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Ideas and technique to help you promote and image radio

The Imaging Days 2016 – day two afternoon

Earshot’s tulip-by-tulip coverage of The Imaging Days event continues from Amsterdam. All the afternoon sessions in day two right here, live from Die Lichtfabrik, Haarlem, Netherlands.

Morning sessions are here.

Staxx Williams from Z100 and WKTU New York

Staxx from Z100 and WKTU

Staxx from Z100 and WKTU

Staxx is talking about his career trajectory, and his attitude to work. He says it’s essential to be relaxed to be creative but alert in order to capture the attention of the people you want to impress.

I like to use my imagination a lot and write down the things I see and hear.

Here’s an example of a piece he created around the sounds he heard in a video game. It inspired a dystopian themed soundscape. It’s the sound of the the world blown up, in a sweeper. For the alternative rock format of DC101 in Washington, Staxx identified that the game effects were right on target for his audience. They got 40,000 requests on Twitter about the imaging when it aired.

Google logo

Staxx sees his work for Z100 like the Google logo. It’s changed over the years, but always recognisable. Staxx adds little bits here and there, takes some things out but at the core it’s always Z100.

Star Wars

To coincide with the release of a Star Wars movie, Staxx made a bunch of sweepers using the recognisable station voices of Dave and Kelly but written around the appearance of various Star Wars characters, sound effects and ideas. The copy is short and funny. Get in – tell the funny – get out.

Pokemon Go

When Pokemon Go suddenly became ubiquitous, Staxx ran some funny drops to pick-up on the trend. He moved fast and used ideas from outside the station within his circle of friends. There was a point when everything he did, he made. Now, through maturity and confidence he takes ideas from others and amazing work he’d never be able to generate alone.

He sends out a lot of work, and receives a good amount back. Within his large group he’s found that collaboration helps his work and his career.

We’re hearing a ‘We pay your bills’ promo using a sung drop ‘money rains, from the sky above’, an excited female listener and the voice of Dave Foxx. Tight, clear and memorable.

Thinking in scenery

It’s Father’s Day at DC101: let’s do a scene with a stripper crying, says Staxx. We hear her ready to go on stage in tears. The sound effects tell the story. It’s uncomfortable and the voiceover just says ‘Happy Fathers’ Day from DC101′. Edgy stuff.

PPM measurement

Staxx says that the arrival of PPM has changed his production a lot. Music flow is crucial now so everything is much shorter now. He has to compress his creative ideas and now backs off his production, using more concept to convey ideas. Everything is noisy now. He aims to make his work funny and relatable.

Staxx is asked about morning show promotions. He says that the ad inventory is so high sometimes that often it’s just done by the jocks on the station, not through built promos.

He’s asked how much longer he’s going to keep that tired old voice on his station. The questioner is, of course, Dave Foxx. Staxx says it’s going to stay forever. Sounds like Dave’s in a strong negotiating position.

Staxx says that at DC101 he removed the station voice and replaced him with himself. That was a huge mistake which he won’t repeat. More humble now, and more of a team player.

That was a really strong session… and not a plugin in sight.

Imaging 1 on 1: Chris Stevens learns Ableton Live

This should be good. His tutor is Nik Smon aka Dr Hitmix whom we saw yesterday.

Chris has never opened Ableton Live in his life. It’s unlike other DAWs: whenever you add audio files, Ableton analysis the file, finds the transients and works out the tempo. It then changes the master bpm to the track tempo.

A master tempo adjustment can be applied to tracks. Six different algorithms exist. Some work better than others for different types of music. It’s extremely quick to beatmatch tracks.

It's about this much

It’s about this much

Chris asks the audience who uses Ableton. A few do. They say it’s fast and that its time warp feature is the best they know. All your favourite plugins will work in Ableton Live.

Now we’re looking at a session. Nik is explaining what’s what in the Ableton architecture, how he groups tracks and how those groups interact with plugins. Many plugins are bundled with Ableton Live but there’s a common interface design, rather than the assortment of skeuomorphism you find in ProTools, Waves etc.

Dr Hitmix Nik with Ableton Live

Dr Hitmix aka Nik Smon with Ableton Live

We’re talking about editing modes. Chris says that one of the ProTools modes resembles ‘open reel tape’, whatever that is. *cough*. Ableton has a couple of modes for editing. You can copy and paste automation separately from the audio clips: useful.

Pitch-changing is easy too. Every clip has a settings window containing controls for immediate control of pitch by semitone or freestyle.

What about using Ableton for speech? Nik says that other tools are probably quicker for speech. Reaper, for example.

Chris Stevens in the audience

Chris Stevens in the audience

A question: do you used Mixed In Key, even when you have Ableton’s tuning controls at your fingertips? Yes, Nik likes to know what keys his tracks are in and has always filed his music according to key. Something he did as a DJ, earlier in his career.

It’s very quick to loop things: just highlight them and hit command-D to duplicate. Works for MIDI, audio, automation and even tracks too. For modern music production at speed, Ableton Live seems hard to beat, suggests Chris.

In the end, Chris didn’t really learn Ableton Live at all during this session but he did manage to prise a clear and valuable introduction to its charms from Nik.

Next year, Chris promises that we’ll turn the tables on Nik and get him to try ProTools for the first time.

Quirky aside: between the sessions here we have music in the hall. It’s a decent playlist of current hits. Someone’s put a lot of time into curating that, surely? Er, no: it’s the Billboard Hot 100 playlist on Spotify.

Are jingles old-skool? Let’s have a heated debate.

Ryan's panel

Ryan Drean’s imaging days panel features Chris Ward of Bauer in the UK, Steven Lemmens from Studio Brussel and Aleksander Lilleoien from Norwegian station P5. The question is: are jingles old-skool?

Ryan is introducing himself. He’s the creative director at TM in Dallas. They make jingles but that doesn’t make him a jingles fan per se. Sometimes his teams are commissioned to make jingles they don’t want to make.

Chris says his Bauer City 1 network only uses jingles in breakfast, Bauer City 2 has jingles all over, Bauer City 3 has none. Aleksander says he uses jingles on everything on his Norwegian stations. Steven uses no jingles but tunes spoken words into the music, musically. He says his ‘baseline’ is “life is music” and his audience wants to hear the music, not the jingles. There is a sonic logo, however.

Aleksander thinks jingles are like the theme tune to your favourite tv show. They have to be quick, but they definitely help people remember the station.

Chris has evidence of the memorability of music. He has examples in his own life of music bringing back strong memories. He doesn’t say what those memories are: possibly for the best.

Steven opines that a sung jingle immediately before a Metallica record “just wouldn’t work”.

What makes a great jingle package?

Chris says he’s currently rebranding his Bauer City 1 network and has struggled to find something that’s right for his CHR sound in the UK. The things we were doing 20 years ago can sound cheesy today.

Justin Bieber is mentioned. Let me name him again for SEO purposes: Justin Bieber.

Bieber isn’t singing, he’s really speaking in tune and in time.

Chris thinks Bieber isn’t singing, he’s really speaking in tune and in time. Aleksander won’t tie into a 5 year deal with a package for his CHR format station. Things change too fast.

Now some audio: from Key 103, a station in the North of England that’s faced challenging times recently we’re hearing a top of hour. Chris says he wants it to sound like an acappella from an Ellie Goulding track, not a jingle. It also features listeners praising their city of Manchester.

We also hear a Katy Perry song. Chris used vocalist Tory to emulate the hook from the song ‘this is what we do, etc’ to support a promotional message. “This works if you can own the music”, says Chris.

Audio from Aleksander now: it’s a Christmas jingle which Alexsander believes has real value. His soft AC station flips to an all-Christmas format late in the year and this jingle echoes a traditional Norwegian Christmas song. It’s exactly what you imagine that would sound like.

Steven, Aleksander and Chris

Steven, Aleksander and Chris

Steven records voice drops from every artist that comes into the building to use in his imaging. Sometimes they sit unused for years until an artist becomes huge and they contain added value.

He also asks singers to sing the name of the station and its strapline in the name of their hit song. Then these elements become part of song intros. We hear an example which is pretty solid work.

Question from the audience: how you inform the decision to take off air or add jingles? Steven says they don’t do focus groups and it is all gut feeling from within the team. If something doesn’t work, just pull it. His group is publicly owned so he can take some risks.

Why not use jingles when music is such a powerful way to connect emotionally? Chris says sometimes they just can’t keep up with trends in music. They’re great on his older-skewed network but it’s easier to keep pace with imaging elements.

Alexsander uses jingles on every format he runs, even his rock format which, admittedly, is not at the harder end of the rock spectrum.

Steven says he’d love to make a jingle package but he is concerned that it’s just a waste of airtime for his station.

Do presenters miss the toolkit of a jingle package? Chris jokes that they certainly miss having their names sung. Also, if there’s some piece of imaging missing the air talent will be quick to email him and let him know.

Ryan summarises with a question about CHR which he perceives to be the difficult format for jingles. What’s the solution? Steven says work out some new ideas together with your team and imaging company. Aleksander thinks its about being up to date and anticipating the trends. Chris agrees a package for CHR has to updated all the time. It’s not good enough to deliver the cuts and come back in three years.

So, are jingles old school? No, but there are other ways to identify.

Dave Foxx

Dave Foxx golden microphone

This mic gets Dave Foxx into one hell of a lot of trouble at airport security.

What’s he doing now? Mostly VO. He’s talking about a piece from 98 FM, produced by Pat Gill and plays some from Z100. He’s on air in Ireland, a European market in which American voiceovers are common on air.

He’s also making video, and plays the promo video for ReelMix he produced with colleagues from across the industry. Here it is:

Dave is also making the production, video and social media for Most Requested Live, a tv show. He’s opening up a ProTools session to show how he does that production.

Now he’s voicing a promo. One take. In the can.

Dave Foxx voices

Dave Foxx voices

He’s asked a member of the audience to come up and perform the part of an airline pilot in a Southern US accent. We get a volunteer and a read.

Dave is quickly assembling the promo. It’s promoting an opportunity to go to the UK and see the band 21 Pilots.

His workparts: an opening effect (one of his trademarks), an aircraft background effect, the pilot’s voice drop and half a doorbell to simulate the call sound on an airline’s PA system.

There’s a lilting Caribbean-infused music track to edit, but nothing is snapped to a grid. Dave works freeform and counts the beats and bars in his head. He works fast, using minimal plugins and a keen eye on the waveforms.

Already the promo takes shape. Dave works to get all the elements laid down in time. So far, he has not touched a fader to adjust levels.

He places all the voice elements in time, then mutes them to tidy up the music track he’s editing underneath. It’s ‘Stressed Out’ by the band.

Dave Foxx tracks

Dave Foxx tracks

Dave complains that he’s “not really feeling it yet”. This is a man who works from the gut.

He copies a 500ms fade onto a bunch of tracks. “Done, done and done”.

One final tweak of a music level under voice (done by cutting the track in two, reducing the level of the second part by a few dB and then crossfading the two bits) and it’s bounced down and sent to the client.

Has he just actually completed a piece of work for a client on stage during the conference? If so, that’s great time management. Update: yes, he has: Dave says he’ll check it in the hotel tonight but, all being well, that’s the job done.

Dave jokes that “it’s really bad to let your Programme Director know how quickly you can do stuff”.

He’s asked a question about his plugins which, the observer spots, are already loaded with settings dialled-in. Yes, says Dave, he saves settings into plugins so they always come up the same. This is another contribution to his signature sound.

Another member of the audience asks about Dave’s initial entry into radio. He was an actor but tired of the scene, then he majored in the sciences, including marina biology and started working at the local station. He never got a degree and says ‘that’s dumb’.

What he does now is still acting, he believes.

Dave’s recommendations if you want to be a voice artist: take a course in the dramatic arts and public speaking. Learn stream of consciousness speaking so you can listen to the rhythm of your speech. Then turn on the tv or radio and listen to someone else doing what you want to do and parrot-copy them.

Final question: one tip for writing copy? Yes, it’s dialogue for one, not a monologue. Think of the response you’ll get from the listener. It’s part of the communication.

Final thought: this is Dave’s method, it’s not THE method. Take ideas from others and combine them to be creative. Success will come.

...and that's showbiz

…and that’s showbiz


Anthony Timmers closes the event with an announcement about a new competition for imaging producers.

The Global Radio Imaging Awards show will take place next during The Imaging Days 2017 in the Netherlands. The opening date for entries and submissions for The Global Imaging Awards will begin in January 2017 and will be open to submissions of audio from all radio stations worldwide.

…and that ends our coverage from Haarlem. Thank you for following.

I’d appreciate your feedback: what worked well for you in our coverage and what could be even better. Earshot is @earshotcreative on Twitter. Criticism is useful but unalloyed praise is always nice…