Tales of the Tape - May 1992

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by Dennis Daniel

This month: Adding new dimensions to the creative process!

My Program Director, Tom Calderone, has an office right next to mine. From time to time, I hear all kinds of weird stuff emanating from it -- music, air checks, other stations. One day, I heard a series of vignettes that sounded like little five-minute examples of what various Modern Rock stations sound like. The sample included sweeps and drops along with air checks, phone bits, and contests. They really peaked my interest, so I asked Tom if I could listen in. He was more than happy with my interest, and we listened together. Many of the stations used brilliantly produced music drops that had great effects, singing, and, best of all, a real ATTITUDE. As I listened, all I could think was, "I can do this!" And that's just what Tom wanted. Of course, if I was going to do it, I was going to do it a bit differently.

For years, I never used to listen to what anyone else was doing in the business. I never wanted to be accused of stealing someone's idea. I also didn't want to be influenced by anyone. I was real hung up on this! It was almost like a sin to me! My ideas HAD TO BE ORIGINAL! God forbid someone should ever accuse me of ripping someone off! To me, being accused of pilfering was the ultimate creative crime. It took me years to realize that although this stance on original ideas is noble, it's also a bit too anal retentive. In short, there is no such thing as an original idea. Everything is derivative of something else in some way. The trick is: make it as originally derivative as possible.

How was I going to do this with new drops/sweeps?

When Tom originally asked me, about a year ago, to come up with some creative drops/sweeps, I entered the studio without a thought or plan in my head. I just improvised and came up with some really cool stuff. Pretty soon, word was getting back to us that many stations were imitating our style of liners/promos/sweeps...our "attitude," if you will. They were even ripping off some of our liners verbatim. Hey, no problem. Since I knew they were originally mine, I felt cool about it. Now, Tom and I were listening to things other stations were doing, and he was asking me to approximate their particular style and approach. Fair's fair, I guess. You see, it's no sin to try and do cool stuff that other people are doing. In fact, it can be a lot of fun, especially when you're trying to top them!

My first problem was: how do I get original music? Luckily, I met this fellow named Mike Sapone. He worked at a store called LaserLand, a place I frequent often. Soon, I found out he was a music college graduate and had his own 16-track digital studio in his basement! He also had all the latest computer music software. I arranged a trade agreement between Mike and the station (air time for studio time) and set up an appointment to do some recording.

When I entered Mike's studio, I couldn't believe it! Mind you, I've been inside huge mega-recording studios before, but for a guy operating out of his freakin' basement, Mike had it all and more! There wasn't an effect, instrument, or musical style that we couldn't find and master in a matter of minutes! I felt this surge of creative power oozing up from my stomach right to my brain! I was literally bouncing off the walls with ideas for him! "Okay Mike, can you do a beat like this: da da dumm, da da deee, dum dum de dummm, with a thunder clap, a clock ticking and Gregorian monks chanting?" He grabbed a few computer disks. Bing, bang and boom, then ZINGO! It was done, and it sounded perfect! To me, this was nothing short of a miracle! This was such a tremendous step up from just using pre-produced beds from effects libraries. THIS WAS MAKING YOUR OWN! (Now I know why I keep getting deluged with all kinds of ads and mailers for new libraries! If you're any kind of accomplished musician, this stuff is a cake walk!)

I loved the sound of the stuff we came up with! Plus, the fact that we were recording it digitally gave me a major woody! The sound was 100% perfect! I stayed and played for about eight hours without even a hint of the time going by. I was bursting with excitement when I played them for Tom back at WDRE. He had a huge smile on his face as he listened and was tremendously pleased! I couldn't wait to do more!

And more we did.

Over the last month and a half, we've created about forty different liners/drops/sweeps and beds. In some instances, we worked on the music and words at the same time. In others, Mike produced a series of beds, and I added words to them. We were cranking these mothers out big time!

I decided to take it all one step further.

The jingle producing market on Long Island is jam packed with various companies charging anywhere from $1,500 to $5,000 for jingles! In a recession like this, it's virtually impossible to get anyone to dish out that kind of bread. When I realized how fast we worked and how great it all sounded, I thought it would be a great idea to try to sell jingles to both our existing clients as well as possible new clients. For a low $300 fee, we would create a jingle that the client could own outright. I discussed this idea with the salespeople here and they loved it. I've already done five jingles! You should see what I look like when Mike calls me at home or at the office to discuss lyrics, musical style, whatever. I feel like Quincy Jones or something. It's pathetically funny.

The way I see it, there has to be many Mike Sapone types out there. Go out and find them! It's great to get out of the radio station studio environment and enter a recording studio with real musicians who dig being on the radio with their stuff. We've even started doing original songs! I've created this fake group a la Spinal Tap called "THE SPASMS." We're doing these sort of funny, sort of serious songs. My PD actually likes what we're doing and is airing the stuff, calling them a hot new group!

It all boils down to finding new ways to flex those creative muscles. I've included some examples of the drops/sweeps I've been doing with Mike on this month's Cassette as well as a jingle we did for a place called Purple Haze Music. (By the way, this one was a pre-recorded bed that Mike produced first. I added the concept for voice after hearing it.) I'd love to hear what you think about them. All in all, it's been an exciting and fun experience, and I owe it all to opening up and listening to what's going on out there.