Clean & Elegant Production
Photo of KCBS by Sharon Risedorph of Sharon Risedorph Photography and courtesy of CIC Associates, Oakland, CA.
Because of its routine nature, it is easy to overlook the critical role that production plays in the daily operations of a radio station. What happens behind the scenes is just as important, if not more so, as what happens live on the air. Whether designing a new studio from scratch, enhancing what you already have or seeking to increase the role that production plays, some small steps can go a long way in getting you there.
The first step is to look at the studio's physical space. The production studio should first and foremost be just that — a production studio. It is common practice to design the production studio to serve as a backup air studio. This is a wise move, but the effort often places too high a priority on the on-air aspect. This should be the other way around. The studio is used for production 99 percent of the time so design it for that purpose. While the on-air product is important, don't sacrifice an ideal room layout simply for the rare circumstance of using the studio on air. This is a creative space. The form should not stifle that creativity.
A common design approach is to fashion the production studio to function as a backup air studio, which is agood idea as long as the production focus is not lost.
There are trade-offs in this design process. If the facility only has two studios (production and on-air), there may be less flexibility in focusing the design to a specific use. For example, the same audio console in both studios makes it easier for operators to move between rooms, and the second console can serve as a source of spare modules. In many cases, the facility would likely be better served by installing a console that fits the exact production needs and purchasing a few spare modules for the on-air console.
Supplemental equipment, such as CD players and cassette decks, can be duplicated between rooms to provide the familiarity and backup security without sacrificing the production function.
The tools used in production have evolved, and so has the creative method. Look at the focus of the studio. Center the layout on this focal point. Until recently, the focus was almost always the audio console. Today it is most likely the digital audio workstation (DAW). Base the room design on this central appliance and the studio's functionality will thrive on it; not fight against it.
When DAWs first appeared in production studios, many were installed in a location that replaced a reel-to-reel recorder. When the DAW's pivotal role was realized, it became common to place a set of nearfield monitors around the DAW to supplement the monitors for the room that were placed around the console. This helps place the DAW in a better listening environment. Because of the power in DAWs today, producers spend more time in front of the DAW, which can handle most of the mixing and effects processing needed. A good monitoring position should exist where the final mix is created.
Internet-based audio delivery services speed delivery of material. The electronic package can also contain traffic information.
When designing a new studio, consider shifting the room's center to be around the DAW and not the console, if the DAW sees the bulk of attention in regular use.
Studio integration has made the separation between the DAW, audio console and some outboard equipment almost invisible. This equipment evolution is investigated further in Trends in Technology on page 26.
Because producers don't always voice everything themselves, establish a fixed space for guests and talent. Whether it's tracking the on-air staff during a commercial read, a client voicing his own spot or the superstar recording a few drops, there needs to be a place that the guest can call his own. A more comfortable surrounding puts guests at ease and will yield a better presentation. At the minimum, the furniture design can accomplish this, as can the overall room layout. Be sure that the space created for guests stays as a space for guests. It is tempting to use the extra corner to store materials and supplies. Keep the area clean and clear so when the unexpected guest arrives, he can move right in and not have to wait for someone to move all that junk out of the way.
If the facility space allows, a voice-over booth offers the best isolation and personal space. Isolation allows the producer to do his job without worrying about unintended noise being heard in the background. Musicians and performers will feel comfortable in a setting such as this.
Other equipment options
So far we have looked at the physical side of the production space. The equipment side has benefited from the advances in DAWs, but there are other equipment areas that can add some sparkle to a station's productions.
Sometimes a complete overhaul is not needed. There are likely some elements in a studio that work well, but it is felt that something more is needed. Ask the production and operations staff to tell you what items should be upgraded or added to the studio to improve its function. Don't just accept the first answer and move forward. The first answer will likely be less critical than it was perceived to be. Ask what else could be done and make a list. Once a list has been made, ask the staff to pick the one item that will make the biggest difference.
It may be that a new microphone, mic processor or multi-effects processor will make all the difference. The answer might even be more mundane, such as a new or better microphone boom or stand, or a new windscreen.
If a new mic or new mic processor is to be added, take care that the change will not be so dramatic that it makes the on-air mic setup lose its luster. If the comparative sound between live and produced is too great, the on-air announcers' voices will seem flat and thin.
The Internet has made file sharing and exchange an everyday function. This now simple task can be applied to production. At the minimum, audio files can be sent via e-mail or through an FTP server, eliminating the need to create and ship dubs. This saves time on both ends. If delivered in the proper format, the audio files can be directly imported into the station's on-air playback system.
While transferring files in this way works, the system was not designed explicitly for that purpose. File retrieval by the recipient and inclusion of any pertinent traffic information must also be included. To simplify this task, several services are available that handle the file distribution and record keeping. These services have a cost involved that can usually be offset by the savings in dub materials and shipping if it is not picked up by the client.
Some production projects require multiple access before the final product is completed. Projects in progress can be shared between producers in different locations. It is possible to have the voice talent in one city, the music composer/creator in another and the project chief in yet another share the audio file and provide his respective part of the completed piece. Individual portions can be forwarded to a single person, or a networked environment can be created so that each remote producer can access the project as if it were stored on a local hard drive. Many DAWs support remote networking, allowing files to be downloaded, modified and uploaded in a natural step.
Depending on the license terms of a production music library, it is possible to store the audio centrally for other stations and facilities to access as needed through the same network.
There are many ways to break out of the traditional mold when it comes to production. Sometimes the creative process can be invigorated by a touch of new technology or a change in room layout. Either way, the behind-the-scenes effort can step forward and make your stations shine.
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