I've been creating custom radio ads, television commercial soundtracks
and special audio pieces for over 26 years and have a few tips to help
in creating your productions from scratch:
I've seen so many people write copy and then go searching for that "perfect"
music track afterwards and rarely, if ever, find it. I've found it's always
best to start with the music and write to it. Here's how I do it most
of the time:
Before searching for music, I'll have a few copy ideas written along with
the key points needed in the copy. If the client has a slogan or a specific
one liner, that has to be mentioned, I have that written down as well.
Since I know the target demo we'll be trying to reach, I'll begin my music
search within the musical styles that would best appeal to that demo.
On the other hand, if the target demo range is so broad, I 'll simply
look for a style that would best match the feel for the intended ad. (i.e.
Humorous, Romantic, Western etc)
While listening, I look for things like interesting stops, beats, instrumentation,
chord changes, tempo shifts or whatever, that adds interest to the piece.
Just like a hit single, there has to be a hook of some sort. Sometimes
I'll hear a measure or two that sounds like a perfect place to announce
the slogan or a key point. If it repeats again, within the track, all
the better. It's quite similar to writing lyrics for a song but in this
case, the words will be spoken.
In essence, I keep thinking about the product, the slogan, key points
and so forth, while listening and just find that something always seems
to pop up, that inspires the imagination and generates even more ideas
for the copy. When I think I have one, I'll keep playing it, while adding
rough copy and reading along. If it just feels right, then I'll download
it and begin fine tuning the copy.
Once the copy's written and I've purchased the music, I'll begin tracking.
Many times I'll change my voice for separate tracks to reinforce slogans
or key lines. On the changed voices, I may add outboard effects to really
make them stand out. I will also add sound effects like sweepers or other
effects, appropriate to the style, to either help punch those areas or,
to act as transition segues, to return to the previous voice(s) etc.
All the while, I keep the music track up pretty loud in my headsets so
I can let the words flow to the rhythm. Since I've already 'written to
the music' the words flow quite naturally. I'll often edit some words
during the tracking process, to take full advantage of certain nuances
in the music, as described above. I feel the more the announcer blends
with the feel and flow of the music, the more the ad will sing, if you
use one of the broadcast industries standard microphones, the EV RE-20.
Actually I bought their PL-20 version because a it was a tad less expensive.
(An engineering buddy said they’re the exact same mic. but I didn’t
say that) Anyway, both are dynamic microphones. When I used to have a
full fledged recording studio, for jingle work etc., my favorite was a
Neumann U87. Unfortunately, those babies can pick up, a hair falling on
carpet from forty feet and not practical, nor any condenser mic, when
used close to noisy computers or computer-driven gear. (Fan noise to be
exact but all condensers are quite sensitive).
One thing I learned early on when announcing, is that the closer one
gets to the microphone, the more the lower frequencies will be accentuated.
If I’m doing a soft, romantic number, I’ll literally eat the
microphone. Of course one has to be very careful with breath, sibilance
and other nuances when mic-ing so closely. When recording others less
familiar with technique etc., I’ll generally have them voice in
a perpendicular fashion rather than their mouth facing head on. This helps
popping “P”s. I don’t use a windscreen but probably
used to all the time with condensers.
One thing I always have to watch out for, while doing my voice tracks,
is the sound level in my headphones. I have a tendency to raise the volume
level, once my ears become accustomed. That’s a problem when stacking
voice tracks, because the previous recorded tracks can seep through the
earpiece and either interfere with the new track or at least be apparent
in those pre-roll areas, where I’m waiting to announce the new stuff.
As rule, before mixing down, I always go back through all of the voice
tracks on screen and edit out all of the non-wave-apparent areas. Be careful
around the exit areas though, because you can clip off the end sibilance
or such, from a word, that doesn’t or barely shows up on a wave
pattern that’s zoomed out a bit. What I usually do with exit areas
of a voice track is listen to it and stop it physically when I know the
word is over. I then delete to the right.
If you’re recording where the gear is there’s
bound to be some noise apparent, even with dynamic microphones. If you’re
using music in the background, no problemo. It’ll never be heard.
95% of my work is done with music so I can live with the super subtle
noise. If I have to do a straight voiceover, I have a section of a closet
I climb into that’s lined with acoustic foam. It works.
Here’s a neat trick. I just did an ad recently where I wanted to
get the effect of an entire baseball stadium chanting the name of the
client’s business. I achieved it with myself and my wife only and
you’d swear it’s the entire stadium. I voice a little 1, 2,
3, count and then yelled the line, (about a foot or two from the microphone).
I then continued stacking tracks and changed my voice up and down and
with different timbres etc., about 24 to 30 times. I then brought my wife
in to do the same. She’s not a pro so I had to mess with her EQ
on different tracks. Once I had them all, I spread them across the stereo
spectrum and added a little bit of dark reverb as well as some subtle,
delayed-slap echo. I was close at that point but something was missing.
I then added the crowd ambience of a baseball game that wasn’t
during any cheering section. Once that was added, low and behold, it sounded
exactly like the whole crowd was chanting my client’s message and
loved it. So did I!
Once I've recorded all the tracks, I have to mix down to stereo or mono.
The best tip I've ever had for mixing for radio, is to do so with small,
near-field monitors and at a medium to medium loud level. To much volume
seems to accentuate the music (and bass frequencies) but when played back
at normal levels, it almost disappears.
I remember years ago while mixing to huge JBL monitors, at loud levels,
everything smoked and sounded great! Then, when I'd hear the track on
radio, I couldn't understand what happened to the music and certain effects.
They literally vanished into the background. It was a rude awakening for
sure and after talking with some true audio gurus, I learned the error
of my ways.
I still have a pair of larger JBL monitors and when I think I’ve
achieved a great mix in the near-fields, I’ll flip to them quick.
Sometimes the bass is a tad too much, so I’ll roll off a little
bottom end. Again though, how many radio listeners are listening to radio,
through studio monitors driven by a Crown power amp?
There are a zillion monitors out there and were I doing more sophisticated
music tracking etc., I would definitely invest handsomely into monitors.
Since the majority of my work is for radio or television and because I’ve
been doing this for so many years and know my sound etc, it really doesn’t
matter that much to me.
My near-fields are just a small pair of Roland powered speakers. I can
adjust the tone on them as well to make up for my subtle, mid-hi hearing
I'm sure most already know but if your stereo mix track will be played
on Mono AM stations, you may suffer phase-out, that can wipe away A LOT
of things in your mix. I always make separate mono mixes for those instances.
(If you do that remember to adjust the outboard effects, like reverb,
to mono as well, or some REALLY strange things can happen.)
Another thing to keep in mind is not OVERDOING compression. Radio stations
are renowned for having gobs and gobs of compression on their signals
and too much on your end, will render your track a compressed alien entity
that you'll actually hear breathing! I use a subtle 1.5 or 2 to 1 compression
on my voice trax and a very subtle 3:1 on the master out. I hate hearing
compression inhale and exhale.
Bob's recommended compressor settings
Well, there's a lot more to it but the above tips and thoughts have worked
quite well for me in radio production. Best of luck with your endeavors
and thanks Shockwave for providing such fabulous tracks and effects! Kudos
as well to all the great composers and musicianship!