Chicago And Stereo? Who’d A Thunk It?

My boombox beats loud.

Of those Chicago music producers queried, a landslide has either mixed in stereo for years or are currently gearing up for the occasion. Outside of incidental music and sound effects, audio has been a notoriously neglected element of tv since the advent. But of late, with the music video rage embraced by networks and ad agencies alike, and with swelling requests for Top 40 imitations, the demands of sound have at long last been heard.

“The consumer is much more critical compared to three or four years ago. And next to their great stereos, tv is sadly lacking,” commented Universal Recording vp and studio manager Foote Kirkpatrick, who also predicted that the new consumer sophisticate will incite an industry clamor for more specialized engineers. “The great engineer will be in even greater demand.”

According to Chuck Thomas, president of Chuck Thomas Music, a lot of bright new talent will be young. “They won’t have the business experience, but they’ll have the creativity and knowledge of the technology. The daytime engineer can’t experiment for the most part because of time constraints.”

“We’re anticipating a lot of changes,” said Gary Fry, partner and arranger/producer at Com/Track. “We’re planning a lot of experimentation with the new equipment and with the stereophonic effects.”

Music producer Chuck Thomas echoed the sentiments of many when he said that he was looking forward to the coming age of sound. “Stereo mixing affects the placement of each instrument. I look for a particular space for every instrument and I try to place each on a 3-D axis so each one has its own perspective, which adds to the texture of the piece.”

And the differences between stereo and mono mixing, according to professionals, are staggering.

“The one phrase that I could use to sum it up is spatial quality. The coming of stereo tv will offer that where the monos don’t,” said Mark Weinstein, music producer/partner of Klaff/Weinstein Music.

Aesthetically, stereo mixing is measurably more lucid and full-bodied. But personally, it’s just more fun.

“It’ll be like a little mini-movie sound studio. You can get all those great sounds and a richer ambiance. It might take more money and definitely more time,” said John Tatgenhorst, of Tatgenhorst Music, “but it’ll be much more fun.”

Visually, rock videos are a playground to the talent and technicians involved. They have offered a needed opportunity to create what would otherwise never be created for conventional network programs and commercials. In the past few years, howeer, the commercial conventionality has died down somewhat–to the ecstasy of many. For the jungle man, however, the same change is slower in coming.

Agencies traditionally have jumped on the bandwagon of Top 40 hits, soliciting reproduction of the sounds and mood of a song for commercial use. But, also traditionally, they’ve jumped on the bandwagon at a time when the band had already gone home.

“They didn’t even start breakdancing bits until that was almost dead and then everyone had to have a breakdancer,” observed Salvatori. “They generally come to us about six months after a song is a hit. People still come and ask for a ‘Flashdance’-type thing.” But, Salvatori happily admits that the gap between a current hit and a past-tense imitation is quickly closing.

Cliff Colnut, of Colnut/Fryer, thinks that, because of their resiliency, today’s hits can be initiated without fear of time constraints. “I just did something like [The Police's] ‘Every Little Think She Does is Magic.’ Top 40 songs like that become faithful standards and have a remarkable staying power.”

Also demonstrating remarkable staying power is the synthesizer, once thought of as a fad. A sophisticated update of that instrument is the complex Synclavier II, which reproduces sounds and instruments with amazing results. Only three Synclavier IIs are currently utilized by Chicaco-based music houses, and music producer Steve Samler thinks he knows why.

“It offers a variety of different sounds but it falls under the heading of ‘generic sound.’ Devoting the time and the money to it would distract from other work, and in the end you’d have a lot of the same type of sound.”

Jim Dolan, general manager of Steeterville, looks forward to the more contemporary, aggressive musical approach that agencies are taking.

“Across the board, we’ve seen the change. There’s hints of the change in the use of synthesizers and electric drums and the whole design,” said Dolan. “The [genre of music] has gone from zero to 50 percent of our work.”

Chicago as Jingle King

Somewhere along the line, Chicago acquired the title of jingle capital of the country, according to many Chicago-based jingleers. Of course, ask a New York or L.A. professional the same question and the answer likely won’t be affirmative.

Based on volume alone, New York squeezes by the Chicago market according to industry figures, but per number of houses, Chicago does a greater percentage of business.

“We’re a quiet jingle capital, we don’t make a lot of noise about it,” said Universal’s Kirkpatrick. “But Chicaco is the home to major, major accounts. United Airlines calls his home, McDonald’s calls this home, Bud Light and Michelob. These people are dedicated to doing their music here.”

Yes, but can Chicago tout the title of jingle king?

“Anyone, anywhere in the industry, regardless of location, would acknowledge us as one of the main centers. But a capital? Tell that to New York,” said Don Kaufman, president at Mozart Midnight Productions.

Music producer Bobby Whiteside, who three months ago opened a New York office, theorized that the title fluctuates with location.

“I think, though, that it’s pretty much an even split. There is no capital. Just a lot of business at a variety of places,” he noted. Whiteside opened a New York office four months ago to boost the percent of his business which that market already represents.

Chicago’s reputation carries over from the ’50s, according to Salvatori, when, “If you wanted to record music, you’d come to Chicago. The reputation of Dick Marx and Universal Recording still influences the city’s reputation as a whole.”

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