Production 212: Two Turntables… ables… ables… ables…

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

(This is starting to sound like a broken record!)

Finally, we wrap up “the list” – Ten Things You Need To Know About Music. We’ve done the first 6 items over the last few columns, leaving seven through ten. Last time I said these last four should be self-evident, but I realized later that they’re not. In fact, they’re pretty subtle points, which I need to explain.

OK… for the last time, here is the list (to save you from digging for past issues):

1. Music is made up of parts, which can be disassembled and reassembled.

2. Tempo is ALWAYS flexible.

3. Rhythm is NEVER flexible.

4. Key is relative.

5. Musical phrasing is similar to spoken phrasing.

6. Placing voiceover over singing is very much like having two people talk at once.

7. Ending the music is like putting a period at the end of a sentence.

8. Sung vocals need to HELP the message if at all possible.

9. Effects need to support the musical phrasing.

10. Tracking your voiceover to the music can double its effectiveness.

Item 7: Ending the music is like putting a period at the end of a sentence.

Have you ever been at a concert, really enjoying the music, when the band fades away at the end of a song? I have, and I can tell you it’s lame, lame, lame. It tells me, as a musician, that this band has no real skill. Unless the song needs to fade because that supports the message, any group of musicians who cannot come up with a resolved ending is just not worth devoting any time to, in my book. It leaves you feeling unfulfilled, incomplete and really let down. Well, fading the music at the end of a promo doesn’t have quite the same effect, but there is most definitely a sense of something being left undone. It’s unsettling at best. Even if the listener can’t tell you why, there is a real sense of unfinished business, so it distracts from the message. Oops! Let’s not do that and say we did, OK? Always try to have the music end, at or near the end of the piece. Your listeners will thank you later with better ratings.

Item 8: Sung vocals need to HELP the message if at all possible.

One of the things we try to do at Z100 is be clever, without getting cute. Thankfully, we have a whole staff full of people who are more than willing to let us know when we cross the line, before we hit the air. One of my favorite things along this line is using the lyrics from popular music and integrating them into the music. I get to indulge just about every week with the Power Intros I produce for Z100. My sound for this month is a collection of Power Intros that utilize hit song lyrics. Clever? I hope so. Cute? I don’t think so. Powerful? Absolutely! I’m sure a number of you listening to the CD will recognize that these can be heard on The Production Vault/CHR in the Branded Intros section, with a few strategic changes. George and his crew in London know their stuff and I’m not in the least ashamed to say I use it…a lot.

Item 9: Effects need to support the musical phrasing.

I have long been telling individuals who ask me to critique their production to stop using electronic effects by themselves and start integrating those sounds into music. As this entire series of columns is encouraging you to understand, music is the strongest tool you have to engage the listener on an emotional level. Any piece that is supported solely with effects, loses that tool. It might sound cool, especially to us radio types, but in truth, the listener has no emotional connection to all those zaps and zingers. In the radio business, aside from News/Talk formats, music is our calling card. Music is our strength. Play to it.

The one exception to that is the sweeper. Usually, I try to design the sweeper to play over the music. If the presenter has any influence over which sweeper to use, he or she will almost always match the right sweeper to music based on the emotional response the music elicits. Because of that, I really make an effort to minimize the effects to a simple impact at the beginning, followed by something that is atonal (not tied to a key) and will play nicely over a music bed without causing a train wreck. That way, the music once again speaks to the listener on the emotional tip and, if the jock has done his or her job well, the message can slip right into the groove and hit the mark.

Item 10: Tracking your voiceover to the music can double its effectiveness.

I’ve probably been asked a few thousand times whether I start by producing the music and effects first, and then add the voice, or if I start with the VO and build from there. This “chicken-or-egg” thing is really difficult to answer quickly because I do it both ways, depending on the situation. But, in terms of the things you need to know about music, actually recording the VO to the music really doubles the impact of the final product. My absolute easiest work comes when I build the track and then record the VO to the track. This infuses the voice with the same emotional ties that the track gives. If I have little or no say in how the script is written (some clients insist, regardless of my best advice), I generally lay down the VO and then try to tailor the music and effects to the voice. It’s a bit harder to do, but certainly can be done.

So, there you go. TEN things you need to know about music. As I have said repeatedly, I really hope this acts a catalyst to get you to learn more about music. It’s the power tool in your toolbox. Wear your safety-goggles and mind your thumbs.