How to produce and use jingles & sweepers that accelerate your radio program flow, improve people’s listening experience and boost your Time Spent Listening?
Successful radio basically comes down to this: make people enjoy tuning in to you – also by making your station very listenable. Station imaging helps you to create a great brand signature, comfort zone, and program flow. That is, if your imaging is well-produced, consistently programmed and functionally used.
Jingles & sweepers: stand-alone imaging
There are many different ways to identify your radio station – other than let your presenters say your station name. The most popular ones are jingles, sweepers, beds, promos, format explainers and power intros. In this first part, we talk about station IDs that are not directly integrated with the music, but intended for stand-alone use: jingles and sweepers. When I was presenting radio shows myself, I loved to use every element of the jingle package ‘in perfect harmony’ with the music, and I enjoy to share some ideas on it. First, the basics:
Jingles: can be played during the entire hour, except for the Top of the Hour (TOTH) jingle and usually:
include sung vocals (sometimes also spoken vocals, or both)
include a logo melody that listeners can associate with the brand
Basic definition of sweepers
Sweepers: are either produced dry (for songs with an intro) or wet (for songs without one) and often:
include no music
include spoken vocals
include no logo melody
I have played standard-length jingles in between songs for many years myself, but I’ve reached the conclusion that ‘jingle-critics’ (who believe more in having sweepers in between songs, or even in playing songs back-to-back – which is risky…) do have a point. Today, I would avoid playing jingles inside a music sweep, unless you’re using short versions: Shotguns and RapidFires are great for this; they don’t feel like interruptions.
Jingle back into music
Of course, you can play longer jingles – just never within a set of continuous music. Play short imaging elements (and more sweepers than jingles) inside the music flow, and use longer station IDs (and more jingles than sweepers) to kick off music segments. I’ve often used full-length Ramps for a jock talk in front of a song that has no intro. A station’s Top of the Hour jingle is the other exception. And, of course, standard-duration Basic IDs are perfect to exit your strategically programmed commercial breaks.
Many PDs like their logo melody included at the end and beginning of every jingle, for branding reasons. That works well, if the previously played element has a cold end – not if it has a fade end (like many songs have). I would order every jingle (also) in a version without your logo at the beginning – only at the end, because an instrumental opening won’t interfere with the melody of the preceding song. (Alternative: keep the first 2 seconds logo-free).
Include some ramp time
For the same reason, you might also want to have every sweeper (additionally) produced in a version without vocals at the very first second. It’s amazing how a whoosh or (subtle…) impact to kick off your sweeper helps you make perfect segues when the preceding record has a fade ending. This little production element at the beginning will make your music flow sound very listener-friendly. Opening effects build a bridge, so you’re never suddently ‘cutting off’ someone’s favorite song (which would be tune-out factor).
Jingles are like a Swiss watch;
it’s precision work and every second counts
Align jingle & music genres
Jingles are like a Swiss watch; it’s precision work and ‘every second counts’ – not just the first one! I would make a special effort to match the musical texture of (the end of) a jingle with that of (the beginning of) the following song. Longer jingles are useful to build program structure; they are like separators and set the stage for something new – like bringing back the music after a long stop set. The closer a jingle sounds like the next song, the better it sounds, so right before REM’s Losing my Religion we’ll play a Pop-Rock (not a Pop-Dance) jingle. It can be worthwhile to give your jingles sound codes and let your music scheduling system rotate them according to some genre rules (if you have enough jingles for every major genre).
Tempo-match is another important factor, especially when you would like to give your music flow an all-guns-blazing kick-start. For example, start with opener & talk bed on top of the hour and close it down with a separate stinger that you have available in several endings. You could choose for either a hot or soft ending – like your station name sung short and powerful, versus longer and softer. It depends on how the first song of the hour starts.
Schedule with BPM & rhythm
You can also let your sweepers match the tempo of the underlying songs, which might seem a bit complex. But if you are programming a music-driven station, I would definitely consider it. What to do?
1. Analyze every song in your music library for BPM and rhythm, and add these details to the song cards in your database – also to titles, e.g. THRILLER (188 / 1234) – JACKSON, MICHAEL to indicate that this famous album’s title track has a 188 BPM tempo and 4/4 rhythm (‘1-2-3-4’). This will make it a lot easier for you to quickly adjust your jingles to the pre-scheduled songs when reviewing your playlist. And now comes a trick that makes it super easy to meld your sweepers with basically every song:
2. Build your sweepers on a BPM and rhythm grid. In case your music production and editing software doesn’t provide a click track generator, you can use Metronomer to download a tailor-made audio grid for your production. Put all your voiceover parts, production FX, etc. in place as if they were lyrics of a song, and – here’s another secret – make sure that every first count of the rhythm gets the most emphasis in your sweeper, for maximum impact.
3. Produce every BPM sweeper in 2 rhythms and 2 durations (optional) to increase your chance of finding a perfect match. One 4/4- and one 3/4- version covers most pop music rhythms, and it is useful to have a full-length sweeper for 4 bars and a shorter one for 2 bars. For longer positioning statements, 4 and 8 bars are possible, but watch out: long sweepers can be perceived as ‘talk breaks’ and thus ‘interruptions’ of your music flow! Give every sweeper a practical title, e.g. TODAY’S BEST MUSIC, KISS FM – SWEEPER 2013-05 (90 / 1234 x 2). This sweeper from 2013 (index # 05) is made for 2 bars of a song in a 4/4-rhythm and 90 BPM tempo).
4. Add BPM and rhythm values to every sweeper’s ‘song’ card, create a sweeper category, put it in your format clock and set scheduling rules to rotate sweepers. If your play-out system allows you to, define the exact ‘hit point’ where the next song comes in – a good point is usually that of the first beat in the grid that you’ve used. If it’s a 4/4-rhythm, that’s the ‘1’ in ‘1-2-3-4’. Finally, ask your MD to ‘protect’ records that have no intro from being played underneath the sweeper.
Produce your sweepers gradually
‘Wow, Thomas – that sure is a lot of work…’ If you think that, you’re right! But if you’re in a competitive market and program a Rhythmic CHR or Top 40, it’s one of these things that can make you sound just that little bit more exciting than your competition. Listeners might (subconsciously) notice that your radio station ‘sounds better’. You can start building your sweeper library based on 5 Beats Per Minute increments (85, 90, 95, 100 and so on) and take it from there. If you put a short 90 BPM sweeper over a 87 BPM intro, this will already sound pretty decent. Don’t forget to train your on-air staff in how to handle these imaging elements, in case they’re not used to ‘em yet. And now, one final technique for an amazing program flow through station imaging:
Harmonic mixing helps to
create a continuous program flow
Create harmonically perfect transitions
Club deejays know it: a perfect tempo match alone doesn’t guarantee a great mix. To make a perfect blend, you need to make sure that musical elements in your segue have identical or compatible keys. This so-called harmonic mixing (also known as key mixing) is relevant for music radio, too; it helps to create a continuous program flow. A better flow might keep your audience stay tuned over a longer period of time, and thus help you to take your Time Spent Listening (TSL) to great heights. Matching keys is relevant if you’re using jingles. Here’s what you can do:
1. Include a variety of musical keys in your jingle package. Choose re-sing themes that cover a wide key range or – if your themes are custom-made – ask your jingle company to make (a part of) your cuts available in (a selection of) all 12 keys. It can be pretty expensive to have every cut sung in every key. No problem – even just 4 or 8 keys will let you cover 33% or 66% of all possible combinations.
2. Find the song key for every single music track in your database, and add it to the corresponding song card. Some music scheduling programs even offer you the option to enter the (opening and closing) key of a song. Make sure to add the key of every musical element to its database title as well, e.g. THRILLER (C♯ / 188 / 1234) – JACKSON, MICHAEL to indicate that this song by The King of Pop is written in C-sharp minor. In addition, add a general tempo index to every song card (based on the exact BPM which you already have available). So instead of the BPM value, use a simple 1-to-3 scale (slow, medium or fast) or a 1-to-5 scale (very slow, medium slow, medium, medium fast or very fast) here to describe every song.
3. Add the key (and tempo index) to every jingle’s ‘song’ card, create a jingle category, put it in your format clock and set scheduling rules to rotate jingles. Just make sure that the rotations of both your jingle category and all music categories that can follow after a jingle, don’t cause scheduling conflicts. Keep an eye on categories that don’t have many songs and need a balanced rotation, such as power currents! But there’s a solution:
4. Let a jingle be followed by a category that includes many songs, or make your tempo-rules ‘breakable’. Simply tell your music scheduling program to follow a fast jingle by a fast song, unless it violates an ‘unbreakable’ rule or creates another conflict. Then it should be allowed to, for example, also follow a fast jingle by a medium fast or medium song. You could also choose to schedule all of your songs first, and only then schedule all imaging elements around the music. Have fun experimenting! Fine-tune your category content, format clocks and scheduling rules until everything’s 100%.
To make your transitions even more perfect, you might also want to include a description for the intensity of every jingle and song. If you play a very soft or slow ending jingle and then Love Is All Around by Wet Wet Wet, it doesn’t make a good transition because the song’s intro is very intense. In any case, it’s always good to go over your playlist once it’s scheduled and make adjustments where needed. After all, computers are not humans…