Production 212: March Madness

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

Hello my friends and fellow producers. This month’s column has absolutely nothing to do with college basketball playoffs. It’s about the crazy CD that comes with this month’s edition. This is the most exciting issue of the year for me as it showcases the best work from the last year of many of you. Ever since I got my first razor blade encased in plastic all those many years ago, I always take a lot of pride in being affiliated with all the other winners of RAP Awards. This month’s CD promises to be chock full of amazing work that’s funny, sad, dark, bright and more importantly, effective. The sounds you hear this month should inspire you to communicate with your audience with verve and style, keeping radio ahead of all the other media in effectiveness and cost.

So let me begin this month by saluting everyone who was brave enough to make submissions. You’ve become leaders of the industry with this issue, because so many other producers will come back to this CD over and over again, looking for that inspiration. I’d also like to thank the judges ahead of time. Having sat in your chair before, I know it can be difficult to choose sometimes, but in the end, what you do will make all of us better producers.

Just two questions will be highlighted here this month. I got a lot of questions from new producers, but they were questions we’ve dealt with in recent memory, so I simply answered their emails and brought these two gems to the column this month.

The first comes from Neil Wilson, a VO artist and producer for Clear Channel in the Greensboro/Winston-Salem, North Carolina area:

I’m in the process of converting to PT and Mac. Would love a quick overview of how you keep it all organized? Do you keep folders for each station with sessions inside specific station folder?

Awesome question Neil, on several different levels. Organization is the key to keeping the workflow fast and powerful, without losing focus on the myriad of details a good or even great producer has to follow. Storage of the finished product and of the actual working sessions is not only a good idea; it will save untold hours, if not weeks, of your life. To accomplish all of this, you need a game plan, one that will serve you well for a long, long time. Here is mine.

To begin, I have two kinds of sessions I do: voice work and full-blown production. The VO work can take place in one of two places, my main workstation at Z100 AND my laptop, wherever I am in the world. All of the production work happens on my workstation at Z100 (with very few emergency exceptions.) BOTH systems need the same access to my server, where all my work is delivered. Whenever I’m on the workstation at Z100, my laptop is nearby. When I’m up in my room at Bellagio in Las Vegas, I’m working on the laptop. So... my storage space and FTP launch pad (I’ll explain in a minute) will always be needed on the laptop. If I’m working on the big rig at Z100, I’ll link the two computers and mount my “storage/launch pad” device on the workstation.

So, what is this “storage/launch pad” device? It’s a gigantic external drive, the bigger the better. Right now, I’m using a Seagate 500G “FreeAgent Go” drive. It is a USB2 drive, so you cannot record directly on it with ProTools™, but that is definitely NOT its purpose. Two things happen with this drive. For now, let’s deal with the “organization” aspect. In the root folder (what shows up when you double-click on the drive’s icon) there is a folder called Client. Within that folder right now are over 40 folders, one for each client station, labeled with the client’s calls and market, i.e., SLAM/Barbados, WHTZ/New York or EDGE/Sydney. I also have a folder for those “once-in-a-while” sessions that come up every few days.

Whether I’m recording a voice track for a client in Tokyo or producing some flame-throwing image work for Z100, every piece will eventually be made into a single, stereo (unless it’s VO) high-resolution MP3. That is the format I use to get work to clients.

Once I finish a new file, I export it to the appropriate folder on my external drive, which is when the magic happens. The magic comes from two programs called Captain FTP and Crows Nest from XNET Communications. Captain FTP is my file transfer utility. Any web designer will tell you that having an FTP client is essential to doing serious work on the web. There are a lot of FTP programs, many of them free, that allow you to upload and download files without having to use a browser. It connects your computer directly to the web server where you can see (if you have the permissions) the entire website layout; all the folders, graphic files and sound files, in their entire hierarchy. Once there, as long as you have permissions to do so, you can download any file, or upload any file to any folder.

Crows Nest is my local “folder watcher” program, for lack of a better term. It sits and watches all the folders you instruct it to watch and when a new file shows up (from your export) it uses the same protocols to go to a specific folder on a website and upload the new file. Then it will send an email telling the recipient that the file has been uploaded.

To be fair, it’s a little tricky to set everything up because you have to have every little detail set perfectly or it will fail. Once it is set, I simply do my VO or production, export it to my external drive and then move onto the next session. My client station gets an email telling them that their track is ready for download (which they do through a normal browser like Internet Explorer, or Firefox) and I’m well into my next project. The real beauty of this system though, is I only have to set it up once. After that, I am on autopilot.

One other word of caution as you make your move to the Mac and ProTools™: You must NOT run PT in the same area as you have all of your docs, pics and applications. If you are going to use TWO external drives, you should be golden. The PT application and plug-ins go on your main internal drive, but all of your sessions need to be on one of your external drives. If you want to use a partition of your internal drive for your sessions, you’ll be fine. Just don’t put your sessions on the same partition as your applications. I’ve known many people who have and never had a problem for months and months, but one day, their applications drive became corrupted, requiring a complete system re-building. (Not all internal drives are fast enough anyway. If your drive isn’t turning at least 7200rpm, chances are you’ll be plagued with problems from the outset. Many internal drives only turn 5400rpm or even less.)

One other little trick Crows Nest does is to move the file it has just uploaded to an archive folder. Each of the station folders has a “previous uploads” folder in it. That is the archive for that station. If a client ever calls or writes, asking for a file to be reposted, all I do is drag the file back into the main station folder and Crows Nest goes through the process again, uploading it to the client’s online folder and then moving it back into the “previous uploads” folder it was in to start with.

Question 2 is going to take less space to answer, but is no less important. Gary Stoessel writes from the UK:

My last boss always used the term “liner” meaning a piece that goes between records, but my new boss always calls them “sweepers.” When I read RAP magazine, I’ve seen you use the term “bumpers,” but I don’t really know what one is. Is there a place I can go to get industry standardized names for the bits and pieces we make?

The short answer is no, not that I know anyway. I’ve seen many terms for the “bits and pieces” we make that seem to be interchangeable. Many would say, “you say toe-MAY-toe, I say tah-MAH-toe,” but I think there should be some kind of standardized terminology. I really don’t know who would do it. So, here is the brief list of terms that I use. See if you think they make sense. Perhaps we could start a movement within the industry.

Sweeper – any production that plays between two songs

Dry sweeper – a piece that is without music of any kind (including drums) and very nearly without any kind of effects so it can play over song intros

Wet sweeper – a fully produced sweeper (music and effects) that cannot be played over a song intro but must stand on its’ own

Stager – any production that “stages” an event, like an introduction for The Interactive Nine @ Nine, or a piece that introduces the music after a commercial stopset.

Bumper – any production that plays after a song and before commercials that indicates what will follow the commercials.

TOH – Top of the Hour – in many cases it will include the legal ID, but not necessarily. It often will “reset” the music in a very big and dramatic way, setting it apart from a normal sweeper.

Tweener – a cousin of the sweeper, only it plays between two commercials. Often it will include the legal ID, but will always be extremely short and let the listener know that the stopset is nearly over.

Commercial, promo and PSA (Public Service Announcement) I think are nearly universal, so I won’t even mention them. Um, too late!

In any case, it’s not terribly important what they’re called, as long as you and your PD are on the same wavelength, I guess. It might be worth a few moments when you’re in a new situation (new boss, new station) to hash it out so there’s no confusion.

No audio from me this month, due to you getting all the other cool sounds from RAP producers. Pour yourself a big cup of coffee and just listen. I suspect many of you will say, “I can produce better than that,” at least a few times. When you do, think about submitting something next year. You might be right.

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