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Ideas and technique to help you promote and image radio

The Imaging Days live blog – day two

Hello from Amsterdam and The Imaging Days event for 2019. This is day two of the event.

All times are local to Amsterdam (GMT +2). Deduct one hour for UK time.

Comments are on so feel free to say hello from wherever you’re following the event.

Live blog

0930 CET

Here we go with Oliver Pengilly who started as an intern at Z100. He’s risen to work with global companies like ReelWorld and now images at Kiss for Bauer in the UK.

He’s made a custom promo for The Imaging Days which uses virtually every imaging technique you could imagine. Voiceover, harmonic layered vocals, synth logo melodies, tonal delay, impacts, risers and non-compliant swears… they’re all in there.

Oliver Pengilly explains Grime

The British are well represented at this event. James Lawson was on stage yesterday, Oliver’s a Brit and Chris Stevens of Ignite Jingles is in the audience.

Olly is playing a specialist music Top of Hour from Kiss. It’s a Grime-themed piece for the Rude Kid show. He explains how Grime tracks use layered vocals – a technique he picks-up in the imaging.

The TOH also carries a compliance message…

“The following show may contain explicit lyrics and content”

Oliver has treated the line and embedded it in the production so it sounds like a sales benefit, not a warning.

He says offensive language is extremely rare but there can be occasional F-bombs in freestyle sessions so the compliance caveat is there to minimise any risk of offence.

The Tunnel Analogy – Oliver thinks of travelling through a dark tunnel towards the light when he produces his music tracks. The drop and impact is emerging into the sunshine in his mind.

Housekeeping

Oliver maintains a library of voice drops, all labelled and catalogued so he can quickly find appropriate elements for a promo.

For example, he saved a drop that exalts “pay my rent” which he knows he can go to next time the station runs a pay-your-bills promotion.

Finding the key

Some producers use Mixed-in-Key or similar digital tools. Oliver prefers to hum along to a track until his hum fits the key, then finds that note on a keyboard and works out the key from the other notes in the major or minor triad that fits. He’s been doing this so long that it’s the fastest approach for him.

Once he knows the key of the piece, Oliver uses Waves Tune to tune vocals, layering them to create chords. His rule-of-thumb is tune everything to the tonic, third, fifth and seventh of the chord.

Sound design

Olly’s sound design is a combination of elongated white noise sweeps, up and down, with impact punctuators to add structure. There’s hardly any part of his TOH track that doesn’t have some form of sound design within the mix.

Clarity

Here’s a good tip – when tuning vocals, Oliver sometimes layers the original unprocessed voiceover recording to help the message cut through. For example, in a branded song intro with the line “the beat of the UK” the final two letters are tuned but the K is doubled with the unprocessed voice track. It really helps, especially with transient consonant sounds.

We’re taking a break here for a few minutes. Fancy a look around the local area?

Tourist moment

The venue for The Imaging Days is called De Tolhuistuin. It means the garden of the tollhouse. Here’s the tollhouse.

The Tolhuis

And why would you want a tollhouse here? Because the waterfront is right outside…

De Buiksloterkanaal

We arrived at the conference via a free ferry service that links this side of the water to Amsterdam’s Centraal Station.

Ride on – ride off

1055 CET Sven Van Dongen and Elaine Thiele

Sven and Elaine

A change of schedule because of transportation delays means we get Dutch producers Elaine and Sven right now.

Elaine is imaging producer for two of the Netherland’s music stations 100% NL and SLAM! Sven worked in local radio and at 538 before moving to SLAM! Now he’s back at 538.

We’re told they’ll explain how they compose and produce jingles but first Sven is unpicking a sequence of Jason Derulo song hooks he’s knitted together for a 33″ promo using a range of effects and beats from libraries including ReelWorld Production Vault. There’s even a horse whinney in there for some reason.

Elaine says she likes to use a consistent beat pattern in her work, even if it changes tempo during the piece. It’s very subtle but important to help the individual songs fuse together.

Elaine also uses a crowd effect in her work – almost everything she says – it fills it up. One of her favourite crowd effects is ‘crazy girls’ which was recorded at a Justin Bieber concert. Elaine says it’s essential to get rid of all the low end of crowd effects which are ‘very messy’.

Now – onto composition, and a chance to see software that’s not ProTools. This is Studio One, but Elaine says she also uses Logic.

Studio One

Elaine used to work as a jingles composer before moving into station imaging and is currently working with Sven on a musical project.

Her approach to composition starts with some reference tracks for inspiration. Elaine simply makes a handwritten list of the instruments she hears in the reference tracks and checks whether she’s used them in her composition.

Composer and producer Elaine Thiele

When composing jingles Elaine starts to work out the structure of her piece, starting with the drop and working out from there. She adds the beat first and then the other layers. It’s important to her that the beat is closely inspired by the reference track.

Her instrumentation is chosen to fill the frequency space. She puts in a bass, then uses chords to fill in the middle. Elaine collects cool sounds for the melody – a piano wouldn’t sound cool, she says.

Mix bus

Elaine like to layer her instruments. She blends each group of instruments to a mix buses which carries her plugins. This ensures the instruments work together and hugely reduces the required processing power from her computer.

We’re running through a huge bunch of effects on Elaine’s lead sounds. She keeps a relatively clean synth lead in the mix but then layers really screwed-up distorted variants on top. Her tip is to remove all the LF from any layered synth as it will just get in the way later on otherwise.

If you like the idea of Effectrix but not the $131 price tag then Elaine’s recommendation of Glitch 2 by Illformed may appeal to you. It’s around $50.

Once Elaine has her beat, her bass and her lead sound, her next stop is chords formed from piano samples she makes herself. Again, her choice of piano sound was informed by her reference track.

Then, Elaine adds what she calls “decoration”. Little sprightly arpeggio figures, vocal effects pitched to taste and ghostly synth chords that fill some space and create energy in the mix.

A question from the floor – do you consciously leave space for the vocal? Elaine says normally she does but on this occasion the track has to be cool on its own and she’ll play around with the vocals to make them work later.

For jingles, Elaine likes to ‘open-up’ the end of her jingles by switching to the relevant major key. So in this case the track is in B minor, but the final chord is in D major for surprise.

Another of her mix techniques involves reverb – her main reverb is really wide in the stereo mix. This gives her track added perceived width and it folds down to mono without clouding the important elements like vocals.

Speaking of vocals, Elaine records those last and adds them to the track in ProTools, sometimes adding effects from Production Vault to create “unpredictable switches” where there is space.

A question from the floor prompts a further conversation about width. Elaine sometimes uses separate eq on the mid signal from that on the side signal. Certain plugins allow M-S routing, as opposed to the normal L-R or A-B routing you’d find in a stereo chain.

Elaine’s jingle produced for The Imaging Days

And now, back to the music

Finally from Elaine and Sven, we’re looking at a track they’re working on. Her approach is similar to that on a jingle but starting with the vocal much earlier on, says Elaine.

And with that, it’s lunchtime here until 1315 CET.

Meanwhile, enjoy the Amsterdam river crossing thanks to Raft Music (via ferry, not raft on this occasion)…

Feel free to add comments below – I’ve remembered to turn that on today!

We’re back from lunch to the news that Max Pandini has landed. Hopeful he’ll be here later to explain what that meaty Optimod does to your sound further down the TX chain.

First though, it’s 1317 in Amsterdam and that means…

Wessel Oltheten

Wessel Oltheten

Wessel comes from the music world, not the radio world. He’s here to talk about mixing with impact.

Wessel plays a selection of music from the artists he produces. Moody, broody beats and swirly ambient atmospheres is what I’d call it. (I should have taken a career writing titles for library music).

He says attention is in short supply and our design has to sound unique to be worthy of constant attention.

He’s doing a slide presentation. Expect some bullet points:

  • Music tells a mixer what to do.

Told you. Wessel’s point is that the music should be in charge and producers should take the right decisions for a particular project.

Wessel thinks in visuals. Here’s one of them…

Three different kinds of sound of increasing density and atonality, bobbing about in the mix. Each one has a different ‘colour’ and has to be treated differently.

Standby, this next one needs some commentary…

The charts show energy and transparency of different music genres. Red is bottom end, purple is the high end. Like your chakras, probably. The greater amount of white overlap, the greater the density. Hope you’re following.

I’ll just leave this here…

Ok, I think I understand it now. There’s a linear relationship between tempo and the ideal frequency of the bass drum emphasis. And it’s different for the speed of the rhythmic patterns in the mix.

“This is not necessarily the truth” says Wessel. Oh, thanks mate.

You know how much they love bicycles in Amsterdam? Well…

This is about temporal masking. The greater the density of the music, the more your ears automatically reduce the level. Yes we have built-in AGCs inside our heads.

Wessel uses this understanding to inform the amount of compression he applies to a mix.

Using a peanut butter analogy, Wessel says your music has to be understood as part of a genre, but not too close a copy that it becomes a ‘me too’ product.

Be true to the identity of your music, says Wessel. But first, understand it…

Think of this as a piano roll

Each of these examples shows how Wessel thinks of different kinds of musical expression. He says it can get lost in computers, and gives the example of some vocalists who sound like they’re autotuned because they’ve learned to sing like Justin Bieber.

In addition to the column showing what a musician can do to influence music, he describes some things a ‘meta-mixer’ can do, including production techniques like pitch correction, compression, editing and delay.

When producing, Wessel likes to identify a unique quality in music and expand upon it, like fractals. It’s the amplification of identity.

We’re listening to a very rough mix of a band’s song. It’s dense, dull and cluttered but Wessel can still hear interesting elements he wants to build on.

Now we hear his mix which has emphasised certain elements at the expense of others. That’s ok, because it’s a million times better.

Another tip is to present an idea in an unexpected and contrasting context. Wessel uses the example of street art and graffiti, but in an elegant art gallery. Thanks to powerpoint we can see what that’s like…

Acoustics are Wessel’s main weapon, he says, as he plays a track that alternates between close, dry vocals in the verse to expansive open reverberant chorus sections. The contrast between the two ‘spaces’ makes the track much more interesting.

Wessel says that it’s easy but wrong to think that brighter is better.

Let’s have another bullet point:

  • Being too clear is boring.

If you use too many obvious clichés the story becomes predictable. Leave out the obvious, but know when to stop so you don’t lose the audience. I guess this is the same as radio promos where we employ stimulus and response technique in a script.

What’s your creative workflow like? Bet it’s not like this…

Wessel’s way

Wessel says his firm rule about banning the stuff that leads to mediocracy ensures he does better work and enjoys it more. Dare to be different, because you are.

Mastering

Trust your mastering engineer, urges Wessel. You won’t really know what they (or an Optimod) will do to it so don’t worry about that during the mixing stage.

Should you worry, for example, that your track sounds duller than others? Not necessarily – perhaps it is supposed to sound duller, he reflects.

Less is more

Wessel has conducted experiments that show that too much use of compression can damage clarity and power. Especially fast limiting and processors that change the phase relationships between overtones. Hard filters and multiband compressors have a diffusing effect.

It may feel counterintuitive to many of us in the room here today, but less processing can sound more powerful.

It’s a call for purity from a mixer who has impressed the room with his cerebral approach to music production. If you’d like to hear more about his work, his website is at http://www.wesseloltheten.nl/en and his studio looks like this…

Wessel is asked about monitoring on headphones. He says it’s not ideal because central sounds in the mix end up being too loud and the detail is too great, however he does recommend Audeze headphones which have very good definition at low frequencies. They also cost the same as a second hand car.

His book is out now. http://www.mixingwithimpact.com/

Max Pandini

Max is an audio engineer and has worked as a music manager. He works now as a programming consultant for two Italian brands and is a go-to guy for radio stations in Italy who want to set and adjust their on-air processing. He currently works for Omnia.

He’s talking about the ‘Loudness War’ between music producers and radio stations and is playing some audio examples… from a Windows laptop… what a rebel.

He outlines three problems we have in radio when we process audio.

The first is distortion around the 400Hz region. The processors that are designed to protect the transmitters from over-deviation can introduce harmonic distortion in that range of frequencies.

The second problem is the 4kHz area – if you exaggerate in that presence range you can end up with distortion and excess bass energy from an overmastered song is also very complicated for the on air processors.

Thirdly, the ‘cathedral’ effect of too much stereo enhancement, for example guitar reverb, can lead to unnatural effects in the audio processed for FM.

Max plays a promotional video from Omnia that demonstrates an ‘undo’ feature that is included in some of its processors. The effect attempts to restore some of the impact lost from overmastered songs and make them sit alongside older songs more comfortably.

Max steps us through the architecture of a typical FM processor. He’s a rep for Omnia so uses one of their devices. It starts with a slow-working AGC, then a multiband compressor section, and then a sophisticated peak limiter in the output stage.

You can’t recreate this in ProTools with plugins he says, because there’s a lot of other stuff going on that’s necessary for FM broadcast such as pre-emphasis and MPX encoding. Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about here?

For those of us from countries where FM listening is a minority sport, processing is equally important on our popular digital platforms like DAB. Max cites the example of listening in car where your station has to compete with road noise. Processing also achieves something well balanced from one record to another, he says.

Question from the floor: what would you recommend to audio producers who are producing imaging for radio? Max says go easy on the mastering and be careful about energy in the 400Hz and 4kHz regions.

His passing shot – let’s win the loudness war.

Broadway Bill Lee

We’re here because we’re artists, says Broadway, and we need to know where we come from.

From the 50s, through the 60s and into the 70s, Broadway leads us through the evolution of imaging as it was in US radio.

From shouting announcers with a bit of reverb and brass stabs, to the early development of what we’d recognise today as imaging in the early to mid 1970s at KCBQ in Sandiago – it’s where we’ve come from.

Showbiz

Those pioneers at KCBQ knew they were pushing boundaries. They even made a parody of their extreme promotions.

Win God is the ultimate prize in the parody and Broadway is here to preach a gospel of less is more. Jack McCoy at KCBQ was a master of that, says Broadway.

By the time Broadway got to Hot 97 in New York things were changing. It was New York’s hot mix and electronic dance music was on air, and samplers and sequencers were state of the art.

Hot 97’s imaging director bought a Synclavier.

It’s the synthesiser that was used on the original ‘top of the Empire State Building’ imaging used by Hot 97 in the late 80s.

Some sounds are overused – high pass filters and autotune – just stop, says Broadway because content is king now. The imaging should not override the message.

Broadway’s way…

“Every link I do I look at beforehand and work out what elements to use… and how I’ll surf my voice into the music”

Surfing the music means being in the music – no louder than the main singer in the track. Not interfering with the music but being as good as the music.

“I didn’t get the confidence to be a radio personality until I got a great pair of headphones”.

You need to take creative licence to know how to do this, says Broadway. He’s taken some of his act from other DJs and other imaging producers.

“the best radio stations have to be consistent but unpredictable”

This is what keeps freshness in everything, he says. We watch one of his fun viral talk-ups from social media and he explains how the rhyming in the links is just what he does well. Everyone can do something well, and that’s his thing.

Broadways believes that ability has come from his passion for rock n roll, because he’s been listening to the music for 48 years. Experience counts when you’ve played the same song one hundred times.

Another Broadway Bill Lee tip: have fun.

He’s spotted a trend. All media is starting to de-emphasise gimmicks and emphasise content.

In the studio he listens to a processed feed in his monitoring so he can match the sound as if it was on air, and this is the audio that goes onto his online videos.

Word economy is essential to paint pictures and tell stories in just a few seconds.

Sometimes he sings along with the songs. It’s another way to surf the music…

Bill thinks a lot of talent is frightened to try this kind of thing these days, in case they screw it up or scare the management.

The reason he started publishing these breaks on social media is because he wants to teach these techniques to others. We know what moves us, and it’s sound, he says.

Bill’s wife Beth gets a round of applause for bringing him here, keeping him here and getting him home.

He notices how few women there are in the imaging industry, including here at the Imaging Days conference. Why not, he muses? Perhaps we should encourage them at an earlier age, he believes.

Question from the floor: do you practice your breaks before you go live? He says he used to be able to do that, but not any more. He likes to produce every break he does – what effects, voice drops and phone call elements he needs – he gets them together about 5 minutes before, works out the copy and rhymes it quickly. Just one rehearsal in his mind is enough.

“I’ve never wanted to do anything else”

Broadway is asked about the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. He remembers it deeply of course – everyone in the Tri-State area does – and took calls on air for eight hours.

But his job, normally, is to distract people from the harsh realities of modern life. His show is escapism, but he never wants to do a normal show on a 9/11 anniversary.

Lastly, he recounts the story of how he got the name Broadway. It actually happened live on air.

And with that story (which I won’t spoil here), that’s it from The Imaging Days 2019.

Farewell from Amsterdam

Thank you for following the live blog and for your messages via social media. Comments are open below if you’d like to leave a message.

One Comment

  1. Hello Steve.

    Thank you very much for the unparalleled insights into the The Imaging Days 2019.
    With the Live blog; even if one didn’t manage to attend #tid19, one feels as if he/she is in the conference!

    Thank you once again Steve for your almost infinite efforts in contributing to taking this art of Creative Audio Production to higher levels.

    You’re appreciated!

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