There's no one fantastic, perfect job. And as the years go on it becomes about happiness and where you are in your life. The struggle and always reaching for that big gig. If I'm honest, that's bullshit.
When it comes to radio imaging in Ireland Paul Duffy has done it all, having worked as an imaging producer for major stations all over Ireland and the U.K. He joined us on the Tinpod to shoot the breeze at Tinpot Towers riffing on topics from radio to Northern Soul talking about passions, personal fulfillment and getting the work/life balance right.
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Daryl: So welcome to the Tinpot Productions Podcast, and today I have with me probably one of the most experienced radio producers in the country. I think you probably had a view of the industry from all angles, and we’ll get to that in a bit. I want to say hello to Paul Duffy. And I’m going to start with what could be your first or your second love, you can tell me, Northern soul music or soul music in general. Tell me a bit about that?
Paul: Now, see that’s the thing, radio or northern soul?
Daryl: It’s a tough-
Paul: I would go … Or the wife-to-be.
Daryl: Or the wife-to-be, yeah, yeah. Okay. Well, let’s say it’s either your second or third love, just so everybody is going to be happy and there will be no issue. Maybe start by telling me, which came first, radio or the music?
Paul: Now, see here’s a very, very interesting thing. I think both of them came at the same time from the same person.
Paul: And that person is no longer … Well, he’s not really into either. It came from my brother. My brother used to do bits for Capital Radio back in the day, when it actually started. Before that, he was doing bits for Q. He was a bit of an anorak. And the way we all started off, we all started doing bits.
Paul: And I got my love of radio from him, and I got my love of Northern soul from him as well. And he isn’t really into either now. Obviously he’ll listen to the radio, he’ll listen to a couple of tunes, but he doesn’t really go to much events. But yeah, I got my love of both off him. But I would say Northern soul is first.
Paul: Has to be. It has to be.
Daryl: And what’s like … Are you digging in the crate still, buying vinyl and getting in that-
Paul: Oh, God, absolutely.
Daryl: … still very involved in the scene?
Paul: Absolutely. We run … Myself and three other guys run a night in Grand Central basically every quarter. There’s a lot going on. So we were doing it more regularly, but there’s just so much going on. So we do it every quarter. But yeah, absolutely, I’m running that. I was actually DJ-ing at the weekend gone. I regularly go over to the holy grail of Northern soul, which is the 100 Club in London.
Paul: And that’s always a very interesting conversation, when people ask, “So, what are you doing on the weekend?” “Oh, I’m going to London.” “Oh, you’re going to London. Where are you staying? What are you doing?” And I have to tell them that like, “No, I’m not staying anywhere. I get the 8:00 flight at night from Dublin to Heathrow. I get the Tube in city center. That gets me in city center about half 10. I’m in the queue for quarter to 11. The door opens at 11:00. It’s on until 6:00. Then I go to McDonald’s, get a coffee, and then back on the Tube at 7:00 out of the airport for a 20 to 10 flight.”
Daryl: So it’s an all-nighter? It’s not even a red-eye-
Paul: No, no, no.
Daryl: … it’s all night.
Paul: All night.
Daryl: Wow. Are there groups of people do that from Ireland as well?
Paul: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I primarily will be the one that will go over most, but yeah. We have people coming over and people, like friends of mine, come over as well. Generally, there’s a group of us, but I did … What happened was, when I started going, I’d be all very, “Come on, are you going? Are you going? Are you going?” And obviously all the other lads have families and they can’t.
Paul: So not got hacked off asking, but just like, I understood then, after my, “Are you going? Are you going? Are you going?” When they couldn’t, I was like, “Okay. Do you know what? I’ll just go myself. If they come, excellent.” But yeah, every year, their anniversary is in September every year. It’s now this September, it’s run 40 years. So it is the longest-running Northern soul in the world.
Daryl: I want to say about Northern soul music in particular that you like, presumably you like other types of music as well, but Northern soul is the one?
Paul: Oh God, yeah. I’m a massive, massive dance-head as well, which is very, very strange. Because one minute I would post up Underworld Two Months Off, and then I post up a very, very rare Northern soul record. What is it? I don’t know. It just gets you. Well, it gets me. It just gets me. I don’t know how to describe it.
Daryl: Yeah. It’s just instinctively you just like it?
Paul: Yeah, yeah. It’s just the sound of it. You can hear … I suppose you have to be a lover of music. That’s going to … No. That’s a … It’s a podcast, so I can use …
Daryl: You can say whatever you want.
Paul: Well, I won’t say whatever I want. But it’s going to sound … It will sound slightly wank-y if I say, “You don’t understand, man.” But I think you have to have, first and foremost, a love and passion for music, and what music can do to a person and a person’s emotions.
Daryl: Yeah. And do you think the Northern soul, then, has this emotional effect? It has this just …
Paul: In spades.
Daryl: Some music is less emotional. It’s just bland. Whereas Northern soul, whether you like it or not, you could never really say it’s bland, could you?
Paul: No. In every single record, there is a guy getting his heart ripped to shreds by a woman. Or there’s a … I was actually at a night, Friday night, and my fiance, Dara, was there with me. And I forget what record was on, but she turned around and commented that like, “Those lyrics are very, very stalker-ish.” I was like, “Actually, yeah. Now that you say it, that’s very true.”
Paul: But it’s just very … There’s a lot of mid-tempo and slow songs that are very, very, “Oh, heartbreak, heartbreak.” But then it’s also a very strange situation where the lyrics are about, “You have hurt me, you have cheated on me, you have wrecked my life,” but then the beat is [inaudible 00:06:12]. It’s a very weird … That’s, I suppose, that’s the Motown sound, really. And that’s where Northern soul really came from.
Daryl: Are you musical yourself? Were you ever tempted to be a musician?
Paul: No, but I do want to … Over the years of getting more into production and understanding production more, I don’t know what it was like for you. I know you back of the day of when you were commercial production 104. But I don’t know what it was like for you back then. But for me, when I got into production, it was just very much a case of, “There’s a sound effect. There’s a voice. Slap them together.”
Daryl: Yeah, yeah.
Paul: But over the years, when you understand what the piece of imaging that you’re making is doing, it makes you want to know what’s going on more. And I have always wanted, ever since I heard a … One of my favorite dance songs is Latch by Disclosure. Absolutely love it. And then there was a piano version that came out and you’re told … Well, when we talk about music and how music moves you, that piece of music moves me. It’s nothing else but a piano, and it’s done on the … It’s just absolutely fabulous.
Paul: Ever since then, I’ve always said I’ve wanted to learn the piano. And had a few lessons when I moved over to Manchester, I had a few lessons, and I swore I’d get back into it over in Dublin when I came back, but never did. But it is on the to-do list, because I would love to be able to play an instrument. I’d love to be able to just pick it up and … Because Dara is very musical. She is a cracking singer. Like she’s from the country, so she absolutely loves a good sing-song.
Paul: But yeah. She’s one of those singers that, when you’re in the pub and the sing-song starts, when she starts singing, she really, really holds the-
Daryl: The room in silence.
Paul: It’s insane. And then she started … Because the type of person that she is, a very fun-loving person, she can play the guitar, so then she started to pick up the ukulele, because she just loves … And I think the ukulele really sums her up as a person. The ukulele is a fun instrument, and that’s exactly what she is.
Daryl: I mean, when I started working in radio, I started … Because, I mean, I’d always loved music, and that’s what got me into it because I used to listen to stuff and kind of like go, “I’d like to be playing,” then I got into production side. But I always thought, and I still think to this day, that the best types of imaging, and even advertising to a certain extent, are rhythmic, where they work in the same way as a good hook from a song works.
Daryl: And sometimes I hear stuff that’s really well-produced and is brilliant production-wise, but because it doesn’t have that rhythm, it just doesn’t grab me. Which isn’t a criticism of it. It’s not to say it’s not a good production. But to me, the stuff that really works is the stuff where you have just that rhythm where everything works and the vocal works to the same tempo as the music.
Daryl: So I think, like, I mean, most radio producers really, that love of music, I think if you’re going to be good at that, you have to have that really, don’t you? You can’t really … I think you can only get to a certain level without having that.
Paul: And that it’s. Now you’ve said it. So I’m an avid listener of people’s audio. It’s an interesting exercise to go back. I do it myself. And the audio … I remember hunting out the audio that I sent to Andy Matthews to get the gig in ’98.
Daryl: Yeah. How long ago was that?
Paul: Compared to … Oh God, 2007.
Daryl: Yeah, yeah. Right.
Paul: Compared to audio of now. And it is worlds, worlds apart.
Daryl: And what’s the differences? Is it just production quality, or is it what you’re doing with the imaging or what?
Paul: The known. The knowledge. Like I said, when I got into it, I thought it was a case, “So, beat on beat on beat on beat.” But I was smashing songs together that weren’t in the right key. And it’s about … Over the years, when you learn how stuff … Songs don’t happen, just by, “Oh, here, give me a guitar. I’m going to just smash it out here.”
Daryl: Yeah. There’s rules.
Paul: Yeah. There’s reasons as to why. And it’s like, “That works with that, that works with that.” And over the years, you learn tips and tricks, and you listen to people’s stuff and you listen to podcasts like this and you hear how producers actually go about it, and you hear the science behind it. And that’s the thing, it’s a science.
Daryl: Yeah. There’s a bit of art there as well.
Paul: Absolutely. And that’s the … It would be nothing without the art. The science just basically gives it its roots and foundations, if you know what I mean.
Daryl: It helps you to get to the finish point quicker, doesn’t it? Because otherwise you’re in the dark. It’s all trial and error.
Daryl: Whereas if you have a little bit of the science, then it’s easier to make the art.
Paul: Exactly. That’s exactly it. But yeah. It is absolutely all about … It’s absolutely all about the art. If you didn’t have any of that art … Again, this is going to sound very wank-y, but it’s like when I go to make a promo, I get a script, I sit down. In my head, and this is going to sound very strange, but hopefully, I think as a producer, you will understand.
Daryl: I’m sure I’ll have heard stranger.
Paul: When I sit down to make something, I already see it made in front of me,, in my mind’s eye. I see the starting point.
Daryl: So it’s just, how do you get there?
Paul: Exactly. I see the starting point. Obviously I read the script, and it determines … It’s interesting what you said there about art in terms of the technicals and the production part. If you don’t have a good script, that’s it. You have nothing. You’re goosed. Everything is related around a good script.
Paul: So if there’s comedy elements or there’s stop-downs in the promo, I can actually … Again, I look up and I can see the actual waveform. I can see the start of the waveform. I can see the end tailing off. I can see a stop here and a stop there. It sounds absolutely strange.
Daryl: No, I think that makes sense. I mean, my thing is, how easy is it to get to that finish point? You know what it want to be, but is it … What’s the process to get there? Is it still a bit of, “Okay, I’m trying to get this. That’s still not right.” Trial and error. Or is it just once you see that, is it easy to do it?
Paul: Is it easy? It can be easy to do it. It can also make it a bit too clinical. Because you know the end game. You know the end already. So it can make it a little bit too clinical. I always say to producers that are coming in, I even do it myself when I have a day where I’m like, “No, I’m just smacking stuff together. I’m not enjoying this.” I get a blank proto-session, two dry pieces of VO, and that’s it. I go back to basics of, what does that plug-in do? What does that button do? On that plug-in, if I move those parameters, rather than the parameters that I’m used to, what happens?
Paul: And again, it’s about going back and playing. Just play. This is supposed to be fun.
Daryl: From a good promo, are you looking to get that same kind of kick that you get from music, from Northern soul? If you get this kind of reaction, is that the same thing you’re doing in a different context?
Paul: Yes, absolutely. I absolutely adore hearing a good promo made. And look, Jesus, that’s not just me. I’m talking any promos. When I hear a good promo on the air, I love it. Like I’ll take it back to my … When I’ve grown up, for me, FM104 was always the station for me, in terms of everything. Presenters, presentation style, music, the imaging, the promos. 104 was just the station because I loved everything about it. But I loved the 98FM, the Bryan James 98FM promos. You knew when a promo came on 98FM, something special was happening.
Paul: And that’s going back to … When [inaudible 00:15:21]. I was in Freedom at the time. I was in a pirate station at the moment. And that’s going back to those days where, yeah, that’s what sparked my love of it. And I really, really love hearing very good production, because I’m a technical nerd, but then I also, I’d like to think I see the bigger picture and hear the bigger picture as to how this actually sits in the overall grand scheme of the station.
Daryl: And radio imaging, in terms of radio branding, is a funny one, because it’s the only skillset that I’m aware of, and I might be wrong in this, there isn’t any college or PLC or media course that teaches radio imaging. The only place you can learn radio imaging is in a radio station, or you teach yourself. And that’s the case, isn’t it, I mean?
Paul: It is very much the case. But, I’ll give you the other scenario. How do you describe it? Like, “Mom and Dad, I want to be a carpenter.” “Okay, son.” “Mom and Dad, I want to be a doctor.” “Okay, son. You’re probably not the brightest to be able to do that, but okay, son.” “Mom and Dad, I want to be a radio imaging producer.” “What?”
Daryl: Yeah. Yeah.
Paul: “What?” And that’s the thing, and I’ll give you a very funny scenario is … I actually think it was iRadio, when I was there back in 2013. Sorry, I’ve gone back to iRadio now. Yeah, when I was there, there was a girl … I think it was the head of sales was showing a new sales rep around and they were explaining that, “This is Paul and he’s in imaging,” and just even the word “imaging”, image, picture.
Paul: And they just don’t relate it to sound. And it was like, “Oh, yeah, I see what you mean. Yeah. On the wall. The iRadio on the wall, that’s what he does.” No, no.
Daryl: So they thought you were a graphic designer?
Paul: Yeah, exactly. It’s just very strange. But yeah, it’s very interesting that there’s no college or course that actually teaches this. But I will go so far as to say it should be a bit bigger than radio.
Daryl: But then again, you’ve got to say, how many people, if you look at the number of radio stations and you look at the number of people that are doing imaging, that a lot of it is either produced out of house, or is packaged, how many people are actually producing radio imaging within radio? I mean, would it be 15 or 20, maybe, at a guess?
Paul: And this is where your estimation will be right, but then you’d have to chop it down to … There’s local radio stations around the country that absolutely, wholeheartedly don’t understand imaging, don’t want to understanding imaging, don’t see the value in it.
Paul: So you have the likes of 104, 98, Spin, iRadio, Beat, Spin South West, Today FM, 2FM. Stations like that. 2FM to a lesser degree because they do image out house. But there are only a certain amount of radio stations in Ireland that actually value imaging and what the blips, blaps, zaps, stop-downs actually do, what they create. On a local level, it is a case of ads first and all the other whoosh bangs are absolutely secondary.
Daryl: Because I think people don’t see the return on imaging, whereas-
Paul: Absolutely not.
Daryl: … advertising is a simple, the return is, firstly that a client is paying you for it, but secondly that you’re selling stuff. Imaging is selling stuff as well, but it’s almost like the distinction between marketing and sales. Advertising is sales, imaging is marketing, and marketing sometimes is harder to see the benefit. That doesn’t mean the benefit isn’t there.
Daryl: But it’s in the ether.
Paul: I will even go back to, you’re in the car, all right? And your mother, brother, wife, whoever it is in the car with you, and you have a radio station on, and they say, “Oh, and we’ve got the new one from Justin Timberlake next,” and they hit the green button to hit the ad break and a promo comes on. The listener, the normal listener, doesn’t know that, “Oh, that’s a promo for that giveaway,” or, “That’s a promo for that show.” To them, that’s just an ad. So you can understand where it’s the same … Like, radio station bosses would see … Like radio station CEOs would see it the same way to go, “No, it’s just another ad.” And that’s the thing.
Paul: There’s not many people … It’s sadly, but there’s not many people that actually value it, understand it and understand what it actually can bring, and that’s something that the PDs, APDs and production directors around the company battle with to go, “We are sales …” And ultimately, we are salesmen. We just do it in a different way.
Daryl: Yeah. In terms of the good imaging, or the people who are at the forefront of production and imaging in radio, internationally, where do you think … Is it fair … Is Australia head of the [crosstalk 00:20:47]?
Paul: They are so ahead of the game, it’s insane.
Paul: Australia. Yeah. For a long time … Actually, do you know what? Not for a long time. A long time ago, before the internet was a big thing-
Daryl: The what? The what now?
Paul: The inter webs.
Daryl: Oh, yeah.
Paul: I remember going over to New York for the first time in 2004, and brought my laptop. So obviously being able to stream stations was much more difficult than it is now. So back in 2004, brought my laptop, brought a radio and brought a sound card, and obviously Cool Edit was on the laptop.
Daryl: I hope it was the official, not the cracked version?
Paul: Oh, of course it was, yeah, yeah. Thank you, Peter Quistgard.
Daryl: Good old Peter. If only he got paid to send for a cracked copy, he’d be a billionaire, a billionaire.
Paul: So yeah. I brought the laptop with me, recorded. And this was me, I was recording the famous Z100 New York, “Oh man, it’s amazing.” Went off for the day and did my bits and pieces in New York and loved it. Then came back and started to listen, and I just didn’t get it. I didn’t get American radio. I don’t like it. And ever since then, I’m like, “Okay.” I value what the big Z100, KIIS LA, I get what those big stations are. And they’re big, big, massive heritage stations. And yes, they do do things well.
Paul: Now, Dave Foxx, who’s gone … who was an absolute hero, and then [Stacks 00:22:24], [inaudible 00:22:24] coming in to Z100 now is amazing. And after bringing it to another level. So it’s gone full circle. So for ages, the production in America was always storytelling, storytelling, storytelling. And then with PPM coming in, that got shot to shit and it was like, “Okay, tell me what I need to know in five seconds. Go, go, go, go, go.” Bang, ad break.
Daryl: So PPM is the new monitoring system? This is a system that, it listens to what you’re listening to, is that right? As opposed to … The old system was surveys, wasn’t it?
Paul: Yeah, yeah.
Daryl: And so, how has that affected just run … The imaging side, the mentality of people?
Paul: Because we’re in a world now where people’s attention spans are shorter, so it’s like, “No, get the message out. Get the message out. And then get me back to the music, back to the music, back to the music.”
Daryl: That’s what the PPM, then, is telling people, is it?
Paul: That’s it, yeah. That was back in … God, I can’t remember. Was that back in … Seven, eight, nine, 10, in or around there. But again, it’s [inaudible 00:23:26] 360 to go, “Well, if people want just to hear music, they will go to Spotify. They’ll go to YouTube.” I do it all the time. If I want to hear a song, I don’t want to turn on a radio station and wait 15, 20 minutes, because I know the clock, so I know that, yeah, that new music song is going to come up at 20 past or whatever. I want to do it now. That’s the attention span. I’m sorry, but that’s the world that we live in.
Paul: Radio has one job, engage me. Talk to me. It’s a one-to-one thing. Weirdly, radio, it’s a one-to-one medium, but then shows like Joe Duffy keep it on a one-to-one level, but touches an entire country.
Daryl: But still a conversation?
Paul: Absolutely. But that’s where … So yes, music radio … Well, music is one of the primaries, but if I want music, I’ll go to Spotify. I’ll go to wherever, because that’s just the world that we live in now. So radio is now about, thankfully, getting back to engaging people, entertaining people. And imaging in America is starting to go back to that and starting to reflect that. Again, engage me with the content that you are making. And Stacks has brought that back to … He’s brought that back to the forefront in Z100. So he’s now starting to create music promo … Like music promos and situational production, which is great to hear again.
Daryl: In terms of podcasts, so what radio stations are talking about now is … and what the sales heads are talking about now is, instead of it being advertising, it’s about audio as opposed to radio. So they’re looking at the full suite of digital products, not just radio, but social media, podcasting. So, on the production side of the podcasting, in terms of podcasting, I mean, it strikes me as … Well, podcasting isn’t in its infancy. It’s been around a while. But at the same time, it’s slightly new. In a lot of cases, the production quality on podcasts aren’t great. Do you think that matters? Is it a medium that’s more about the story than the audio quality or the production values?
Paul: That’s a very interesting question. And it’s when you … As soon as you said that, I had an analogy in my head that I can bring it back to Northern soul and Northern soul DJ-ing. Go with me. Everybody on the scene has a box of records, and everybody thinks they can DJ.
Daryl: Yeah. Because they have the records?
Paul: Because they have the records. Yeah. Sorry. They have records. They may not necessarily have the records, or know what to do with them. Same thing with podcasts. Everybody has a podcast, but a lot of them are two people in a kitchen with very, very bad audio. And if a podcast is audio, and you’re putting out an audio product that has bad audio, do people not understand this?
Daryl: Yeah. It’s fundamental when you’re [crosstalk 00:27:05] podcast.
Paul: Yeah. So yeah. Everybody now has a podcast, but there’s not many people, producers or companies actually doing it right.
Daryl: And even leaving aside, say, the quality of stuff, which is one, a issue of how well it’s recorded and how well it sounds. But even, there is very little production or the same kind of imaging and branding that you’d hear on a radio station on podcasts. So it’s not really something that … It’s almost like the production perspective is different. Well, it’s a different medium, I suppose, to radio. But there isn’t the same kind of approach to branding, I suppose, on a podcast. Or not to the same extent, certainly.
Paul: No. Definitely not to the same extent. But again, because I’m driving a lot now, three days a week, I have room and space and time to listen to a lot of podcasts. So I’m always late to the party with some stuff. So I am now on Serial. You remember that podcast?
Paul: The Netflix program. Yeah. So that’s what I’m listening to now. And just even how that’s produced is fabulous. Because, again, it’s telling the story, but it’s … Podcasts are different. I know I’m jumping around the place. But podcasts are very, very different because, again, it’s more storytelling than radio is. Radio is … Let’s boil it down. Unless you’re Joe Duffy or unless you’re a show on Newstalk, or Matt Cooper on The Last Word or something, you’re playing music and you’re selling stuff. Let’s boil it down to absolute bare bones and bare basics.
Paul: With podcasts, you’re telling stories, so you have to create soundscapes. And that’s exactly … For me, that’s what Serial is doing. And other podcasts are doing that as well. And it’s great to hear that. So yeah, while there’s not the [inaudible 00:29:10] Serial [inaudible 00:29:11] the way that would exist on radio, but there is still the same level, if not more, detail gone into it and thought process gone into, “I want to get this result out. So therefore, to get that result out, I have to put this amount of work in.”
Daryl: And speaking of podcasts and digital, I mean, and you’ve, I mean, I would think of a pretty good perspective on the industry you’ve worked in, the main Dublin stations, in 4FM, 104, 98, Today FM. You’ve worked in regional stations as well. How have you seen, over the course of the last 10 or 15 years, how have stations changed, and what’s been the impact of digital and new media? Or has it impacted much in terms of your role or what you’re doing in the station?
Paul: My role in the station, it hasn’t really impacted much. As in, I have my own thoughts and opinions on radio and digital and podcasting, and honestly, I think radio’s late to the party.
Daryl: In what sense? In adapting to-
Paul: In adapting to it. In seeing what can be done. For a long time, radio had the upper hand, but it took the lazy upper hand, “Check out our podcast now. Check out our podcast now.” It’s just FM show, pulled from the log and whacked up online. That’s not a podcast. That’s not a podcast as we know it now. A podcast as we know it now is-
Daryl: A separate production?
Paul: A separate piece of … That Peter Crouch podcast, the following that podcast has, insane. Serial. Like that’s the podcast realm that we’re living in now, not the, “Check out our podcast, which is just the best bits of the show.”
Daryl: I mean, it can be difficult, I suppose, for … I mean, a commercial station, as you say, is primarily a music-based commercial entity. Like, for them to make the transition to, say, a narrative drama like Serial, like that’s quite a big leap to make, isn’t it?
Paul: It would be, yeah.
Daryl: And a big, I suppose, like drama narrative is an expensive thing. But maybe, what you’re saying is if they’d been there earlier, you make the mistakes and you learn quicker.
Paul: Absolutely. Absolutely. Because, again, it always seems as though radio’s on the back foot. I don’t know how to describe it that, one, won’t get me into trouble, or won’t piss people off, or go, “Duffy, I thought you said that.” But it just always seems radio is on the back foot, fighting against new technologies or new ways of doing things. It never fully embraces them properly in the way that it can. The bit that always gets me is, we have been doing audio for years. We, as an industry, have the upper hand. But we never play that upper hand. Never.
Daryl: As we’re recording, you’ve recently started in iRadio, moving from Today FM.
Daryl: iRadio isn’t part of a group, is that right? Is that, then, an independent station on its own, or as part of-
Paul: No. Independent station on its own, yeah.
Daryl: Is there any difference, from a production point of view, do you get more creative leeway if you’re in an independent station, or does it just depend on the station or the group?
Paul: It really depends on your programming team. But the CEO, the new CEO in iRadio, new, young CEO, very forward-thinking CEO, and again, hires … I always see on LinkedIn and places like that the sayings and quotes and stuff like that. So, “A good boss hires you and gets out of your way.” And, if I make something that Mark doesn’t like, he won’t be shy about telling me, “No, take it off. Don’t like that.” Or, “Do you know? Do it that way. I actually envisioned it that way.” But yeah, hires people to actually do the job and get on with the job.
Paul: And that’s great to be around. I suppose in bigger groups, there’s bigger chains of command, and that creates confusion. That creates a lot of lag in timeline, to actually get an idea from the group table to actually on air. So I suppose being small and being in a smaller group, or being in a smaller station and a smaller group of people and a smaller station. When I say “smaller station”, I don’t mean smaller as in … But a smaller team of people. The workflow happens an awful lot quicker.
Daryl: And how important is that timeline? Say, do you have to do stuff reactively if something happens on social media? Something outside [inaudible 00:34:26] is it a case, “Okay, we need to get a promo today,” or does something happen that-
Paul: Yeah, very much so. Especially with the demographic that I’m in now. And it’s a really strange. I’ve been on a journey. It feels like I’ve been on a journey searching for the utopian station. And I’m here to tell you, kids, doesn’t exist.
Daryl: First of all, what is the utopian station, as an ideal? I mean, they’d pay you a million euro a year, obviously, that’s the first thing.
Paul: Absolutely. Two. Two.
Daryl: Two mil. Sorry. I’m setting my bar low.
Paul: I suppose, for me, the utopian station would be a mix of Capital, KISS, the massive money station promotions that the Australian stations do. The Australian mentality of radio. Radio is still magic in Australia. That’s absolutely lost over here. I don’t know why. I don’t know where we lost it, because you’re going back to the … Like, I remember, back to the days of the 98 Fugitive or FM104’s House. Even at the time of me working in 98, Mad Money, giving away 100 grand and throwing golden tickets from helicopters on Sandymount Strand.
Paul: I don’t know where we lost that. And it’s a very sad place to be, because knowing that that actually still exists, and that magic still exists over in Australia. So the magic of Australia, the tightness of Capital and KISS London, and the execution of BBC Radio 1. They are a fantastic station. A fantastic radio station.
Daryl: BBC Radio 1?
Paul: Oh man. Oh man. If you listen to it, the station just never stops. It never stops. Even on the breakfast show, it’s always just forward momentum, forward momentum. It’s amazing.
Daryl: They seem to be very big on this thing about judging what the right time for the right thing is. So on a Friday, it’s almost like the whole station, the whole feel of the station changes. Do they call it the rhythm of life or something where they just follow and they just really think about, “What is this person doing at this time? How are they feeling? How can we reflect that?”
Daryl: What would you say to somebody who was coming into the industry now? What’s the best way to try and get into the industry? Is it through college courses? Is it through knocking on doors?
Paul: Do you know what? I think we’ve gone back to the good old days of knocking on doors, because there is nobody coming in.
Paul: Yeah. There’s not.
Daryl: Do you see interns coming through, or people who are interning and you think, “Oh, they’ll be here”? Or do they just come and go?
Paul: I see a few people. Now, obviously, it’s different now, in iRadio. When I was in Marconi, where it was Newstalk, Today, Spin and 98, there was an awful lot more interns arounds. There was a lot of people coming through, and it was great to see it. And now, it’s off the Communicorp training ground. The online station, Freak. There’s a lot of people that come through that. And that’s great to see.
Paul: There’s actually a lot of people that have come through that who are now on air on Spin, 98 and iRadio. And then there’s a few that actually went from Freak to iRadio, back to Spin and 98, and 104 as well. So they do exist, but there’s another interesting conversation around this, to go, “I don’t think radio is as sexy as it was years ago, when I got into it.” I’m 36 now, and when I was getting into it and wanted to get into when I was 16, 17, it was ’98, ’99, 2000. And again, I think it’s all got to do with the fact that there was no …
Daryl: There was less other stuff out there.
Daryl: I mean, if you were 16, 17 now, you’ve got a whole world on your phone, haven’t you? So you might listen to radio. I mean, we do training with secondary school students, and the first question we’d ask is, “How many people listen to the radio?”
Paul: “What’s the radio?”
Daryl: No, it’s not. The first question we ask is, “How many people listen to the radio?” And the second question we’d ask is, “Where do you listen to it?” And without exception, it’s three words, almost every single person, “In the car.” And that’s, they’re hearing it because when they’re being driven into school or driven home from school.
Daryl: Sometimes they’ll say, “Oh, we have it on in the kitchen because my mom or dad-”
Paul: And what age are they?
Daryl: 16, 17.
Paul: So at that age, what is their primary way of getting [crosstalk 00:39:22]?
Daryl: Spotify or YouTube. Or other free apps that have music videos that I haven’t even heard of. But it’s their phone, essentially. But that’s, I mean, essentially, it’s always in the car is where they’re saying. I mean, they’ve just got so much more options. That’s not necessarily a poor reflection on radio. I just think when you’ve got lots of other things that are basically out there.
Paul: Yeah. I don’t know how the industry combats that, but there’s definitely less and less people getting involved.
Daryl: I think it’s a problem for TV as well. It’s not universally just for radio. It’s just … If I was to ask you, what is your piece of killer kit, the piece of equipment that you, hardware or software, that you just, is the best, you couldn’t do without?
Paul: That is very interesting. That’s a very interesting question because there’s numerous ways that you can come about this, that you can answer that question. For absolute and utter shits and giggles, and I don’t need this in any way, shape or form, but I just want to play, VocalSynth from iZotope. I love it. Just because …
Paul: I had this discussion with another producer from the Imaging Blueprint service that we have, that he’s finding it very difficult to actually get a decent sound out of it. So you watch the videos online, and they’re music producers, and they put their dry vocals through it, and they have fantastic vocals effects.
Daryl: So is this auto-tuning for vocals, or is it just effects?
Paul: It’s like a vocoder on speed, acid and cocaine, basically. And the other way, that sound, that current sound in pop and dance music where your vocals are chopped and they’re tuned and they’re [inaudible 00:41:33] vocoded.
Daryl: So they’re like an instrument, almost? Like if [crosstalk 00:41:36].
Paul: Exactly like that. And you watch all the videos online, and the music producers are getting great sounds out of it, and it sounds fantastic, and you can actually hear it being a hit. And then, bang, reality, you’re in the studio, messing around with it, and it was like [inaudible 00:41:48]. So it’s literally just the playing, the playing aspect of VocalSynth, I love.
Paul: In terms of something that will actually help you, and something that really helped me was Mixed In Key. A fantastic piece of kit. Because, again, that’s where radio imaging sits now for music stations.
Daryl: So Mixed In Key, it tells you the key of it, so you can match the keys to songs?
Paul: The key of it and the BPM. Yeah. Because it really, really helps your production. Then the onboard plugs in Pro Tools. They’re fantastic. I love using the [inaudible 00:42:27] filters and filter gates. And that’s where Capital XTRA have created their station sound from, by just using onboard plugs. And Pitch ‘n Time as well. Pitch ‘n Time is a wonderful piece of kit. It is on the expensive side.
Daryl: What is Pitch ‘n Time? It’s a plug-in as well, is it?
Paul: It’s a plug-in as well, but it’s a very, very precise pitch and tempo plug. You can change tempos. You can change keys of pieces of audio. But it’s one of the most exact plugs that I’ve used, so I love it. And I know it inside out, and I know, if I want to get a result from it, I can go to that and it will give me the result that I need.
Paul: But then, that question’s like trying to pick a child. Actually, it’s like trying to pick a Northern soul record. You’re like, “I can’t, because there’s so many.” And it’s the same thing. You’re never done. You always have this feeling of, “Okay, I’m set now. I have a waves bundle. I have a sound toys bundle. That’s it. I’m sorted now.” And then something comes along where you could … Like Effectrix. You can do vinyl stops. You can do scratches. You can do filters. You can do echoes, all in the one plug-in. You’re like, what?
Daryl: Yeah. That’s part of the excitement of it.
Paul: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Daryl: If you lost that interest, then you’d maybe have to think twice.
Paul: Absolutely. So again, that question is like, “I don’t know.” But even if you want to really bring that back down again and simplify that question even more, one piece of kit for radio imaging, if you’re not on Pro Tools, get Pro Tools. For the first incarnation of iRadio, I was using Adobe Audition 3, and I kind of surprised myself because it is decent imaging that was created back then, and that was all on ear and eye alone. Because there’s no grid on Adobe Audition, so it was all done on ear alone. Whereas on Pro Tools, you have grid. Pro Tools just opens you up so much more.
Daryl: To the musical side of things [crosstalk 00:44:54], so you can start your radio talent music production then. Final question for you. So we ask this of everybody we interview. So the podcast is about people working in creative industries, all kinds, not just audio, but design and color grading and TV and whatever else. So we ask everybody at the end of our interview, who do you think we should interview next?
Paul: That’s interesting. So, again, there’s loads of people. But quite instantly, when you say, “A yarn to tell,” back in 2018, 2017, 2018 … End of 2017, start of 2018, Today, myself and Adelle Nolan, the PD of Today FM, set about getting a new voiceover artist for Today FM, and we got Paddy Courtney.
Daryl: Okay. Yeah.
Paul: Paddy Courtney now is the voice of Today FM. He is on the SuperValu ads, and he is now continuity voice of Virgin Media One.
Daryl: Paddy’s the comedian, isn’t he?
Paul: Well, he used to be.
Daryl: Oh, right. Okay.
Paul: He’s given that up now, and he’s now a writer, and has written for a lot of TV programs as well. So he’d be a good person to interview.
Daryl: I see a lot of photos of him on his allotment on LinkedIn. That’s him, isn’t it?
Paul: Yes, that’s him. Yeah.
Daryl: We shall contact him. One final thing, just something you said, you nailed your colors to the mast [inaudible 00:46:29] audio production. Could you ever see yourself doing anything else?
Paul: I used to make wardrobes.
Daryl: Did you really?
Paul: I did. Yeah. So I’m actually good with my hands. And that was the usual back in the day thing of the parents wanting you to get a trade.
Daryl: Who did you make wardrobes for?
Paul: Slide Robes.
Daryl: Oh really?
Daryl: Very good. Wow.
Paul: So yeah. I can do that sort of stuff. At this stage, no.
Daryl: [inaudible 00:47:00], no?
Paul: I know what I like. I am happy. And that’s what I’ve figured, after this insane journey of what sometimes can be seen as just hopping from station to station. Some people slag and say, “Duffy’s off again. He’s hopping. He’s hopping.” I see it as, “Do you know what? I’ve got an awful lot of experience.”
Daryl: That’s also the way of the world nowadays. I mean, the days of pensionable 10 or 15 year jobs are all but gone.
Daryl: So it’s not entirely away from the norm of how people now work. People come out of college and they say, “I want to get two years’ experience here, two experience, a year abroad.” That’s kind of [crosstalk 00:47:44].
Paul: And that’s pretty much what this does. So I went from 98. 98 was where I spent most of the time, four years, and that was fantastic. Then went to 4FM. We laugh, we joke, we will push that aside. Then went to iRadio. And then I always had in my head two things. Two things that I’ve always wanted to do in my career. One, try the UK. And two, I’ve always wanted to work for 104. Just because, again, going back to that kid mentality of, “Oh my God, I want to work there.”
Paul: So, I got the UK. And then, six months later, got an opportunity for 104. So it’s the two things that you’ve wanted have come along at the same time. You make a decision. And I chose the go home and do the 104 thing. And then, Today FM came along. National. Again, your build up hype button. After all that, every station has its wonderment and issues and things. There’s no one fantastic, perfect job. And as the years go on and as you get older … This makes me sound really, really like [inaudible 00:48:58]. But it all becomes about happiness, and where you are in your life. The struggle and always reaching for that big gig, that big gig, that big gig. No. If I’m honest, that’s bullshit.
Paul: The big gig is happiness. Am I happy? And at this present time of recording, I’m 10 months out from the wedding, and probably about 15, 16 months away from moving to Limerick, and I couldn’t be happier.
Daryl: I think that’s about the best perspective we could finish on. I think it’s a very positive note, and I think you’re absolutely right. I think if you keep aspiring, I think sometimes it’s, “Careful what you wish for.”
Paul: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Very much so.
Daryl: It’s just like, “Well, actually, this is okay. That’ll do.”
Paul: Exactly. I’m happy with my lot.
Daryl: Yeah. Well, very good. And Paddy’s happy with his allotment, so everybody’s quids in. So listen, Paul, I want to say thanks very much for today. It’s been really interesting just to talk about radio. I mean, I used to work in it, many years … I’m not really involved in it. I do some work [inaudible 00:50:03], but it’s always interesting to speak to people who are in the industry. So thanks very much for the time and really appreciate it.
Paul: Daryl, it was an absolute pleasure. Thanks very much.