R.A.P. Interview: Brian Lee

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R.A.P.: ISDN obviously increases the value of a studio. What kinds of rates to you get to rent the studio to a voice talent like Peter Thomas to do voice-over work for an agency in New York? Is the rate basically the same as what you would you charge for someone who just wanted to come in and record a commercial?
Brian: I consider myself to be very thorough and good at what I do, so my rates are about one hundred and fifty dollars an hour, which is probably up there around the New York City studio costs. That tends to weed out some of the whiners. The quality people with quality work are willing to pay for it, and that's really good.

Mike Ditka has a house in Naples. A Detroit radio station called me up and scheduled time the day after the Super Bowl earlier this year for Ditka to do his radio show live from my studio via ISDN. He canceled, though. He didn't want to drive forty minutes to my studio, so he said screw it and decided to do it over his telephone from his house, which really pissed off the radio station--and me, too. But my point is the capability of ISDN. I'm able to offer talent of any caliber anywhere. I think ISDN is really a big part of the radio industry and the recording studio industry.

R.A.P.: How quickly can you turn out a package for a radio station?
Brian: We're able to turn around fully produced packages in three days for radio stations. Most dry voices take that long to get the material there--anywhere from one to three days. We can do a whole produced package in three days. This makes stations really happy.

R.A.P.: You must have added some personnel to handle the production load. How big is your staff?
Brian: I have three part-time producers who work for me. I've really fallen into the management aspect a lot, but I still do a lot of production. As far as the station stuff is concerned, the other producers take care of that for me now, and I delegate work to them.

R.A.P.: How do you get the "Advantage Productions" sound or the "Brian Lee" sound out of these other producers?
Brian: It takes a lot of time for the producers to learn that style of production. Basically, they have to start as just plain editors. They listen and they edit the talent's raw voice work. They do that for a couple of months, then finally I'll let them start adding little effects. I'll make them listen to packages. We save every single package we've ever done on DAT. We've got hours and hours and hours of stuff saved. You could ask for a package from KLOS from 1993, and I could pull up any package we ever produced for them. It's all logged on a computer, and I make them listen. And it's very important for them to hear the different packages, because not only is there a certain standard that we have at Advantage Productions, but each station has a particular style. So, these producers usually will form a relationship with the sound of the station. If they have any doubts, they're instructed to go back and listen to the last package done, or a package done by me.

R.A.P.: How did you pick your producers? What criteria did you use?
Brian: One producer was a friend of mine who, when I was sixteen working at WINK, was fourteen years old. He said he was always interested in radio and we became friends. He basically hung around until I left about four years later to move to Virginia. He stayed in Fort Myers, and I moved away and started the company then came back. He ended up getting into radio as a disk jockey. He started as a jock, but he was able to produce before he was a jock because he hung around the production studio so much. I asked him if he'd be interested in doing some part-time work for me, and he said, "Yeah." So he came on line, and I had five years of my style of production in his brain. Once he learned technically what to do, he was able to just implement it and produce it. He wasn't difficult to work with and teach because he kind of knew it. It was automatic for him. I was very fortunate to have him available to me. His name is Jason Fisher.

As for the other producers, one was a Production Director at a local radio station here who wanted to make some extra money on the side. Then I brought in a guy who was into keyboard music and programming. He produces albums, like house and club music for small record labels in Miami. He was interested in picking up some part-time money, so I hired him as an editor. He came in and worked his way up and is just coming along fantastic.

R.A.P.: How would you define the Brian Lee style of production? What do you try to do with every piece of work that comes from Advantage?
Brian: The objective with every piece of work, I think, is to create a flow. Flow is very important--a smooth, if you will, sound. Create an environment when you're producing a commercial. You should never leave anything out. When a guy walks into a room, it should sound like that. A good Production Director and a good producer will know what I'm saying here. For example. Say you want the sound of someone walking from outside into a room and saying, "Hi, Joe," or "Ooh, what a day, I'm tired," or whatever. When he opens the door, your standard producer these days would tend to use the sound of door opening, sound of door closing, and then nothing else. It's dead. Then comes the voice-over. This really doesn't create theater of the mind. I would go further. When he opens the door--and some people would put footsteps in, too--you hear what's going on outside. You'll hear traffic when he opens the door or birds or something that's an outdoor atmosphere. I don't care if it's a war, but when you open the door, you hear that. You walk in, so you're slightly off mike. You move around the microphone to create a little bit more of a change as if your head was moving, as if someone was sitting in the room and hearing it. I might pick up my car keys and rattle them a little bit in the microphone as I'm walking in because usually people walk in with keys in their hand. I might throw them down on the counter in the production room as if someone was putting their keys down. I might take my jacket off or take my jacket and fluff it around the microphone when the person walks in to create a sound of movement, which is very important.

It's creating an environment, and I've always prided myself on being able to create an incredible environment for a setting to where you don't even have to ask where somebody is. And if it was mentioned in the commercial, then it would be obvious where they are. I say use as many tracks as you can to create an environment. It's really critical for good production. A lot of good producers understand that and will do that, but it's a combination of that mixed in with really good writing.

I think the Brian Lee style is to be different than normal. Everybody can turn on a microphone, and everybody can put music under it. Being different is so important. Taking the time to produce something is important. If you want to create something really neat, take the time to do it. Make it colossal. Just let your imagination go wild when you produce. When you do that, when you just step out of normal when you produce, oh, so many things can come to mind. And if you have the facilities to pull it off, you can pull off almost anything. I think the Brian Lee sound is really what everyone has in them, but they probably don't have the time or the facilities to make it happen.

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