The Producer’s VU: The "Producer's VU" is Back After 16 Year Hiatus!

Producers-VU-Logo Webby John Pallarino

“Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”

― William Faulkner

It seems only fitting to start this column off with a quote much like the original author Craig Rogers did back in November of 1995. Craig quoted Theodore Roosevelt with “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” He then when on to say, “Perhaps that sums up the essence of being a Production Director. Every day we are asked to produce spots and promos as good or better than our past work, using the same tools we had yesterday. So the real trick is to learn new ways to use what we have. Hopefully, this column will help you do just that.” At the time the column was called “RAP Cassette Spotlight-November 1995” and then named “Producers VU” in the December issue of ‘95. I started reading RAP in 1998 when I was the Production Manager in Lima, Ohio. Cool Edit Pro 1.1 was the DAW of choice, and I remember reading Producers VU on layering audio. It opened my eyes to a whole new world of production. I started to read about what compression was, how it was used and why. I learned techniques that nobody in my building or market could teach me.

I couldn’t be more thrilled to be bringing Producers VU back to RAP magazine, and my thanks to Jerry Vigil for letting me do so. Like many of you, I am a production geek and love microphones, compression, EQ, and looking at pictures of studios on Facebook. I’m never happy with the way my studio sounds; I tweak my microphone processor by the minute and constantly complain the AC unit is too loud and my mic is picking it up. I can go on but I think you get the point.

“Producers VU” is column that spotlights a commercial, promo, any piece of audio production that sounds good and maybe has a cool story behind how and why it was produced. At the end of this column there will be an email address for RAP members to send in their stuff they think should showcased on Producers VU. I will then find something that catches my ears and eyes and speak with the producer and pick his or her brains as to how it was created technically, as well as sharing any good stories as to how it was written and why. Sometimes the story behind the creative is better than the actual final piece of audio. Whatever the case is, I’m looking forward to hearing all the great production from the creative minds of RAP members. Don’t get mad if we don’t pick your piece of production; I had to wait 9 years to be interviewed in RAP so be patient and keep sending in audio.

Since there was no solicitation for audio in the July issue, I thought I would you take you through the production of a Black Keys concert promo I produced back in March of this year for the alternative station in building. The reason I picked it is because of the story behind it as well as it being a pretty good concert promo technically. The promo wasn’t pre-planned in the least bit because the Black Keys didn’t announce their concert schedule as of yet, and we didn’t know how many tickets we were going to be giving away. All we knew is that we had a bunch of artist drops from the Black Keys promoting their new album along with them saying our station calls.

Finally the PD called me and asked how long it would take to get a promo on the air because the tour dates for our market had been announced and he wanted to do a big ticket giveaway. The challenge was that the competition was the presenting sponsor and the PD wanted to somehow come across on the air that we had just as many tickets and was presenting it as well, without really saying so. I told him I can have it on the air within the hour and would figure out the rest as I produce. The advantage I had was that we didn’t need to send out the script to the voice guy because I was the voice guy. So I went in the studio and brought up last year’s Black Keys promo that I produced. I knew I couldn’t use the verbiage but the songs hooks I could, and maybe get a little inspiration while I was at it. So I wrote a simple script that was mainly song-based, but still had no clue how I was going to make it sound like we were presenting the show without actually saying it.

I went ahead and used my Sennheiser 416 shotgun mic and read the promo to my satisfaction. The bonus of being your own voice guy is getting the read you want every time, and I don’t have to wait to get it back. My 416 goes through a Symetrix 528E along with a Yamaha SPX990, which I use in the chain to process my voice for imaging. It has a very nice parametric EQ along with a smooth sounding compressor. I use a high pass filter set at 350HZ to really get rid of the lows and pile on the compression to give it that nice alternative edgy sound. I’ve always been a fan of real-time effects on my voice while I do the read. I don’t pile on the processing too much so I can have some room to play in Adobe Audition. After I go through and edit the vocal tracks, I use the Waves Diamond Bundle to add some additional touches to the VO. It’s pretty raw after it goes through the Yamaha, so I use Waves RDeEsser along with the C1 gate and maybe the 6 band REQ depending on the style of the promo. I then use the Waves L1 with the threshold set to -15 or so and the out ceiling at -6. This really gives the filtered voice some meat and can basically cut through anything you put under it.

One of the techniques I learned from RAP a while back is using templates for my imaging sessions. It was Dave Foxx who wrote an article in RAP about using busses already set up in a session. I pretty much copied the way he had his session set up, and to this day I still use the same template. It consists of two VO tracks dry, two filtered VO tracks with the 6 band REQ cut at 450 and some compression, one track with a flanger effect, and two more voice tracks hard panned right and left to achieve a chorus effect. The last three tracks are used for SFX and music that run through a parametric EQ set to take some of the mids out of the music and sfx to let my vocals swim in the mix better. Adobe has a great preset called ‘make room for vocals’ that does all the work for you. All these tracks are finally bussed to the master fader, which has the Waves L3 on it to give me full control of the mix. The great part of the template is that I’m hearing the final mixdown of the promo while I’m producing it. Many times you will produce something and then add your final mastering effects to only go back to tweak and mix it down again. This also allows me to keep all my vocal tracks untouched except for the effects I already put on them.

Since I already had last year’s session on the screen it was only a matter of replacing the old VO with the new one, freshen up some of the hooks and tweak some effects. The only thing I needed now was a great open as well as a way to sound like we were presenting sponsors without actually saying it. I took the easy way out and found a catchy concert open in my Splat imaging library. At this point the promo was pretty much on its way to being completed except I still didn’t slip in anything about us being sponsors without saying it. I went to brainstorm with the PD and said how about we just say we are presenting the show and see what happens. I’ve always been a fan of asking forgiveness instead of permission when it comes to certain things.

Finally after all that, it hit me, I would use the artist drops from the Black Keys and have them say it. So I jumped on the mic and laid down one line that read, “X985 presents” and followed that up with the Black Keys saying, “Hi this is Patrick and Dan and we are the Black Keys on X985.” It worked great because it was subtle enough to fulfill the presenting part and ended the promo with the calls. I chose this promo because not only did it have some great production techniques, but it also had a good back story to it.

Now it’s your turn. Go through your archives and shoot me an email of your audio piece to johnpallarino@gmail.com. Give me a little background to it and why you think it should be showcased on Producers VU. Also, if you have any questions on the promo I featured, feel free to drop me an email as well. Remember this column cannot exist without your participation, so start sending me some material today.

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