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A Loyal Reader Writes:

“On my radio show (on a country music station), I like to talk over familiar music so I can embellish the break with something relative to the topic I’m discussing.

“For instance: talking over a bed with the music for ‘Crazy’ by Patsy Cline while discussing crazy subject matter.

“I just had an aircheck session, and the boss says not to talk over music that is familiar to the audience.

“Here is what he said:

“ ‘Please discontinue using familiar song beds underneath your talk. These beds should be low and unfamiliar so there is no competition in the listener’s mind between what you are saying and the music bed.’

“Although I respect his opinion, my response is: We talk over an intro of a song and that is familiar to the listener, and they still hear what we are saying. How is that any different?

“What is your philosophy on using familiar music beds to talk over?”

First, my compliments to your PD for being one of the few who give regular aircheck critiques to his staff.

Second: He’s correct.

When you “talk up a vocal” — talking over the instrumental intro to a song — you are using a brief segment of music that very quickly will lead to a payoff for the listener. That payoff is the rest of the song.

Ideally, your words help increase the emotional impact of that song.

More often, of course, jocks use the “intro” or “ramp” to squeeze in verbiage required by their PD: station liners, promos, etc.

Those rarely help increase the emotional impact of that song, but there still is a payoff when the instrumental intro ends (again, the song itself).

Sometimes you can hijack the excitement of the music to help increase the impact of your verbal message.

Quick Question: Who’s the better writer – you or Willie Nelson?

You might be a terrific writer; I don’t know.

I do know that Willie Nelson is.

And when someone to whom “Crazy” is a very familiar song hears an instrumental version of it, guess what they do?

They mentally sing Willie Nelson’s lyrics.

Radio Rule #1:  Don’t talk over a vocal.

Radio Rule #2:  Don’t talk over an instrumental that is more likely than your words to command the listener’s attention.

Radio Rule #3:  Even if you can “hit the post” perfectly, no one wants to hear you talk up the vocal to Chicago’s “Color My World.”

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  • Ethan November 15, 2012, 8:03 am

    Come on Dan! The “Color My World” ramp is a perfect place to put a :60 live Paint Store spot!!

  • W.B. Ward November 15, 2012, 8:53 am

    Dan – I am in total agreement with your philosophy of ramping. Talking over an intro of an instrumental piece can be tricky. It is helpful, however, if the air talent understands exactly what constitutes an intro.

    In the instance you gave of “Color My World,” talking over the intro would be wrong for two reasons: 1) The length of the pad and 2) it is NOT an intro.

    The absence of vocals does NOT indicate an intro. This particular song simply has the unusual characteristic of beginning the song with the instrument bridge rather than placing it between the chorus and the repeat of a verse.

    If one is not schooled in composition and/or music theory, one may simply revert to a philosophy of “when in doubt, leave it out.”

  • John O'Mara November 15, 2012, 10:22 am

    As a listener, I find it annoying. Underground Garage on Sirius/XM runs instrumentals under the breaks. It’s like being teased. At first, “All right, they’re playing Jack the Ripper by Link Wray!”
    When the announcer starts talking I’m thinking, “Damn, they’re only using it as a bed.”

  • Glen November 20, 2012, 12:34 pm

    Wouldn’t producing a spot with any kind of recognizable Christmas bed undermine the content, also?

  • Dan O'Day November 20, 2012, 12:51 pm

    @Glen: That’s an interesting question.

    Something that’s very traditional — e.g., “Jingle Bells” — isn’t likely to interfere if the message truly carries a “Christmas holiday” feeling.

    No one remembers where and how old they were when they first heard “Jingle Bells.’ It’s always been a part of their life. More of “related to Christmas” than “a song.”

    The songs that are likely to compete with the message also happen to be the songs you can’t legally use in a radio commercial — for example, “White Christmas.”

    Another, preferable option to the traditional songs are well-produced music beds that are written specifically to signal “Christmas” without infringing on someone’s copyright or conjuring competing mental images for the listener.

    For instance, the music beds in The Christmas Production Package.