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The Influencers

A Bike Thief, The Met Police and David Walliams Under A Table: How To Make Better Radio

INFLUENCER: Jungle associate director and senior sound designer Chris Turner reveals what goes into making a truly immersive ad

A Bike Thief, The Met Police and David Walliams Under A Table: How To Make Better Radio

Last week a radio script arrived in my inbox. A straightforward, beautifully constructed ad that communicated an idea perfectly, in just 30 seconds.

SFX: Sounds of a moped being stolen, mechanical noises, cars going past, street sounds.

Male Voice Over: Cocky sounding thief
This one shouldn’t take long.
‘course if it had a cover, I might not be bothered.
Can’t see what’s under there.
And they’d chained the back wheel, it would’ve taken me much longer
‘specially if the chain’s off the ground, makes it harder to cut.
This one doesn’t even have a lock on the front.
So in the time I’ve been talking to you, I’ve nicked it.

SFX: Moped revving off

Metropolitan Police Voice Over: Over 9,000 scooters and bikes were stolen in London last year.
Lock your bike, chain the rear wheel and cover it to make it harder to steal.
Lock, chain, cover. The Met Police.

Every word is expertly crafted to conjure the dialogue and image of a very believable thief.

It sounds really simplistic; like anyone in any studio could make this ad and produce a decently good job.

But I’m bored of good. Far too many ads I hear on commercial radio are undermining the astonishing power of the medium. It’s sad that I feel part of a minority that truly loves the power of radio advertising, so please allow me to evangelise.

I wanted to make this ad great, the script was fantastic and the creative team are the finest people in the business. The last time I worked on scripts for the MET Police they won a bucketful of awards and with the opportunity to do it again, I wanted to go all out.

So how do you take an ad anyone could do and make it better?

70% of people now listen to radio on headphones and because of this I’ve developed a new obsession - recording all my own sound effects binaurally (3D audio for headphones) when I have the script in advance. Binaural recording creates the sensation of actually being in the same room or space as the performer or event, generating a truly immersive experience for the listener.

Here are two versions of the ad: the first, the immersive binaural experience we chose for the official ad and the second, a standard stereo version I mocked up to show the difference in energy and immersion. Have a listen. Does one feel closer, perhaps more lifelike?

MET Police - Easy - Binaural from Jungle on Vimeo.

Metropolitan Police - Easy - Stereo Version from Jungle on Vimeo.

This script presented the perfect opportunity to witness a scooter being stolen in real time, the opportunity to feel that the male voice over is talking directly to you, and that you’ve been transported to the scene of a real crime.

Typically the session would run like this: the thief would be recorded on a location mic and equalised to sound as though it’s been recorded outdoors, some Foley would be done in the booth or some stock library effects added. The actor would have been told to sound conversational, even though he’s reading the words sitting behind a wooden desk. 

Sound familiar?

I approached this ad differently. For me, it needed to sound real and not staged, that way it would have more engagement and more impact on the listener. 

Firstly, I researched how to steal a scooter; if you’re going to convince anyone that it’s real then you’ve got to know what you’re doing right! Next, I timed out the script and mapped out all the actions the thief would have to do to steal the scooter; making sure it would all fit in the allotted time length. Then I used my  binaural recorder - a microphone modelled on a human head that captures sound almost identically to the human ear -  to record myself acting out the entire scene on my driveway.

You’re guessing that this client had a huge budget and plenty of time for me to experiment, right? Actually, they asked for one hour prep for some sound effects, and that’s exactly how long it took me to do it.

When it came to the voice over record I didn’t want the actor to be static; I now know that stealing a scooter is easy, but it’s still physical. Instead of positioning him behind a desk I rigged the room with all the different mics I wanted and made him act out the script with props. It was important for me that the physical script didn’t get in the way of the acting -  so I wanted him to memorise it.

There were a few other incidental but important things for me; he needed to be dressed equipped to steal a scooter and this involved him wearing a balaclava of sorts - the client’s beautifully perfumed scarf around his face. This was a tough negotiation as the actor was worried his Missus would think he’d been cheating on her, so I encouraged him to buy her some of the same perfume on the way home and we got on with the session.

All the sound had been timed to the script so the actor needed to exert himself in all the right places. Twisting a remote control was perfect as he removed the ‘bike’s’ plastic cover and tossed it aside. Most of the action happens down, close to the ground and I wanted the listener to sense this; as the script progresses and he’s ready to start the engine, he’s standing and right in your face.

It’s fair to say that the actor thought it was some kind of wind-up, he’d never been asked to record a radio ad in this way and took a little convincing before he realised I wasn’t joking. I told him that I once had David Walliams under the desk - we all laughed, as he said it was a familiar story. 

There was one final stage before the mix was complete. I recorded myself speaking in the same location where I had recorded the effects; this was so I could exactly match the EQ of what actually being in that location felt and sounded like, onto the finished voice over.

This ad didn’t take any longer to prep or make than how 99.9% of other studios would have made it. However the difference is clear and the process was so much fun.

Radio can be very impactful. So the next time you write, “This commercial opens on Whitehaven beach, Queensland, Australia,” and you’re told it’s too expensive - do it on radio; a place where you can be transported to the furthest reaches of your imagination for a drop in the ocean.

So, if you ever want tips on how to audibly steal a bike, make better radio or just work that little bit goddamn harder - get in touch. 

You won’t be the first under the table.
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