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Bryan Apple is currently Director of Radio Imaging at Sirius XM Satellite Radio. He started his career as an intern – and eventually Production Director – at WRQN in Toledo, Ohio. As Production Director, he rose through markets like Hartford and Los Angeles, and was hired by Sirius (pre-XM) in NYC, while continuing to do freelance voiceover work. Rockstar Games brought him in on board as a voice character for Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories, and then he began to produce in-game radio channels for the mega-selling GTA IV.  Bryan then took on even bigger roles in sound and music for GTA V and Red Dead Redemption II, and eventually moved to Scotland for a few years, before coming back to Sirius XM in NYC. We’re excited to share this interview with Bryan in which he takes us on a deep dive into radio imaging and production: from techniques to equipment to the future. Mic on!  

Bryan was also kind enough to share some of his arsenal with us! Here are a couple of links... one for his website, and another for one for his Soundcloud page where you can listen to some of his work and download free sound effects:

www.bryanapple.com

https://soundcloud.com/pixelslicer

GM: Bryan, imaging and production play an instrumental role in the sound of a radio station. However, sometimes they can be underrated or underappreciated. What does a producer have to do to make his or her work/sound stand out?


BA: I truly believe that if you listen to other people’s work, that’s not a bad thing, as long as it’s still your own ideas. And to really stand out you must push yourself.  Don’t hold back if you have an idea that you think someone might not like; produce it the way you think it should be done, and then let the PD tell you “Oh – yes! Or no – dial it back.” I feel that if you don’t put enough of yourself into it, nothing will stand out.  But if you push yourself, and your PD is always telling you to pull back, it’s better that way. That’s how I operate: let the programmer tell you, because sometimes what you think they might not like, they might like!      

GM: The core sound of a station is usually dictated by the programming department. How important is it to get a clear direction from the PD, in order to reflect and capture the essence of the station, and do you have any tips on how to always be in sync with the PD?

BA:  Spending time with your PD – especially if it’s a new job or a new PD – is crucial.  Talk to him/her for a while, grab lunch, dinner, drinks, whatever it may be… it’s important to understand their vision and get into their mind. Being outside of work, you understand the person better, because there are less interruptions, meetings, or stressful situations. I think it’s best to go outside, and connect more as a friend; I speak from personal experience.

GM: You’ve had the opportunity to work across many cities in the US, and you also worked in Scotland for over three years. What are some of the main differences between these markets, and did your style change from working overseas?

BA: Different markets, different programmers – especially in the United States.  It depends if you’re working on a Pop, Urban, or Hip-Hop station, I think regional imaging can be different.  If you’re in the South (I do some imaging for some Southern stations in Florida), they don’t necessarily play everything, such as the Jay-Zs or Kanyes of the world. Instead you may hear more of the Meek Mills and Juice WRLDs, or the Trap Southern sound… versus the West Coast, where you can also hear some East Coast and Southern artists.  In Scotland, I was the music producer for Rockstar Games for three years, and I learned a lot of techniques that I never thought I would use in radio imaging. I picked up a lot of different styles and the use of plug-ins, just by working on the scores for Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption II, it helped me to rethink how I work with Pro Tools and to grow as a producer again.  Having all these experiences, working with all these programmers, different genres, it helps you mold and think twice how you’re doing things. Especially working more on the music and scoring side, and combining it with what I learned in music back into radio imaging.

GM: Over the years, what are some techniques that you’ve adapted to become a better-rounded producer, and are there any things/styles that you think are no longer relevant – where you might say “I don’t need to do this anymore”?

BA: There are so many styles out there, and I think for me personally, working on many genres (some of the Sirius XM satellite radio formats include: jazz, country, rock, alternative rock,
hip-hop, 90s, etc.) helps you to learn different styles.  You can’t always put everything you want on a jazz or a reggaeton station, versus “OK, maybe I can do that in a pop station.”  Creative imaging writing, it’s more open with something genre-specific: 80s, 90s, 70s, you can be more creative with that, while I think that with some hip-hop and R&B stations, you can be as well, but it’s more sonic creativity than it is writing.  And I think that all of the “funny” stuff (“Morning Zoo” type chatter) is sort of old. That was more 90s/00s, whereas now I feel it’s more about what you can do with sonic brands, like a sonic logo for a station. But if you can expose yourself to different genres as much as you can, so it makes your mind rethink how you’re doing your imaging, commercials, etc., that’s very beneficial.  Or listening to other people’s work; you might listen to something for a jazz or R&B station, and you might get an idea out of that, and this can influence your sound in becoming more contemporary.

GM: In terms of gear and equipment, what are some of the must-have tools that any producer should have in his or her arsenal?

BA: iPads and smartphones are a must… especially if you want to create your own sounds. Smaller markets can’t afford a lot of sound effects packages, so that can be a fun challenge; it takes you away from that “normal every day sound” by creating your own effects. With an iPad or smartphone there are apps like Borderlands and many others that every producer should have.

A lot of people use Pro Tools, some use Ableton, and there are plenty of folks who go with Adobe Audition. Personally, I think with Pro Tools you can get a better sound for mastering – especially when it comes down to mastering your imaging pieces. I also like the Apollo Twin DUO; there’s the MK II, and then the original. Having universal audio plug-ins has helped me to step up my game. For mastering, it just gives it a bigger sound, but not everyone can afford it. I think iZotope plug-ins are solid… and the creative bundle that FabFilter has put out is great for voice effects. Soundtoys is another… but you don’t have to have them all. iZotope RX is really good to clean up audio; RX7’s “Music Rebalance” can help you eliminate vocals. That’s useful for almost all music because you don’t have to go on YouTube and waste hours to find an instrumental piece when you can instantly eliminate a vocal.  You don’t necessarily have to have a laptop either, but if you want to work from home, you’ll definitely need one.

Quality speakers are also important, because mixing on headphones, you’re not going to get the best sound.

GM: Imaging a radio station requires an influx of new ideas constantly. What do you do to stimulate your creativity so you can stay on the cutting edge?

BA: I listen to a variety of music when I’m imaging.  When I’m doing something for a rhythmic/EDM channel, or maybe the Grand Theft Auto dance channel, I just listen to that music, and if I hear something that they’re doing in that type of music, I try to emulate that sound. To me, that’s better, because it keeps you in the same zone as the original music. Taking yourself away from radio for a while helps too, because you can pick up things from watching TV, and listening to imaging in other countries. Soundcloud is a great spot; so many people put radio imaging up, so you can go on there all the time and listen to imaging from all over the world. You may not understand everything you’re listening to, but similar to music: you get a feel for it. The Imaging Days conference over in Holland is a good place to meet a lot of other imagers and pick up a lot of new techniques, or the Worldwide Radio Summit in Los Angeles; they’re starting to include more voiceover and imaging people in some of their panels, so even if you just go and hang out with different radio imaging people, they’ll influence your styles when you talk to them. Having a network – even if it’s online or email or social media – and staying in contact with other imaging people and exchanging ideas, is inspirational. I don’t care where you’re from or what level of production you’re on, there’s usually something you can pick up by hearing other people’s imaging.

GM: Every producer has always faced the pressure-filled scenario where the PD walks in at 3 o’clock and tells you “I need this larger-than-life promo – at 5 o’clock.” You have two hours to come up with something amazing. What do you do in a situation like that?

BA: Definitely find out exactly every detail you can before you do it, because you don’t want to have to revise it – especially under that kind of pressure. Depending on what it is, do some Googling, or go to YouTube. I use YouTube all the time to lift audio. If it’s a secret event where Coldplay is coming in to perform, I’d go on YouTube and find as many live clips from Coldplay   in concert anywhere – which, there usually is. Even go on Twitter, you may be able to pick up things the artists say, or find out something that’s trending, and write that in the copy. Or for something like Coachella, go to their website. Try to feed off of some of these artists, because there’s so much on social media these days.  And then just start producing! I work better under pressure, so I’d rather you tell me I have 2 or 3 hours instead of two weeks to do something.

GM: As radio continues to evolve and develop different types of content, what role do you see imaging production playing in the future, and how do you think it will change?

BA: For terrestrial radio, with jock positions being eliminated, especially here in the US, I think radio imaging is going to have to hold the personality and the brand of the stations more and more as they cut back on DJs in local markets. Even in major markets and on streaming networks, our work is on more than any DJ on any particular day...our work is on 24/7, while a DJ may be on for 4-6 hours a day.  With all the changes going on everywhere, I think our work and sound have to give more personality to every station.