Production 212: Avoiding the Speed Bumps

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

Well, I’ve already heard back from a number of you about last month’s column, It Ain’t Quadratic Equations. I’m pleased to say that with some minor glitches, everybody seems to be getting it quite nicely. I’m doubly pleased, because it means I wrote a fairly clear explanation of how to edit music so that it remains true to what was originally penned. I am also pleased because it means I can jump right into this month’s topic, making the music fit your promo.

A couple of things before we start slicing and dicing though, 1) the music needs to start out “in the ballpark,” and 2) it’s not just the music that needs to be fitted. The whole point of this exercise is to make the music support your USP (unique selling proposition). If it’s the wrong KIND of music, you’re not even in the same county, so I am assuming that you’ve carefully selected the music to help support the mood of your piece. And sometimes, you get SO close to making the music really work, but the hole you’ve created is just a little bit short…or long. When that happens, you must not be afraid to alter the VO a tiny bit to accommodate your creation.

Last month I told you that the BEST way to edit music is by using the instrumental of the song to drop lyrics that are in some way objectionable. If I had my way, every CD single would have the song AND the instrumental on it, but the record industry has a habit of ignoring all my wishes, so we have to find alternatives. My favorite source of instrumental versions (really just tracks with the vocals mixed out) is the production service from Reel World Jingles called The Production Vault®. They not only supply instrumental versions, but also give you the Acapella versions (the singing without the backing music). I cannot tell you how many times this has proved invaluable to making a promo work the way I hear it in my head.

I am not suggesting that you use one piece of music with vocals dropped out in the right places to make room for your VO all the way through. That’s a one-trick pony that makes very boring promos. Most of the time, I’m using production music anyway for the bulk of the piece. Bridging the gap is where those instrumentals really come in handy.

So let’s begin with the simplest kind of edit: transitioning. Getting from one artist to another in a music promo can be tricky. You’re dealing with different keys, tempos and very often transitions within the songs themselves. Pop in your CD and listen to the first promo on my track. With the exception of the transition into the Backstreet Boys, every transition came on the downbeat. Easy stuff, once you know how to find the downbeat. Now, go back and listen again to the opening piece of music by N*SYNC. It starts with the drum track in the intro, moves quickly to the instrumental track to establish the musical backing, and then goes to the vocal on the 3-count, but it all flows from the beginning. This is the key to what I’m talking about. If you can find the count, you can make that transition MUCH more smooth.

My second cut is a bit subtle, but you should be able to pick it out, twice. If you’re familiar with Chris Brown’s music, he tends to layer vocals over vocals over vocals. This is pretty disconcerting at first, but with very careful cutting between the instrumentals and vocals, you can make little donuts to drop your VO into, and it sounds like Chris sang it just for that piece. Give it a listen. I’ll wait.

Combining these two ideas is what cut 3 is about. In this piece I did for Wired 96.5 in Philadelphia, the opening part features Kanye West’s song, Stronger. If you know it, then you know he sampled a Daft Punk song for his basic track. I cut back and forth between Daft Punk and Kanye to give me a nice little vocal post to work around, and then started cutting on the 3 count to Rihanna. Getting from Rihanna into Lupé Fiasco was a little tricky. The downbeats do NOT match, but because Lupé is so much slower, I could fudge it by putting his downbeat on her 3 count. Normally I try to avoid doing that, but the tempo mismatch made it work. Cut 4 is just the instrumental track from the same promo without all the applause and that pesky announcer.

Cut 5 is an Alicia Keys Weekend promo I did for Z100 that does almost the same thing with her guest stars Jordin Sparks and Ne-Yo.

Getting the feel for it yet?

I have one more example that really highlights how you can actually use the lyric line to emphasize what you want to say. It’s a promo I did recently for Kiss-FM/Chicago, using a piece that came from Chase Cuts. Now, Eric’s was a much longer piece, so I didn’t use all of it, but you’ll hear how the lyrics actually become a part of the promo and complimented Dave Ferguson’s read. OK…hit play.

I’ve been a big fan of Eric Chase for years and perhaps now you know at least one of the reasons.

At the top, I said that sometimes you have to fit the vocal into the hole, rather than fitting the hole around the VO. In every one of these examples, some of that happened. Could you tell? Doubtful. As long as you restrict yourself to nothing more than plus or minus 9% time compression, you should be good to go. Any more than that and you risk making your VO sound like Alvin the Chipmunk or Jabba the Hut, and will quite possibly add a lot of digital artifacts. In each of these cases, it was much less than 9%.

So, here’s the takeaway from this exercise: rhythm and flow are the key to making really outstanding, entertaining and informative promos. Even if you’re NOT using a famous artist’s work, good transitioning between all the different musical elements will drive your message without any speed bumps. When you miss a transition, the listener feels it. He or she might not know what it was, but they’ll most definitely be distracted from the point of your piece and that, dear reader, is deadly to your mission.

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