Some Things That Make A Difference...

by Marshall Such

Going the extra mile, nabbing those two birds in the bush, climbing every Julie Andrews, and going for the (Acapulco) gold.

The thing with us production people is we either get lazy, overworked, burned out, drunk, frightened, apathetic, stoned, intimidated, obsessed with a female/male co-worker, all of the above, none of the above, or we just haven’t learned everything there is to learn. Here are some observations, thoughts, and ideas that may alleviate some of the above conditions and move us to a higher state of production consciousness.

Disclaimer: Far be it from me to be proselytizing or passing judgment on any of us. Shoot! I’ve sleep-worked through so many projects that I didn’t even recognize some of them when they hit the air! But now that I sit in my Camay tower, I think I can objectively analyze some basic faux pas we all may make. And hopefully, you can take some of these observations/suggestions/ideas to bring the quality of the sound of your station up a notch or two.

Station Sweepers

The thing I notice most about sweepers these days is:

1.  They’re all high energy.
2.  They have tons of noises.
3.  They don’t always work between records.

When I first moved to Dallas over 18 years ago (Grandpa? Is everything okay in there?!?), I wanted to be “The Next Big Thing” as a jingle writer. But what I learned was that “jingles” in Big D meant, “radio ID jingles.” You know, drums and call letters—a seven-voice group singin’ their little hearts out about “the most music,” “Kumquat weather!” and “the morning zoo.”

And yes, I did get a chance to write a number of radio ID jingle packages for Toby Arnold, Multi Market Media, and Century 21 (now TM Century). And you’re probably asking yourself, “Why is the Potatoman digressing with his boring life story and what do radio ID jingles have to do with station sweepers?”

Ahhh! The radio ID jingle has so much in common with the common radio sweeper you may become incontinent. But you may not be cognizant of their similarities.

Aside from the weather, top of hour, traffic, and “here’s what’s happenin’” tracks, radio jingles are used to bridge songs together, while providing identification of the station. And what does a sweeper do? (This is what is known as a rhetorical question.)

But what I’m hearing today (see above) is high energy, highly processed pulp with noises that provide no more than a masturbatory exercise for the producer. (See “Digital Erections” by John Pellegrini in March ’98 RAP for a more detailed analysis.) And O’ Production Brethren, I’m as guilty as you! After all, it takes time to think through producing a sweeper that may suit a particular segue or set-up. But if we look at the basics of the radio jingle, maybe we can make a list to pin up somewhere to review as we produce sweepers.

Here’s my list of what a (music) station needs for sweepers, and just by coincidence, is pretty much the writing assignment for radio jingle writers:

1.  Fast to Fast (an up tempo to up tempo record)
2.  Fast to Slow
3.  Slow to Fast
4.  Slow to Slow (particular to Soft Rock/NAC/Light AC)
5.  Medium to Medium
6.  Medium to Slow
7.  Medium to Fast
8.  Out of Stopset to Fast
9.  Out of Stopset to Medium or Slow
10.  Morning Show—Out of Bit to Record

(It’s funny about making lists: you can stop at seven or go to infinity, but 10 always rings true.)

Let’s look at how we can tackle a couple of these categories and achieve the same result that a radio ID jingle would, with just the spoken word and sfx/music. I’m going to use AC/Hot AC tunes as a reference since they’re pretty universal and recognizable.

What You’ll Need

To achieve optimum results, I’d recommend having your station voice(s) cut your basic positioning statements, frequency/call letters, and handle (ie. The Edge, Eagle, Mix, etc.) with the following reads:

1.  Up, bright and fast
2.  Normal read (that you use most often)
3.  Slowly but deliberately and also slowly/quietly
4.  In a whisper at different speeds
5.  With frequency and call letters: get a read with each number/letter cut individually at different intensities and tempos

I’m going to assume you have an effects package (Chateau Brazil, Brown Bag, TM Century, The Whoosh & Zap Package—(my personal favorite), etc.) and a production music library. Even non-hit records come in handy for grooves and effects if you’re a reporting station that gets everything released under the sun. With these tools in hand, let’s begin.

Fast to Fast

This is sort of unique today, since my definition of “Fast” would be “Foot Loose” (Kenny Loggins) or “I’m So Excited” (Pointer Sisters), and there are not a lot of songs on the air today with that much energy (except maybe in Active Rock stations where the testosterone level is X 2 on nearly every track—and thinking about it further, some Country stations have some pretty balls to the wall driving tracks).

Yet to make a Fast to Fast transition really smoke, you have to think about tempo. And you want to translate a fast tempo in your production. Here’s an example of how I would do it:

SFX: Big hit into fast, driving rhythm
ANNCR: (fast read, immediately after hit) The Best Music from the 80’s and 90’s...
DROP:(i.e.) “That’s the kind of music I like”
SFX: noise or hit
ANNCR: B (from individual read)
Efx: echo out “B” with fast slap echo
ANNCR: (over slap echo; fast, energetic read) B 98.5!

Total time? Maybe seven seconds? And in fairness to all you guys out there who excel in producing these kind of sweepers, you really do kick ass. But this is the kind of sweeper I’m hearing between all records—mood or tempo be damned!

Maybe you’re dealing with a PD who wants energy on everything you produce. But think about what “energy” means: A scene from Titanic with James Horner’s beautiful score can have energy with a simple string quartet. If we think about creating spectacular sweepers that will stay in the minds of our listeners, we need to (God I hate this phrase) “think out of the box,” like in this example:

Fast To Slow

This is a great challenge. The first song is “Tell Her About It” (B. Joel) and the song that follows is “Love Theme From Titanic” (Celine—gag, gag—Dione). How about this for a cool sweeper?

SFX: Drum rip to synth pad which holds out
ANNCR: (fast read) The Best Mix of the 80’s and 90’s....
SFX: Cruise ship air horn blast to :02 of atmospheric water lapping
ANNCR: (quiet, slow read) B98.5
SFX: water lapping continues

In labeling this sweeper I would put “F-S: Titanic” on the label. Obviously, this is going to have a limited shelf life, but the chances of it appearing more than 2X a day are pretty slim. Most PDs wouldn’t put a lot of fast tunes segued into “Love Theme From Titanic,” even when the song is in hot rotation.

But think of the impact of this sweeper! You’re capturing a wave (pun intended) of current pop culture with two sound effects: a horn blast and water lapping. And the lapping water continuing past the announcer’s last line will work wonderfully with the slow Titanic intro.

What if the slow song was Elton John’s remake of “Candle in the Wind?”

SFX: Drum rip to synth pad which hold out
ANNCR: (fast read) The Best Mix of the 80’s and 90’s....
CLIP: Princess Di quote or something from her funeral
ANNCR: (quiet, slow read) B98.5

Programmers call these kinds of connective thoughts “relates.” And the air staff is usually lectured ad nauseam about coming up with them for their shows. Why not make the production department heroes by creating a whole series of these kinds of sweepers? Sure, it’s a lot of work. But performed properly, you can get right into the head of your listeners and keep them tuned to your station!

Slow To Fast

In this example, we’re coming out of a ballad into an up tempo record. Whether the ballad ends with a cold ending or a fade, this idea will work:

SFX: Rising whoosh (maybe with a rising sequencer?)
ANNCR: (slow but deliberate read) The Best Mix of the 80’s and 90’s...
MX: horn stab or drum rip, to a series of fast edits:
ANNCR: B (from individual read; fast w/energy)
SFX: Noise
ANNCR: Ninety (from individual read; fast w/energy)
SFX: quick double hit
ANNCR: Eight (from individual read; fast w/energy)
SFX: three super fast edited noises/music hits
ANNCR: Point five! (from individual read; fast w/energy)

The secret to this kind of sweeper is the building noise/music hits. It brings the tempo up, without really establishing a tempo. And the whoosh sfx that opens the sweeper is innocuous enough to come out of just about any record. What makes it a “Slow to Fast” sweeper is in the announcer’s read.

Sweeping It Under The Rug

This is only the tip of the iceberg. (Damn! There’s that Titanic reference again!) There are literally hundreds of ways to skin the sweeper. And great sweepers are truly an art form. But they also have to work with the music. 

In a future article, (a good reason to subscribe to Radio And Production now), I’ll give you some thoughts on writing, using sound effects, cross fading music, tips from friends, and how to make kick-butt, low fat chicken paprikas

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