A few years ago, James and I met hanging at Radio Days Europe in Copenhagen. James has an impressive career in UK radio, he worked for major brands like Capital, the BBC and many more + he is one of my go to bloggers. With his experience considering Imaging libraries, imaging and the radio scene itself, it was a no brainer to hire him for our Classic Rock format Avalanche.
One of the best decisions we ever made, but judge for yourself. Find great screen caps, imaging wisdom and bad boy Rock imaging you will love !
Here’s a selection of James’ Avalanche Imaging:
Also a Jack FM Montage by James:
1. James, can you give us some info on your background and your impressive career?
I’ve been working professionally in radio for 20 years this year. I started on air as a DJ before moving into commercial production and then station production. I spent 10 years with Capital Radio Group/ Gcap Media including 6 years as Head of production for the Capital FM Network in London. I spent a year with Puretonic Media in London 2008-2009 then joined the BBC in 2009 to where I made radio promos to advertise TV shows across the BBC’s radio networks. I’ve been the Senior Producer for Celador Radio in the UK since October 2012 – working as the Imaging producer for JACK fm South Coast and The Breeze network. In 2013, I helped the team at JACK win a Silver Sony Radio Awards for the JACK fm station sound.
2. Which production system do you use and why?
I’ve been a Pro Tools person for pretty much my whole production career, though spent the first few years using a British system called SADIE.
I love it because it can pretty much do anything you want it to and is fairly intuitive too. I really love PT10 now that there is no need to have any hardware plugged in to it. I use it every day to and from work on the train to make the majority of my Avalanche pieces — and I’ve used it almost anywhere to get urgent pieces done. With a combination of this on a MacBook Pro and DROPBOX, I can pretty much work anywhere these days.
3. What are your favorite plugIns (including screenshots)?
This is what runs over my master channel (WAVES Linear Multiband). The settings aren’t mine — they were featured by one of the previous Rock imaging guys who featured on this blog (Benztown Rock Imaging Director Dan Gustafson shared his settings in this post). I tried them out, and I love the sound. I normally need to back off the bottom end of some of my music tracks and drones, but the overall sound is amazing. And surprisingly, this setting adds punch to almost everything I do, not only for AVALANCHE and JACK FM, but also across pretty much everything I make for The Breeze network (our AC network of stations)
I also occasionally throw this little baby on to a track. Overused, it is sickly, but can help make bits of special promos extra big — if used sparingly…
3. How do you schedule your work (priorities…..)?
For Avalanche, I introduced the guys here to SMARTSHEET which is an online database – essentially a live version of an EXCEL book which anyone can edit at the same time. It can be set up to email reports and reminders and is pretty flexible.
For my day job, I’m currently using a Mac Program called PRODUCTEEV – which allows you to email tasks into it, and you can access it online, through a Mac app or on IOS too.
4. What do you love about working as Imaging Director for Avalanche?
Working for Avalanche is a breath of fresh air really. It’s also allowed me to step out of my comfort zone and work in a format that I’m not really used to working in.
What I love is the fact that I’m discovering a whole load of music that I wouldn’t normally have listened too – and get to work with it in different ways. There’s obviously a different attitude to the format too – and it forces you to produce things at a different tempo and intensity. 50 percent of my day job is as the Imaging Producer for the UK’s largest JACK fm station – and there is a fair degree of Classic Rock crossover in our playlist there too.
5. How do you compare Classic Rock Imaging with doing CHR or HotAC imaging?
I’ve imaged CHR, News, Hot AC, AC and now Classic Rock in my career – and the concepts are pretty similar. CHR is far quicker and punchier these days. I spent 6 years running the production team at Capital FM in London, and in those years, the format there went from big, self-indulgent promos with a cinematic feel, to the shortest, punchiest pieces I’d ever made — and I tend to prefer the longer form approach.
Classic Rock, just like imaging for JACK fm, allows you to have much more fun.
But I think any piece needs to tell some sort of story, create a degree of emotion and obviously most importantly, leave the listener with some take out message.
I probably enjoy Avalanche and the JACK work the most, as both formats are essentially talking to people who grew up in the 70s and 80s, much like I did, so whilst the Avalanche cultural references tend to be older and more US focused, they still have a resonance too.
6. Are there any special techniques you are using for Classic Rock imaging?
Classic Rock imaging needs to sound BIG, to go with the often anthemic sounding tracks – particularly those from the LED ZEP era. A huge voice (Jim Merkel) helps in this respect, but clarity of mix helps too. I tend to mix the music tracks slightly lower than is probably ideal, but a slightly looser mix sometimes helps everything sit in place. With my particular mastering setting, I often need to roll off the very bottom end of some tracks to help the overall sounds blend in — as there is a danger that you can end up with muddiness on the final mix otherwise.
7. What is the best Pro Tools or production trick, anybody should know?
I think my key technique I use almost every day, is the reverse reverb slide. The technique is simple. Take the first work of a phrase or the first note of a track, duplicate it to the next track below, and then reverse the clip. Highlight the reversed clip and add a long tail to the clip you’ve highlighted, then process the whole clip plus tail with a longish reverb. You then reverse the new clip with reverb and line it up to come in before the first word or note that you originally duplicated. This effect slides the word or note in . It is the simplest way to blend a transition, highlight a phrase, create a tension on the RIGHT“ or „WRONG“ in a winner promo, etc… It can of course be overused, but it works pretty much anywhere.
The second technique I often use, and you have to be braver to do this one, is SILENCE. A quick stop and silence before highlighting a key phrase will often make people stop in their tracks, or at least pay a little more attention.
8. How do you get inspired and what do you use as source of creativity?
Now, more than ever, it’s easy to hear pieces by great producers around the world. The Benztown Blog is a fantastic resource as is the UK-based Earshot Creative Review.
For JACK FM in particular, it’s looking back to the films and TV shows I grew up with — as they always hide a load of creative suggestions. It’s pretty hard with JACK to get it wrong. And there’s also a luxury there — since 20 hours of our day are automated, longer form, creative content is normally encouraged – so that allows us to be a little more adventurous when needed.
9. Who were your radio production idols, who influenced your work as a producer?
AS a child growing up, UK radio was fairly limited. There were a small number of local commercial stations – but I couldn’t hear the great ones like Capital FM in London.
Early influences would include the amazing work of the DJ and Producer Kenny Everett. IF you have never heard any of his work or shows, there is loads of it online .
There was also a key BBC radio drama series called The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, written by Douglas Adams. The production and sound design on that was immense, and helped spark a real interest in sound production.
I guess the first proper big UK imaging stuff I loved was from a producer called Sandy Beech for Capital, Power FM and Virgin Radio. And more recently, we had the pleasure of having Jeff Thomas as the production consultant and Scott Muller as the PD at Capital FM – I learned so much from their take on production, imaging and creativity too.
10. What would be your 3 key advice for a youngster?
1. Learn to play the keyboard or at least some kind of instrument. Basic music theory, the ability to count music and understand musical structure is essential in almost any format. With music edits in particular, the ability to understand musical structure is immeasurable.
2. Don’t get stuck in one format – try and experience other music and formats too. You’ll learn far more by doing so.
3. Reach out and make contact. When I started in this game, there wasn’t even internet. These days, I can talk, interact and hear the work of pretty much anyone out there. And chances are, they’ll happily take a listen to what I’ve been doing too. Take advantage of that fact — don’t bug them constantly, — but reach out — and maybe get noticed in the process.
Thanks to James for sharing his audio and knowledge with us.