From the Top of the World or IMAGING Z100 –…
Ryan introduced me to Staxx, who is the NEW guy at Z100 and the successor of non other than Dave Foxx. I took the chance to interview Staxx and I can easily tell you it is one of the best interviews I have done for a long time. Jam packed with lessons, stories and of course screen caps 😉
Staxx, where are you from? What is your background in radio/media? Can you give me some background on your career so far?
First off, let me thank you for the interview! It’s always an honor when someone asks you to talk about yourself.
I’m kinda from all over. I was born in Fairfax, VA and was raised in Manassas, VA, both suburbs of the Washington DC area. At 15, Dad got laid off and was simultaneously offered a much higher paying position in Pueblo, Colorado, so we packed our bags in search of the Great American Dream, in perpetuity. We moved to Roanoke VA when I was 20. That’s where I got into radio! I was waiting tables at a Logan’s Steakhouse near the Valley View mall and going to school for “Chemistry,” when I met a girl that worked part-time for K92, a legendary heritage CHR in the area owned by Mel Wheeler Inc, a small private-owned broadcast company. You see, to escape doing real work, I would hang out at the host stand and answer the phones, pretending to be a recording. “For reservations, press 1. To speak with our butcher’s psychologist, please press 4, for options in chicken, press….(you get the idea)!” Tatiana, the hostess, loved it and mentioned they were looking for help at K92 and suggested I apply. I balked at first, probably out of fear, but eventually agreed to meet with the night guy…4 days after that meeting, I was gallivanting all over town half-naked, live on the radio as “Stuntboy Tater!”
That gig grew to co-host, overnighter, promo-staffer, and eventually full-time night jock and imaging guy. I think I was always better at the imaging part of the job. Producing is so interesting. There also seemed to be more clear direction on how to do it. I used to watch Dave Foxx’s videos all the time, in particular the one where he’s smoking in the studio in New Jersey (I think) putting together a custom Z100 jingle intro in ProTools.
I spent 4 years in Roanoke honing my on-air and production skills before taking a position as Imaging Director of Z-1043 (CHR) and JACK FM in Baltimore, as well as nights on Z1043 for iHeart Media (Clear Channel at the time). Working with JACK FM refined my writing skills and allowed me to get a bit more courageous with how I was approaching everything, including my work in CHR. I actually worked with Dave a little bit on Z. He launched the station’s imaging when it rebranded and was retained as our voice talent. Though for Z, I wasn’t doing much writing. My PD liked to write the copy and I think mine scared him, so I was usually just hitting “forward.”
Once I started down that path, I found myself branching out…
In 2012, after 2 years in Baltimore, I was offered the position of Imaging Director for the legendary DC101! An Alt Rock also owned by iHeart in Washington DC. I retained my JACK FM duties and helped with commercial production for the DC cluster as well. Sounds like a lot of jobs rolled into one when you put it on paper, but at some point I realized that it’s all really the same stuff: establish a target message, identify your delivery (inform, emote, etc), know who you’re talking to, and then go at it! Once I started down that path, I found myself branching out, offering creative and voice over to clients and (mostly) radio stations across the country. That helped me get into some larger circles in the company, including some national projects.
Not long after Dave announced his retirement, I got a random text message:
“Hey…how’s it goin in DC?”
“Mark Medina, Z100 New York”
I worked with Mark on a few projects in DC while he was there programming HOT 995. He was reaching out to ask if I knew any names that would be good for THE gig. I obviously highlighted my own.
The process after that is probably familiar to you: Demo. Interview. Demo. Long periods of silence. Demo. Reach out via email/text, hope you aren’t being too annoying. I thought things were looking pretty good when they gave me Dave and Kelly’s emails and had me start sending them copy directly. But then, you never really KNOW. Everything is supposed to be secret, so you can’t really talk to your colleagues. I accepted the offer for Imaging Director at Z100 and KTU a few months later. It still feels weird to type that. Good weird! Like the kind where the letters tumble off your fingertips and you’re like, “wow.’
I didn’t have much of a relationship with Dave outside of VO work in Baltimore and the occasional requests for national showcase stuff from DC. I’d always heard such amazing things and was pleased to find them to be true after arriving here with so many questions that could only really be answered by him. “How do you turn the mic on? (not joking)” “What used to be in the this hole in the studio?,” “Will you listen to this?!” I try not to bug him too much (HEY DAVE! Sorry about the copy revision(s)J ), but every time I’ve asked for help or simple explanation, advice, he’s always made himself available. I really appreciate and admire that. BTW – He’s a legend here in the building too.
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Which production system do you use these days and why?
I’m split between Pro Tools and Adobe. Our systems here are all PT HD. They were kind enough to add a PC so I can access my archived sessions as I bring my ProTools skills up to speed.
I’ve always used Adobe Audition for imaging. I grew up on it and think it’s the most intuitive DAW for editing and EQing VO. That being said, it isn’t nearly as stable or powerful at ProTools, nor does it have the insane amount of automation features. But it does come with a nice set of stock of no-fuss plug-ins! I’m actually enjoying using both (when there’s time for that).
Not really a set MAC or PC guy. I use them both daily and think that while they have their own quirks, they aren’t really all that different from one another. At least, the way that I use them.
What are your favorite PlugIns?
I don’t typically use a lot of plug-ins. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with them! Nowadays, there are so many great high-quality production elements, I just don’t find myself needing too much.
Typically go with light EQ to make sure you can hear everything, and some compression/limiting.
Do most of my doubling effects manually.
Adobe Audition 3.0 IZOTOPE Multiband Compressor.
On final mix. Preset is Pop Master.
To be used with care when near jingles and most songs.
Scientific Filter – dropping around 250.
On VO. Hard limit after.
That’s it. I use some echos after splitting VO into two channels to add some texture, but typically do it differently every time. Stock plug-in on AA3.0 and Tape Echo on PT.
How do you schedule your work?
Topically driven stuff tends to go first, since it isn’t going to last long and I always feel like it should have already been on. Mostly, I divvy projects up based on when they need to air. When I have time, I try and work ahead. That way, when those inevitable last-minute projects come a knockin’, the things you’re putting off aren’t biting you in the face later.
On great days, I set aside some time to just mess around, see how things sound…play guitar along to songs and think of ways to produce things differently…have fun with stuff!
What do you love about imaging z100 ? What is different compared to your previous gigs? How was it to meet Dave, if you have?
Dave’s pretty much everything you’d hope he would be. Available. Honest. Knowledgable. FRIENDLY. If you’ve been doing radio in the last 20 years, he’s impacted your job. When you meet someone with that kind of clout and realize he’s human enough to be real with you, its great. He came by on his way to the Dominican Republic earlier this year and asked to use the studio to produce a promo, that was really awesome watching over his shoulder.
Z100 is such a powerful brand. It’s a mega cargo ship filled with thousands of containers. When you’re steering (your part of) that ship, the temptation to spin that wheel is there, but you know you can’t do that…all those containers will slide right off.
So you learn to concentrate your methods with light touches, fuse them with decades of successful branding to turn the wheel properly and have a hand in its course. It’s not always easy, but when you get it right, it’s a great feeling to end the day with. Also, the production tools available here are insane!
Compared to previous gigs, I’ve never been somewhere where there are so many promotions. We’ve got stuff going on ALL the time. That’s been a great learning experience. Applying your creativity, but keeping all these various promotions sounding different on the air. Again, not always easy, but man it feels good when you hit it.
What is the best Pro Tools or production trick anybody should know?
If you don’t already voice stuff, learn a few characters or set a great EQ for your voice (everyone’s got one) to use for fill. HUGE help when VO isn’t available.
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I’m still working on finding my perfect combo for PT – But using gaming mice, or even the touch commands that you can assign to your trackpad (Mac) to consolidate your most frequently used hotkeys can be a HUGE time saver.
Use as many real-life sounds as you can. The more legit and “pure” sounding, the better.
How do you get inspired and what do you use as scource of creativity?
- Other people’s production/writing
- Going to concerts (my mind tends to soar around live music)
- Video games – which are REALLY well produced, sonically, and often offer wide amazing landscapes to escape in
- I get inspired by anything that makes me feel. THAT sounds horrifically cheesy, but I’ll lean on my personal feelings when writing or producing. Sometimes even if MY feelings are the opposite of what we’re writing about. Get the passion on paper…then you can manipulate the messaging
Who were your radio production idols, who influenced your work as a producer?
Obviously, even before I knew who he was, Dave Foxx’s work was laying the foundation of how things are done. “Listen to the music.” There’s a lot of direction on things you can say to listeners hidden within our star product. Also, you can literally use the music for messaging.
John Frost and his twisted humor. He gets messages out so quickly without too much explanation. Also his timing. The man wields silence like a scalpel.
Darrin Marshall at HOT995 in DC. He’s a really sharp guy who’s not afraid to question “why are we doing _____?” I learned a lot about getting “real” with messaging from Darrin early on.
Non-radio – Celldweller. That guys’ prod style is super ADD and sounds amazing. Does soundtracks for a lot of video games/movies.
What would be your 3 key advices for a youngster?
BE HONEST. Does it REALLY make you laugh, wanna go to the event, get you excited?
If you can, give everything you produce some breathing time. It might sound much different to you a day from now.
NETWORK. Almost every major stride I’ve made was the result of meeting someone that made me question what we’re doing, or gave me the strength to follow my own answers. If you’re good at your job and you’re reliable, just knowing people can make the difference between your foot in the door, and the door being held wide open for you.
Who is your favorite VO talent?
I think its Kelly Doherty. She responds really well to direction and she can ACT.
What job would you do, if you would not be working in radio.
I would love to work in audio production for video games. Modern day gaming has a LOT sonic nuance. Some games even rely on it! And most of it is original.
Full-time voice actor. I think I am better at character reads than announcing. I love doing both, but often have more fun with the former.
Thanks for this great interview, Staxx!
For recent Imaging by Staxx, check his soundcloud!