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Ideas and technique to help you promote and image radio

ReelMix 2016: day one morning

130 radio imaging producers, voice artists and composers from across the US and around the world are here in Miami, Florida, for the first ever ReelMix event.

This page is being updated throughout the page so hit F5 to refresh frequently and scroll right down for the latest entries.

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I promise not to appear on camera again.

Sessions start at 9am Eastern time, that’s 1300 GMT and 2pm in the UK. Do join us right here for live blog action, direct from the auditorium.

If you have comments or questions, use the Twitter hashtag #ReelMIX2016

Snapped at 0700 local time: Dawn breaks over downtown Miami

Downtown Miami at dawn

Still waiting to discover whether Dino followed through on this threat choice…

Marcel’s here, all the way from Durban, South Africa. We think he’s a plant.

9.15am local time

Delegates enjoying coffee

No production director can do anything without strong coffee so delegates are enjoying a fresh brew and breakfast ahead of the first session. Dave Foxx is a popular choice for selfies.

Jason and Mike from The Mix Group gets the day underway. Apparently there are food trucks coming later, a social night tonight and other delights.


Three producers from the imaging service Production Vault share their audio production secrets.

Andy Jackson is first up with a demonstration of how he works. He makes the point that “pretty much every song on the radio these days is in the same key”. Or it is once Andy’s done his work on it.

Andy Jackson

Andy has produced a beatmatched mix of songs in F sharp minor. He works out the chord sequences on a keyboard before dropping sections of songs into the track laydown.

‘Formanting’ is pretty fashionable at the moment, says Andy. He uses the Soundtoys ‘Little Alter Boy’ plug in to add some subtle formanting effects to vocals. In general, he says the bundle from Soundtoys is his favourite for the kind of work Andy does.

Creatively, Andy likes to think through his projects in his head before sitting down at ProTools. He says the projects don’t always come out the way he planned but it’s still better to have a strong idea first.

Andy’s now showing us Summer Promo piece he made for Z100 in New York. This time the sample tracks were made in different keys so he’s done a lot of pitching to bring everything in line.

This work is right at the border between production and composition. Andy has added a huge number of musical elements to the produced song drops, including a riser effect over about eight seconds and an off-beat hi-hat that snaps through the most intense part of the mix.

He’s got voice drops from the DJs, actually taken from the station output. Andy says he finds this a better way to source drops than asking the talent to do them off air from a script. There’s something about the energy of a live performance that you cannot recreate, he says.

Andy answers a question about getting ‘do-it-yourself’ acapellas. He demonstrates a technique to extract the vocals from a full mix by subtracting the corresponding instrumental track.

He lines up the full mix and the instrumental accurately on consecutive tracks, then flips the phase of one. The results are pretty good, especially at the lower frequencies.

Next up, Dom Nero from Hot 97…

Dom Nero at ProTools

Dom demonstrates a remix he produced of a song by The Chainsmokers which was off-format for his station but which, with some of Dom’s production, could be pulled into format and added to the playlist. The record label approached Dom with the idea.

Dom says that Caribbean sounds are very much in vogue this year, citing Rhianna’s Work and songs by Justin Bieber as examples. He looked to that genre for inspiration in this remix.

He changed the tempo of the original track and then added his own drums: kick, snare and hi-hat sounds in a Caribbean-influenced rhythm.

Andy made a point earlier about getting the audio basics right. Dom returns to this theme now to impress on the audience how crucial it is to get levels right and audio clean before doing anything else.

Dom says it’s instructive to listen to how many sound effects are in today’s hit music. He’s used many effects to his remix, adding varying texture and interest at key moments.

Now we’re looking at the vocals, and Dom has dramatically changed the sound of the original male vocal stem through filtering, overdubs and compression.

Dom uses UAD plugins. They come with hardware, such as the interface that Dom uses. He rates the UAD interface for its low latency which is highly valuable in music performance.

Victor Lisle asks what reaction he gets from listeners when he runs exclusive remix material like this on his station. Dom says that the remixes can be popular enough to make it up to the main song rotations. He tracks the success of the work with Shazam.

Dom refuses to be drawn on the commercial arrangements between him, the station and the record label.

Coming next, David Konsky from Southern Cross Australia.

But first, do we detect a touch of absence envy from Great Britain? Matt Lomax is imaging lead for the mighty Heart brand in the UK.

And more absence envy from Indianapolis…

David Konsky

David Konsky

David plays some assembled music tracks briefly and is focusing on vocal production. The example is what he calls a sung top of hour, but not a jingle.

He is using Waves Tune to tame some vocals recorded by collaborators in Australia and Ireland. An elaborate but short vocal phrase ‘Hits and Old Skool’ is reduced down to be sung on just two notes, quickly and effectively with Waves Tune.

David is full of tips. He recommends getting a Circle of Fifths to help with key matching and transitions. Here’s one:

Circle of Fifths

and he says you should really learn an instrument if you want to understand the basics of musical keys.

For plugins he says you don’t need that many tools in your box. They’re expensive so look out for sales and buy quickly then.

David rates Mixed In Key as 95% accurate. Use it to identify the key of the music you’re manipulating and apply your knowledge of musical chord structure to shape all your elements into note of that key’s triad.

He demonstrates Melodyne, a tuning plug-in which has powerful manipulation abilities and controls that differ from those in Waves Tune. David says that some sounds naturally work better in Melodyne.

David says that he is careful not to overdo the effects as listeners will get bored of them. Less is more with effects and with mastering.

Several questions today have asked what this all means for those of us who are working at a much more humble level of production. The audience here is aghast at the complexity and mastery on show here:

11 Eastern / 3pm UK: What makes a great audio brand

We’re back from coffee with John Frost of Frostbytes, Steve Dubbz of iHeartMedia and Ron Tarrant who images Howard Stern. The session is moderated by US imaging legend Dave Foxx and involves sofas.

Ron Tarrant and Dave Foxx

Ron Tarrant and Dave Foxx

Dave Foxx opens with a video. We live in a visual world, he says, but we work in a world of sound. Brands spend millions of their visual identities but you have to work with ‘two turntables and a microphone’.

He pays tribute to Staxx Williams who has taken over from him as imaging director at Z100.

Dave says that, as audio imagers, we have an amazing ability to affect the brand.

John Frost and Steve Dubbz

John Frost and Steve Dubbz

After panel introductions, Dave says this session is about the thinking behind what we do. He says that he has always listened to John Frosts work, even when he hasn’t be able to use it on the air. He likes John’s believable characters.

Dave Foxx talks about narrowing the focus down to one person. He calls her Mica and he’s built a persona around her name. She’s 22. As an aside, he says we should all read The 22 immutable laws of branding.

Z100 gets amazing ratings because he programmes to Mica. Narrow the focus: it always works.

Steve Dubbz recommends holding mini focus groups with people from the target demographic. It can be just 2 to 5 people he says. In the Miami market, with its strong Hispanic character, this technique helps him connect with the demo, working with it, not just doing something for them.

Dave Foxx tells a story about a manager who thought he knew what jokes would work for the audience. It took an awkward moment in the office for him to realise his humour didn’t tickle the funny bones of the target demo.

Ron Tarrant talks about producing for Howard Stern. Ron’s now the male voice on the imaging. Howard comes in and critiques the work but gives Ron pretty much free reign creatively.

Howard is a ‘brand guy’, says Ron. He knows the power of his name and how to use it. If you don’t, it’s a wasted opportunity.

He plays some audio: a show intro. It’s very noisy, loads of crowd effects and rock elements, interrupted by brief voice drops and show clips.

We’re talking about swearing.

Steve talks about writing. He says it’s pretty important to everything, even short sweepers. For brand campaigns, writing is everything. It’s disappointing to hear plain voice drops on radio stations that pay little attention to the writing.

His focus groups with listeners from the demo are always part of the process. He meets them before he starts writing for any significant project, because he’s not part of that group himself.

He says use your own skills to determine production treatment but be open to others for ideas.

Question from the auditorium for Ron: how much of a challenge was it to come into the Howard Stern machine which is so established?

Ron says it was an eye-opener. 30 years of heritage and a tape was running across every show. All the programmes are recorded on tape in an temperature-controlled facility.

There is so much classic material to draw on but sometimes ‘the joke has been done’ so it’s about reinvention mostly.

He praises services like Production Vault but part of the deal he has at Howard Stern’s show is that everything he uses on the air he must produce himself. Ron has a musical background.

Question for Steve: how do you find the members of your focus group?

Steve says he’s got nine radio stations in his building so lots of people with contacts across different demos. His groups are only small and he finds it perfectly manageable.

Dave Foxx is asked about managing the audio image at Z100. He says certain anchor points never change but every now and again he likes to “pull a Madonna” and really reinvent. Mostly, though when you want to move a brand forward, you have to do it in increments.

The musical logo is still the one composed by Jon Wolfert decades ago. The positioning line has only changed three times and the change was accompanied by a competition in which listeners had to recall the new line as a ‘phrase that pays’.

Dave is asked whether he’d ever fabricate a caller reaction in a competition winner promo. No, but he’ll build excitement around it.

A question about the ‘threat’ of music streaming services like Pandora and Spotify. How serious is it? The panel agrees that the attraction of radio lies not primarily in the music but in the entertainment, the personality, the local connection and the winning.

John Frost adds neatly that you can sum all that up as ‘the brand’.

Durin Gleaves from Adobe

Durin is explaining some of the features in Adobe Audition. The software grew from Cool Edit Pro, which this year is celebrating its 25th birthday. Anyone else old enough to remember CEP 1.2?

Durin Gleaves

He’s explaining the spectral editing features of the latest software, pretty much a feature unique to Adobe Audition he says. He uses it to de-ess a sibilant piece of speech, rather effectively, and then a cat intervenes…

Now, it’s a look at some mixing features you may not know about, like sidechains. Sidechains are a great way to drive the levels of one source with another.

Adobe’s remix feature automatically finds edit points in songs to help you shorten them. It uses a combination of various analytical techniques on the waveform to determine the best places to cut.

He says it’s amazing on pop songs but admits it can’t cope so well with progressive rock.

Audition now features some advanced RMS-driven automatic levelling tools in a panel called ‘Essential Sound’. A good example of tools that can save real time in production, if you trust them to make the right judgements.

The ‘Centre Channel Extractor’ is an alternative way to create acappelas or instrumental versions of songs. By comparison, see Andy Jackson’s approach to this at the start of the day.

Audition’s ‘Frequency Band Splitter’ divides a track by frequency into mulitple tracks: useful if you want to take a mono track and create an impression of stereo width.

Adobe’s architecture allows third party producers to create ‘panels’ within Audition. Durin demonstrates a new panel created for Production Vault which lets producers input tracks from the imaging service direct into an editing session. It’s in – search for ReelWorld.

There’s a tasty promotion here for delegates. Everybody gets three month’s free access to Adobe Creative Cloud and one person here will win a year’s free access.

Well, that’s opened my eyes to how much Audition has developed over the years. Apparently, it’s the most commonly used DAW here in the US.

And that wraps up the morning. The food trucks are here.

This blog post is getting rather long and scrolly so we’ll start the afternoon’s sessions in a separate post at

Feeding the imaging animals! #ReelMix2016 #foodtruck

A photo posted by Drake Donovan (@drakedonovanvo) on