Production 212: Simplify Your Life

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

The most frequent question I get from producers around the world is “How do you get so much done in so little time?” Speaking in Amsterdam, demonstrating in Los Angeles and of course, writing this column, I hear that question again and again. I wish I could say that it’s because I am so brilliant, but that would be a lie. I get an avalanche of work done in minimum time because I’m prepared. I have built a mighty arsenal and know it intimately. Every little piece of music, stock phrase and sound effect is carefully groomed and locked into my bunker of workparts, set up for fast retrieval and instant applicability.

If I had to guess, I would say that almost every person reading this column has a music library or two up their sleeves. Most of you have a service or two as well that provides up-to-the-minute socially relevant workparts. Quite a few even have a decent sound effects library on hand. But there’s one thing I’d wager very few of you have: a scratch voice bank. You really need one. It will make life, oh so much simpler.

How cool would it be to have someone ask you for a whole new batch of sweepers and you deliver them within an hour or two? If you have a voice bank, that becomes part of your reality. You open a new session, import 20 or so stager effects (impact followed by some kind of trailing effect), a couple dozen versions of your VO saying your call letters and another 6 versions or so of your VO saying the station slogan. Mix and match, use some funky filters, perhaps some pitch changes or stutters, slide them all over your stager effects and you very quickly have a dozen or more new sweepers that sound fresh. They all have the same message, but that’s a good thing, because a consistent message is one that will keep your brand on the top of every listener’s mind. The way the message is delivered is what changes.

If you really need something fresh, verbiage-wise, send a short session to your VO and then include the new material in the new sweepers. Just make sure you add the new session in your ever-growing voice bank so you have it for future use.

Your biggest issue in creating a good, solid voice bank is keeping the tracks pristine and edited. For example, I have a folder within my VO session folder that contains Kelly Kelly Kelly’s voice saying everything I could possibly ever want her to say:

  • Z100 (single)
  • Z…100 (double)
  • Z…one…hundred (triple)
  • New York’s Hit Music Station
  • New York’s…Hit Music Station
  • One station…
  • …all the hits
  • Call now…
  • Your chance to win within 30 minutes
  • 1-800-262-zero-100
  • Every Jock’s name
  • Starting Monday…
  • Starting Tuesday… (etc.)

And so on and so on… (Believe me, the folder is gigantic.)

Each file is very carefully edited and super-clean, with a half-dozen takes of each line. I have another file full of Dave Kampel (our alternate sweeper voice) doing exactly the same thing.

What got me started was I noticed that 90% of all the new scripts we would send to Kelly or Dave was all the same verbiage. All I ever really needed with each session was the central idea or mechanic of whatever the script was about. When I’d get their sessions back, I would spend about 30 or 40% of my time editing the same stuff. It made me wonder why I was spinning my wheels all the time, so I put an end to it. I sent a couple of fairly large sessions with all the things I could think of that we would consistently use, spent the time editing and cleaning everything up, put it all in one folder and stopped sending that stuff with new sessions. When I get new sessions in, I edit what’s there, grab whatever else I need and start building immediately.

This month’s audio is comprised of just these files in a series of new sweepers I did, late one afternoon after getting a request from my PD for a “whole new batch of sweepers.” The entire session netted us 44 new image sweepers; 11 wet sweepers with Kelly on the lead VO, 11 wet sweepers with Kampel on the lead, then those same sweepers again, DRY with very minimal effects, so they can play over music without causing an aural train-wreck. Total production time? About 45 minutes, start to finish. I must say that my Program Director was mighty pleased when I walked into her office and gave her the numbers for all the new sweepers the next morning. (Well, production time is one thing, dubbing them into the system is quite another.)

In addition to having 90% of my VO work “in the can,” I have all my other workparts extremely well organized too. For example, all of these sweepers use stagers (or as I like to call them, “slams”), which came from Trynity HD/FX. If you peek on my storage drive, you’ll see a Stager folder within my Trynity HD/FX folder, which is in my Audio Services folder, filled with nearly 700 effects. Talk about an arsenal…and extremely easy to find!

I’ve no doubt that many of you will think, “Yeah well, that’s all well and good, but I’m a creative type and everyone knows creative people have the messiest desk in the building.” Oh contraire, mon frère. At one point, even the most creative person on the planet will organize their desk, just to have a starting point. It certainly doesn’t mean I keep my hard drives pristine. They’re as messy as anyone’s I’ve ever seen. But, periodically, I will go through them and organize again; creating new folders where I need them, filing things away as best I can in some kind of system that makes sense to me. Otherwise, I end up downloading the instrumental version of Lady Gaga’s Telephone 500 times, with 500 places it’s stashed that I can never remember. There are just too many moving parts to do anything else.

When I set up my original hard drive real estate, I created folders for pretty much everything. Some of those folders got more folders inside to help me down the road. For example, my Promotions folder has a folder for Z100 Pays Your Bills, which contains all the ZPYB promo sessions. Each year, I add a new folder in the fall. Yesterday it was Z100 Jingle Ball 2010. When December 10th rolls around this year, I’ll have one place to look for every promo, sweeper and stager I will have done for the big show. Getting client compilations done will be cake. A couple of months later, I’ll move the entire folder to a more permanent spot and delete it from my main drive. Some of the other folders on my main drive are Instrumentals, Audio Services, Sound Effects and Voiceovers. Within the Voiceovers folder, you’ll see Kelly, Kampel and Artists among many others. Amazingly, once set up, it is super easy to put stuff away as it comes in, making it even easier to find later.

The ultimate goal of all this (Eew!) housecleaning is to make life much simpler later. Got a Katy Perry promo to knock out? Well, after you finish concocting the creative premise, you know you can jump to and import her station ID. Grab her instrumentals, a few slams, maybe a micro-bed to connect with, and you are ready to rock.

Kim Kardashian came in today and recorded some stuff we’ll be using for Z100’s Jingle Ball. She recently launched a new fragrance, which will be one of the sponsors this year. I had some time, so I took a few minutes and carved the whole session up, leaving only the good stuff. In a few weeks, when I’m making promos, I won’t even have to think about looking for her lines. They’re already on my drive in the Artists folder, inside the Voiceovers folder, filed under her name, all perfectly edited and clean. I anticipate I will have a really good quick day when that time comes.

So here is this column’s take-away: spend a day organizing your stuff so you know you can find it pretty easily. Make sure one of the things you organize is a new VO scratch folder where you can keep phrases, slogans, calls, numbers and other assorted always need VO items. The next time you need to manufacture a BIG pile of sweepers, you can do it in minutes, instead of hours or days. Then, you can either really impress your boss, or… not.

Ouch. I just realized my PD reads these columns. Now she’s going to know how easy and simple it is to put all these together and quite possibly start asking for more. See what I do for you?

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