More then 25 years in the Imaging business, multi award wininnng and inspring to an entire generation in Canada and beyond. Not many could tell that about their radio career, John could, but never would, so I do! I met John as the Head of Imaging for Astral Media, while discussing Benztown for some of their stations. Canada has always been great to us as a company and John’s Toronto station was our first international Benztown CHR client ever. After digging into Johns career, I got more and more impressed and wanted to have him badly for an intreview on the blog.  John has wisdom to share for younger imaging guys and producers and is absolutly one of the guys to listen to, if you want to make it in the Imaging world. Thanks for sharing, John and never stop creating magic. Check out the inspiring interview, John’s screencaps + explanations to each of them and the great audio pieces, he sent through.

1. which production system do you use at Astral and why?

At Astral Vancouver we use Pro Tools. Our other Astral stations use either Pro Tools or Audition, for the most part.
I LOVE Pro Tools. I’ve been using it since 1993 when it was version 2, in conjunction with the original 2-track editor Sound Designer. Back then of course everything was SCSI (blech…). I’ve always used it on a Mac.

I love the flexibility of Pro Tools. Some folks consider it overkill for radio production, but I’d rather have too many choices than not enough. My only complaint is the inability to bounce projects in non-real time, which Avid should have addressed long ago, but there are workarounds. With Pro Tools 9 no longer being tied to proprietary Avid hardware, there’s now the freedom to choose any third-party hardware interface, which is a bonus. I also have an LE system running on a Macbook Pro for home and remote use, and I recently purchased a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 which is linked to my old 002 rack for 16 inputs.

I’ve also heard folks refer to Pro Tools as having a steep learning curve, or that it’s too complex, but I find that once you spend some time with it everything follows a pretty logical path. It’s like any software, follow the rules and you’ll rarely get stuck.

2. what are your favourite plugIns (including screenshots)?

I really like the Waves Mondo Mod, I use it a lot for voice effects. The Focusrite d2 is pretty much my go-to EQ. The Waves Audio Track is handy, although I usually disable the EQ and use it strictly as a compressor. The Waves L2 is great for hard limiting. I use the Maxim limiter on the Master bus for all my mixes, it’s pretty transparent and glues everything together nicely without colouring the sound.

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

It changes daily. Obviously topicality is priority #1. There are recurring projects with deadlines so those have to be scheduled sensibly. Actually Doug Harris (of Creative Animal) said something a few years ago that’s stuck with me – start your day with the most challenging task (I’m paraphrasing). Makes sense, your brain gets fired up early in the day and once the tough stuff is done you can take on anything.

4. what do you love about being the head of production @ Astral?

The ability to share knowledge with others, and the opportunity to learn from others. There are a LOT of really creative and talented Writers and Producers working at Astral. We have an internal site where we share ideas, audio, scripts, and discuss pertinent issues. There’s never a shortage of great ideas, and never a shortage of people willing to help out.

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

Wow, that’s a tough one. I don’t really have any “tricks” as far as Pro Tools, but some of the improvements they’ve come up with over the past few versions have made life a lot easier – things like Workspace, the Smart Tool, the ability to drag-and-drop plug-ins and inserts.

I think the best Production tip, I could offer would be to approach each project with an open mind. As counter-productive as it might sound, I don’t use the template feature in Pro Tools. Sure, I have a session with pre-set v/o plug-in chains that I usually import data from, for convenience, but by avoiding templates it forces me to reinvent the sound each time. I’m not knocking the use of templates, in many cases they’re essential, I just choose not to use them.

Oh, and monitor quietly. You’ll hear detail better and you’ll save your hearing.

6. how do you get inspired and what do you use as scource of creativity?

Inspiration is a funny thing, you can’t simply dial up the muse (wow, that sounds really pretentious, huh?). I usually get ideas from day-to-day things – a headline in the paper, a bit of conversation. I don’t usually follow current pop culture too closely cuz I find I get trapped into a narrow headspace and everything ends up being filtered through that thought process. I tend to look to slightly more obscure influences – old Firesign Theatre stuff, alternative magazines, movies that are a bit off the radar. Lately I’ve been watching a lot of old Mystery Science Theatre 3000 episodes, that usually gets the juices going.

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

I know everyone says John Frost, Eric Chase and Jeff Thomas, but for good reason. They broke the mold, they re-invented radio imaging, and not just sonically. Their work was ALWAYS based on great scripts. I love words, I love the creative use of language, and their work stands up because they completely understood that noise is just noise, but words are pictures. Sadly the creative use of language seems to be taking a backseat in our PPM-driven world, where brevity is king. It’s sad. The other thing I learned from them was timing and pacing, the importance of silence.

8. what would be your 3 key advices for me a youngster?

Work really hard, always pay attention to the sounds around you, and never skip the details.

9. what was the biggest moment in radio ever?

In 1985 I was working in Toronto for Standard Radio (since purchased by Astral). A group of us were invited by World Vision to travel to Kenya to observe some of their projects. Our goal was to share what we’d learned with our listeners and encourage them to support the relief efforts of World Vision via a radiothon. My task was audio documentation, so I recorded many hours of interviews with people living in absolutely horrid conditions – mud shacks, no food, no water, no medical care, and a drought and AIDS epidemic to boot. I also interviewed health care workers, teachers and children who were involved with or had benefitted from the work that World Vision does. It was a humbling and life-changing experience, and I’ll always treasure that.

10. how do you handle your workload as head of production for an entire group and what is the fun part about it?

Actually the workload isn’t as overwhelming as you might think. My role is very much as a production “consultant” if you will. Most of the hands-on production I do nationally is station flips, launches and occasionally re-imaging jobs. I also handle special projects like our annual Astral radiothon for children’s hospitals across Canada. It’s all fun, it’s a tremendous learning experience and I don’t think you can ask for much more in a job.

See two powerful Plugin Combos from John, he used in the Lady Gaga Promo above:

The first screen cap is the edit session.

The next 5 screen caps are the processing chain for the Lady Gaga spoken word “now”, which repeats and pans at the 8 second mark. Prior to mixing I used the RTAS version of the Vari-Fi plug to pitch down the end of the word “now”.

In order, here are the plugs;

Focusrite d2 EQ  – set for a filter, roll off at 500Hz

Waves AudioTrack – normally I disable all the EQ when using the AudioTrack plug but in  this case I used a distortion preset (“E-guitar_distn-bright”) which required all the EQ’s enabled. Because this preset by itself sounds really muddy and boomy, I used the first plug (the filter) to roll off all of that. I really like using distortion on voices, all those harmonics help it cut through.


Next I applied the Digirack Extra Long Delay II, set to match the tempo of the music track.

Then I used the Mondo Mod “Full Rotor” preset, with the Tempo Sync on “Auto” so it would also match the tempo of the music track. This gave me a tempo-matched delay and stereo sweep, for some movement.

Then I squashed the whole thing (but not too much) with the Waves L2.

A simple thing, but it gives that part of the promo some texture and movement.

The next 3 screen caps are the processing chain for the distorted “Virgin” male voice at around the 3 second mark. Again, it’s just a distortion chain, but it’s become a favourite for me – Focusrite d2>AudioTrack>L2

  1. Joel says:

    Great read.. thanks!

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