Tuesday, February 19, 2008

MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE THROUGH SOUND AND VISION

MAKING THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE THROUGH SOUND & VISION

Bill Hutton is a very inventive guy here at XM. He's an Audio Andy Kaufman. He had an idea for a live "request show" for Saturday nights on our LUCY channel. OK fine. A few days ago he asked if I'd listen to a tape with him. He was fearful no-one would "get" his show. So...we listened. Wow! This show is COMPLETELY whacked. It makes NO sense...which is why it's great. It really represents the kind of show a person would do if they never owned or even heard a radio before which is the way I wish EVERYone would think. It's truly a "show" and not a 'shift'. It's not that it's revolutionary or a "sure ratings hit" (it might even be a disaster)...it's just refreshingly out there and different. If everyone in the radio business had his "no fear/no baggage" approach, radio as a medium would be electric with invention and promise. It's not the kind of show you'd tape and play to someone as an example...it's just him. And---He USES SOUND! What a concept. He doesn't rely on standard “promos and sweepers" or those other relics that supposedly make "good radio", he uses SOUND and not necessarily 'radio sound'. I'm not saying his Saturday show is going to change the world...it won't...but it's a small step in the direction of liberating from the traditional and trying something new. I don't even know if the show will work, but it's different, and he's stepping up to the plate. Might strike out, but you can't hit home runs without stepping into the batters box. I commend him for doing that.

We can make the world a better place through electronic media. I’m not talking about content…I’m talking about how content is presented. I think that XM gets it right a lot of, but not all of the time…terrestrial radio often shoots itself in the foot via adherence to circa 1980, TV ads often get it VERY right, TV stations have the terrestrial radio’s out-of-date problem…and the web hasn’t yet discovered the secrets.

Of course a lot of these secrets may never be discovered if the mindset continues to be marketing voodoo and PowerPoint’s instead of trying to understand the heartbeat of the product and then delivering the goods around that and having a balance of people who "get" that to work in harmony with those that have to navigate the treacherous non creative waters.

I’m talking about stimulating the eye, ear and brain. Forget the actual content itself for a second…I’m referring to what frames it. Eye candy...ear candy and brain candy. Audio and video that stimulates.

..In radio land which SHOULD “own sound”--it doesn't. Usually things like:

*Oldies station production that sounds 2008, not the era...lack of bites from the era...lack of authenticity...

*Slogans or statements that are featherweight and look right in the focus groups, are snappy slogans to clueless "radio" guys

*Clogged and cluttered with so much “stuff” so you couldn't understand the verbal message

* Direction & Vibe Out of sync with the target audience.

*No closing statements.....Sonics left hanging

*Weak "impersonations" and specialty voice work.

*Some of it sounding, frankly, dumb.

*Not using all of the tools available. Over-reliance on certain tools that create a sameness

*Weak...or nonexistant WRITING/SCRIPTING. Even a 5 second bit needs to be written. Soundtrack & Script = Amazing

*Not THINKING deep enough. Details often missing.


Some of the reasons sound is a throwaway include a disconnect between the product and the person creating sound for the product...not being IN THE STUDIO WORKING WITH THE PRODUCER...Great sound and vision doesn’t happen through osmosis. You gotta get in there and teach the Producers every nuance about the format...the target...etc...so they understand it...feel it...see it. Autopilot production will result in autopilot sound. OR- Buying packages. How disconnected can you get when everyone is buying the same package.

PICTURE A TIMELESS RECORDING BEING MADE: THINKING LIKE ARTISTS... THE BEATLES SPENT HOURS AND NIGHTS WITH GEORGE MARTIN THEIR PRODUCER EXPLAINING THE "CONCEPT" BEHIND THE SONGS...THEN GEORGE DID HIS MAGIC. WITH EVERY ARTIST & ENGINEER (PRODUCER) THERE IS A DIALOGUE...A BOND....Or it was something like that...in any case, was a connect.

PICTURE TELLING A CAST OF A MOVIE YOU'RE DIRECTING..."GO FOR IT". NO!!!!! A GREAT DIRECTOR IS DIRECTING EVERY NUANCE OF THE SCRIPT (FORMAT). Every background noise...every line...every color...

And there’s a style of thinking:

AD'S FOR STATIONS or SOUND MOVIES?
You are in a theater......its dark.....your eyes are closed....your senses are nailed with this stunning, chilling sound. You can "feel" the sound...you can "see" the sound. That is "Cinematic Sound"......That is the kind of sound that we should be producing. Sound Movies not Ads for Stations. It's a way of thinking...a way of producing.

PICTORIAL:
Another word for it is "pictorial"...creating mind pictures. Anyone can create sound.....the genius is in sound that people can see. The best was Carl Stalling (The Looney Tunes guy). He would create the sound for a cartoon before it’s drawn, from story boards. In many ways, that’s what YOU are doing. The story board is the format outline. You are literally creating the soundtrack for the channel. That's why this stuff is so damn important. Go beyond titillating the ears...go for the (closed) eyes

THE TARGET:
Do you know who you're producing for? Beyond the research and latest voodoo psychographics. Probably not as most entities are programming in marketing-speak.


Sound and vision is a way to define the POV. POV creates fans. POV appalls non-target listeners....is joyous to target listeners.

INTELLIGENCE: Smart sells. For some reason there’s this perception that smart means not mass appeal....elite.


TAKE PEOPLE PLACES:
Sound and pictures can do that. Where does that piece you created take you? Sound can do that if you let it.


Audio Disneyland: That secret place in the mind that turns sound into chills...you've all been there. Aka Whackyland.

Scenes: On America you picture a Cowboy on a horse on the prairie at Sunset...on Fine Tuning, it's a Cathedral in Europe....PRODUCTION creates this.

This isn't airy/fairy stuff...it's the reality of transporting listeners through sound. Easy? Ah no!

THE WORLD OF SOUND:
Still tied to earth? Escape! There's a world of sound:

Natural: Thunderstorms

Human: Running...panting....sleeping...crying

Electronic: Phasing, Backwards songs, repeat echo, STEREO panning

Created: Get out your audio brush and paint!

Musical: Bagpipes on A Rock station sounded great! Harps, Oboes, Strings, Ukulele, Banjo, psychedelic.....it's all there to use

SFX: Close your eyes. Listen. Office Sounds, Traffic Sounds. Sounds of Life

Media: Old TV, audio archives, TV themes, jingles. Sounds of culture

Crazy: Our Liquid Metal used Square Dance caller calling Metal lyrics is priceless and brilliant.

Use sound....all of it.

...and this use of sound isn't limited to radio. ANY MEDIUM THAT DELIVERS AN AUDIO SIGNAL FOR ENJOYMENT, NEEDS TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF "SOUND"---Why is that so hard to understand?

THE WORLD OF VOICES:

Big radio voices....why? It's dated. Try foreign accents, real people voices, whacked voices, regional accents etc....
The "Big Radio Voice" is by most accounts dead. Big voices are the radio equivalent of Ted Knight on the old Mary Tyler Moore show.

WRITING:
Without good, succinct writing, a piece can be useless. The line "XMs fine Tuning...adventurous music for a creatively starved planet" is cool...America's (the channel) promo targeting the Steel Worker is wonderful. Writing dramatically, clearly and intelligently is of critical importance. Every piece needs an end point...a reason. It can be as simple as station name, OR it can paint a sound and word picture that colorizes the name.

SHARING: Between us at XM, or any organization, there’s an incredible arsenal of sound. Get in there and share. Share the challenge to discover that "special" sound or vision.

POWER:
Audio and video Production should be powerful. But powerful does not mean loud. It means gripping...compelling. Anyone can create loud sound....but there's brilliance in creating power and drama subtly. My point: There's a place for loud AND subtle. Pink Floyd are powerful but subtle. When you rock you rock...but when you roll.......you roll.
Production can be:

IN YOUR FACE--powerful via rhythmic...body moving...earth shaking
Or
IN YOUR HEAD--powerful via Technicolor, lush, dreamy, sensual

Let’s not forget the POWER OF SILENCE where in your head is as powerful as in your face.

Float Like a Butterfly...Sting like a Bee


LENGTHS:
Short, medium and long. Mix em up.... There should be flexibility enough to use long pieces, but they need to hold up.

CLARITY:
You gotta be able to UNDERSTAND the verbiage, there are cases where there's SO much going on, and the name gets blurred.


ORIGINAL:
Stuff should be so original; stations in Europe will want to license it from you. Original may not have meant much 20 years ago, but its CRITICAL today to cut through.

Now…this is just radio. One day, print, TV and other media will explore the opportunity in exciting the senses. Then again, maybe they won’t. It depends on to what degree people who “get” this are allowed into the club.

7 Comments:

At 1:35 PM, Anonymous Jeff Schmidt said...

It was 1994. I had been in radio for less than 2 years.

I took a job as local production guy for the Z-Rock affiliate in Albany NY.

I was digging around the studio during my first week and found a bunch of crumpled GREEN photo copies of Lee Abrams "memos" to the staff of Z-Rock.

I found one VERY similiar to this post about production and SOUND design.

It was directed to Matt Wolfe, but it spoke to me.

It changed the entire way I had thought about production up to that point.

And since.

 
At 4:07 PM, Anonymous Curtis said...

I like your concept that radio is about 'sounds,' but frankly that's where XM fails. I'm not an XM subscriber, but I listen when my car is in the shop and the dealer gives me a loaner with XM. (I drive a Saab, so that happens a lot.) Frankly, XM fidelity is just awful - even when compared to the NY and Philly FMs. Squashed dynamic range, no high frequencies, XM sounds dull. Okay, a disclaimer: I'm an audiophile, so sound matters to me. And I've spoken with some of your subscribers who haven't noticed the poor audio quality. But I've spoken to other listeners who DO notice the lack of fidelity. No matter the quality of your programming - and some of it is excellent - it's a tough sell without the fidelity to deliver the excitement. I hope this is something you guys are working on!

 
At 9:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

any update on the gillispies, lee?

 
At 1:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill Hutton is what XM is all about. Finding freedom within the form. A dynamic hits channel with a big playlist--what a concept!

We have isolated a recessive gene within his DNA that evidently has made him immune to the Kingston virus.

Billy Zero is currently undergoing tests as we speak. We suspect he may have received the antibody from Hutton--XMU has never sounded better.

There is hope...

 
At 7:38 PM, Blogger Jay C said...

I have to agree about Hutton and Lucy. wide alternative hits playlist, great liners!

Billy Zero has done a great job with XMU.

too bad Ethel is a top 40 alternative that lacks the variety and creativity when Lambert ran it.

 
At 10:35 AM, Anonymous JGM said...

Just have to agree with Curtis on the sound quality. I've posted similar comments here before, but I don't think Lee is in a position to do much about it so it hasn't been a topic here.

I drove an XM-equipped car on a 10-hour road trip a couple weeks ago, with passengers mostly flipping between the Loft-type stations and XMX shows, and my ears were literally hurting. Switching to FM (same radio, same settings) was like a breath of cool air.

It's great to hear music you can't get elsewhere but it's hard to imagine paying for something that sounds this bad.

 
At 4:09 AM, Blogger Labyrinth Gal said...

Bill Hutton is the reason I have XM Radio. I used to listen to his show on WKMZ and I'm THRILLED that he's doing it again for XM. He's simply one of the funniest guys I know. :-) Hali

 

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