Within the last few weeks here in New York City, I was hired to work on a radio commercial for McDonald’s. The producer and his writing partner had constructed a demo song (over 2 minutes long) for a new product promotion.
I was given a rough stereo mix of the over length track to use in the recording session for the vocalists. On a day where we were booked to record an entirely different commercial as well, we worked at a rapid pace to get these vocals down. There was no tempo specified for the track, but this was no problem with Pro Tools! The quick trick I use (Tap Tempo) is to turn off the Conductor Button in the Transport Window, highlight the Tempo indicator, and “tap” the letter T on the alpha keyboard to get an approximate tempo (see Figure 1).
Once you establish an approximate tempo, enter that tempo as your session tempo. Because of what was coming later in my session, I needed to have the Conductor back on (so that Pro Tools follows the Tempo Map). So after turning the Conductor back on, go to the Edit window and click on the red diamond on the Tempo Ruler to set the tempo (see Figure 2).
Then I lined up our music track to the first beat/bar of the session. I created a click track (Track menu> Create Click Track). I listened to the click in relation to the music track to make sure it held the tempo down the line in our session. Fortunately, the track was a constant tempo (128PBM), and we now had the ability to lock it to our Pro Tools tempo grid (see Figure 3).
Notice that I established a new Song Start (Event Menu> Time Operations> Change Song Start) so that there was some time before our downbeat of bar 1. This was also done since there was no count-in on our music track. If the vocal had to start on that song’s downbeat, there would have been no ability (preparatory bars) to record from the start of music. Changing the Song Start allowed us to keep the same bar relationship within our song by creating bars outside of the downbeat at bar 1. We recorded the lead vocal and I assembled a quick comp track (see above). Then recorded 3 background vocalists who went to 3-part harmony, having rehearsed it that way. We only doubled them, going for a more intimate “gospel group” sound.
This Is Where The Fun Starts
Once we finished tracking, the producer listened down to decide on the format he wanted for the commercial version (30 seconds). We recorded two verses in one key and only one after the modulation. The producer decided he liked the front half of verse 1 and the back half of verse 2 (which was in the new key). He liked the lift of the new key all the way through, so I would have to paste the front half of the first verse lead vocal into the new key. This meant that I would also have to adjust the pitch to match the new key. Once I received the individual music tracks for my final edit/mix, I lined them up on the grid (see Figure 4).
Notice how I consolidated each clip to be the same length. This is easily done by: Selecting the longest clip then highlighting all other clips. Pressing Shift-Option-3 (shortcut for Consolidating clips) will create what you see above. This view also shows a copy of all tracks moved down the timeline in the original session (as a safety measure). Now that all clips were aligned on the grid, I was ready to make my edits.
Editing to a 30 Second Commercial Spot
In the world of broadcast, there are specific “air slots” sold in Radio and TV. They are usually legally timed to anywhere from 5 seconds, up through 2 minutes (:05, :10, :15, :30, :45, :60, etc.). If a spot is over-length, it will most likely be cut off at the precise time the spot has allocated air time (not professional, and embarrassing!). Some commercials fade out, while others have what is called a “button ending”. In the case of this track, the producer wanted the “button ending” his composer created. So in terms of the edit, I approached it by working from the ending forward- seeing how much of the song could be included while retaining the ending. After a few tries at establishing a working format, I made my “musical” cuts accordingly. I could only fit the actual verse downbeat in (with no band pick-up) and then the whole verse (in the new modulated key) with half of the chorus ride-out removed, through to the button ending. (see Figure 5). As you will notice, we had a slight pick-up with the lead vocal. By selecting from the lead vocal through the “ring-out” of the button ending, we established the timing to be around 33 seconds- still not legal… but wait, there’s more- Elastic Audio to the rescue!
Elastic Audio- A Game Changer
Since all of my edits remained locked to the grid (with the measures lined up accordingly), it was now time to activate Elastic Audio on all tracks and change these audio tracks to tick-based (instead of sample-based), so they will now follow tempo changes. In the examples seen in Figure 6, the section under the “dyn” and “read” buttons on the track display is the Elastic Audio selector section- a triangle with a stick above it (symbolizing a warp marker) is the icon you will see. To the immediate left of this box, you will see the symbol for either tick-based (top pic-green metronome icon) or sample-based (bottom pic-blue clock icon) track designations. (Please see Mihai’s 2012 article on Elastic Audio from 4-6-2012). Once all tracks are activated and the appropriate Elastic mode is selected (Polyphonic mode is the most general, all-purpose one), we can then try changing the tempo to have our edited track conform to a legal :30 commercial. As we know, our original tempo was 128 BPM from our calculation and subsequent grid placement. Now we will start increasing the tempo to get to our :30 commercial timing.
We change our track view to warp mode (Figure 7) rather than waveform mode by switching this mode under our track name (directly beneath the Record arm/I/S/M buttons in Figure 6). As we subtly increase our tempo, we will hear all of our tracks maintain their rhythm lock and pitch while precisely following our tempo increases. After increasing out tempo to 134.3 BPM (see Figure 7), we are comfortably in the legal timing range, with a healthy ring out after our button ending.
By selecting the longest clip (Figure 7), we can see in our timing tool area (Figure 8) that we have a legal :30 commercial- ready for broadcast!
The Chorus ride-out section I mentioned above was also used for the Announcer section. I edited that performance to fit in this section before increasing the tempo. So when we increased from 128 to 134.3, the announcer remained in place and retained his original pitch as well- all through the magic of Elastic audio. We now select from the track ID slate (see the top track in Figure 7) through our commercial ending, and are ready to bounce to disk (Figure 9). Ready for the airwaves!