This is not something you lie on when you want to hear some tunes! A music bed is instrumental music that plays while a voice is speaking. Many stations have music beds playing during their commercials, weather and traffic reports and announcer voice breaks. I have even heard music beds playing during news bulletins.
The question is not ‘should we or shouldn’t we.’ The real question (and I hate to sound like a stuck record) is… ‘who is our target audience?’
Different audiences require a different station sound. Younger listeners enjoy a ‘busy’ sound. They want music and sounds playing all the time. Their hearing is good, and they enjoy the announcer talking over contemporary-sounding instrumentals. On the other hand, older listeners tend to have poorer hearing, and they don’t have patience for lots of competing audio. They want to hear clearly what the announcer is saying (note: I speak from experience – in both cases!).
I am not saying ‘don’t use music beds for older listeners.’ I am saying, decide whether it helps or hinders. And if you do use it, then choose music that will complement, not compete.
If you use a music bed for a particular report or commercial, be consistent and keep using it. The listener builds an association between that item and that piece of music, and it gives them a subconscious ‘heads up’ that this item is now playing.
The best source of music beds is production music. Choose music that your listeners can relate to, and make sure it suits what it’s being used for. If you are creating music beds for announcer voice breaks, choose music that is longer than you will need. Alternatively, use an audio editor to copy and paste the music end-on-end to make a longer piece (try to get a segue, not a cold cut).
Then, the question must be asked – how do we physically play the music bed?
If your radio automation system has a cart wall, or instant jingles, programme your music bed into that. Then when you are ready, push play and you will have instant audio. Make sure you are able to ‘route’ your cart wall audio through a different channel of your mixer, so you can control the volume of the music bed separately.
When you play the music bed, make sure you keep the music volume well below the volume of the voice. Remember, the voice is the more important of the two. When you finish speaking, you will need to fade out the music bed using your fader, and at the same time fire the next song. This may take a little coordination!
There is another way to play a music bed under your voice. This requires less coordination. Use your audio editor to firstly edit together a piece of appropriate music, then secondly to reduce the volume of that music substantially. Save it like that. Then, every time you wish to use the music bed (say for voice breaks), insert your edited piece between the songs where you wish to talk (copy and paste works well). Your automation system should segue from the song into the music bed, and you can start talking over the top – no hands required! If the music is quiet enough, you should be able to talk over the top of it without playing with the music volume. When you finish your voice break, push the button to segue from the music bed into the next song (keyboard shortcuts are great for this). If your station uses a lot of compression and normalisation, you may need to adjust your music bed volume a little to account for this.
One final point to reiterate: always use instrumentals for music beds – not vocal.
So, that’s music beds. What works for you?