Radio Symposium at University of Lincoln

Trevor Dann draws together radio elite to counsel next generation of industry recruits (13 December 2011).

Some of the top names in UK radio will visit Lincoln next week to give their expert advice on breaking into their competitive industry to students at the University.

Lorna Clarke, Network Manager, BBC Radio 2 & 6Music, Sam Bailey Interactive Editor, BBC Music Events, Dick Stone Programme Director, Capital FM East Midlands and David Jennings, BBC Head of Region, East Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, will give an overview of their sector and the kind of skills they are looking for in potential recruits.

Radio mogul Trevor Dann, who is visiting professor at the University of Lincoln, has organised the day (Tuesday 13 December) in conjunction with Bryan Rudd, principal lecturer in the School of Media, and it promises to be packed with useful tips from the industry’s elite.

Lorna Clarke is one of the most senior women in BBC Radio and the most senior black woman in the UK radio industry. She formerly ran BBC 1Xtra and the Electric Proms, and was recently made a Fellow of the Radio Academy.

Lorna said: “I’m looking forward to meeting the students of Lincoln University and passing on as many tips as possible about how to maximise your chances of working in the industry.”

Sam Bailey, who was part of the team that delivered the new Radio 1 website, considered by many to be the best in UK radio, is an expert in producing online content. Sam says his job enables him to combine his childhood passions of making radio and working with computers.

He said: “I’m really looking forward to visiting Lincoln Uni for the first time, especially to talk to future radio programme makers. By the time they’re making radio programmes, the line between radio and the web will be completely blurred, if it exists at all. Understanding the way that media consumption is changing is critical for anyone starting out in the radio industry, and I’m delighted to have been asked for my views.”

Jez Riley French

November’s guest lecture for level 3 audio project students was Jez Riley French. Jez explores the audible and inaudible sounds of natural and built environments. In the session Jez talked about his field-recording work and played some incredible recordings he had made with his self-built contact microphones and hydrophones, These ranged from the sound of ants eating an apricot, to long, complex drones of contact mic recordings of wire fences blowing in the breeze to the sound of razor clams on the sea bed. This fascinating and humorous talk focussed on arguably the most important aspect of audio production – listening.

examples of hydrophones, contact microphones, coil pick-ups & parabolic reflectors by JezrileyFrench

Audio Production Is For Girls!

Picture – three of the seven young women studying Audio Production; Alex, Lilly and Galani.

BA (Hons) Audio Production is in its third year, meaning we now have students at all three levels. Of these, we have a small but growing number of young women: three at level two (of twenty seven students) and four at level one (of thirty one students). However, we still have relatively few female applicants. I talked to Jasia, Galani and Alex to find out why, in a field that has traditionally attracted many more males than females, they were compelled to buck the trend and study Audio Production.

Galani: “I knew I wanted to be in a sound-related job from being in secondary school, when I first picked up guitar lessons. I had this youthful perception of being a “rockstar” musician. However, as I got older, my interest grew into the technical aspects of production. I started to research more into sound engineering and knew from then on that this is what I wanted to do for my career. When I came to university, I was pleased that the course opened up new areas such as film, television and radio too, and I fell in love with sound for visual media!”

Alex: “I think girls get put off of doing audio because of the theoretical and technological side of sound and the practices that come with it – they assume it’s a subject for boys. But for me that is the interesting part, learning the ins and outs of everything. Sound as a whole interests me and is something I want to keep learning about and make into my career.”

Jasia: “From an early age I have listened to radio and there is still a lack of women presenters which has driven me to my ambition of becoming a radio presenter. Audio Production is a great course to widen knowledge and gain experience for future jobs in the industry.”

As the women here verify, there are many aspects to audio production and the reasons for choosing to study on the course are as wide-ranging. Audio Production has its technical aspects, of course. However, there is no reason for it to suffer from the same challenges of gender stereotyping as subjects like engineering, chemistry and computer science despite the very unhelpful images of bikini-clad models holding synthesizers that still appear in today’s music technology magazines.

The challenge then is ours: to find ways to communicate to female applicants that this is not a ‘boys with toys’ course but a rich and creative learning environment involving the many aspects of audio production. I hope this blog post goes some way towards that.

Link – Julie Allinson from the University of York describes her gender stereotype work at University of Lincoln’s DevXS

Recording Walsh Gonzalez

Over the summer break I was asked to record a session for Walsh Gonzalez in the University’s studios. John and Lucas are a flamenco/classical guitar duo from Ireland and Argentina. They play nylon-strung acoustic guitars and are both excellent musicians. The aim of the session was to capture a natural sounding performance as possible.

While the guitarists and their instruments were warming up, I listened to them playing in two of the studio’s recording areas. We decided the tone of the instruments sounded better in the less ‘live’ sounding room and, as they were going to be playing together in the same room (without headphones), this also helped cut down on spill into each other’s mics. They set up at either end of the room facing each other, about 3 metres apart.

I decided to use two microphones on each guitar, not to capture a stereo image, but to blend the tones at the body and the neck of the instruments. For this I used a Neumann U87 at the body and a Rode NT5 at the neck of John’s guitar and a AKG C414XLII at the body and Rode NT5 at the neck of Lucas’s. After experimenting with the position of each mic I found the body mics sounded best (full but not boomy) around 30 – 40cm from the back of each guitar, pointing just behind the soundhole. Both mics were set to cardioid and with a flat frequency setting. The Rodes could come a little closer in (around 20cm) and were positioned pointing to where the neck meets the body, here the detail of the performance could be clearly heard. Each pair of mics was checked for phase (both on the mixing desk and in Pro Tools) and were found to be in phase. When the phase on one of the mics in a pair was flipped the comb filtering at the bottom-end was very noticeable.

The musicians replaced the strings on their instruments and bedded them in with another half hour of warm-up play. Each mic was assigned its own track in Pro Tools and all that was left to do was record a number of performances and select the best takes.

Mixing the tracks was pretty straight forward. No compression was used – the two mic tracks for each guitar just needed balancing together. A little EQ was used on John’s Neumann track to shape the low-end. After a lot of experimenting with the pan position of each mic track, I settled on the body mic for John’s guitar being panned left (10 o’clock) and the neck mic panned left (9 o’clock). Lucas’s guitar body mic was panned right (2 o’clock) and the neck mic right (3 o’clock). Possibly a little strange in terms of true stereo imaging but I liked the sound of them in these positions. Both neck mics had a low cut applied and were sent to an aux reverb to give a more natural sound to the mids and highs.

I think the recordings capture the intended aim – a natural sounding performance. However, I have to say this was made so much easier by having musicians who can play well and who know their material. Thanks John and Lucas – I enjoyed it!

Walsh Gonzalez by audioproduction

Hearing the Past

Professor Jim Al-Khalili explores what the past would have sounded like to our ancestors, and investigates how it is helping us to improve our acoustic designs of the future.

We hear what a singer in Coventry Cathedral would have sounded like before it was bombed in 1940, and how a Stonehenge ritual four thousand years ago had a bass-synthesiser effect going on that Depeche Mode would have been proud of!

Designers of modern concert venues are learning lessons from the layout of Stonehenge and we also learn how better acoustics in today’s buildings improve our quality of life, and can even save lives.

Producer: Jane Reck
An Alfi Media production for BBC Radio 4.

Click here to listen


Level 2 Audio Production student Luke Pickering’s new band on Bandcamp. All tracked and mixed by Luke at the University’s studios.

Into the Music Library

It’s the music which has surrounded us our whole lives, but which most of us have never quite heard let alone listened to… and nearly all of it made in the UK.

Sometimes called ‘Source music’, ‘Mood Music’ or as it’s best known, ‘Library music’: a hugely important part of British sonic history. Its use and purpose is simple: it’s well produced, economic music for film, TV, advertising and radio. Never commercially available to the general public, this music was pressed onto vinyl from the 1950s onwards in short, limited quantities and then sent directly to TV production houses and radio stations for use when necessary.

From the mid 1960s onwards, as TV and radio productions expanded, so did library music usage. As a result the golden age of TV (and our memories of it) is not only punctuated but dominated by classic library music.

Sports themes, situation comedies, game shows, cartoons, talk shows, classic children’s tv, the testcards and even Farmhouse Kitchen was brought to us all with the help of library music. Themes for Terry And June, Grange Hill, Mastermind, Match Of The Day and of course that gallery tune from Vision On are all well placed library cues. But there are reels (and reels) of gorgeously crafted, equally great stuff that never made it past the elevator door! We have been surrounded by it forever, but we know so little about it…. Where does it comes from? Who actually makes it? And how do you actually set about making music for the inside of a waiting area, a lift or for a plane before it takes off?

In this first ever documentary about library music we’ll look into its history (starting in 1909), speak with the dynastic library owners (de Wolfe, KPM, John Gale), We find out what’s it’s like to make music to imaginary pictures by speaking to the library music makers (which could include Jimmy Page and Brian Eno), and even have a word with the Musicians Union who banned UK recording of library music throughout the late 60s.

We also talk to the modern day enthusiasts, the collectors (Jerry Dammers) and explore the contemporary influences of this extraordinary musical genre. And of course re-acquaint ourselves with some of the most familiar music we’ve never listened to!

Presented by collector and archivist Jonny Trunk.

Producer: Simon Hollis
A Brook Lapping production for BBC Radio 4.

Listen Here

Chris Watson: A Masterclass In Listening

2 months after Iceland’s ash cloud grounded global air transport, leading sound recordist Chris Watson reveals the secrets of one of Iceland’s more literary but no less famous volcanoes.

A boyhood Jules Verne fan, Chris will retrace the steps of Professor and Axel Lidenbrock from Reykjavik to his favourite place in the world – Snaefellsjokull – the glacier that contains the passage to the Centre of the Earth in Verne’s 1864 seminal work of Science Fiction. Along the way he’ll encounter communities affected by the 2010 eruptions of Eyjafjallajokull, talking to people who live within this geologically charged environment and meeting artists and musicians who have been inspired by their volcanic landscape.

Tying in with Verne’s theme of geographical exploration, to reach Snaefellsjokull – known to locals simply as Jules Verne’s Volcano – Chris will travel through one of Iceland’s most beautiful National Parks and will use his extraordinary recording techniques to reveal the natural sounds of this unique environment. The sounds of bubbling mud pools and sulphurous springs mirroring Jules Verne’s deep connection to the physical world.

Revealing interviews with leading figures from Iceland’s vibrant arts scene: including the keyboardist of Sigur Ros and best-selling Icelandic author Andri Snaer Magnason will combine with Chris’s recordings as he creates his own sonic adventure in the shadow of Jules Verne’s novel and Iceland’s volcanoes.

Producer: Rose de Larrabeiti
A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4

Listen here: Jules Verne’s Volcano