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Ideas and technique to help you promote and image radio

The Imaging Days live blog – day one

Hello from Amsterdam and The Imaging Days event for 2019.

Here are the sessions from day one. All times are local to Amsterdam (GMT +2). Deduct one hour for UK time.

Live blog

To open, we watch an energetic introduction video message from Broadway Bill Lee, welcoming us to The Imaging Days in the style of his viral talk-up links. He’ll be here tomorrow, live.

1000 (0900 UK time) Spin your Sound

Nick Karkazis of Ireland’s Spin 103.8

A man called Jonathan has just introduced our first speaker, Nick. Jonathan had a tension bed under his entire intro. It’s an imaging conference.

Nick says you should find your own way to do imaging, but he’ll show you his anyway. He’s talking about making breakfast show promos, taking a moment from the show that went to air and then bringing it to life in a promo spot through production.

Spin has its peak audience at evening drive so Nick makes his breakfast promos with that audience in mind.

Would you like to see his pro-tools screen?

His promo is about Shawn Mendez and Camila Cabello. The breakfast show played their song and chatted about their supposed relationship. Nick matched bits of the presenters’ gossip to lines in the song.

He’s asked about time limits. Nick aims for 30″ to 40″. He says it takes a lot of practice to cut down to the essentials. He says the spot draws on an on air bit that lasted around 3 minutes.

To produce one of these daily promos, Nick says it takes around 20 minutes to one hour, depending on how complicated the production is. He has become faster at it over time, largely because he draws on the same set of elements. It’s important that these promos “really shine”, he says.

Nick Karkazis

It’s a feature of these conferences that we spend a lot of time watching people at their ProTools screens.

We’re listening to the effect of various plug-ins on the voice elements. Nick says he has a ‘clean’ feed of the presenters’ studio mics, without processing, that he can pick-up for promo use.

For scheduling, there are 4 or 5 spins of these promos. Nick alternates an A promo (from the day) and a B promo (from the previous day) in the schedule.

Next… branded intros.

Nick has three essential components in every branded intro: the station name, the positioning line “new music now” and the artist ID.

He says its important not to add further processing to the actual music track: he places that on its own track in ProTools which carries no plugins and bypasses the master processing chain.

His example of a branded intro is the Avicii / Chris Martin song Heaven.

He’s taken some instrumental sections from the song, added some impact effects to structure them. An impact blast opens the sequence, then there’s a rising sweep effect followed by a sub drop (deep clean bass fall – you know the sound).

Then, over all that he’s taken vocal elements including a stage intro “Avicii”, stuttered and panned with a Soundtoys tremolator.

Nick talks about creating music from nothing. He’s been known to search for the chord sequence of songs and then produce an original intro that’s ‘close enough’ to work under the speech elements of the branded intro.

We’re now having coffee. Cold milk, no sugar thank you.

Some well-known people from British radio are here, like voice artist Ian Brannan. He’s brought his mics so you can still book him!

1100 (1000 UK time) The Sound of the City

Idris Rouchiche from Fun X

MC Jonathan is back to tell us off for asking questions during the session. Apparently, we’re supposed to wait until the end. Ok sir.

Inside the Tolhuistuin venue

Idris is explaining how his station Fun X works in the Netherlands. It’s a youth brand with radio at its centre.

One of its special characteristics is the wide range of music played – it’s not a standard youth CHR or Urban format, but plays international music from different cultures including Afrobeats. He says if it has a great melody then why not?

Good news – Idris has remembered to bring his ProTools dongle. We’re looking at his MacBook screen and will be unpicking a promo for a live music event shortly.

Idris has mixed together some songs from the artists playing at the music event. He’s picked the tracks to use by running through the repertoire of the arists and using the harmonic mixing tool Mixed In Key to find the most compatible ones. https://mixedinkey.com/

Then he’s written some drum patterns to glue together the tracks. He says he keeps his drums low in the mix so they just help to fuse things together without dominating.

Some good principles of using EQ here: Idris reminds us that filters are for taking things out to create space in the mix.

He uses a Waves plugin called F6 to reduce only the frequencies in the music track that are necessary to make space for the speech elements.

To make that work he puts all the vocals into a Bus group and then feeds that Bus into the F6 sidechain input. The plugin has a clear graphic interface that shows what’s happening – basically it dips the upper mids in sympathy with the speech energy.

Here’s another interesting plugin… the ML4000 mastering limiter. Idris uses it on the vocal elements and says it can be driven quite hard. He has another instance of the ML4000 with different settings on the master chain.

Good question about wide panning. If you put voice hard left and right does it weaken impact on mono listening? Idris agrees it can and says he generally uses wide vocals for effect and not to deliver the key message.

Fun fact: the mono audio in professional radio is derived from L + R -3dB. That’s why the white PPM needle peaks 6 when the L+R ones hit 5 and a quarter.

We’re talking about tempo. Idris explains how he moves from one tempo to another. Sometimes he puts a break it for voice and then comes back clean with a new tempo. However, he says much of the music his station plays is generally around 100 – 110 bpm.

Lunch has been called – feels rather early for those of us with UK bodyclocks but who’s to decline hot food? See you at 1300 CET.

1200 (1100 UK time) Lunchbreak

Who eats a bread roll with a fork anyway?

Over lunch I had a chat with two producers from Brazil (I’ll get their names later) and Tom Cross from Imaging Blueprint. What are imaging producers called around the world? The chaps from Brazil say ‘production’ means setting-up editorial where they live so it’s hard to define their work.

Tom says that the German radio imagers use ‘sound design’ in their titles. Station sound producer, imaging producer and ‘production guy’ are other common labels. And invariably, it is a guy still.

Tom has also recommended an effects plugin – and it’s a bargain. Try Tantra. Around 60 Euros gets you all this…

1300 (Midday UK time) Pop-up Sound

Guido Sprenger from NPO Radio 2

Guido made the leap from commercial to public radio

Guido starts his session with an interesting insight from his move from commercial to public service radio.

He says that at Veronica and RTL he had a team – people to write scripts, do the admin etc. When he moved to NPO he found he had to do all of that himself. It forced a reappraisal of his working practices.

For example, he decided not to check his email regularly or answer the phone to unknown callers. Now he starts work on the high priority stuff, then checks email later in the day.

I’ve seen how public broadcasters can be well funded compared to their commercial counterparts, yet this resource often doesn’t make it into the station sound and production department.

Guido shows us a ProTools session of sweepers for DJ names.

It’s fair to say he likes a lot of compression. There must be four or five compressor plugins on his output chain, each one just lightly tickled by a couple of dB. To be fair, it sounds very solid without losing clarity and punch.

EQ lesson: Guido takes out some 200Hz from male voice to avoid ‘that boxy sound’.

Over time he has toned down the overall sound of his imaging for NPO because “people” were complaining the style was too much CHR style. He uses fewer effects now for Radio 2’s broad public service AC format.

See how Guido uses different colours to distinguish his channels from his buses, and the main output. It’s another way to keep his workflow efficient.

Pro tip: easily switch in and out of Automation mode in ProTools with Control – Alt – Command

Guido likes the FabFilter Pro-MB multiband compressor for ducking the upper midrange of tracks to accommodate voice elements. He does that when adding voiceovers to station jingles.

Branded intro time – and another way to work with a track that doesn’t have its own intro. Guido has taken a long string chord from a production library and made it the basis of a new intro.

He’s layered some guitar loops over the top to add a rhythmic element and filtered them to gradually build-up to the start of the song. This is a strange branded intro though – the speech elements last 20 seconds.

How thick is your station voiceover? Guido thinks the thicker the better and uses a slow attack and fast release on his voice compressors to ensure the density is high while the transients survive. If they get too much, he just adds a brickwall limited following the compressor.

British production company Wise Buddah Jingles produced a package for NPO Radio 2 in 2017.

Here’s a music question… if you had to mix Michael Jackson and Avicii how would you make them match? Guido says he’d tame down Avicii rather than pump up Michael Jackson.

We’re taking a quick break here in Amsterdam before Mr James Lawson lays down the law, next.

1400 (1300 UK time) Imaging Law and Order

James Lawson

James looks at Protools, inevitably

James has proper UK radio pedigree. He’s a ReelWorld alumnus, and has worked at Free Radio and Gem for the former Orion.

Today, he’s responsible for the sound of Hits Radio, a new national brand from Bauer in the UK that plays ‘the biggest hits, the biggest throwbacks’.

His first demo is a longform promo called a ‘promo filler’ that details all the ways you can hear Hits Radio. It’s basically a list which, as we know, don’t always make great radio.

James talks about his rhythmic approach to making these things sound great.

When working with a music track James likes to cut and shape it into the structure of his production, rather than be defined by the phrasing of the original. He breaks-up tracks and then uses effects such as breakers, risers, punctuators to connect the sections.

What makes the Hits Radio sound unique? One secret ingredient is Tonal Delay from Effectrix. James demos how he creates a harmonic reverb effect that just sits in the background in key with the track. He uses it on almost everything on the station.

Attention to detail is important to James. For example, when using bass sub-drops, he always ensures they start in the right key to match the track. If they’re not, he’ll open up the piano roll and ‘count the semitones’ to shunt them into key.

Nobody’s mentioned writing so far today so I ask a question: how much control over the script in these promos has James and his team? He says he pretty-much has total control. He writes the copy with his boss and then it gets approved by his PD. If it’s an S&P piece, the sales team are involved but he still gets to script it with his production structure in mind.

Branded intros

Hits Radio has lots of different voices. The Scottish variants of the brand have regional accents from that country. James says it can be quite confusing for him.

An important voice in the mix for Hits Radio is Beardyman, Darren Foreman.

James likes to get a major indication of the song really early in the branded intro. He picks the best bits of a song on first listen and brings them to the top.

We’re listening to an example where two voices, plus a female vocalist singing the word Ra – di – o sequence to the top of the song vocals. James layered different versions of the vocals, each treated with different effects.

Track 1 is normal pitch, track 2 is down one octave and track 3 is way up high, each with a stack of crazy modulated effects and tonal reverb. Bit crush adds some harmonic interest to the vocals, but use it with caution, says James. Same with Decapitator from Soundtoys.

He’s also a fan of The Mouth by Native Instruments. It’s a voice synth plugin.

Underpinning the vocals are impacts and low bass effects.

James does a lot of work with trainees. He has to simplify his sessions to help them understand what’s going on. He values the large team working in Manchester which gives him plenty of ears who can offer an opinion on how something sounds.

He also recommends ‘coming back on fresh ears’ when he can. This means saving off the session and then listening again the next day. Invariably he’ll notice something that could be improved.

We have a coffee break now. Here – have a biscuit. Jeff’s up next…

MC Rockin’ Jon is back – this time he has tips for surviving a night in Amsterdam. Don’t drop litter – it’s a EUR 200 fine. Don’t drink on the street – it’s a EUR 200 fine. Crikey – we’re EUR 400 down already. Take an Uber or a blue taxi, never a yellow taxi. Or was it the other way round. We’re not sure.

1530 (1430 UK time) The Imaging Boss from Boston

Jeff Berlin

Jeff Berlin is here with a nice observation:

“Life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer to the end, the faster it spins”

Jeff goes back in radio to the days of reel-to-reel tape at CHR format Kiss 108 in Boston, MA, USA. When the first digital editing software appeared, he looked at all the systems and chose ProTools because the company was collaborating with external partners. He’s pleased he backed that horse and is still making Kiss 108 imaging on ProTools today.

His production work is only half his professional life – Jeff’s also a popular voice artist.

Earlier, we heard how James Lawson uses a tonal reverb as a component of his signature sound for Hits Radio. Jeff has a favourite effect too – his is a crowd roar effect from a music event. He puts it on everything.

He talks about his PD’s love of theatricality. They run ‘afterglow’ promos after key station events in addition to the usual ‘build-up’ promos.

His sessions look simple compared with some of those we’ve seen today. He uses a lot of ‘found sound’ such as the crowd effects and natural voice drops.

Kiss 108’s morning DJ has been on air since 1979. This is not your normal CHR-format breakfast line-up…

Matty in the Morning

…and they’re number one in the market.

We’re listening to a ‘we pay your bills’ promo. Should we still put cash register effects in these things when today’s shopping is done with contactless cards? When was the last time you heard a cash register in the wild?

Onto another concert promotion – and this one is delivered without any voiceover. Jeff went to a school and got the kids to talk about the artists on the line-up. Then he added the song hooks, a bunch of ambient sound from live events and structured it with some punctuating effects.

Tech tip – Jeff says don’t put a load of processing on the master chain. It will sound cleaner on the air if you let the station processing (Omnia in his station’s case) do the final mastering on the transmitter.

Want to remove vocals from a track without a lot of fuss? Try RX 7 by iZotope says Jeff.

Chris Stevens of Ignite Jingles asks how to get great listener voice audio. Jeff says he keeps a library and he can still use stuff from 1997 today so long as they don’t use dated phrases like “Kiss 108 in the house”.

His other tip – go where the alcohol is served and get the audio between the first and the third drink.

First spontaneous round of applause of the day is for a fun promo Jeff recorded in a car interior. The set-up is that a couple in the car discover the Kiss108 voice guy can hear what they’re saying. It’s fun and it has an idea.

Another plug-in recommendation: Pitch in Time Pro.

Jeff doesn’t start a new ProTools session for every project he works on. For a season of concert promotions he just adds the next promo down further down the tracks. This is a great workflow shortcut because it means all the song hooks he needs are already there.

Jeff is recording a voiceover for a client live on stage. Why turn down good work when you can do two gigs at once?!

Experience has taught Jeff that when a voice sounds great, all the credit goes to the voice artist and none to the producer. Also, when it sounds bad, the voiceover gets blamed.

So, when he records a voiceover, he simultaneously creates clean and processed versions of the recording. There’s a meaty “full” recording which he sends to TV stations and a heavily filtered ‘KROQ’ recording.

Jeff uses a combination of routing within ProTools and macros to achieve efficient recording and filenaming.

What mic do you use?

Jeff likes a Sennheiser 416 (these things have been around for decades, typically as a boom mic in tv studios or hidden within a Rycote on location shoots).

He connects it to a portable USB interface called a MicPort Pro2 and it all fits in his hand luggage.

The MicPort Pro2 also connects to smartphones

Great question from the floor – do you test imaging with audiences in the way you test music? Jeff says a station in Miami tested station voices… and he won!

Tomorrow…

Oliver Pengilly, Wessel Oltheten, Max Pandini on station processing, Broadway Bill Lee, Sven Van Dongen and Elaine Thiele. Yes, an actual woman. Incredible.

One Comment

  1. Great work! So glad you did it, so, even been in Brazil, I can feel like im there.

    Thank you!

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