ACCESSING THE GEORGE MARTIN GENE...AND MADONNA
Last week was "jingle week" at XM. Jingles can be kinda hokey when used on the wrong channels, but on the right channels they add to the listening experience. The ultimate example is 60's on Six where they contribute mightily to the authenticity factor, where we are trying to re-create a Top 40 station in about 1966. We believe that this is infinately more satisfying to a fan of that era than doing an "oldies station" that sounds a 2006 radio station playing old songs. Few things bring that sound back better than properly using those old PAMS jingles. So, we had Jonathan Wolfert who owns JAM Productions who in turn owns the rights to all those old PAMS jingles. We worked out a deal to further mine their archives and acquire a wide range of sound that'll put our decades channels on sonic steroids. We also use some of the real old ones on channels like XM Comedy. These jingles are so absurdly dated, they are actually funny. Then we were looking to acquire some jingles for our young pop stations. That was hard. We couldn't really find anything that didn't sound like everything we try to avoid. SO--We challenged our own producers to create something internally. At first I figured they "might" succeed. After all creating a vocal thing is not something radio producers normally do, and doing it in a high quality way might be difficult. Well, they REALLY came through. I'm pretty blown away. Really says something about our "Audio Animators" when they are focused on a challenge. that's in sync with our style
It's all about accessing your "George Martin Gene"......George of course is best known as the Beatles producer, but what inspired me most about his work was that he seemed to have a cliche proof work ethic. While his background was classical music, he was able to help the Beatles re-invent the "sound" of pop music with such incredible taste, vision and quality. Whether it's backwards tapes, mellotrons or whatever, there was a revolutionary new sound in every groove. His production saved us in 1964 from a life of Bobby Vinton production (I like Bobby Vinton, but the production was more slick and pretty than earth changing)...then again in 1967 from a life of Tommy James production.(Again, nothing against Tommy, but it wasn't really too challenging) But just listen again to the timeless strings on Eleanor Rigby....backwards lines on Rain...the sound paintings on I Am the Walrus...the end of Day in The Life...the trippy Blue Jay Way...etc.....George with some help from a few other creative guys CHANGED SOUND. Helped take already brilliant pieces of music and propel them to yet a higher level. No barriers...no cliches...always fresh...used the whole universe of sound not just drums, guitar bass and keys...Those songs that the Beatles wrote kinda helped, but HOW those songs were delivered to the speakers, through inventive production and THINKING is what changed sound.
Man--If only radio production was attacked with that same vision! Most production is done by the book. Can you imagine if the Beatles produced music by the book? The piano at the end of a Day in the Life would have been cut because some bozo at the record company felt it wouldn't get Top 40 Airplay--too weird. Just like a modern day PD might reject an inventive piece because it clouds the "imaging statement" or something mindless like that.
AND---it's important to note that this isn't some old guy reminiscing about the good old days. This is timeless stuff. Ask any gifted artist in 2006 what they think of George Martin/Beatles intellect and inventiveness and you will find complete reverence. It's about the approach one takes to sound...and that is evergreen.
So--I believe engaging the "George Martin gene" that's somewhere in every producers makeup is what XM MUST DO TO FULFILL THE SOINIC POTENTIAL. Our production sound MUST be genius, clear, fresh, new, never-before-heard. I can't bloody stress this enough. We gotta open our minds in order to open the ears of America. We gotta release ourselves from everything you've ever heard on radio. I am totally not kidding. I am totally trying to impress the importance of this. We will blow it if we fail to make the sonic magic our minds are capable of. When we DO make this magic...look out. Making it consistently is the trick.
The magic to making XM truly revolutionary is to balance:
STATIONALITY: Character, spirit, attitude, vibe that is totally in sync with a channels goals & target
MUSICALITY: Perfect music, The perfect mix for the format goals & target.
...now the magic third piece of the puzzle is
SONICS!: Sonics..production...imaging whatever you call it, it is the magic between the songs...it can create excitement or enhance a mood....
It is what can give XM a radically new sound that like a George Martin production, LIFTS everything to a higher level..
The trick? RE-INVENTION (AFDI!)
We don't want to evolve the production sound, we want to COMPLETELY RE-INVENT IT.
Production must be a trademark for XM....a sound you can hear a mile away and know it's XM.
Sound that transports the listeners, whether its to Main Street in Bluesville or to Alpha Centauri on Audiovisions.
This ain't going to happen unless we RE-INVENT radio sound.
We can't underestimate the critical importance of this.
Production is part of the listening experience...not an "ad" for the station. Back to consistancy---XM has some brilliant pieces...AND some "ads for the channel"---
What is the XM Sound..or what should we strive for it to be?
...It's Audio Disneyland. You turn on XM and you're in this Audio Wonderland....Dreamscapes, Heady, Futuristic....Ten years ahead. Clear, totally powerful in both subtle and intense ways.
And each format has it's own distinct Sonic attitude,.......Fine Tuning is very BBC........XM Cafe is educated and cool......XM Kids is a big cartoon...Bluesville is....the Blues
America (the channel) is the wide open Montana prairie .Each format must be SONICALLY DENSE. Lots of sound...let the listener get absorbed in swirls of sound.
"Promos" tend to be ads, whereas there's the potential for these 'ads' to be much different and less invasive. Great production isn't invasive...but instead it ADDS to the channel's listening experience.
XM Production is "Theater"......CREATE PICTURES. Traditional production hits you like a hammer....XM Production should in your mind.
The XM Tools include:
Accents!!!! Magic. Pure magic. British, Asian, Russian Jamaican. African....exotic accents! Real ones. USE THEM. Chicken shits stick with traditional "been there--heard them"radio voices...we should not be Chicken Shits.
The Walrus Factor. Go ahead..listen to "I am the Walrus" in headphones. It's worth the exercise.
Sampled Instruments. Bagpipes...Harps...YES! Even on Rock stations. Exotic sound works.
Modified. Backwards, Sped Up, etc....
Song Bits (Out of Format especially)
Orchrestral, New Age and Electronic Recordings. A gold mine of sound!
Scanners, Short Wave Radios...
Radio Drama! Westerns, Detective, Sci-Fi. Loaded with camp and brilliant SFX
Nature. The power and sweeping vista of a Thunderstorm recording is magic. On Rock, Country...anywhere
Endings. Day in the Life was cool....you're next
Morse Code. Why not?
...most importantly, activate your George Martin gene.
DO NOT GET LOCKED INTO WHAT YOU THINK YOUR FORMATS SOUND PARAMETERS ARE!!! Open up...use the World of sound.
Yes, you need to have a sonic point of view for your format, but there is NO reason Cartoon soundtracks can't be used on Smooth Jazz (well, it's a reach..but you never know)....or Harps on Metal formats. Go tell Metallica or the Led Zeppelin you cant use strings (they used 'em)..... The point is--No barriers. Re-write the playbook. Think in stereo.
TV, Film and Commercials do a better job than Radio in the Sound creativity area as we demonstrated on the CDs.
Radio has de-evolved to being:
Infected by cheezy Production "libraries"
Sheep like inventiveness
well.....it is our responsibility to BRING SONIC BRILLIANCE BACK TO RADIO.....
It starts with thinking BEYOND RADIO. DO NOT USE CURRENT RADIO PRODUCTION AS A MODEL. Forget it totally. Lose it.
Blow it up. WE MUST START FROM SCRATCH.
DO NOT EVOLVE SOUND...DO NOT CREATE PROMOS THAT ARE "KINDA LIKE" WDVE, LOOP, YSP or KSCS or WNUA or whatever.
While these stations may have done good production...But the goal is to COMPLETELY CHANGE THE SOUND....Not simply evolve or update.
The point: We can't evolve these stations...we must forget they exist. Forget radio exists...and start creating sound from scratch.
Pretend it's 1921 and radio production has NEVER been done before. OK? Great. Now...GO!
Ambient, Big, Quirky, Funny, Campy, Intense, Sick, Dreamy...anything but "radio"...
You are a media artist...not a radio producer.
Set your sound creative meter in the George Martin, Eno mode.
Think like a music producer, not an radio producer
RADIO PRODUCTION CLICHES:
Sex. Pleeeeeeze. Overdone. Yes, Sex sells in certain formats, but it's also the #1 cliche next to lazers.
Humor. Be careful. Every production guy tries to be funny. Rarely works....
Big Claims (no cred)
Again...accents. reality. the age of "the big radio voice" is dead.
Aged (like John Lee Hooker RIP)
Real (street people)
ANYTHING BUT "Radio" --meaning the same old...
XM Doesn't have Prod Rooms...We have Sound Labs
How you say things is critical:
W-NNNNNNNN-BC (so bad it IS funny)
THIS IS CNN (pretty cool)
You can have a style of saying the format name
The more background a format is, the more you must rely on a heavily repeated audio signature.
Sound Occurs everywhere on XM!
Break rules. Go between spots, songs, under voices...everywhere SONIC DENSITY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
YOUR AUDIO SIGNATURE IS YOUR ....SIGNITURE
Oh...and Artist IDs. Anyone doing an ID that says "I'm_______and I listen to XM" should be keel hauled.
The important thing is GO THERE. Where is there? Hell if I know, it's up to people to re-invent "there".... Thats how revolutionary radio is made.
Finally---Madonna has sold 8 million records Globally, 1.5 million here and is selling out big venues everywhere, but is having trouble at radio. I'm not a big Madonna fan, and I really can't say I care about the Dixie Chicks, but what is this thing about NOT playing major artists?
It's asinine. Like Programmers taking a rifle and aiming it directly at their foot and pulling the trigger. There's a quote from a program director in a big city that I saw over the weekend that was all about the reasons not to play her.
Talk about voodoo. Reminds me of the trend among programmers that started in the 80's--Charts, graphs, theories..impressive sounding stuff for a radio convention, but if you picked through it, it made NO sense. I recall one "Big Name Program Director" who had a horrible rating book and actually convinced his owners that it was a pre-planned "cume cleansing" which is basically saying "I deliberately blew off all the listeners" and then he proceeded with charts and graphs to show why the "AQH will be recycled into affirmative dayparts and coordinated with a proactive marketing offensive to re-establish P1 listenership in the key dayparts amongst a 20% inactive yet active cumulative audience of listeners in the underserved ADI where Class A signals fail to penetrate"...That's not programming that's voodoo shit.
Anyways, seems like a good idea to EMBRACE an artist like Madonna if a station has a history with her, but I guess the charts and graphs tell a different story (?)