Producer's VU - November 1996

producers-vu-logo-2by Craig Rogers

Summer is not gone! After all, it's just starting in the Southern Hemisphere. It lives on up north as well with this month's Producer's VU as we head to the drive-in with Bob Lawson from WJMK/Chicago. Read here about the production of this promo, then listen to the finished piece on The Cassette.

Bob's studio is outfitted with the Spectral Audio Engine digital workstation with JL Cooper's CS10 control station (8-fader controller), Auditronics board (16 channels), 2 Otari MX-5050 2-tracks, Sony PCM-2700A DAT, Technics SL-P1300 CD player, Nakamichi MR-1 cassette deck, Yamaha SPX-1000 effects, AKG C5900 mike, Orban 674A EQ (8-band stereo), Mistubishi Hi-Fi VCR, and a dbx 166a compressor/limiter.

One of the things you'll first notice about this promo is that voice talent Jim Merkel is into this read. That's because Bob coaches Merkel through each line to get exactly the read he wants. He utilizes ISDN lines through a Telos Zephyr to get Jim's v/o. The Telos is in the engineering area and is patched into WJMK's router system so Bob can bring it up directly in his production room. Bob can talk back to Jim over the ISDN as he records him to reel. Bob says, "It's great because, as a voice-over guy, he doesn't know what you had in mind when you wrote the promo or what audio you're going to add to it."

Bob records Jim's material to reel at 7 1/2 ips for archiving.

The music stings are cuts Bob has had archived in the library of the Spectral for quite a while, so their origin is cloudy, but he thinks most came from a Brown Bag disc with some from Continuous Climax. Most of the sound effects come from the Hollywood Edge. The car horn, however, is taken from the beginning of the Soul Survivor's song "Expressway to Your Heart!" The movie-type fanfares were pulled from a promotional disc of novelty cuts that Bob has had for quite a while.

If you're familiar with Bob's work from past Cassette's, a "signature" of his is the use of topical lyrics from the WJMK playlist. He has a great method for quickly finding these. He has compiled a database of sorts using Word for Windows. If a piece of a lyric strikes him as having potential for use in a promo, he adds it to the list he has stored as one large document in Word. Then, using the "Look" function, he can search for "drive-in" or "movie" and find lyrics containing these words--a great trick that can be adapted to any word processing program with a similar feature. It's much better than just searching through the music scheduling system because you can search through more than titles.

Bob also archives lots of drop-ins from TV shows and movies. He has ten 120-minute DATs full! He culls these from videos at home and transfers them to a metal or chrome cassette to take to the station. Bob may have a ton of drop-ins, but he's careful how he uses them. He says a drop-in has to complement the copy. It can't just be there for the sake of having a drop-in. The drop-ins are cataloged in a database program.

Bob has the Spectral set up so that tracks 1 and 2 are panned center for mono material and the remaining tracks are panned as stereo pairs. When it comes to assembling the promo, Bob alternates the mono tracks from Merkel and the drop-ins between 1 and 2. His standard procedure is to move downward on pairs 3/4, then 5/6, 7/8, etc, until 3/4 is open again. On this promo, there are so many things happening in some spots that he went through to tracks 11/12. On Merkel's track, he adds a bit of reverb from the Spectral's on-board processing ("Mono Reverb" patch). It's just enough to add some presence. The filtering on Merkel's voice toward the end of the promo ("and a speaker on the window") is done with the Orban EQ as that phrase is loaded into the Spectral. Bob rolls off the bottom end and boosts the highs a touch.

Part of what keeps this promo flowing so well is the music edits. Bob "beat matches" between each bed so that one flows rhythmically right into the next. For example, during the transition between beds, the kick drum (or snare or whatever) from bed one will line up with a corresponding beat in bed two. Crossfades with the Spectral are as easy as clicking on the corner of the box representing the audio and dragging the corner as far as you want the fade to last. Steep slope, quick fade. Gradual slope, gradual fade. The Spectral offers waveform editing but Bob prefers using the scrub mode. After all, he says, "You edit more with your ear than your eye."

The blips between Merkel phrases raise the image of the countdown prior to a film. They come from the tone generator in an MX-5050. He recorded several seconds of the tone, then edited it to length. He made the "fade" at each end vertical for an abrupt start and stop to make it "beep." The same method was used for the bursts of static that separate the audio from the various movie features. Bob recorded a vacant TV channel on his VCR at home, brought it in, and edited it to length.

Bob chose the "streamer" on the end of the promo because it trails out. That helps the promo blend into the next element in a stop set. It comes from an old TM library.

When all the pieces are loaded into the Spectral and positioned properly, it's time to mix. This is where the CS-10 controller comes in very handy. It sends MIDI data to the Spectral to control track gain and other functions. It gives Bob real faders to work with instead of having to use the mouse. It also has tape transport control buttons and assignable hot keys. Bob uses the hot keys for some of his most frequently used functions. This saves him a ton of mousing.

When all assembled, Bob had 12 tracks of audio in this promo. The CS-10 controller, however, only has eight faders. To control the other tracks, it's necessary to press the "shift" key. This shifts control of the eight faders to tracks 9-16. But continually pressing the shift key is not an easy way to mix. Instead he can automate his mix and do parts of it at a time. By clicking "update" on tracks 1-8, the Spectral records fader moves. Using the CS-10, he does his mix for tracks 1-8. During this pass, tracks 9-12 are set to a rough aproximation of where they should be. When he has the mix for 1-8 right, he clicks off "update" for 1-8 and clicks it on for 9-16. He then presses "shift" on the CS-10. It now controls tracks 9-16. While tracks 1-8 play back with their recorded fader moves, Bob does the mix for the remaining tracks. Then he can do any fine tuning to individual tracks as needed.

The final mix is sent to cart for air and to DAT for archiving. Bob runs the full mix through patch 38 "Aural Exciter" of the SPX-1000 with High set to 3.2, Enhance at 12 and Delay at .1. He boosted the high end just a touch with the Orban EQ and finally went out through the dbx compressor with a ratio of 5:1.

Bob says he's no expert on processing, but has some very good observations about it. "All the processing that sounds fine in the production room may sound different after it gets through your on-air processing. You may read that so-and-so in Los Angeles processes a certain way (on a production), so 'I'm going to do it that way'. But their air chain may be totally different." The final judgement comes down to two things—and you'll find them on the sides of your head.

Two tricks Bob has for checking his mix: first is to mute the voice tracks and listen only to the music to check the transitions. Second is to listen to the full promo through the cue speaker on the board. This helps him decide on the balance of the voice to music. "That's a real world enviroment," he says. "After all, a lot of people are listening on clock radios."

Bob's production philosophy is simple. "You've got to get the best sound you can out of the equipment you have to work with. I have yet to see the radio station that will go out and buy everything that a production person asks for." (If you're working at such a station, Bob and I both are waiting for your call).

Now that you know how Bob put this baby together, put in The Cassette and give it a listen!

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