Friday, July 21, 2006

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:
Dumbed Down
Cliche
Infected by cheezy Production "libraries"
Dated
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....
Bombastic.
Star Wars
Pissed Off
Big Claims (no cred)

VOICES:
Again...accents. reality. the age of "the big radio voice" is dead.
Female
Hick
Whispers
Aged (like John Lee Hooker RIP)
Real (street people)
Stars
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 (?)

14 Comments:

At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Bob Olhsson said...

Only one gripe about 60s on 6.

Get the original mono versions of the singles! The difference often isn't very subtle!

Most of those records were produced in mono and remixed to stereo after the fact, sometimes long after the fact.

 
At 10:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Foreign accents are great? So that's why "part of XM's Complete Series" was voiced in some generic Third World accent after the promo for the retrospective on the career of that noted world music artist, Shania Twain?

Lee, please, bring back the two world music channels you exiled to the Internet (and bury the hatchet with Worldspace, if that's what it takes) instead of using those foreign accents you find so fascinating as window dressing for promos and passing that off as diversity. Surely one of the half dozen channels that all have Yes in heavy rotation can be sacrificed, right?

 
At 6:47 AM, Blogger Dan Clarke said...

I agree. I'm really scared of today's earnings call and am scared to see what channels are leaving us, if any.

I'm not so unhappy about the CC Regional channels leaving.

Still would love a 2000's decades channel though.

I agree that the World channels are what made XM unique. Although I only put on C-Wave for humorous content, I thought it was great to hear what the rest of the world was hearing.

That's why I'm so temped with the other service (4 XM subs here)...they have that BBC channel now...I do love U-Pop, but it's a foreign channel that's American, if that makes sense.

 
At 11:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have spent the last couple of hours reading about you and your blog. I have to offer you congrats on your radio accomplishments. I particularly enjoyed reading about your involvement with WLUP in Chicago during the late 70's. I am 43 years old, born and raised in Chicago, and remember those 'anti disco' Steve Dahl 'Insane Coho Lips' days like they were yesterday. You folks found an audience and brought forth a product that I have not seen since, until the last few years. I am not an XM or Sirius subscriber yet, because of one last commercial radio station. That station is KPIG, out of Santa Cruz, CA. I don't have to go into details about the station, because I am sure you are aware of them. Maybe I am too young to remember the birth of FM radio, but this station sounds unlike any other station that I have encountered in my 43 years, with the exception of cell phone commercials etc. However, I have reason to believe that this station is about to suffer the same fate as all of the other great AAA stations that have been laid to rest, which brings me to XM. $12.95 a month? I see the variety. I see the comedy, I see the Talk Radio, Sports, and lots of music. I am not sold on the $12.95 a month. What I don't see is a station that blends a combo of your rock, country, blues, and folk music formats. Which station would you consider to be your 'AAA' station. I, along with many other folks want to hear the likes of the Rolling Stones, James McMurtry, BB King, Johnny Cash, Subdudes, Bonnie Raitt, Los Lobos, The Who, Sam Bush, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Barenaked Ladies, Allman Brothers, Van Morrison, Bob Marley, Robert Earl Keen, Southern Culture on the Skids, Robert Randolph, String Cheese Incident, Fred Eaglesmith, Jimmy Buffet, Led Zeppplin, Alejandro Escovedo, Warren Zevon, The Beat Farmers, Ry Cooder, The Beatles, Paul Thorn, Keb Mo, Peter Case, Jimmy Lafave, Bodeans, Stephen Bruton, ZZ Top, Indigenous, Dave Alvin, Widespread Panic, Willie Nelson, AC/DC, Bruce Springteen, Elvis Presley, Son Volt and Sonny Landreth, among many others played on the same station. I am not opposed to paying the $ for the proper product, but I will not pay that kind of money to be flipping channels because of a lack of variety in a music channel. Lee, this kind of station sounds like it should be right up your alley. I am available if you are looking for a new PD.

murgs784@yahoo.com

 
At 8:30 AM, Blogger JamesReb said...

I enjoy my XM service. Evem though my favorites, Opie and Anthony, are on terrestrial radio too, I still prefer to listen via XM. Its uncensored and during those long CBS Radio breaks, they play worst of bits. Well and we don't have an affiliate here in Kansas City that carries the Boys. Which A) is fine for me, I don't listen to terrestrial since I got my XM so many years back. and B) Terrestrial radio just sucks so bad here. "Rocket and Theresa in the Morning" is not the way I want to spend my mornings.

Personally I'm not worried about XM. Companies do go through rough spots. Its just business. At least they're not at below-$4 Sirius. Probably dealing with all those back straining cases with their bulky units.

Every time I'm at a mass retailer like Wal-Mart, Best Buy, or the local big box, Nebraska Furniture Mart (they're a big electronics retailer besides just home stuffs) people are always looking at XM units. They're eye-catching, there's always good programming like some of the unique programs XM is known for, and best of all, the units actually are displayed. I don't see Sirius having so many consumer-tangable units out for the public to use.

In fact, I don't think at the nation's largest electronics retailer, Wal-Mart, Sirius are available for display in the electrionics department. I think there's one back in the car stereos in automotive but not in the high traffic area like electronics.

No, I'm not a paid poster by XM nor work for them. I don't have any industry "connections" besides being an active member of the XM Nation and an O&A Pest. It costs too much to relocate from the Kansas City area to DC or NY.

O&A party rock! And if E-Lo is reading this, your hair is okay.

JamesReb
Independence, Missouri (KC)

 
At 10:13 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree wholeheartly with your comments Lee. Having spent some 30 years in the trenches of radio, I believe creating an environment that sounds like the 50's or 60's rather than today's stations playing oldies is paramount to the success of a format. Particularly Matt the Cat on your 50's channel or Bill Mack on your trucker's channel. Both create a mood that defines the era in which they want the listener to be mentally. Rick Ward

 
At 3:57 PM, Blogger Bladerunnerradio.com said...

This is one of the things I miss most about working at XM and Z-Rock....the insight and inspiration of Lee. You should have heard him deliver this shit live at our Bootcamps! Standing ovations, many times over. I still read this before I go on the air here in FM. Rock on Lee!!!

 
At 6:56 AM, Blogger Dan Clarke said...

I had an idea. How about a fake WKRP in Cincinnati theme weekend?

 
At 8:34 PM, Blogger goorootooyoo said...

Regarding Madonna, and her lack of airplay in spite of her popularity:

An argument could be made that she has morphed from a pop star to a stage star.

Perhaps concert attendees don't go so much to hear her songs... as they do to watch her performances.

And that doesn't translate well to radio.

 
At 1:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's so strange -- lame, really -- that folks who claim to be pioneering a new form of media need to be encouraged to be creative.

And that parameters need to be set for their creativity!

And that George Martin -- a culture-changing genius to be sure, but an innovator from 40 years ago -- needs to be name-checked as a creative standard.

Yes, the work of The Beatles changed the music and culture forever. But in 2006, is there really anything more safe than The Beatles?

We all love I Am The Walrus, but it's hardly the future. (And anyone who hasn't listened to it or the entire post-65 Beatles catalog on headphones already probably should not be working in any creative part of the music business.)

If XM wants to win they must do so by being completely different, by being truly innovative -- and stop trying to RE-INVENT the mainstream.

 
At 4:45 PM, Blogger An80sNut said...

This is a very very important post! Thank you. It will always be the audio details that draw people back. As for making the changes in production and accessing the George Martin gene, there is a major difference between evolution and revolution... this is revolutionary thinking. Keep it up.

Martin
80's Music Central

 
At 11:33 AM, Anonymous Chris Paulus said...

Lee,

Having experience with audio production (and co-hosting a talkshow), I agree with this article. I fully believe that things will become boring (even sound) unless it grows and changes along the way. You have to make people say, "I can't believe they just did that." every so often. It keeps things interesting and makes you want to stick around to see what's happening next. I really enjoy reading your blog, especially since you talk about the goings-on at XM. XM is one of the best purchases I've ever made. I'm proud to be a sub (going on three years now) of a service which employs such creative people. Reading this blog takes me inside the process, and it makes the fee (paid for XM)
much more valuable.


Chris Paulus

http:/www.antiradio.net
http://www.VoyageBeyond.net
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At 1:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Keep it simple.

The PD is not the star, the music is.

Production value is overrated as it applies to what bookends the music.

Just make your "Have a Coke and a Smile" hook and be done with it~



We all make our own playlist by changing the XM channel. How vain are we to think that one station will program what WE want to hear 24/7.

Play the music. Leave the production to George Martin and the rest of them...

Honestly...put down the pipe!~

 
At 1:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you saying that if you were a television station, ala MTV, you would create interesting things to play between music videos?

They tried that and found that people just want to see the music videos. So they replaced the music video all together with their own programming.

Maybe you should create your own original radio programming. half hour entertainment bits. that way you won't need the music at all!~

 

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