Production 212: The Shortest Distance from A to B

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

Driving to the mall a few nights ago, my wife pointed out that I was going “half-way ‘round the barn” to get there and showed me a shortcut. In my own defense, I stupidly pointed out that it was the way I always went to the mall. In truth, I probably hadn’t thought about my route since I first learned it 23 years ago when we moved to the New York City area. I had been dutifully plowing along the road, literally going an extra 3-4 miles out of my way, every time I went to the mall. What can I say? I left my brains in my other pants.

I bring this moment of absolute brilliance on my part up, to introduce you to a friend, who shall remain nameless here. (He begged, OK?) We’ve been corresponding for years after meeting at one of Dan O’Day’s production soirees in Los Angeles. Well, Señor X wrote me last week and confided that he’d been struggling with his processing of late. When I further inquired, he explained that he’d been trying to duplicate the sound I use for my VO session work, but that it was proving to be (in his words) “squirrelly.” One session it would work fine, but the next… not so hot. So, I told him what I do. (Long time readers should know this well.) I begin with a 400Hz hi-pass filter, and follow with some really strong, tight compression. That’s all. He sent me what he does:

I use the Scientific filter in Audition to do the high pass at 450hz, then hit it with the hard limiter at -.5 Then... I normalize it. I use the sonic foundry graphic dynamics (fancy words for compressor limiter) at soft noise below -36 (preset) (kills noise floor and gives it a decent punch threshold at -24db, ratio at 2:1, attack at 1.0, release 500. Then… I hit it with the sonic foundry Wave hammer (voice preset) similar to the L1+ (this helps bring the lower sounds up for clarity without bringing too much noise and gives it a loudness punch overall) Compressor at RMS, threshold -10db , ratio 5:1, attack 5.0 and release time 50 ms. Then… I normalize it.

I have to ask – if you read that all the way through -- do you have a headache now? The only thing in there that I might consider adding to my chain would be a noise gate, BUT that would mean that depending on how much room noise there was from one session to another, it would behave differently. With all due respect to Señor X (who, by the way is an excellent producer), I like mine much better. It’s cleaner and simpler.

OK, by show of hands, how many of you are sensing a recurring theme in my last few columns?

One of the questions I constantly get in speeches, interviews and from people who are touring the CC plant here in New York is, “How do you handle the sheer volume of work you do and still keep it so fresh and creative?” The answer is simple. What I mean to say is simple is the answer. Whenever I catch myself going “half-way ‘round the barn” to get the word out, I have to challenge myself to look for the shorter way to get there. I constantly try to live with an economy of words, effects and music so the meaning of the words never gets lost. I always seek the shortest route from point A to point B in my processing so that I can set it once, put it in a template and forget about it, leaving me with only having to worry about the message in each piece of production.

One unintended side benefit is being able to produce a LOT more in LESS time and still feel good about the quality. Combine this with coming in at the crack of o’dark early so there’s nobody around to bug me while I work, I keep building a huge head of steam in all my work so that at the end of the day, I’ve done imaging for several radio stations (with a heavy emphasis on my own), and I still get out of the studio at a decent hour so I can do whatever the audience is doing to make sure I can always relate to them.

A word of warning: DON’T be a doofus like me and say, “Well this is the way I’ve always done it.” Stop and think for a minute. Ask yourself whether the way you’ve always done it is positively, absolutely the best, simplest way to do it. Hit the reset button and use the knowledge you’ve gained since you started doing it that way. Evaluate every move you make, from template design, to the plug-ins you regularly use… from how your tracks are laid out to your final mixing protocol. Start questioning everything and be willing to experiment!

Speaking of plug-ins, have you looked at/listened to the suite from PSP? This small group of software/audio specialists has come up with some amazing ‘in-system’ gear that has a strong potential for reducing the number of plug-ins you use. Even plug-in giant WAVES has new software coming out every couple of months. Are you keeping up?

Have you looked at any new production libraries lately? There are some really strong contenders out there, all available for barter. Most now offer a complete online suite of services that allow you to audition stuff instantly to decide whether you want it, then take anything you’ve checked off, stuff it into a ZIP file and download it immediately to your desktop. You want a production shortcut? It just doesn’t get any faster than that.

Taking the time to figure out how you spend your time, as funny as that sounds, is SO worth the effort. By taking advantage of some self-made downtime, you will become so much more efficient; you’ll end up going into your Program Director’s office to beg for more work. Believe me… programmers remember that kind of begging when you’re begging for a raise down the road.

My sound file this month is a pretty straightforward promo that came as a result of a chat I had with a group of friends. Instead of having me talk about the great music on Z100, we decided to have our artists do the read. I have to give kudos to Cousin Deke at Clear Channel/Dallas for coming up with this brilliant idea. I have shamelessly pilfered it for use here in the Big Apple and have since replicated it with a number of music stars.

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