Category Archives: audio

Why Use Only Half?

Would you consider producing a TV spot or internet video ad with no images — just an audio track over blank screen? Of course not.

Then why would you produce one with ONLY images, and no copy?

I’ve always found the practice more than a little frustrating. When there’s no V/O or dialogue as part of your video, and the viewer turns his head, or looks at her smartphone, or is otherwise distracted away from the screen, the ad becomes worthless. If the viewer HAS to be engaged — HAS to be looking at the message to receive and process it — then I think you’re passing up an opportunity to make a stronger connection with your audience.

Meantime, when I’m watching TV, and a commercial break comes and I get up and head to the kitchen for my beverage of choice, from over my shoulder, I’m still able to hear…

And the advertiser STILL has a chance to make an impression on my thirsty and impressionable little mind. Because here’s the thing: While video doesn’t permeate consciousness unless you’re actually watching, sound still works, even if you’re not actively listening. Add a catchy jingle like in the above example, and a high-frequency broadcast schedule, and now you’ve got a formula for an effective ad campaign.

To put it another way: In your TV ad, you have the opportunity to both say something AND show something. Why wouldn’t you do both if you have the chance?

The Power of Audio Triggers

This weekend, we drove past an auto repair place in Tucson, and as we passed by, I heard from an open bay the unmistakable sound of a pneumatic wrench taking the lug nuts off a tire:

Here’s what it sounded like…

In that brief instant, I was immediately ten years old again, hanging out in the original Slater’s Garage in Woodridge, NY, listening to my uncles work on giant mid-70’s model American-made cars while my brother and I dismantled old carburetors they gave us to keep us busy until it was time to go fishing. The memory was so strong, and so concentrated for that moment, it was quite remarkable, if not a little disconcerting.

Here’s another great example. One of my friends posted this on Facebook this week, and it immediately conjured some VERY strong childhood memories of getting ready to watch the Charlie Brown holiday specials CBS aired back in the 70’s.

It made me start thinking about how we use sound effects in radio ads. Just like a song can take you to a certain place or time in your life, ANY sound can act as a trigger in a listener’s mind, to effect, if you will, a desired emotion or response.

But the key is to make sure the sounds work WITH the copy, and not independently of it. Sounds (and background music) must work to strengthen the emotional connection your spot seeks to build. There has to be a cohesive reason for the sound to be there if you hope to not only get (and hold) a listener’s attention, but also evoke a strong enough emotional response to get the listener to act upon, or at the very least, remember the advertiser’s message. (Just as an aside, this is why I’m perpetually confused by explosion sound effects in car commercials: In addition to being cliché to the point of ridicule, is “kaboom” really a sound you want people to hear when you’re trying to sell ’em a car?)

Don’t underestimate the power of a sound effect, a jingle, musical hook, or some other audio cue in your advertising to help you make that emotional connection with your listener.  Of course, the other part of this equation is making sure you run an advertising schedule with enough FREQUENCY to make sure that trigger is repeated and remembered.

How to Find Freelance Partners

I’m a big fan of Nick Bertke, whose professional handle is Pogo. He’s a VJ/producer who creates songs using music and sounds from films like Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. Recently, Pogo hosted a contest inviting people to provide video to accompany a song called “Mellow Brick Road,” which uses audio from The Wizard of Oz.  Here’s the winning entry, by a guy named Reed Gauthier:

As a freelance producer of audio and video, I do a fair amount of solo work. But I also have a circle of partners I work with: voice people, singers, animators, graphic designers, etc. And a common question I’m asked is “How do you meet these people?”

Well, it’s pretty easy, actually. I reach out and introduce myself. I sent an e-mail to the animator of the above video, saying “I’m a fan. Congrats,” along with a short introduction of myself, and telling him how I’m always on the lookout for freelance partners. I don’t know the guy even slightly, and we may never end up working together. But now that a connection has been initiated, there’s an opportunity — a door instead of a wall. That door may not open, but a wall NEVER will.

It’s SO easy to make connections in the digital world. Isn’t it worth a few minutes of your time to reach out to someone in your field, even if only to say, “I’m a fan. I enjoy your work?”

My Creative Homeless Shelter

One of the most valuable lessons of my career is one I learned when I was in college, interning for Michael Coleman at WZLX in Boston:  Keep everything.

I have archives with all my old scripts, and most of the stuff I’ve produced is still on file someplace (I’ve changed computers several times over the years, so I’ve lost some stuff, unfortunately). Why? Because you just never know when something will come in handy.

On the Plane – Danke Schoen Parody

I’m of the opinion that there’s no such thing as a wasted idea. Clients have sometimes rejected my ideas for commercials over the years. When I was writing and producing bits and parodies for Daily Comedy Network, submissions would sometimes not get picked up. Hey, let’s face it: You won’t hit the mark every time. But, you can still turn that rejection into a positive.

http://www.poptent.net/getplayer/17354

Whenever a concept or a spot, or script gets kicked back, I still keep it, per that valuable lesson I learned back in 1992. That piece immediately gets moved to a special folder I have on my computer, named “Homeless Shelter.” It’s where all my ideas live which haven’t yet found “homes.” I keep them well-fed. I visit them frequently; check in, see how they’re doing. And sometimes I can re-purpose one of them for a new project that comes up.

Portly Boy – Parody of Lonely Boy by Andrew Gold

For me, coming up with the initial idea — the jumping-off point — is usually the most difficult part of the creative process. So I’ll often visit the Shelter first, to see if any ideas can be recycled for the project I’m working on, but secondly, because even if I can’t re-use the ideas there, they often will be great thought-starters to spark something new.

http://www.poptent.net/getplayer/17168

The pieces I’ve posted here all currently reside in my Homeless Shelter.  They’re all pieces which have previously been rejected for whatever reason but which I still use as creative inspiration. I invite you to watch, listen, and most importantly, consider creating a “Homeless Shelter” archive of your own, where you can begin to amass a cache of ideas to draw from, as well.

8 Voiceover Tips for Beginners

I spent some time this week recording some radio spots for my friends at Sephone Interactive Media.  They host my web site, and are my general go-to guys for all things web-related.  Incredible team.

The series of radio spots I’m producing for them have a small section recorded by each of the team members, followed by a common closing recorded by me.  As I packed up my gear after the session, they asked me, “What tips can you give us to help us improve?”  So I thought I’d post a few of them here.  Bear in mind, this post is gonna be strictly about technique.  We can cover WHAT to say in another post.

I’ve recorded LOTS of clients over the years, and many of them are new to voicing their own spots.  Whenever I meet a new client for a first-time recording session, this is what I tell ‘em.

1)  Be yourself.  You’re not an announcer, and it’s totally OK if you don’t have “that voice.”  You WANT to sound like you.  Authenticity is key in people believing your message.  It’s even OK to work with your engineer/director/producer to rewrite parts of your script on the fly, to make it fit better with the way you naturally speak.

2)  If possible, stand to read.   If not, at least sit up tall.  And hold your script at eye level, so you don’t have to look down to read it.  This will pinch your airway, and affect how you sound.

3)  Position yourself with your mouth about one fist’s width away from the microphone, and speak across the mic – with your head slightly off center — rather than directly into it.  This’ll eliminate popping P’s and B’s, and improve overall quality of the recording.

4)  Smile as you read.  People CAN hear smiles. (If your spot is a happy one, of course)

5)  Over-emote.  Now OVER-over-emote.  If you’d like to convey a mood of happiness, then read as if you’re crazy-happy.  If it’s a sad, or sincere piece, then furrow your brow, and really ooze that sincerity.  No matter how far over the top you may feel like you’re going, it never sounds as overboard on the air.

6)  Envision yourself talking TO someone.  Imagine your ideal customer, or potential customer, and speak to him or her.  And imagine ony ONE person.  While your message may be heard by many, the best impact is made when each person listening feels like you’re speaking only to him or her.

7)  Practice.  Most of the time, you’ll have your script in advance of the session, so practice it.   Try different deliveries, different inflections, and so on.  This will help you with pace, and timing, as well as help you feel less self-conscious about “performing” at the session.

8)  Relax, and have fun!  This is your chance to “play radio” for awhile, and break out of your comfort zone, so enjoy it!  I’m here to do one thing: Help you be clear in conveying your message, and we’ll stay until you’re happy with the result.

These tips don’t just apply to radio, either.  Podcasting and online video are also becoming viable media outlets for businesses to communicate with their customers.   If you’ve thought about starting a podcast or a YouTube channel to help market your business, these tips will assuredly help you there, too.

Got any other tips?  By all means, share ‘em in the comments section.   And thanks, as always, for reading.  Good luck!

Cello, Again, Cello

Have you noticed the recent surge in cello music in commercials?  Facebook is the most recent offender — their video explaining their new “Messages” feature sounds disappointingly similar to several other spots currently on the air and online.  Here’s just a mere smattering of similar-sounding background music which, to me, makes every ad blend together into a meaningless din, starting with the aforementioned Facebook:

The last two examples even use the same piece.  Granted, the dog food ad was from a few years ago, but nevertheless… Is that the ONLY piece of music that could fit either of those spots?

When preparing to produce an ad, I’ve had more than one client tell me, “We love the _______ commercial.  Can you do something like that?”

Well, yeah, I can.  But as a business trying to gain market share from competitors, why would you want that?  Don’t you want something that reminds prospective customers of YOU, instead of somebody else?

Funny thing is, now that I’ve pointed out these, I betcha you see/hear “cello spots” all over the place.  I know I’ve missed a bunch.  Please feel free to share the ones you find in the comments below.

Next week, we’ll tackle ukulele spots.

Equipment: My Favorite Headphones

When I started in the radio business, I knew very little about the technical side of the equipment I used.  I knew what sounded good to me, and I knew what I could afford.  So when I bought my first set of headphones in 1993, I tried a couple different ones, read some reviews, and bought a pair of Sony MDR-7506‘s.  They cost me about a hundred bucks, they sounded great, and they were pretty durable.  Today, I still don’t know about impedance, frequency response, magnets or drivers.  But I’ve picked up roughly a half-dozen pairs of those Sony’s over the years since that initial purchase, and they still sound awesome to me.

Pros:  They’re affordable.  $130 on the Sony website, but I’ve never paid that much for ’em.  You’ll find a pair at B&H Photo and Video for $79.

They’re “over-the-ear” as opposed to “on-ear” or “in-ear.”  They do a great job of eliminating outside noise, and prohibiting “headphone bleed” while your mic is on.

They comfortable, they’re light, and they’re durable.  The pair I use today (and that I use every day) I got back in 2004.  When I was working in radio day-to-day, my headphones got a LOT of use.  Between air shift and production studio, I probably took them on and off about fifty times a day.  Yeah, they wore out, but this was beyond normal wear-and-tear.  And the sound never faltered.  It was usually the foam around the earpieces that wore out.  I compare it to the thin spots your favorite jeans get around the knees over time.

They come with a screw-in adapter, so the jack will fit both 1/4″ and 1/8″ inch ports.  They fold up, and come with a leather pouch for storage when not in use.

Most importantly, they sound terrific.  Basses are bass-y (but not overly so), and sound reproduction is as accurate as my ears can discern.  DJ’s, audio engineers, videographers, even amateur audiophiles will get hundreds of hours out of these headphones with great results.

Cons:  Honestly, I don’t have any.  I’ve been a satisfied customer for years.

There are a lot of really expensive headphones available, some upwards of $2700 (which also gets you Ethiopian sheepskin leather earpads), but c’mon.  Really?  For functionality, durability, sound and price, the Sony MDR-7506’s beat the pants off of Ethiopian sheepskin anytime.