’s done his research.

2. Transparency

Know yourself. There’s one rockstar who does this better than anyone: Taylor Swift. She is what you see. If you date her, you’ll likely end up in one her songs. And lonely.

When you meet Taylor, he says, she genuinely gives times to you. She wins her fans over one at a time.

When Hugh Grant was arrested for being with a hooker, he went on the Tonight show and just apologised. “I did a bad thing” said Hugh on network tv. Immediately he earned the respect of the audience and the world by being transparent and honest.

Here’s a brand that’s honest in its advertising.

Buckley's cough syrup

Marmite is another. You love it or you hate it. So true.

Rock star brands are real.

1. Always turn it up to 11.

When Pete Townsend smashes his guitar he’s demonstrating that he’s played the life out of it. It cannot give any more. Oh, and there’s always time to see this:

1430 CET: The Voiceover Session

Featuring material from Dick Orkin’s Radio Ranch and led by this guy who we think is called Gus.

Will Jackson is trying to find his full name.

We’re promised a journey into the mind of the voiceover. Who are these creatures and how can producers understand them better?

We’re learning some of the things voiceovers like producers to do. Top of the list is give them some respect. We hear a story of a voice artist who was left forgotten in a room without a door handle after the session had finished, and the engineers and client had gone home.

Ok, Will Jackson has traced him down. He’s a Netherlands voice artist who would like to be known only as Kas, not Gus. And, he’d rather not be directly photographed. Now we know that we’ve removed his close-up picture.

Kas says that with the right guidance and a good voice artist, miracles can happen. He plays a series of ads that are well-written, cast and directed and demonstrate the beauty of a good ad well performed.

Now Kas has brought a guy called Daniel on stage from the audience. He’s giving Daniel a script to learn.

They do a first read-through. The set-up involves one guy down and hole and the second character offering to pull him out.

Kas is giving direction, helping Daniel to visualise the scene, where it is, who the characters are and the dynamic of the situation so he can put more into the read.

The aim, he says, is to make the performance credible and believable. This is really an acting lesson and the direction has made a significant difference to Daniel’s read.

Now, Brian Farrell from Ireland takes the stage to record a second part. It’s the payoff announcer copy and now we know  this is a PSA about prejudice and diversity. “Stop the hate” is the end line.

A sound engineer on stage is cutting things together as we go and Brian does four takes until Kes is happy.

Voiceover session on stage

A final voice takes the stage from the audience – he’s Enda Caldwell, the well-known, confident Irish voice artist who’s immediately into the scene. The engineer is hard at work bolting it all together.

A question from the hall: does Kas like to have the music played in his cans during his reads? Yes. It helps him get the mood and pace.

Now we’re hearing two versions of the ad back-to-back: one is cut from the first takes from each artists’ session. The second uses the best takes. Guess what – direction works.

Quick tip – coach your voiceover into a the performance you want.

Ok, it’s a quick tip, but takes years to master. Fun session – quite hard to convey in text. Hope it was useful to you.

1600 CET:  John Frost

Ledgendary producer from KROQ and Frostbytes, John’s here, showing his punk attitude.

John Frost

John reflects that we’ve heard so much intensive production with peaks and troughs at this event but that so many of the troughs are full of other stuff. Today he wants to talk about the troughs and silence.

There are peaks and valleys, and the valleys make the peaks more attractive. “Boobs have a valley”, he observes.

We hear some examples of audio that uses pauses to help make a production breath and give it more impact.

He cites Staxx at DC101 in Washington, Miles Hilvko at KIIS Los Angeles and The Adventures of Sick Boy as examples of work that use pauses well.

Quick tip – if you have a bad script you can still give it a memorable peformance.

John plays an example of a relatively dull line that comes alive with a comedy performance.

Theatre of the mind – play stuff in the background to take the audience away. It’s not often used anymore and it’s a very important part of radio’s opportunities.

Popular audio with this mainly male audience in Amsterdam.

John’s playing some examples of what he calls “Bunching”. Quick hit audio sequences with natural sounding dialogue and heavily produced bookends to protect the comedy.

Joke – my friend lost his entire left side. He’s all right now.

Yes, that needs a strong bookend.

Use of misdirection: this is becoming a comedy masterclass as John plays examples of scripts that lead you one way and then close another.

Pepper like you’re peppering soup. “You don’t have to be clever for long periods of time” he says. Nobody has time to do anything or listen to anything Short 2 to 3 second long items can be funny and convey attitude. For Example:

mvo 1: Can I win?

mvo 2: Can I win?

mvo 1: Can you make sure he doesn’t win?

In summary:

  1. Use silence
  2. Bad copy – change inflection
  3. Theatre of the mind
  4. Bunch your dialogue
  5. Favourite Dutch word: Fok
  6. Find your voices – cast.
  7. Misdirection
  8. Pepper in the creative

Question from the hall: How can you persuade a Programme Director to use this approach? John agrees that is the big albatross. He says he got away with it at KROQ, possibly because the PD was afraid of John. Sometimes you have to shame your PD into running with something. Call them a wuss if they don’t, he says.

Can you tell us something about the Frostbytes service? John says he makes as many pieces as he can a day. He’s not happy if he hasn’t made at least ten pieces a day. He offers the service to stations who need some attitudinal funnies but want to build them into their local output.

John leaves us with some love for Dutch architecture: “I love your buildings here. You guys have really cool buildings. Keep building really old buildings”.

1710 CET Neils Franken and Chris Hartgers from 538

Chris and Neils from 538

538 is the market leader here in the Netherlands. Chris and Neils produce all its imaging and have a reputation in the industry for driving audio hard and taking unconventional routes to their mixing.

The first piece we’re using as a case study is a concert promotion for Jason Derulo. Chris explains that he got the brief from his programmer to make a promo. There wasn’t much more detail in the promo than that.

This is what he produced.

[audio:|titles=“538 Chris Promo Jason Derulo“]

You’ll hear there is a lot of pitch-tuning and harmonic mixing technique in this promo. It’s a strong trend in CHR production here in Europe and it means producers who understand musical keys and tempo are in a strong position to make this kind of work.

Chris takes a question from the audience: how did you learn your musical ability? Answer: I already had a musical background but it is something you can study and learn at any stage of your career.

How do you make your risers? asks a member of the audience. ‘Risers’ are the upward sweeping effects that draw your attention forward into the next section of the promo. They can be atonal or tonal. In this example there’s one at 20 seconds in. It’s created with the Echo Boy plugin on a reversed section of the a’capella.

The audience member complains that he doesn’t have a reverse button in Logic! Chris and Neils don’t use Logic – they can’t help there.

Plugins to check out – Phase Mistress and Echo Boy by SoundToys

Next example – Neils explains how he approached a Martin Garrix promo. You want to hear the audio? I warn you – there’s a lot going on in here with six tracks beatmixed, self-made sound effects and use of the Camelot system of harmonic mixing. In this audio from 19″ in:

[audio:|titles=“538 Neils promo and power intro“]

The sound effects include a bicycle bell, Neils himself saying “bye Mum” and the sound of a contract being signed – again these were custom recorded in the 538 studio.

As an example of the complicated effects chains Neils uses, a typical vocal chain includes EQ, and L2 limiter, two separate instances of Phase Mistress (the Soundboys plugin) and a further fast release limiter.

What about workflow? Neils prefers to make the promo first and then add the voiceover. We heard this morning in the voiceover sessions that artists tend to prefer this route too. However, there are cases when time constraints mean that approach is not possible.

A question from Enda Caldwell: Have you ever heard something on the air and felt you have to remix it? Chris says yes, that has happened. Sometimes the station processing affects things too much, especially shoving the voiceover into the mix too deep.

How often should you change your station voiceover has become a discussion point. 538 has used the same on air voice, Wessel Van Diepen, for fifteen years.

There’s a branded intro at the top of Neils’s audio and we’ll come back to that in a few minutes, after Chris takes us through the story of this production number:|titles=“538 Chris Power intro

Another plugin recommendation – the Looperator from Sugar Bytes. Chris says it’s great value for money. Here’s the track laydown:

chris power intro tracks

Chris goes through his master processing chain. It’s surprisingly light on limiting.

Now Neils talks about the power intro at the top of the audio I shared earlier. Here it is again to save you from scrolling up and back.

[audio:|titles=“538 Neils promo and power intro“]

Neils ensures there’s a recognisable hook or beat from the song really early in the power intro so listeners go “Yay – I love this song” immediately. Once that’s established he can drop in the voice elements and get the messaging away.

There’s a heritage six note logo used by 538 and this is the flutey motif you hear at the end of the power intro block.

And we’re done here with applause for Neils and Chris.

Some stars of UK radio production reunited:

Special offer

Finally, Christian in Norway asked:

Yes, if you were looking forward to the billed Optimod and Omnia session sadly that was cancelled because of illness. So instead, here’s a man who is very pleased with his Omnia 11.