I met Jordana on last years iron imager contest. I was so impressed from her writing, production and VO that I had to get in touch and learn more. A few months later we got Jordana on team benz as part of our VO roster and I am thrilled to have her work along the fantastic Ashley Bard as a VO on our CLIQUE library. Recently Jordana and I caught up and she was so nice to get in the nitty griddy with me about her career path, production techniques and she shares fantastic advice and insight on what makes her skills stand out so much! Enter Jordana.
1.) Jordana, can you give me a bit of background on yourself, your career, achievements?
I’m a Toronto-based freelance producer and voice talent with over a decade of experience shaping the sound of some of the biggest radio properties in North America, including a number of years serving as station voice and producing imaging for one of the top CHR stations in Canada, Toronto’s 99.9 Virgin Radio, also providing national voiceovers to the cluster of Virgin Radio stations across the country.
My radio journey began early. I was that kid who would routinely call and bug the announcers at the local radio stations, trying to get on the air to announce a song and trying to learn as much as I could about what they do.
I learned the ropes and ran my own show in high school radio on a CRTC-licensed station with a small wattage and big dreams. Some great teachers and industry professionals helped mould me and give me a template for what to expect in the “real world”, growing my skill-set and teaching me what it’s like to run a professional show, operate the console and receive constructive feedback via regular airchecks. It was fun and it was fuelled by a pure love of the medium and the camaraderie of the student radio community. I landed an internship after university with the first commercially-licensed radio station to serve the LGBTQ2 community, 103.9 PROUD FM, assisting the Commercial and Imaging Producer because there was a need in the department, and discovered my knack for producing radio imaging and later assumed that role, then took on a five-year stint with Canada’s leading CHR station, 99.9 Virgin Radio. I currently freelance from my home studio, and I like to call myself a producer’s best kept secret weapon, as I do a lot of ghost-production projects for other producers. It allows me to take on and cherry-pick projects as I see fit and create the schedule I want while I focus on growing my voice-over brand.
2.) How is it to work for some of the biggest radio brands in the world? How do the tasks differ between stations / brands? What are the stylistic approaches and how difficult is it to change hats?
Being able to support some of the top brands in North America is definitely a career highlight, a culmination of seasoning and a testament of true capability, perseverance and fortitude. It’s an honour and a humbling experience and it’s an incredible responsibility, too. The pressure is definitely there but it’s exciting doing things that are high-level and with a big reach. The budgets for contests is bigger, the promotional opportunities and station concerts and events are bigger and you’ll probably have an easier time getting access to stuff like custom artist liners and the best tools, DAWs and services to innovate. The tasks may differ from station to station depending on the target audience but I try to stand back as far as possible as a producer, to simply make the pieces come together in a way that’s palatable to the audience without being distracting or cluttered, focusing on seamless editing, smooth transitions and clarity of message. In CHR or Rhythmic CHR, stylistically, a producer may have some leeway to edit in a way that’s a bit more “notice me” with quick switch-ups, tight beat edits and stutter edits. I find that I can have some fun with those stylistic choices in moderation and can get away with a more production-obvious and “tweaked” or “mashed up” sound, but, in general, my goal is to stick to brevity, clarity and a more flow-oriented style, and I try to stick to the basics of getting the message across with a less-is-more approach, whether that’s for a CHR, an Alternative Rock or a Hot AC. I don’t know if it’s particularly difficult to change hats when working in different music formats as I personally welcome the opportunity. It’s like a little “palette cleanser” to keep things fresh and interesting. New Rock can sometimes be a bit more personality-focused and edgier and the writing may reflect a more irreverent tone or a theatre-of-the-mind type of production style in certain situations but generally the building blocks and principles for production are the same – the tools are the same and sometimes the production packages and services you’re working with aren’t that distinct from one another, especially from one Hot AC to another CHR. Focus on the message and let the music do the talking. Make the transitions smooth and let the Foo Fighters hooks do the work; let the Ed Sheeran hook sell the concert promo. The mantra I follow is: Don’t clutter it with too much effected noise and let the music do the heavy lifting.
3.) What do your days look like? Is there a blueprint? A routine?
Sitting in my corporate full-time seat, there was definitely more structure to the schedule and specific tasks to expect on a daily, weekly and monthly basis, like new music adds on a certain day of the week and daily and weekly promos recorded with the announcers, an A-level promotion involving a few produced pieces and maybe a B or C promo to run concurrently, etc. These days, I mainly take on production tasks on a per project basis, working with other producers to assist with their workloads and production services, serving as a sort of contracted middleman, so no two days are necessarily the same, but when I work closely with a producer for a long enough period and contribute a number of projects for their stations or clusters of stations, there can be somewhat of an idea of what will be requested or needed through the week. A producer may ask me, for example, if I’d like to do three promos each for station X and station Y, provide me with a deadline, and I’ll either accept or decline the work. Some producers are looking for a more committed weekly set up. Others come on an as needed or more casual basis. I enjoy the flexibility that ghost-producing provides. I’ll always prioritize whatever is needed the soonest, especially if something is requested ASAP and underlined and bolded and italicized. Otherwise, if I have four promos to work on and two or three days to get it to the producer, I can structure my day or week out however I want so long as I make the deadline.
4.) What is your “baby”? Most fun project?
My favourite projects involve being able to stretch myself vocally and musically to add to the flow and musicality of pieces. (Side note: Thank goodness for AutoTune.) I also love Halloween imaging and when there is some theatre-of-the-mind and some quick skits incorporated into scripts. I enjoy playing those campy and fun witch and demon characters as a voice talent just as much as I enjoy producing those pieces and using some more obvious vocal processing and effects. There’s a time and place to go nuts with the effects and Halloween-themed imaging truly is it.
I really enjoy finding creative ways to incorporate a little whimsy into promos or pieces and the challenge of being limited to only the tools I have to make straight up music or artist focused promos “pop” as a final gatekeeper when or if the writing is kind of bland. I love when a script has some creative writing finesse and approaches from a unique perspective but sometimes, some promos can start to feel a little uninspired and pedestrian if they’re being written and approached from the same template and it’s another “play two song hooks, pepper in a few excited listener drops in between, wrap it up and get out in 35 seconds.” I believe there are times you can use vocal processing and sound effects to play with perspective in promos and take an unexpected angle. For example, when I’ve got a promo to produce to win a trip to see Drake… and all I’ve got are the same artist drops he recorded that one time back in 2009. Instead of approaching it straight up and having him say: “This is Drake. See me live,” ramping into his song hook, I can play around with the audio and change the context through vocal processing and sound effects. I can add some filtering and some airplane sounds and a turbulence-warning “ding!” effect and use that same artist liner but suddenly I’ve added a few small creative details, and I’ve turned Drake into Captain Drake, ostensibly flying the audience to his show. I don’t even need to stop down the promo for very long to find those small moments to add whimsy and creativity. Instead of trying to make everything sound big and effected and delayed and reverbed, it’s kind of nice to do something like this to add something to an otherwise straight-up or quick piece of imaging, and I really enjoy that challenge.
5.) Doing VO and imaging – which do you prefer and why?
I enjoy a healthy combination of voicing and producing radio imaging. It’s fun to stretch creatively and tap into a character or a vibe while voicing in the booth but there’s something uniquely satisfying about hearing everything all start to come together in the studio as a producer and then finally fully wrapped with a bow (and a compressor / limiter) on top. I’ve never gotten “chills” from voicing something in the booth like I have producing and hearing a final piece of imaging come together just right.
6.) What DAW do you use?
I use Reaper by Cockos on a PC. I trained with it initially but had to transition to using ProTools and a MAC exclusively for much of my time in corporate radio. ProTools has a great time-stretch algorithm and all that but I love the ease and flexibility and quicker ways of doing things with fewer clicks I achieved with Reaper. I always loved Reaper and, like a bad boyfriend I couldn’t “quit”, I ended up crawling back to it without hesitation.
7.) What are your favorite plugins?
My platinum Waves bundle and some Reaper stock plugins have been able to get me everywhere I’ve needed to go. I’m not a huge gear-head but I do enjoy the L1 on vocals and the L3 on the master and I also enjoy using SuperTap to create tempo-matched delays. I’ll sometimes add some texture to a vocal by dirtying it up with a GTR Amp or using a pitch-shifter like the UltraPitch. I’ve been having fun messing around with the Morphoder plugin lately and adding that to vocals, creating more musical, sinuous key-matched edits.
8.) What are new learnings? Ideas you work on? Inspirations?
There’s so much accessible content today that there’s no shortage of tools and resources to improve your skills and find inspiration from others’ work. SoundCloud is great to follow and listen to all kinds of radio station imaging in different formats from talented producers and different production services across the globe. There are a number of industry podcasts as well, like Ryan Drean’s The Producers Podcast – a great resource for learning and inspiration that features anyone who’s anyone in the business. Aside from that, in general, I highly recommend reaching out to a station or finding the producer’s contact if there’s something you hear on the radio or online that stood out to you and you have a question about how an effect was achieved, etc. Most producers don’t bite and actually respond favourably to the compliment and may offer up some tips and advice! It never hurts to at least try reaching out.
9.) Any tools you’ve discovered lately?
I really enjoy sung jingles and fusing that into imaging pieces to support brand messaging. I’ve been enjoying playing with AutoTune and vocoder effects on vocals.
This isn’t so much a tool I’ve discovered as a shift in mindset: I’ve been making a conscious effort to try to “unlearn” things and to not get too caught up in the technical tools. It’s not just the tools; it’s how you use them. Don’t let them be a crutch. For the first few years in radio production, I struggled to find my own style and naturally emulated my mentors’ styles and approaches. My work from then sounds really different to me when I listen to it now, like it wasn’t even produced by me. I figured out the things that I like and don’t like and feel I have my own personal rulebook for certain things that I do. What matters most to me is clarity of message and flow with a touch of whimsy. I prefer a more back to basics, less-is-more approach and to resist the temptation to use every kind of vocal processing or effects just because they’re available to me. It’s not that I never do a stutter edit or add a fun effect. It’s that I don’t want all my pieces to be so filled with them that they become a distraction and you completely miss the message. It’s about moderation.
I’ve been enjoying challenging myself to try using the fewest effects and processing necessary to achieve the best result, focusing on creating seamless transitions and overall flow with a natural beginning, middle and conclusion. A lot of the edits I like to make are tiny adjustments for smoothness that would likely be taken for granted or unnoticed by the audience. The goal is for the producer’s “hand” to be minimal and understated and create pieces that feel like they simply gel together naturally.
Sometimes it’s best to step back, reassess and delineate – instead of going in with the approach of “What can I add?” try seeking instead to reduce and simplify. Ask yourself questions like: “Is this effect necessary? Can I shorten this hook? Does this vocal processing help punctuate what I want it to? Is this phrase or part redundant?” and “Does the piece still sound cohesive and make sense if I remove this part?” Resist the urge to keep something in a piece just because you spent time building it out. Sound conversational and keep the piece tight with forward momentum and the result will be more impactful.
Another helpful tip would be to consider producing out of order or backwards in certain situations, like in artist-focused promos. It can help encourage better stylistic choices. Sometimes when you start producing linearly, without really “planning your route”, and just kind of seeing where you end up and hoping to make a hook fit when you cross that bridge, you’ll find it just doesn’t really work, even though the VO stops there or the script requests a hook right there. It’s harder to “undo” or revise that initial work you started to include something else that might work better, such as a different piece of the music that ramps better into the song hook. It might be tempting to force an edit that doesn’t fit by throwing in a loud effect or a cymbal crash on the beat but it might feel disjointed and jarring. If you “plan your route” and lay out the parts in the middle first, sliding the VO just where you want it, perhaps just before the hook lyrics hit, I find it can be easier to then work backwards from the middle. The piece will feel more thoughtfully constructed and smooth and sound less “mashed” together.
10.) Your favorite piece of imaging / production ever?
From another producer? Gosh, I don’t know, I’ve heard a lot of cool stuff through the years. I love John Frost’s weird little skits. There’s a great one I can think of where System of a Down orders takeout at the drive-thru. Eric Chase has made some amazing work and has such a distinctive style.
I can’t say I have one favorite piece ever that I’ve personally created, but the ones that have stood out to me are the artist-focused promos that really capture a feeling or energy by perfectly marrying the music with the core message and branding, using artist drops, playing with song lyrics and rearranging song parts for maximum impact. My favourite pieces to work on in general are the ones that involve my favourite music and artists. I enjoy producing for CHR because I like listening to CHR. I know not everyone loves the music format they produce for and it’s probably beneficial to at least be able to tolerate hearing a lot of the same Ariana Grande, Halsey or Jonas Brothers songs when in CHR, especially if you’re going to be working with and editing the parts to the same songs over and over on a continuous basis. It’s actually thanks to my job that I started becoming exposed to the growing K pop phenomenon in North America, which has since become a full-on love affair for me and has spurred a deeper interest in the Korean / “Hallyu” wave and K culture in general. Who knew producing for radio could lead to such unexpected deeper interests and explorations for me? (Side note to any PDs who may be reading this: If you ever have any extra tickets to throw my way to see BTS, Monsta X, BlackPink or NCT 127 at one of your station festivals, I’ll happily accept… #noshame #doitforthefreebies)
11.) What career advice would you give to your younger self?
1.) Diversify your skill-set and be willing to learn about as much as you can in different areas of the business – you might not ever make yourself completely indispensible to a company but you’ll certainly tick off more boxes to hiring managers, qualify to fill more roles and have more fruitful opportunities down the road.
2.) Get more sleep. Eat healthier. Don’t stress over the small stuff. Break tasks down into manageable bits. Breathe. Have fun and live in the present. Prioritize your health and well-being first.
3.) Everyone may have advice but you don’t have to take everyone’s advice. Be gracious and open and listen to feedback but always trust your gut, believe in yourself and do the best you can do while staying true to yourself.
4.) Don’t spend your paycheque all in one place. Manage your money wisely and always have savings. Nothing is guaranteed and there’s so much flux, so many new personnel, new leaders, new ways of doing things, corporate buyouts, format flips, etc. What you have today you may not have tomorrow. Be grateful for the experience, be gracious and be humble.
5.) Get out of the studio before you’re in there too long. Remember to live life outside those padded walls. If you want to produce for the demo, it helps to relate to the demo. Get outside, go see all the latest movies, go out and socialize with friends, attend concerts, do a little travel. Make more experiences. Then you’ll produce better promos.