Sound Producers: Why They’re the Grumpiest Dudes in Radio

I pushed open the heavy, sound-proofed door to the production studio. It was the coldest and the most kitted-out place in the radio station. Andrew sat at a huge desk which was covered in knobs and faders, buttons and dials; like a radio panel, but twice as long. Facing the desk were four separate computer screens, all displaying the curvy green lines and coloured blocks of various sound editing programs. At the front of the production studio were two glass sound-proofed booths with tall mic stands, microphones, sets of headphones and “poppers”, which are like little mesh circles strapped in front of the microphones, designed to muffle plosive “p” and “k” sounds when a voice over artist is reading a script. Poppers also catch bits of stray saliva, a necessary function in anybody’s book.

The walls were covered with band stickers and racks and racks of production CDs. It was ice-cold in the production studio, and I would find out later that it was given extra cooling due to the easily-overheating and expensive computer programs and equipment that crowded the relatively small space. Production studios are often amongst the most state-of-the-art studios at any given radio station. This is where all the advertisements are made, and as the ads are what pays the bills, the wages and the rent of a station, it’s important that they sound as good as possible.

Production managers are notoriously grumpy, bad tempered and hermit-like. They hide like bridge-trolls in their little caves, constantly churning out audio, day after day. Their workload can be enormous and the job can be time consuming and frustrating. Even the most basic advertisement on radio will involve several components: usually the main part is a voice over which is done by one of the station’s announcers, or occasionally a paid, freelance or contracted voice over artist. This is usually 30 seconds long, occasionally 15. The voice over artist needs to get this done in one take, or the audio producer will be cutting up sections of audio, and that will make him or her extremely pissed off. As well as this, a typical ad will have a music bed, which also needs to run perfectly to time. The audio producer will often have to remake something from scratch if the copywriter has forgotten to include correct pronunciations, or if the voice over artist has slurred a word or vowel.

More often than not, radio ads will have more components than this. Often they’ll feature two or more voices, a jingle (which has to be sent by the advertising company) and occasionally sound effects. Splicing this altogether can take hours, and often radio ads need to be made in multiple date formats, for example, “The giant Easter Sale starts on Monday!” and “The giant Easter sale starts tomorrow!” and then “The giant Easter sales starts today!” and even “Missed the giant Easter sale? Head to our website to check out our prices!” Keeping track of all the different versions of one simple ad can be maddening. These all have to be labelled and logged correctly too, so they are played at the right time. Telling a listener that it’s Easter Monday when it’s in fact Easter Sunday can make the station sound amateurish and badly planned. Listeners love mistakes, and they are positively gleeful when pointing them out to management and other listeners.

Because advertising provides the revenue for the station, audio producers are under a lot of pressure to get the ads right. Often a client will be happy with the written script, but when they hear the ad on air they offer comments such as, “Can I have it re-recorded with a less whiny voice?” or “Can my jingle be just a little bit louder?” or “Can the music bed be a little more dynamic / less dynamic / faster / slower / more like Susan Boyle’s I Dreamed a Dream?”

Imagine the pressure of having to create ads for multiple clients who are all paying thousands. It’s even worse if the owner of the business wants his or her voice in the ads too – which often happens – as coaching an amateur can be a nightmare. It can take a professional voice over artist several takes to get a ‘read’ right – often the ad can’t be 29 seconds or 31 seconds – it needs to be bang-on 30. Audio producers often develop a thick skin and a no-exceptions policy to deal with sales staff that often come in and try to get ads produced for pushy clients within an unrealistic timeframe, and because thousands of dollars are often riding on these decisions, the PD or Sales Manager will often step in and side with the sales rep.

It’s not only the ads that audio producers create. They often have to create the sweepers, beds, show intros and outros for all the timeslots on air as well. These need to be constantly refreshed. Capping it all off, every single promotion or competition that goes to air also has audio components that need to be built. In short, the audio producer barely gets to leave his or her little cave. Any time of the day (or often night) that I’ve ever walked into a production studio, you can usually find the producer listening over and over to a snippet of audio, trying to work out if they can chop out this word or that word to save having to re-make the whole thing. Or they’ll be listening over and over to a piece of audio trying to work out if the voice over artist accidentally said “bee-stro” instead of “bistro” and whether they can get away with it without the client noticing. It would be maddening.

Of course I had some experience with dealing with audio producers at my last two jobs. Looking around the production studio that afternoon, I was sure that Andrew had heard me enter, but he was so absorbed in what he was doing that he didn’t turn around. I had met him only once before on my first day, and I hoped that he would be as nice to me as everyone else at Hitt FM.

“Uh… hi.” I ventured warily. “Um… hi… Andrew isn’t it? Excuse me…?” I shuffled my feet on the carpet and quietly cleared my throat. I suddenly felt very awkward.

The studio was quite gloomy. Andrew was hunched at his desk, sharply clicking a mouse over and over with a series of violent clicks. Each time he did so, a huge roar of audio burned through the studio space for about half a second and then stopped. Andrew didn’t turn around when he said, “Busy. Go away.”

I felt a tightness in my throat and a little sense of frustration. How could he be telling me to just go away? Thinking that he must be kidding I walked to the front of the production desk and smiled my most innocent and brilliant smile. This was the smile I used when boyfriends were being difficult, when my library books were returned late and I was trying to avoid a fine, or the smile I used when all the seats were taken on the train and I was wearing heels and needed someone to give me their seat. “No one could resist this smile of mine,” I was thinking.

He didn’t even look up from his desk! Not to be deterred I boldly squared my shoulders and spoke again. “Andrew? It’s me, Alyce. We met at the start of the week? I’m the new girl.”

“Right.” Andrew barked gruffly. “Alyce. Come back later. I’m busy.”

But I wouldn’t give up. He didn’t scare me. I knew his type. I’m sure his rough exterior hid an inner landscape of unicorns and buttercups; he was probably a really nice guy under that steely facade.

“Um Andrew. I know that I’m new and I’ve just come back from a client meeting and I need some advice. Can you give me five minutes? Just five little minutes for the new girl?” I tapped my heel on the carpet and felt assured that no one could possibly refuse such a simple request.

That did it. Andrew looked up at me, drawing his head up ever-so-slowly as if emerging from underwater. With a huge sigh he crossed his arms firmly in front of his chest and stared at me with a dead look in his eye. “Three minutes,” he deadpanned.

Stuttering slightly, I began. “Great. Ha, ha. Thanks a lot. Um. OK. Well the thing is I just came back from a client meeting with Renee and the Local Council. Raylene helped me write a promotion and Renee thought that maybe I should check with you about some of the production requirements for the contesting mechanic.”

Nonplussed, Andrew barked, “Yep?”

I continued. “Right – so basically it’s very simple. We get two callers on air and they have to-“

“Nup.” Andrew cut me off mid-sentence.

“Sorry?” I questioned him, “What do you mean, ‘nup’?”

“Can’t do it mate. You’ll have to rewrite the promotion.” With that, Andrew uncrossed his arms and went back to his infernal mouse-clicking. A second later a roar of audio pulsed through the studio.

I started waving my hands maniacally over my face to get his attention back. I had to yell over the audio so he could hear me. “I don’t get it! Andrew! What do you mean?”

With a violent flick of his hand, he snapped a fader down bringing the studio into silence again. Looking up at me with uncontained malice, he crossed his arms in defiance and addressed me slowly, as if talking to someone with a severe learning disorder.

“Can’t put two callers on air in the studio at the same time mate. You’ll have to rewrite the promotion.”

I was dumbfounded. What did he mean ‘I couldn’t put two callers to air at the same time’? At Star FM you could put ten callers to air at once if you wanted to. The possibility of not having this function at Hitt FM hadn’t even crossed my mind.

“But but but,” I stuttered, “Raylene said I could!” Now I was sounding like a petulant child. I was half way between wanting to yell at him in anger and dissolve into tears.

Andrew addressed me vaguely as if I was a buzzing fly. “Raylene wouldn’t know. In the Rave studios, you can put two callers to air. You don’t have that function in the Hitt FM studio. Sorry. Goodbye.”

With that, Andrew turned back to his work and drowned out any further protests of mine with ear-crunchingly loud audio. I had no choice but to skulk away, my tail between my legs.

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