Production 212: Libraries, Mastering and Solving a Mystery

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

This month’s mailbag got some really interesting questions, all of which seem to be pertinent to some, if not all producers who read this column. I’ve picked a few that seemed particularly interesting to me to answer here this month. I hope you all find them useful.

The first comes from a producer in Southern Florida regarding production libraries:

I listen every month to the RAP CD, hoping it will help me be a better producer. A lot of the best promos have absolutely awesome effects. How can I get some of those effects for my own work? Which libraries do you use and where do I look to buy them?

We all need ‘em. We definitely all want them, but we all suffer from the same budgetary shortfalls. Buying a production library is generally cost prohibitive. In fact, most of the big libraries are only available through barter and a lot of radio stations are loath to give up any inventory these days. Do the math. At the most common level, seven spots per week, the barter ends up costing the station tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars each calendar year. If I were the Sales Manager, my head would probably explode – STILL, you have to have one. So, the question becomes, “Which one?”

And the answer is… it depends. If you’re looking for an excellent library that delivers a lot of pre-produced “shells,” which can really speed up the process of production, there are a couple of good choices, both available for barter through Premier; Chase Cuts™ and Production Vault™. The latter is a service from the jingle folks at Reel World™ in Seattle, Washington and is very rich with shells as well as basic workparts, beds, artist IDs and even instrumental and acapella versions of most hits, if they’re available. The former is the brainchild (or perhaps brain children) of Eric Chase, a very much-respected producer, at least by me. His is also full of fantastic, imaginative and very often very funny shells that are ready for download and instant promo gratification. He also includes most of the workparts and features a very large selection of music, cheesy and cool, that is all perfect for promo work.

There are two other libraries I use that fill a more fundamental need, and that is all the raw materials to create your own masterpiece. One is a buyout library called Orange Panther™ from VHU in Amsterdam. Right now there are 4 CDs, loaded with mostly short effects, suitable for work with sweepers and in building larger, more complex promos. Lastly, there is Trynity HD/FX™, distributed through Groove Addicts in Los Angeles. I would truly hate to give up any of these four libraries, but this one is my “must have” library.

All of these, except Orange Panther™ operate on a web based distribution system; with weekly or even daily materials you can audition and download, as you need. If you Google any of these, you should be able to find demos and contact information very quickly. Please know however, this list is NOT exhaustive. There are dozens of libraries available and like anything else in life some are better than others. When you’re shopping for a new library, know ahead of time what you need, ask pointed questions of the library reps and ask for some names of producers who use the library who won’t mind being contacted for a non-partisan evaluation.

This month’s second letter comes from just outside the mile-high city, Denver, Colorado:

I created a sweeper and, for the life of me, can’t figure out HOW I made it! I know it is most certainly a hack job. No matter. Specifically, notice the last “N.” While it trails away it sounds like it’s playing backwards but, when I reverse it, it ain’t sounding forwards. I was thinking maybe a Doppler plug in or something. Can you unravel this :03 sec mystery?

(I’ve included this quick bit of sound at the beginning of my track for this month’s CD, so you can follow along.)

You’re right, it does sound as if the sound has been reversed, but it has not. I’m pretty sure I can duplicate the sound with a ‘delay’ plug-in, set to feed back on a decaying time algorithm, with (key point) a very slow attack. Normally, when the letter “N” is pronounced, it starts with an EH sound, followed by the closure of the tongue to the roof of the mouth, right behind the incisors to finish out the “n” sound. With the attack speed set to somewhere between 50 and 150ms, you lose the EH sound, as the signal ramps up to full gain and it gives the false impression that it’s playing backwards, because the original iteration of the sound seems to fade in; a sound you would expect to hear if the sound had been reversed and the normal fade OUT came first instead. The effect is magnified because the delay module repeats the sound. (The repeat can be set to a cumulative amount of time, giving it that “decay.”)

What’s really puzzling is how you could do this accidentally. I haven’t actually sat down to try it, but I’m pretty sure I could make it work. Thinking about this further, I might need to use a sound shaping plug-in (compression or gating) to make the tardy attack work. Either way, it would take me a couple of minutes to set it up. So... the conundrum stands.

The last question comes from Gil, a producer (non-radio) I know here in New York, who is just beginning to dabble in serious mastering:

I was wondering if you had any mastering tips in Pro-Tools for making all tracks the same volume. How much normalization or limiting do you generally use, or do you do it just by ear?

Mastering is a fine art and it always comes down to having a good ear. Generally, I will normalize everything just to make sure that any bits of additional processing I do get the full benefit. But, that all happens in the pre-mastering. That way, once I get into the actual mastering phase, I find I have better control and can be a bit more judicious with processing. I often use a plug-in called MAXXBase™ by WAVES, which adds psychoacoustic bass, giving the whole piece a nice ‘round’ sound, without making it sound ‘fuzzy’ or too bass driven. I’ve also occasionally used shaping plug-ins to enhance or diminish certain effects. Sometimes, I’ll use a bit of light EQ to deal with splatter on the high end. Obviously, it’s always a matter of hearing the mix. I don’t think you can even try to use a fixed set of rules. To my way of thinking, every piece of production or music is unique and thus gives you a unique set of problems to solve, if you’re going to make a collection of pieces all work together.

As an interesting side-note, we got an unintended benefit when we started to have one person handle all of the commercial work at Z100. (It’s actually three people for five stations, but you get the idea.) Previously, the apparent volume of commercials in a stop set would swing all over the place, being very soft during one spot and then incredibly loud during the next. Having one person put all the files into our system is very much like having all the commercials “mastered.” Now, the jocks can pretty much treat a stop set as a “fire and forget” missile, allowing them to attend to other business, while the spots run from one to the next without any jarring volume differences. It’s a very small thing, but we really don’t need to give listeners another reason to tune out.

On the CD this month, that little snippet I mentioned earlier, followed by an original promo from Production Vault™, as it appeared on their website. Then finally, what I did with it. I do this to demonstrate how you can take an idea, with some of the attendant sound and make it completely your own. To those critics who say using “shells” is cheating, I say baloney. Creativity is NOT about where the idea comes from. Creativity is ALL about what you do with it.

I don’t know about you, but I like the new format of the column. Feel free to drop a line if you agree or don’t, and if you have a question… any question about production, I’d love to hear from you. My email address is davefoxx@clearchannel.com. Please remember that I generally write this column almost a month in advance, so if it’s a pressing issue, let me know and I’ll answer you directly first.

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