How to image USA’s #1 music format or roll with…

After doing some research on country imaging a few years ago, I stumbled over Matt’s name a ton of times. Mike, Ryan and many others named him as inspiration and mentor. Finally Matt and I connected and I had the chance to interview him for you guys. Matt gives you a little overview about country Imaging in general, his specific imaging style, his sources of inspiration + shares great audio examples of his work and screen caps with you. One of the most inspiring interviews to me personally in the last months (thanks Matt)!

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The Country format is the #1 music genre in America. The reason is because it’s incredibly mass-appeal. Everyone in America – from the inner city business exec, to the suburban single mom, to the struggling rural farmer – can relate to country music. With the exception of mainstream CHR, most other formats tend to have more focused audiences. Country is for everyone – so our imaging can be, literally, anything! The absolute key to imaging a great country station is incorporating lots of writing styles and sounds, find a way to make everything sound consistent with the station’s brand, and then tweaking your rotations in the imaging to ensure a “perfect mix”. The writing should paint a picture and needs to have lots of emotional elements as well – to mirror the emotions of the station’s/format’s music. Personally I try to use as few “zings and zaps” as possible in my production – but without the piece sounding “bland”. In my opinion, great country stations also touch a lot on local landmarks, customs, traditions, etc. as well.

1. Which production system do you use and why?

I use Adobe Audition – because I haven’t found anything else that’s as quick, easy, or user-friendly as Audition. Protools is nice if you’re doing live music recording or if you like to make your own sound effects, but for me – it’s Protools is like flying a jet when all ya need is a solid truck to get to town.

2. What are your favorite plugIns (including screenshots)?

The Waves REQ-6 and L1 are two that I use ALL the time. Waves Audiotracker is a nice EQ/Compressor too… I also like the stock effects in Audition pretty much just because I’ve used them for 10 years and really know how to tweak them to get the sounds I want. Goes back to “quick, easy, down and dirty…”

3. How do you schedule your work (priorities…..)?

I have a little digital “to-do” list/docket program that I use. As things get done, I check ’em off. Priorities are things that hit the air the quickest… then those can be prioritized by the value. For example, things for a huge station that are paying me lots of cash are going to get first priority… spots and/or promos that start tomorrow are also first priority… a little side project for a station that’s not paying all that much will probably be put further down on the list. A PSA or non-paid spot will be at the bottom of the list. I’m still terrible at time and priority management though – it’s a constant struggle that I’m trying to improve!

4. What do you love about working on your own and serve different clients?

I worked out of my house for a few years – remotely – and it was nice to go to work in my underwear, but I did begin to miss the day-to-day, face-to-face interaction…. so I got this gig at a small group of radio stations in Bend, Oregon. It’s a beautiful town and my General Manager owns the cluster – so I’m enjoying and appreciating that fun “in the station” vibe and energy again. I still have a home studio and still work remotely for KUPL in Portland and CMT – and I like being able to do that. The change of pace between commercial production, imaging and my on-air shifts is a fun and challenging dynamic.

5. What is the best protools or production trick anybody should know?

The best production trick is learning how to write. It starts and ends with the writing and the message. As far as effects, reverse reverb… it comes in handy for accentuating a word, or making a transition smoother, and a bunch of other stuff!

6. How do you get inspired and what do you use as source of creativity?

My inspiration comes primarily from four places: coworkers, community, artists, and listeners. I work with some of the best minds in Country radio – Cody Alan and Dingo at CMT Radio Live, Scott Mahalick and the team at KUPL, and Ed Lambert and our team here at KSJJ in Bend. That group alone is a wall of creativity that hits my inbox every single day. I also try to just take notice of things when I’m out and about – at events (fairs, festivals, monster truck tours, rodeos, concerts, or just along main street in downtown). Just watching people as they enjoy an event or move through their day can be a huge source of inspiration. Then the artists – the lyrics in the songs, the conversations I have with them when they’re around, and paying attention to their interviews are great places to soak up inspiration! I also try to go to as many remotes as possible to get some one-on-one time with the listeners. By talking, face-to-face, with the people I’m talking to on the air, I can get a great gauge as to whether my station is on-track and to get more “in-tune” with my listeners’ personalities and tastes. The one thing I don’t do much of is listen to other stations to rip off ideas. I mostly leave the “idea-borrowing” up to my PDs.

7. Who were your radio production idols, who influenced your work as a producer?

Gosh – so many. Everyone I’ve crossed paths with along the way has had an influence!

My production idols are Dave Foxx and John Frost. Like countless producers, Dave also taught me SOOO much over the years. From technical skills to theory – I owe much of my career success to Dave. He told me long ago to “pay it forward” – and I try to help the younger producers as much as possible because of Dave’s well-pointed advice.

When I was a baby DJ in high school, I lived in Clovis, California. From Clovis, it was about a 3-hour drive to Los Angeles – and I made the drive frequently. I LOVED listening to KROQ and hearing John’s work. It inspired me to look more at imaging as my career developed. Eventually I ended up at KXTE in Las Vegas where John was our voice guy. He would send down KROQ promo audio and I’d spend HOURS dissecting it and trying to figure out how he did what he did.

I was also influenced by: my first Production Director Dan Gustafson. Dan gave me a very solid foundation on which to build at my first gig in Fresno. Don DeLaCruz in Fresno also influenced me in a great way – I was a P1 of his station in high school! He wrote and produced much of that phenomenal imaging on KRZR. I eventually got to work with Don during my years at Clear Channel in Central Cali.

Hardy Pool who I worked with in Las Vegas; Bobby Mitchell (Kent LaTurno) who I worked with in Dallas; the many GREAT program directors I got to work with over the years: Danny Spanks, Paul Williams, Jay Turner, Don Cristi, John Cook, Scott Mahalick, Mister Ed Lambert, Mike Preston, and Dave Wellington.

I’m also inspired by Mike Santos at AMP in Los Angeles. Mikey was a promo kid at my station in San Francisco. He expressed interest in production and eventually became my assistant… then he became our commercial production director… then he went to Denver and kicked some serious imaging ass… then he got a HUGE job as production director at AMP. Talk about student eclipsing the teacher! I’m so proud of Mike. His energy and success inspires me to continue to learn new things and grow every day. He’s proof that if you work hard, show some passion, and have a little talent to back it all up – big dreams can be achieved.

One other name that was a HUGE influence was Brian Phillips. I never really had a chance to chat with Brian, but he created The Wolf brand that made the station in Dallas so successful, and he coached the greats that I was honored to work with during those magical years in Texas. That whole staff learned from Brian and they ALL shared some tricks and influenced my style. I owe a lot to Brian and have such deep respect for creative genius. I’m SUPER honored that Brian, Cody Alan and Dingo at CMT trust me to take care of CMT’s brand on CMT Radio Live’s imaging.

8. What would be your 3 key advises for a youngster?

1. Learn to write.
2. Ask questions/ be a sponge.
3. Produce for your audience, not for other producers.
Bonus: Recognize and be grateful for the good times and unique people you experience in radio. They’re gifts and not everyone gets this kind of experience in life!!

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