Audio Production Techniques
This article originally appeared in Audio Production for Broadcast 21 (Fall 1982)

PAMS closed its doors in 1978, and for a brief period thereafter its master tapes resided on the shelves of Toby Arnold and Associates. Some PAMS commercial tracks and a few ID tracks were tailored to fit the constraints of a production library by the author of this article, Marshall Such. Sadly, both Toby and Dolly Arnold, owners of that company, are no longer with us.

The master tapes are now at JAM Creative Productions/PAMS in Dallas and are available for re-sing through the PAMS website.

Ken Deutsch
August 3, 2016


RECORDING AND PRODUCTION OF THE PRODUCTION BANK
COMMERCIAL MUSIC AND EFFECTS LIBRARY

By Marshall Such
Toby Arnold & Associates, Dallas

The Author: Marshall Such began his career in music and sound engineering in the early seventies as a keyboardist and leader with a travel show band. His producing credits include the worldwide syndicated Opus Countdown, and 1982's widely syndicated Rolling Stones' 20th Anniversary Radio Special. He is currently a freelance composer and producer, musical director for Opus Productions, and a creative consultant and production engineer for Toby Arnold & Associates.

When The Production Bank was conceived by executive producer Dick Starr and syndicator Toby Arnold, this writer was asked to be involved as creative consultant and engineer.

Other than the standard production library fare of music, jingles and sound effects, Starr wanted to make The Production Bank more useful to both radio and TV stations. So, after consulting with Toby Arnold's director of TV marketing, Walter Wienecke, Starr included some new ideas, including short pieces of production music --Work Parts, as he called them -- and acoustic music and short generic jingles called "Zippers" and "Buttons" (in other words, jingles that "zip" into a spot, or "button up" a spot). To assist the radio stations' sales departments, another category was added of prerecorded generic commercials featuring actors, actresses, and spot announcers. The goal was national quality spots that could be easily customized at the local station.

The music section of The Production Bank could read like a who's who of music production, recording, and writing in Dallas. Nearly every major studio, producer or writer can be credited.

Most of the production music was recorded during station and advertising jingle sessions. These tapes were provided in the ideal form -- two-track stereo. They were simply checked for level match and mono compatibility, and found to be recorded at approximately +3dB, the same elevated level our production facility was using. (This ideal level match is probably due to the uniform alignment of most tape machines in Dallas at 250 nWb/m.)

Remixing and Signal Processing

The first formidable task was remixing the PAMS of Dallas master tapes acquired by Arnold. The plan was to take this music -- recorded and produced between the late Forties and 1975, on 2-, 3-, 4-, 8-, 10-, and 16-track tapes -- and making it useful for the library. Fortunately, there was some great film score music on two-track that was easily edited for production music cuts and background tracks for the "Super Spots." While the rest of the yield from the PAMS tapes was scant, we managed to find some interesting material.

At one time PAMS produced a series of 60-second jingles on 16-track. This proved to be a good place to start mixing production music; since we were using the 3M tape machine on which the material was originally recorded, playback was excellent. The basic tracks were usually stereo drums, bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and piano, with overdubbed, double-tracked brass and strings, and woodwinds.

The biggest problem encountered with these tracks was in the rhythm section, since these tracks had been recorded in a very live environment, and there was a good amount of acoustic bleed from the drums onto both the acoustic guitar and piano tracks. Most of this material was mixed through stereo UREI LN1176 limiters. The drums needed to be kept down in the mix, and equalized by dialing out some of the midrange - 3 to 6dB at about 2 to 3 kHz - and the low-end boosted. There was enough midrange bleed from the other tracks to keep the drums balanced.

Overall the mixes came out well considering time factors and the problems of dealing with different tapes, engineers, writers and track assignments. However, it was like reliving a part of Dallas' musical heritage.

We also pulled out some treasures -- 1/2-inch three-track tapes, recorded when multi-tracking was in its infancy. These 30 IPS tapes were mixed using a TEAC Tascam 80-8 1/2-inch eight-track. The band track played back on tracks one and two of the eight-track, and since the Tascam only plays at 15 IPS, we were half-speed mastering before it was fashionable. Through mixing and listening, we got a respectable tape. It was decided to keep the tracks in their pure mono state, since [stereo] processing sounded somewhat strange. Due to the style of these cuts, only a few were selected for the library.

ID Length Work Parts

ID length cuts recorded on 16-track were mixed as Work Parts in two ways. Short brass statements were pulled-out, without bleed, from other tracks, a little echo was added, and the two brass tracks panned mid-left and right. When trombones or low brass were located on one track and trumpets on another, 'bones would be centered, and the trumpets panned to one side with a short (approximately 50 millisecond) delay used on the opposite side. These mixes provided some nice stingers and transitions.

The second way Work Parts were mixed was simply to mix off the tracks as was done for the l6-track jingles. Since these were originally station IDs, instrumental logos or solo instruments that would interfere with an announcer weren't used. These cuts were grouped into categories according to musical style -- cuts with strong chords were classified as "Closers & Tags", and pieces that ended with a "suspended" feeling were categorized as "Openers & Transitions."

Longer ID cuts were expanded to 30-second spots when possible. To do this we would try to find 4- or 8-measure phrases that could be looped. Sometimes there would be a 14-second track that could be mixed full-length with the rhythm section, mixed again adding more instruments, and then spliced to sound like a complete piece.

Often there were oddly timed cuts -- 12-, 10-, 11-second, etc. -- and in these instances it was a process of trial and error to make the 30-second mark. Sometimes we would get a nice series of edits, only to find the time was 28 or 32 seconds. Since two seconds speeded up or slowed down over 30 seconds only varies the pitch about a half step, vari-speeding these cuts to time presented few problems.

Electronic Trickery

Producer Dick Starr also came up with some novel ways of expanding these tracks through the use of electronics. For example, we found a cut that was about 8 seconds shy of 30 seconds, and had a nice rising string intro that changed into an adult contemporary feel. The tape was cued to this intro point and, using a Minimoog synthesizer, a new intro was created by playing a low "dark" tone, and gradually opening the cut-off filter. When we hit the 8-second mark, Starr started the cued tape and we had an instant, natural segue.

One of the more bizarre but highly effective mixes involved expanding a 15-second cut into a 30-second cuts by using the repeat (sample and hold) function of an Eventide Harmonizer. First, the last chord of the track was stored in memory, and then the full-length track was mixed with this locked-in chord coming back on stereo faders. When the last chord of the track played, we opened these faders and let the held chord run to the 28-second market. The effect was that of the brass holding one note for 15 seconds - quite a grand finale!

Other tricks included opening a mix with a triangle to add a few seconds to the front, and then using the triangle throughout as post-points; other percussion devices were used in a similar manner. The addition of these instruments and electronic enhancement techniques produced a new blending of the old with the new.

The ID length material and the mixed tracks from the PAMS jingles provided some strong material, but not enough to complete the production music section. Fortunately, Toby Arnold had acquired another contemporary music library, so there was an additional source of 60- and 30-second tracks with which to work. These tracks were on 1/4-inch tape with Dolby noise reduction, and generally comprised of two-track splits - rhythm section on the left, and brass and strings on the right.

Since I didn't like the sound of the synthesized stereo rhythm track -- it seemed to lose its punch -- it was decided to keep the rhythm track in mono, and use an Orban Stereo Synthesizer for the brass and strings. We got the punch we wanted, and stereo, too.

Acoustic Music Production

A disk of acoustic music was produced, and a few disks of electronic music and effects. Since the production studio is set up with 2-, 8-, and 16-track tape machines, we had no problem with track allocation.

The biggest problem to be faced while recording acoustic music in our small production studio was achieving an "open" sound. The material recorded in-house was acoustic guitar with violin, oboe, flute, or harmonica overdubs, and a Yamaha CP-70 grand piano with sax or flugelhorn overdubs. Having composed this material myself, and being aware of what was needed, we used a TEAC 80-8 with dbx noise-reduction. First, click tracks were laid down; next the guitar and piano tracks were recorded; then the violinist, woodwind, and brass players were brought in to overdub their parts.

When the time came for mixdown, it was necessary to come up with a way of adding some space to the sound, since everything had been close mic'd. By assigning instruments to a digital delay unit, and balancing this "pseudo" first refection into the echo, a small concert-hall effect was created. While not Carnegie Hall, a more open feeling could be added to the music.

With most of the electronic music I'm now writing and recording, I use either the Linn Drum Machine or a Roland TR808 Drum Machine with the individual drum parts run in to the console, where they can be equalized and mixed. Our main synthesizer is a Roland JP-8 polyphonic, but a Minimoog is also used for fast setups of strange sounds. We also have a Roland Vocoder Plus at our disposal, and which is used on many of our rock tracks.

Vocal Sessions

Vocal sessions are also done in the production studio; generally we use four vocalists with one AKG C414 set on a figure-of-eight pattern. Boys and girls are arranged on either side, with the microphone about 12 inches from the boys and 18 inches from the girls, thereby creating a balanced blend on the first track. On each additional overdub, the proximities are changed, and the singers perform in slightly different styles to create the illusion of a large ensemble. We usually record four separate tracks for each jingle -- two melody and two harmony. Voices are recorded flat whenever possible, and very little equalizing is done in the mix; limiters are used only if the track is winning out over the vocals.

The music tracks to which the vocalists sing are most often stereo mixes on two tracks of the 16-track. The way these tracks are mixed for vocal overdubs is simple: when the original recording is mixed off the 16- or 24-track master, a duplicate stereo mix is made of just the instrumental tracks. So, when new vocals are added, all the nuances of the original mix remains intact.

The Super Spots were produced using voice tracks recorded by announcers, actors, and actresses from around the country. Since many of these generic commercials were dialogue situations between two or more people, differences in level, EQ and ambience were noticed from tape to tape. To overcome the ambiance problem, background music, sound effects, or a separate ambience track was used behind these spots. And since these people were rarely recorded together, we achieved a natural sounding conversation by stepping on lines slightly when the tapes were transferred to 8-track. When mixed, the voice tracks were compressed to match levels, and then final EQ added to the voice tracks to match one another. The overall effect of the finished spots was quite natural.

Sound Effects

Sound effects are obtained from independent recordists, location recording, and often are built by multi-tracking. Sound effects purchased from recordists are often in mono, and must be processed for stereo. We have found that with certain sounds, an Orban 245D Stereo Synthesizer produces a believable separation.

During the summer of 1981 this writer recorded some sound effects in the canyons of Lake Powell in northern Arizona. Since I didn't know what weather or safety conditions would be like, I took along a Sony TC158SD stereo cassette deck, stereo condenser mike, Koss Pro 4A headphones, and used Scotch FeCr tape with Dolby noise reduction. Beside the standard effects -- splashes, engine sounds, fishing sound, etc. -- a series of shouts were recorded using the natural echo of these canyons.

People were placed about 200 yards up the side of a canyon, and recorded shouting lines like "help!", "I'm lost", "big sale" -- lines that could be used in spot production. With the quiet of the evening, we obtained a recording that would be difficult to duplicate in the studio.

Some effects have been created by multi-tracking a group of effects to form a sound picture. Our "Paul Bunyan" sequence -- a tree being chopped down in a forest -- was created by first recording the sound of a log being chopped in a wooded area near the studio using an E-V 635 mike; overdubbing the splintering sound by slowly pulling apart a cedar log; and then adding the tree crashing in the woods. The "crashing" effect was achieved by throwing a log through a low, leafy tree, recording at 15 IPS, then on the playback running it at 7 1/2 IPS. As the log was just coming out of the tree, we switched speeds to 15 for a "woosh-boom" sound. Since an AKG C414 had been placed close to where the log landed, the combination of the mike pick-up and the vibrations in the boom stand created a big effect. Two versions were mixed -- one with a shouted "timber," and the other without. For added punch, we mixed through stereo UREI LN 1176 compressor/limiters.

Limiters were only used on sound effects when we had a low-level signal, or when there is material with sharp peaks. Sometimes wind noise can be a factor with location recordings, and we will use a UREI Model 565 Little Dipper filter set to cut off the low-end rumble. Sound effects recorded in the studio are sometimes enhanced by using the Eventide Harmonizer delay, or a Lexicon Prime Time, to beef up the sound or create more space.

Electronic Effects

Electronic effects are created in many ways. "Twinkles," "zaps," "pings," etc. are often created on the synthesizers, then embellished with delays, Harmonizer feedback or flanging. We have found that taking a particular sound effect and processing it with outboard equipment can produce some awesome electronic effects. For example, we recently went around the studio recording everything from file drawers opening and closing to raising and lowering venetian blinds at different speeds. A series of outboard effects were then set up with the Harmonizer and its associated keyboard, echo, filter set, delay lines and vari-speed. We ran each sound effect forward, and tried different toys until we found something we liked. (When we ran the venetian blinds sound effect backwards, with vari-speed from 15 to 30 IPS, and pitch-shifted this up an octave, the-result was a great laser/phaser electronic effect. The thin metal of the blinds pitched high, plus the strong attack achieved in reverse, gave this effect a sound that would be hard to create with synthesizers.)

Often our potpourri of percussion instruments or a drum machine will be used to create some unusual sounds. An electronic helicopter was built by programming the Roland TR808 handclap sound to play a series of fast claps. This was recorded, the tape slowed down to lower the pitch, and then some top-end EQ and slow flange added.

A mysterious sounding alarm bell was created using the NBC chimes run through the Harmonizer in the reverse mode with a little feedback.

One comical effect was designed by editing a dog bark to the rhythm of "Yankee Doodle," then running it through the Harmonizer and playing the melody on the Harmonizer keyboard to change pitches.

A "robot voice" was developed using the Minimoog as a tone driver to the Vocoder Plus. By using a square wave with one oscillator and a sawtooth on another, tuning them slightly out, and playing the same note as was spoken into the Vocoder, "Robby Robot" was born.

We have found the Eventide Model H949 Harmonizer and the Lexicon Prime Time to be very versatile in production of all our electronic effects and music. With the H949's optional keyboard, it is very user-playable for adjustable flanging, pitch sweeps and glissandos.

Organizing the vast quantity of these sound and electronic effects on paper is done via an Apple II computer with Visifile software, as was all the cataloging for The Production Bank. With this program we can categorize, alphabetize, and cross reference all the 500-plus effects and the other production parts for the catalog.

The Mastering Process

Once all the elements of The Production Bank were mixed, checked for mono compatibility, leadered and timed, they were shipped to a number of record manufacturers to expedite pressing. With the initial 50 disks, our stereo tapes were ¼-inch, two-track at 15 lPS with no noise reduction.

The update disks - three every quarter - are mastered by Dick McGrew of A&R Records in Dallas. "The secret to good mastering," McGrew offers, "is to check everything as you go along -- from the tape alignment on playback, to the pressing of the final disk. A lot of it is just good quality control."

With the new Neumann VMS8O lathe A&R Records is using, and the excellent results they've been getting, The Production Bank has not felt a need to become involved with digital mastering or recording. Due to the high cost of the equipment, the fact that most of the music and sound effects we buy are analog, and the current audio requirements of radio and TV stations, we will continue to use analog methods. We are finding, however, that digital technology in outboard gear, drum machines and synthesizers is playing an integral role in our production.

While there were many frustrating hours spent recording, mixing and editing, the pleasure of working with all of the great people involved in the project made this an interesting and rewarding experience. As I hear this library being used by broadcasters in markets large and small, I'm proud to have been part of the project known as The Production Bank.

MULTI-TRACK MUSIC PRODUCTION
A Conversation with Bob Pickering, Chief Engineer, Cecca Sound Studios

When Toby and Dolly Arnold record music and jingles for The Production Bank, they often call on chief engineer Bob Pickering of Cecca Sound, Charlie Pride's new studio in Dallas. Pickering not only engineers, but often produces and writes music for these sessions, while executive producer Dolly Arnold handles the administrative duties.

As Picking points out, "In Nashville or New York, sessions are often done 'simul' with no overdubbing. What is normally done on jingle sessions in Dallas is to cut the rhythm track first, then bring in the strings or horns, a solo vocalist, and finally the vocal group." This latter method has been used for years in Dallas due to the need for different versions of a track, and to provide more control in mixing.

When recording jingle tracks, Pickering uses Cecca's MCI JH-24 24-track at 30 IPS with no noise reduction. "You get a different record curve if you're cutting at 30 IPS," he considers, "plus you get a little more 'present' sound when you cut with no noise reduction." But, he adds, "If a tape is going to be used a lot (many transfers) people will record at 15 IPS with Dolby, sometimes dbx."

Pickering feels that with the improvement of amplifiers in consoles and tape machines, noise reduction isn't as necessary as it was in the past. Which leads to the question of noise build-up from the multiple generations a tape goes through in jingle production. "That's virtually a thing of the past," he says. "At one time, it was true. But today you can go down a few generations and nobody can hear a tape and say, "Yeah, that's three generations down."

With the smooth punch-ins now possible with today's multi-track production equipment, Pickering has a little trick he uses in mixing short cuts from longer tracks: "One thing I do while editing on a track - like pulling a 10-second lift off the end of a [60-second] track - is start the mixdown machine, then run the 24-track a little before the edit point. When the spot where I want the edit to start comes up, I punch the mixdown machine into record. This results in a very smooth ramp."

Regarding the equalization of a music track for vocals, he says, "The writer has to do that. You can have a wall of sound there, but that doesn't mean that someone's playing all the time. The best writers are the ones that write very simply, and fill all the holes while making sense musically."

He tries to EQ "for flavoring. When I'm recording, I usually check everything on the console, and if I have anything that's in an extreme position, I'll change the mike, change its position, or whatever. I won't go to real extremes equalizing things just to make them work -- they never work."

Microphone Selection

Pickering's mic choices include a Sennheiser MD 431 or 421 on the kick drum, two 421s on the snare (top and bottom), MILAB VM-41s on the toms, with an Electro-Voice RE-20 on the floor tom, and a Milab DC-96 as an overhead. He usually takes the bass direct, but prefers to mike the bass amp, when time allows. "When you're doing a jingle session, you're going like gangbusters," he offers.

Other mic favorites include an AKG C414 on the acoustic guitar, a MILAB DC-96 on the electric guitar, one C414 placed overhead for strings, and Neumann U-89s for vocals.

Mixing for the Media

Engineer Pickering has an optimistic view of the future of broadcast audio. "During the Beatles' era one of the things that made them popular was they were so hot…they were so bright, no bottom end; they'd give you a haircut when you listened to that stuff! But you could hear it on AM radio really clear." With the popularity of FM radio, and the fact that people are listening on better equipment, he feels that jingle music recording is moving in a better direction. "You want the jingles real hot. There are a myriad of subtle things you do with the sound to make it hot. Everyone wants their jingles to sound like the records on the radio."

The music that is being produced today for jingles and commercials is being recorded and mixed in much the same way as the Top 40 songs that share the airwaves with these jingles. State-of-the-art equipment, attention to detail, working with people who have learned the techniques of recording quickly and effectively - many of the same ingredients that go into the pop hits of today - add up to make Cecca Sound one of the many quality recording studios in Dallas.

Cecca Sound's control room boasts an MCI JH-536 console equipped with 36 input channels, linked to an MCI JH-24 multi-track tape machine.

 

For more information on PAMS jingles, go to the PAMS Website.
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