Production 212: “Do-It-Yourself” Production

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

Have you ever wished there was a place like Home Depot™ for radio producers? You could walk into a big, cavernous warehouse that’s full of cool gear and loads of raw material, with experts at every aisle, ready to help answer every question you have about how to “do-it-yourself.” I know what my first stop would be… well, maybe after I check out the Apple 30-inch monitors. I think I’d find an expert on building the perfect sweeper. Obviously, what counts as perfect for me would be different for someone at another station, but the expert would know all this and be able to answer all my questions.

I imagine the expert as an older guy in an orange apron, covered in tape oxide after working on an audio restoration project. He’d probably start by asking me a simple question like, “What kind of sweeper did you have in mind?”

I’d respond, “Oh, you know… the regular kind, that plays between songs.”

“Are we talking about going into zero intro time out of a cold ending, or fades on both, or maybe a combination of the two?”

Feeling a bit flustered, I’d reply, “Well, can’t I have one that does both?”

He’d smile and very patiently explain, “Sure. You can do that, but wouldn’t it be better if the sweeper fit snugly into the circumstance? You don’t want a train wreck on the air half of the time, do you?”

{SIGH} That’s how it always starts. The answer to a simple question seems to get more and more complicated with each passing second. A sweeper is a pretty straightforward idea. You say something about the radio station’s position in the marketplace between two records, and it really sounds cool… at least that’s the premise. But, what if the first record ends cold and the next one starts cold? OK. Add some kind of musical track that fits the format. But, the PD wants to never stop the musical flow, and most records don’t start with the vocal. Um, then you produce it with minimal effects so it can play over the intro. What if the first song is really fast and you’re going into a slow song? See what I mean?

Just like the real big orange store, where I ended up purchasing an entire new electrical system when I only went in to buy a stupid doorbell, I’ve ended up designing four kinds of sweepers to fit every occasion, all based on the same script. Make that five or more when you throw in transition sweepers to bring the tempo down from a fast song to a ballad.

Whenever an artist is coming to the station, and we know about it more than 12 hours in advance, I produce what we call ‘Billboard Sweeps’ for it. They’re like little five–second promos, telling people when so-and-so is going to be on Z100. Version one is produced HARD/WET. It starts with a fairly heavy impact, ideal for coming out of a cold ending song and features a little clip of the music from the artist. That way, even if the listener isn’t sure who the artist is, they’ll know what song they sing. Version two gets the SOFT/WET treatment, which is almost exactly like the first version but does not start so abruptly, making it better for playing over the end of a fade. Versions three and four are HARD/DRY and SOFT/DRY. The music clip is eliminated so the whole piece can run over the intro of the following song. Ideally, the following song is BY the artist in question. I usually don’t make transition ‘Billboard Sweeps’ because they’re about the music, either in the sweep or the following song.

They ALL say exactly the same thing. In fact, I use exactly the same voice-over tracks, but each version is designed to fit a particular situation on the air. In my audio for this month’s column, I’ve included samples of each type of sweeper in the order you see above. (I don’t actually number the sweepers that way.) The sweepers are presented with music surrounding them, so you get the full impact of how they work. The fifth piece is a transition sweeper, using stock station positioning, just so you can hear how those work. By the way, I only do fast-to-slow transition sweepers because Fast music coming out of a ballad works all by itself.

So, my expert in the orange apron did his job well. I ended up getting lots of raw material to hang around the voice sub-structure. (Just like I bought all that wire and switches, buttons and stuff at the real Home Depot™, just so I could have a new doorbell.) Yeah, I did five times the work, but I have to hand it to him… it sounds pretty good.

Speaking of sounding really good, please let me congratulate all of this year’s finalists in the RAP Awards. By now you know who the winners are, but honestly, I think every finalist is a big winner. The audio on last month’s CD is the best I’ve ever heard, as a group, on the RAP Magazine CD. It reminds me of what my father used to say about pie. “There’s no such thing as bad pie. It’s just some are better than others.” There wasn’t a bad cut on the disc. Voting was actually tough this year.

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