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Ideas and technique to help you promote and image radio

The Imaging Days 2016 – day one afternoon

Here’s Earshot’s track by track coverage of The Imaging Days event from the afternoon of day one, direct from Die Lichtfabrik, Haarlem, Netherlands.

Morning sessions are here.

Competition time: if you can guess which of these countries Chris Stevens is on the phone to, you can win big.

Chris Stevens international

Chris Ward, Bauer Media UK

Two steps to awesome. Not three, says Chris because he could only think of two. He runs all the imaging for 50 stations in the Bauer City Network. He has a team in Manchester and a team in Glasgow, but no local producers on stations.

1.Know the brand.

Using the example of Aston Martin, Chris explained how a room full of students he had worked with described the values of the brand. They’d never driven one, many didn’t know it was a car, but their impression of its brand values was impeccably formed.

We’re hearing a piece of audio broadcast on Kerrang! on the weekend of Charles and Camilla’s wedding. “Wedding present ideas for Camilla: get her a seatbelt”. On brand for Kerrang!, but certainly not for Classic FM.

…and know the audience.

We’re hearing a promo from JACK fm in the US for a Britney Spears promotion. The message is win the tickets for your partner so you can have a quiet night in while she goes out to the concert. If you know your brand and your audience it’s easier to find the right angle.

Chris Ward

Chris Ward

2. Own the music

Branded intros are superb, says Chris. If you hear a song enough times with the station logo on it, you’ll always expect it, even if you’re hearing the song elsewhere.

His old car (see picture) had a cassette player and Chris had a tape mix of his favourite songs in it containing Oasis and the Verve. Years later, when one of the songs came on the radio he was expecting the subsequent track to follow it.

He plays some examples of Bauer’s five note sonic logo, integrated into the top of some songs, using synth instruments and a guitar.

Now he’s playing an Ellie Goulding track (love me like you do) on which he created a sung intro “Love the music like you do” using a session singer to bond the song to the station identity.

In another example, a session singer sung “win a sweet sweet summer holiday” to the tune of Sigala’s Sweet Sweet Lovin’, and used the Sigala track as the backing for a promo spot. I don’t have Chris’s promo spot to share, but this is a cracking pop song, isn’t it:

In response to a request from Davis Mwasaru from Kenya, Chris has opened up a ProTools session to show how his musical logo melody welds into the track. He uses delays on the logo in time with the beat of the track.

Adam Venton of Britain’s UKRD group asks how he copes with bouncing down versions for multiple stations. Both Chris and Adam have dozens of stations in their groups.

There are no real short cuts, says Chris, but he bounces everything to one track then uses ‘Tap to Transient’ to jump to the beat, and speed up the chopping process, exporting from the clips list.

“Your Music – Your Life”.. how did you come up with that any why? Asks a cheeky inquisitor from the audience. Chris suggests it might not be around for long. Research is telling him that his next strapline must be more music focused, less on lifestyle.

Chris is asked about imaging libraries – which ones does he use? He says none, although he praises Ben Neidle’s work. Sometimes, for the work he’s doing, Chris finds that imaging libraries are not flexible enough to work in all the keys he needs.

Dr Hitmix Nik on music promos

Dr Hitmix Nick of TRIL

Dr Hitmix Nik of TRIL

Nik’s on stage demonstrating his approach to music promos. He says he always aims for unpredictability, because 4 bars after 4 bars forever is boring.

He like silence too. And tempo changes. And Ableton Live, inspired by Simon Palframan of the UK who does all his work on Ableton.

Nik is demonstrating how he fuses two songs together with tempo changes, microediting techniques, key matching, rhythmic percussion and Coldplay. His work is available via The Radio Imaging Library, a production service.

The temo changing on Ableton Live is interesting. Because the software analyses every audio item you put into it and syncs their beats to a master clock, you can manipulate many items together with adjustments to the master track. Change the tempo of the session and all the tracks change with it.

The level of detail in this session is not possible to convey in text easily, especially as we’re jumping in an out of various Ableton settings, so here comes a string of photographs illustrating Nik’s screens…

Dr Hitmix screen 1

First arpeggiator of the day…

Nick arpeggiator

Interesting that everything Nik’s doing is using the standard effects and features within Ableton Live. No third party plugins yet. Then, suddenly…

Nick waves delays

…two at once.

Nik reveals that he doesn’t have a musical background. He relies on Mixed In Key to generate the numbers he needs to make key transitions work and he has good ear so he can tell when it works. I’d say he may not read manuscript but being able to hear what works is a musical understanding of sorts… just the sort he needs in this work.

Why does Nik always go from fast to slow in his transitions? Music radio is a mood lifter and doing it that way helps. Occasionally he goes the other way, but mostly it’s up to lift energy and listeners alike.

If you want to give Ableton Live a go, there’s a 30 day free trial demo. This is not a paid promotion. It’s just a link folks. That said, if the nice people at Ableton would like to run a promotion with Earshot, I’m open to that.

Imaging 1 on 1: Staxx mentors Sven from Netherlands CHR station 538

Sven and Staxx

This session features an experienced imager helping an industry newcomer to develop their work. Very promising concept here. It’s an American helping a European.

We’re listening to a Justin Bieber summer show promo in Dutch. It has a huge f-bomb right in the middle of hit, cut to the beat, and Staxx thinks that should go. Unfortunately, bleeping it out makes it more prominent. Cutting it directly after the F works though.

Now, we’re trying to find a point to make some silence. Staxx has also recommended removing some of the white noise sweeps. Less is more.

Staxx demonstrates that you can make a gap without actually stopping the audio: how does that work? He removes all the lower frequency energy from a couple of beats and then when the kick comes back it does so with far greater impact.

Sven’s boss is in the room. He approves of the changes Staxx has made without even hinting criticism at any of Sven’s own work. That’s a good boss there.

There’s another imaging 1 on 1 tomorrow at the same time.

The Imaging Days panel, hosted by Ryan Drean

You’ll know Ryan from Ryan on the Radio and the Producers’ Podcast. Notice his podcasts jump from episode 99 to 101. What can he have planned for episode 100 I wonder.

His guests include Adam Burgess from Imaging Blueprint, a British company, Christian from RTL 89.0 in Germany and Staxx from Z100 and WKTU New York who we saw in the previous session.

Ryan panel side

How to be creative? Staxx says get out of the studio. Also, do the things you are promoting. Go to the concerts to see what it’s like for the audience.

Christian is talking about a case study: he used sound effects to paint the picture of a listener’s workday, there’s a melodic element in there which builds to become the hook of playlisted song. They made it summery by adding sounds which included licking ice cream and splashing.

Adam Burgess is describing a promotion he made four years ago for Metro Radio called ‘Radio Gaga”. It involved Lady Gaga lookalikes going out into the station area. It’s a little like the fugitive idea as we reported at the time.

However, Adam went further and made on air spoof ads promoting the new Gaga range of clothes and household furnishings including the famous meat dress, kidney cushions and beef curtains. (Ofcom rating: generally unacceptable for broadcast before the watershed).

Staxx says he has several young female colleagues on whom he can quickly test ideas before they air.

Adam describes how he created Imaging Blueprint to fill a gap in the market. It’s all about the separate elements and the closest thing he does to a classic shell is branded intros. Everything else is designed to be a kit of parts.

How do the panellists gather original, interesting content?

Staxx says he does conversational interviews with listeners. Ask them about their latest favourite album, what concerts they’ve been to etc. Sometimes you get a duff respondent but the number of hits make it time well spent, he says.

Christian goes out into the market to get listener drops. He also uses actors from the university.

For idea generation and getting your mind working well, Adam says he really doesn’t know what he does to be creative but his rule of thumb with intros is to mimic the sound of what’s in the record, so that’s a starting point. Then, for a point of difference, he might add a tuned vocal or something that feels organic to the song, not production for the sake of it. He has to feel comfortable with it, emotionally. It must fit.

Staxx is playing a promo. Voiceovers Dave Foxx and Kelly sell a Drake promotion with very little voiceover, just a soundtrack of a concert with Kelly sounding as if she’s actually there. It’s a 9 second spot, but the message is simple so that’s all you need.

Staxx talks about approvals: he doesn’t generally get a more senior sign-off but if he changes his approach he’ll run that past management before it goes to air.

Now, a quick break and then coming very soon it’s Dave Foxx on branding.

Dave Foxx

Dave Foxx profile

Dave gets a standing ovation as he receives this award.

Imaging Days 2016 award

Dave says he’s now living in Texas, enjoying good food and getting to know his wife again. Radio is stressful. It’s time to come down from all that.

When he started in the business, nobody taught Dave about EQ and compression. He doesn’t want the next generation to start without that knowledge and has a persona mission to pass it on.

However, today he’s talking about strategy first: the thinking and philosophy behind what he’s done at Z100 and made it successful. He’s praising the people who worked with him. Steve Kingston, Scott Shannon, Theresa Beyer, Darren Peffer, Joe DeAngelis and many more.

He say’s it all comes down to branding: what started with a hot stick, the branding iron that labelled your lifestock and now conveys brands to consumers by means of distinctive design and advertising. Today’s about the personal branding of your work: making your work instantly recognisable.

Dave says that without hearing the station name or strap you knew it was Z100 because it has a certain sound. That’s what he wants to do for the delegates’ work today.

We live in a visual world but work in the world of sound, says Dave: this is his mantra and the starting point for his arguments about using the power of sound.

We learn about branding cattle. It used to be done with hot irons, today the more humane approach involves a cold iron, chilled in liquid nitrogen. Bet you didn’t know that. Now, tattoos.

To make a brand you need a target audience. Here’s Dave’s target of 1: Mica. CUNY means City University of New York.

Dave Foxx target listener

Find your target audience of one. Narrow the target in order broaden the appeal. It always works.

Now, suddenly we’re onto jingles. He praises the expert jingle companies who use this targeting to focus the sound. Steve Kingston once said that a jingle is like the signature on a work of art. It makes is priceless.

Dave plays a montage of Z100 original jingles by JAM. The same logo melody has been constant all the way through the station’s history. In 1997 someone had the smart idea of taking the jingles off the air.

Eight years after the jingles came off air, rapper JA Rule came into the station and, during a voice drop session, started singing the heritage logo. Two days later, the jingles came back to stay.

Next tip – create your signature sound: a sound that makes it yours.

We’re looking at Dave’s voice recording set-up: he makes two copies of his voice recording so he’s always got a spare raw track to go back to if necessary. On the input side, Dave uses some ProTools built-in EQ, gating, compression and the NS1 Noise Suppressor from Waves. He sometimes records in hotels and cruise ships so it’s essential to cut out background noise.

We’re hearing the effect of this with a concert demo.

On the output side, he also adds delays with a plugin called Mod Delay II. It’s very subtle at 12% wetness but it adds wide panned delays to his voice and the drops. This is part of Dave’s signature sound. It’s his way, not THE way. Like any recipe, you can season it but that’s the basis for his target listener of one.

Sonic triggers; when Dave first started at Z100 he started every promo with short burst of tone. Later, it became more organic and then changed it every couple of years. He still does that with his work elsewhere, now that he’s handed Z100 over to Staxx Williams.

Dave’s five point checklist

  1. Find your target audience of one
  2. Sync your sound with your jingles.
  3. Produce EVERYTHING for Mika (or whoever is your target)
  4. Create your processing brand.
  5. Use effects to effect.

Questions from the hall: Chris Stevens asks why so many of Dave’s scripts start with the station name. Dave says that was to aid recall but that is less important in the days of PPM measurement. Today you can deliver the message and then just tag it at the end.

Does Z100 conduct research into imaging? No, but someone will come up with that idea, undoubtedly. Dave gives the impression that such research wouldn’t teach him anything new.

Dave is talking about using sound to trigger emotions. The words and the music are the birthplace of your creativity. The aromas of coffee and bacon trigger emotional responses. You can do the same with your audio. Don’t have any grey in your copy. All colour – no grey.

The right words transplant your idea into the mind of the listener and their creative psyche with minimal distortion.

Dave’s back tomorrow and, ever the promo guy, he’s teasing ahead.