Music for Voiceover—A Different Animal Altogether

GuitarHandsRecently, we were given a piece of advertising music composed and mixed for a client by a local musician in their town. He writes pretty good music…edgy, fresh, listenable—apparently he packs the bars. But there’s a problem. Not being a media professional, he doesn’t understand a thing about the intricacies of creating music for advertising—which is a very different animal.

Breaking Down the Pitfalls

The piece of music he did was all guitar, keyboards & honked-up filtered drums. The voicing of every instrument was in the midrange—the same frequency range that the human voice occupies. Which is terrific if you’re just listening to the music. But it’s perfectly horrible if you’re trying to mix it with voice. And this music will always be mixed with voice.

As you might imagine, mixing it was a nightmare We ended up having to carve a sizable EQ hole in the jangly midrange, widen the stereo to create a space for the voice, and bring up the low and high frequencies so that when mixed, the music would still be present enough to hear without blocking the message. Oh…and it was 34 seconds long. Nice.

This is happening a lot in these budget-conscious DIY days. Local musicians are being called on to create music for advertising. They’ll typically do it for cheap, and after all, everyone has some kind of software on their computer that can mix multiple tracks of music. From Garage Band to hacked copies of ProTools, people have copped the attitude that software makes production easy. But easy and professional have never been good roommates.

Pointers

  • When arranging the music, leave frequency space for the human voice.
  • Depending on your time signature, only a few tempos will land you in the proper time. Learn them.
  • Never use trumpets or saxophones in the space where the voice goes.
  • When doing the final mix, lay in a voice track to make sure the mix works with voice. Mix, remove voice track, and master.
  • Reverb should end at :29.5 or :59.5.

Quality matters. Knowledge of our industry matters. Budget the few extra bucks it takes to get real media professionals to compose your brand music, then call Soundscapes. You’ll get far more than you expected, because we know that solid brand music for your client is very different than 34-second rock tune.

 

Never Leave the Talent Hanging…

Session Notes squareI’ve seen this happen a lot: The session begins, everyone has script in hand, the engineer’s finger is on the stop watch, he calls “Take one” and 63 seconds later, the first read is down. What happens next is critical.

In the control room (or conference room, with phone muted) everyone begins a conversation about cuts that need to be made in the script, what needs to be stressed, the performance, etc.  But in the talent’s headphones…Silence.  Crickets. For a very long time.

During this time, the voice talent begins to experience Flop Sweat—that dread that comes from worrying about what they did wrong to elicit such silence. As time marches on, their imagination goes wild—and none of it is good.

Here’s the point: Always, ALWAYS give your voice talent immediate feedback after every take, even if it’s just “that was great, we need to talk about the script for a minute.”

Voice talent runs the human emotional gamut, from solid self-confidence to crushing self-doubt—and this scale is severely lopsided. If you leave your talent hanging after a take, the next take will not turn out well.

Give immediate feedback after every take, and you create a team member who will always deliver for you.

A Short Podcast about Podcasting

Podcasting began a decade ago in 2006. And it just kind of sat there. Nobody knew what to do with it or how to make it work for their business. Now, that’s changing. Podcasting is gaining traction. Since podcasting is a Radio art, Soundscapes is starting a short podcast series about podcasting. This is episode one.

Key takeaways:

  • Podcasting is seeing exponential growth in listenership
  • Due to its Do-It-Yourself nature, the quality of the work is questionable
  • Most podcasts are too long due to lack of structure
  • Structure & formatting are incredibly important

The 5 things all podcasts must have:

  1. Content that benefits the listener (it’s not a press release)
  2. High production values
  3. A sense of forward momentum
  4. A clearly defined format
  5. An editorial calendar

If your business or non-profit is interested in beginning a podcast series, Soundscapes will help you figure out how to best engage your audience. Just call 501-661-1765 and we’ll set up an initial meeting.

 

Audio: A Right-Brained Medium

RightBrainedMediumOur Mysterious Brain

Decades ago, neuroscience discovered our brain’s two hemispheres perform different functions: our Left Brain takes responsibility for logical, rational thinking—lists, organization, facts and details—while our Right Brain processes the creative tasks—visual thought, creativity, music and imagination. We can use this divided-brain scenario as a good template for discussion of effective audio-only advertising.

All too many times, clients want us to use media such as radio to “run down the list” of product attributes—you know—copy points, facts, mandatories. While this makes for a very satisfying script for the client to approve, it’s typically meaningless to the listener. The reason?

Passivity

Typically, listeners are passive. They’re not hanging on to every word of a radio spot, nor are they working hard to remember the copy points we all sweat to cram into the 15 or 30 or 60 seconds we’re constrained to. With audio like this, we’re expecting the listener to digest multiple copy points as if they were processing with their Left Brain. But they’re not. When is the last time you remembered a whole list of important things you heard in a radio spot?

Are You Not Entertained?

Now, do you recall a funny, entertaining radio spot? One that you could practically see? The most effective, memorable audio is that which appeals to a listener’s Right Brain. Stories, big concepts and entertaining, picturesque scenarios are what grabs a listener and pulls them in. Now you can tell them that one important thing your client wants them to know, and they’ll be listening. Sound that paints a picture, engages the listener, and focuses on one big idea is sound that works.

A Change of Briefs

Perhaps we should re-think creative briefs that allow for more than one major copy point in audio-only advertising. We should teach account people to communicate to clients that quantity destroys quality, not to mention effectiveness. If your client has three major things that they need the listener to remember, then you have an opportunity to create a themed campaign that can encompass three individual spots. This lemons-into-lemonade approach allows for the big idea to carry the copy points. And it’s the big idea that appeals to our Right Brain.

Themed campaigns have the added benefit of longer shelf life for a concept. If written properly, one spot will lead into the next, and inspire listeners to actually want to hear the next one!

People make buying decisions based on emotion. They only use facts to justify the decision they made. Remembering that audio is processed in the right hemisphere is a good way to frame your creative for success.

If you need help converting left-brained creative briefs into right-brained concepts, call us. We’ve been doing this with clients all over the nation for a long time.

Great Writing—More than just Words

Session Notes square

Words matter. And when writing a TV or Radio script, the vast majority of copywriters concentrate on words alone. But your final production will contain much more than just words. Those elements—Sound Effects & Music—should be strongly considered before the words begin to hit the screen.

When you consider SFX and Music in the conceptual phase, it will have a strong effect on how you write. It opens new doors to creativity. It’s like storyboarding for the ear. This is especially true when you’re writing for Radio, because great Radio triggers the imagination.

Having SFX and Music figured out in the beginning will also have an effect on how your talent performs. For example, actors will deliver your copy one way if they know that they’re in a small coffee shop, and quite another way if they’re walking and talking on the street.

By the same token, if a single-voice announcer knows in the beginning the pacing and energy of the music she’ll be reading against, it will shape her delivery.

Simply stated, SFX and Music should never be an afterthought. But what happens when you actively make these elements a forethought? Great things, that’s what.

For example, when you write a Radio spot centering around a berserk hamster on the loose, wrecking everything in sight, then the SFX become as much a character in the spot as any human being or even the copy.

Or perhaps your ears perk up at gardening advice. Here’s a spot that was written around SFX that move the story forward and give it great mental images.

Interesting note: That spot was so effective in creating mental images that a local woman tried to start a public boycott of the garden center because of their cruelty to cows. It was that real to her. Or maybe she was drunk—who can say?

It boils down to this: The non-voice elements in your advertising can be the strongest things about a spot. But only if you include SFX and music ideas in the conceptual phase of any writing.

We help people come up with great ideas every day. Next time you sit down to write, give us a quick call and we’ll help you weave SFX into your writing. That way, your listeners will see your spot and not just hear it.