9 1/2 Questions: Neal Martin

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If you haven’t heard Neal’s work you are missing out.  To me its exactly what it should be.  Ultra-creative, Cutting edge and COOL…but not TOO cool for the room or over-hyped.  Neal is the Imaging Director (and other stuff) at Legendary 107.7 The End in Seattle.  Jealous?  Well, I am little jealous becuase he is one of the few who grew up listening to one of the coolest stations in America and then got to work there…and ONLY there.  BUT alas you will find all of that out and more in the subsequent interview.  Here are some quick links:  http://nealaudio.com/

Neals Blog: http://nealaudio.blogspot.com/

BTW:  I have not mentioned this yet but TOTALLY agree with Neal: “I tell all of my imaging buddies if there is one reason to upgrade to PT10 – clip gain is the reason.”  That and many more great thoughts follow.  I start with his audio on Soundcloud, then dive in!

Neal…great to finally catch up with you!  I know where you work and some of what you do but break it down for us:  Job, Other Job, Other Job, where you live, other basic stats.

I’m mainly Imaging Director for 107.7 The End but I’m also part of the creative services team – voicing and producing commercials for the 4-station Entercom Seattle cluster. I also record and mix all of our “End Sessions” – our off site and in-studio artist performances.  I was born and raised about 30 minutes south of Seattle and after a stint of living in the city, I’m now back down in the burbs with my family and take the train to Seattle every day.  I’m now 31, married with a 2-year old and two Basset Hounds.

Give us a few pre-END jobs/experiences that brought you where you are now and why they were important.

I would say it all started with a Tascam cassette 4-track recorder in junior high recording my band and other local bands. My love for music and recording landed me in college at The Art Institute of Seattle where I studied Audio Production for 2 years. I got a rare (and likely illegitimate) internship at The End just out of college fetching coffee and traffic reports for the morning show in 2001. After making them some bit intros and rubbing elbows with the production staff (Joey Pepin and Jake Kaplan among others), I landed a part time job working in prod and the street team.  A year or two later I stumbled into doing overnights until our imaging director was let go and my PD wanted me to give imaging a shot. I’ve been imaging The End ever since.   It has pretty much been my only job, other than an office job at my Grandpa’s military moving company while in college – but that served as a great motivator to get myself into an audio or music gig and follow my passion and not just a paycheck.

The End:  You’ve been there for quite some time? Does it still/did it ever FEEL legendary or just a regular old place to create radio magic? AND give us some insight on the day-to-day operations there.  Totally insane with work, no time to breathe or think? OR Perhaps laid back and a bastion for relaxed creativity?

The End still feels legendary to me, but then again I grew up listening to it. It always felt like Seattle was the center of the music universe and The End was at the forefront of everything that was happening.  They turned me on to Nirvana and Pearl Jam which made me want to play the guitar and start a band. I was essentially a P-1 and attended every “Endfest” and “Deck The Hall Ball” concert.  I couldn’t get enough of 107.7 The End.  Obviously the luster of grunge has worn off since then and the word “alternative” doesn’t really mean what it meant back then,  but the station is still very much about the music and still breaks a lot of new bands and maintains many of the fundamental elements that made it “legendary”.  I tend to keep myself pretty busy with my various jobs, and have plenty of time to breathe and think on the train up to Seattle.  Its a pretty ideal balance- not too relaxed  but not too stressful to drain the creative juices away.

I really dig your Alterna-Jingles.  I mean this as a compliment, but they are “un-polished” in the best way.  Do you do A LOT of music production in your End imaging? Are you a LEGIT musician?  In a band?  A vast amount of music theory study/training?

Thanks!  Yeah, my original passion was playing and recording music.  When I wound up in the radio business I learned that I could marry the two things together.  My APD at the time also was a musician and we started the Alterna-Jingle thing together, originally with an actual 4 note sounder that was woven into the music (think Nabisco or NBC).  Over the years, the sounder went away and the jingles became more about mocking the actual songs and letting them be rough around the edges.  I incorporate jingles or parodies into my promos wherever I can because it ties the music thing in with the sarcasm that comes along with alternative.  My music background started in 4th grade when I joined the orchestra playing Viola (they didn’t offer guitar in 4th grade).  That led to 9 years of classical music training and theory, playing in Symphony Orchestra through High School when I decided to switch full time to the guitar and pursue my band which would go on to release a handful of independent albums, tour the west coast a couple times, and had some moderate success in the Tacoma/Seattle area.  I still play in a band, but don’t keep nearly as busy with that stuff as I used to.

Other Stations – You image KC, New Orleans, Others?  How do you get the stations you have?  Are you also Tracking any other stations? Does Entercom do that?

Yeah I have picked up a couple of “extra” stations that are also Entercom stations.  Lazlo, the PD at The Buzz in Kansas City was PD at The End for a short time and decided to hire me for The Buzz earlier this year.  B97 in New Orleans was picked up when I was discovered through a new internal Entercom talent pool program they started a few months back.  I’m the voice and do the imaging for them.  Entercom doesn’t do much tracking that I know of, so my work has remained strictly production at this point.

Studio Setup: What do you have at the End? Home: You operate a full recording studio on your own, for bands etc?  What type of gear do you use?  (Mac/pc, Pro tools/other, Mics, out of box gear)

I’ve got a Mac G5 at the station running Pro Tools 10 with a U89 for VO.  I use a little outboard compression and EQ that is built into my giant old radio console in my studio, but most of my processing is done in the box with plugs. I also have a PC running Adobe Audition 3, but use that mostly for simpler projects, voiceovers, etc.  My home studio is actually PC-based (mostly because it is cheaper) and I run Pro Tools with a Shure KSM44 for VO.  I am equipped to record bands at home, but its really more of a project studio, with a modest collection of mics and preamps.  A lot of the jingle stuff that requires a full band is produced at the station for it’s better studio acoustics.

Tell me a tool in your daily life/workflow, either software or hardware, that you can NOT live without.

I used to use a ton of my Command 8 for automation within my imaging sessions.  After Pro Tools 10 and the clip gain feature, that all went out the window.  I use clip gain like crazy and rarely use the PT automation for clip volumes anymore.  It is so much quicker for me on the fly and I can easily come back and make quick little tweaks to my FX and music bed volumes so everything can be heard.  I tell all of my imaging buddies if there is one reason to upgrade to PT10 – clip gain is the reason.

You are a solid voice talent!  How much of your life is devoted to that?  What % of your income is from that?

Thanks!  I always thought I had a weird voice and never intended to use it in my work, but it was eventually integrated into much of the End’s imaging, in the cluster’s commercials and used on some small national commercial freelance stuff.  My unique and young sound seemed to work well with the Alt and CHR formats so I ran with it.  Its honestly something that i only recently started to pursue – I would love to make it a bigger part of my freelance work, but right now it only makes up a small portion of my income.

Is there a place for young/new talent to find their way into Radio Imaging?  What is your advice to someone who is interested?

I think radio needs and craves passionate talent.  I think when you genuinely love music and audio and that passion bleeds into your daily work, you are destined to be discovered and worked onto the air.  As long as people are getting into imaging for the right reasons and really love what they are doing, they are bound for success.

1/2 – I would ask something about the Real World as a final “bonus” question but that may be pretty lame by now…..yes?  So…uh… Do…. uh you guys ever think about or talk about any MTV reality shows that may or may not have filmed in your town/station circa 1998?  If so, or not I guess, what is the legacy of that show to a local Seattle radio pro?

 Ha – The Real World is often the first thing people ask about when they find out I work at The End.  I honestly didn’t really watch the show, and had to go back and watch tapes to see my old studio and former PD Phil Manning air checking the cast.  Really the only thing that remains is a cheesy “Real World” framed gold record that lives in the halls somewhere.  MTV spared no expense:  It looks like gold spray paint on some old thrift store vinyl.

Official 1/2 – OK so that was a lame question from a guy who may have watched every second of that show back in the day.  Concerts in Seattle = Epic.  Most awesome moment?   After working around the Seattle music scene can you ever work anywhere else??? Have you met Eddie Vedder??? I’ll calm down and STFU now.

 We’ve got Bumbershoot and Sasquatch music festivals that are pretty great… and our Deck The Hall Ball lineup is pretty good this year too.  Seattle would definitely be a tough place to leave and I am thankful for every day that I don’t have to.  I have met and recorded Mike McCready and Stone Gossard in studio, but Eddie Vedder is far too elusive.  However he can usually be found all over town making guest appearances with numerous bands.   My awesome moment might be when I once competed against Mike McCready on the morning show in a song competition.  I was the 5 time returning champion of a game where 2 people brought in any song, any genre, any era and the listeners picked their favorite.  I thought I could easily take the win by bringing in Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter” but he grabbed some random live Social Distortion album from the wall and beat me… likely because he is Mike McCready from Pearl Jam.

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