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Ear Candy - Raja Sehgal

Ear Candy is a regular series where we invite renowned creatives to choose their favourite snippets of audio - from anywhere. 

Raja Sehgal is one of the UK’s leading sound designers for cinema, TV and radio advertising, and is a founding partner of Grand Central Recording Studios (GCRS). He served on the 2015 D&AD Radio Advertising jury. 

In this edition, Raja chooses a variety of clips, from radio plays to commercials. 

Raja Sehgal

1. Dylan Thomas’s “Under Milk Wood” from 1954

To begin at the beginning: described by the BBC as a Play for Voices when it was first broadcast, Under Milk Wood, features Richard Burton’s outstanding performance as First Voice. It is a piece that truly demonstrates how a perfect voice does not need a soundtrack to captivate listeners. 

Under Milk Wood, 1954

Burton’s mellifluous delivery of the introduction is what hooks the audience into the script that follows. A successful radio piece is able to draw pictures in the listeners’ minds, especially when it benefits from great casting - in this case a distinguished, all-Welsh cast. A true milestone for radio, Under Milk Wood is a beautiful play truly worthy of the ear candy title.

2. The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy - Radio Series

This was the first thing I heard on the radio that actually made me want to tune in week after week. A truly pioneering radio series, it is without a doubt the piece that inspired me to follow my path in sound design.

Douglas Adams and producer of the pilot Simon Brett, were adamant that programme should be made in stereo which was a first for a BBC radio comedy programme.

The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy

One of the innumerable projects to come out of the great BBC Radiophonic Workshop, it used sound design to create a new universe. 

The characters were placed within the sound design so everything felt real, even though it was far from reality.

It was a new aural experience for the listeners, who were “catapulted” onto spaceships and alien planets, all backed by the use of clever and never heard before sounds.

The sound effects became so popular that the BBC released them on an LP.

The character casting was spot on and scenes were linked by the voice of The Book - Peter Jones - giving the listener outlandish facts in the most deadpan and believable of deliveries.

The radio series’ were magical and like all good radio production it drew pictures with sound. It sparked the imagination of listeners.

Once I saw Zaphod Beeblebrox on TV the magic died. 

3. Drink Drive, GCRS

Drink Drive is an excellent example of how using real policemen in a real situation with all sound recorded at a police station makes the commercial completely believable. The officers were asked to act out the procedure used when a person has been brought in for being over the alcohol limit while driving. There were no scripts, so the officers acted out the scenes and then hours of material was cleverly edited together to make three spots – “Cell”, “Custody” and “Search”.

Placing the voiceover in the middle of the commercial gave it more of a documentary feel, and having more than one of the spots in an ad break gave it an episodic journey.

Could this have been done by actors in a VO booth? – Yes.

Would it have sounded as believable? Absolutely not, and goes to show how spending time on the project could create a set of radio spots that made you actually want to listen to them to see what happens.

The effect of recording it on location meant you could visualise the scenario in your mind without actually seeing a picture, and I would go as far as saying that by using this technique it was a radio campaign that actually worked better for radio than it would have for TV.

4. Cocaine Unwrapped, GCRS

Similar to Drink Drive above, the clever thing about the spot is that when it was recorded there was no script as such, just an idea. There was no budget for the project; the voices were recorded in the GCRS staff toilets using two members of the team.

The scene was set in a nightclub and featured two people snorting cocaine in the loos. As they move around the toilets, the feel of the music changes as they are moving around in the toilets. Recording it all live again demonstrates how some time and thought on the recording process can create a commercial that sounds absolutely real.

Unlike a TV commercial, going on location to record a radio commercial often only needs the sound engineer and a small amount of recording equipment, the end result being well worth the extra effort.

Two radio commercials that show how recording on location can make an audible difference and draw you into the story, rather than make you want to station hop when the commercial break starts.

5. Radiolab

Radiolab broadcasts in the USA to around 500 stations. They describe the shows as being about “Curiosity” where “Sound illuminates ideas”.

Every episode they make revolves around great casting and sound design. They have lots of stories you can listen to. The great thing is you don't need to be interested in the subject – as soon as you start listening to it, you are drawn in by the use of its sound design, voice casting and clever editing. 

This randomly picked one called “The Rhino Hunter” draws you into the story, and within a very short amount of time, keeps you listening with its unexpected bursts of sound design.

Sound Designer Jad Abumrad makes the sound design inviting to the show, but then catches you off guard with disturbing sound. He describes it as “come here, come here….. BOO….come here come here….BOO”.

Every episode is brilliant storytelling which makes you want to hear about subjects you may not actually be interested in.

I would recommend everyone to listen to a few of the podcasts on the website.

6. D&AD Black Pencil for Radio 2015 - K9FM

This year, being a judge at D&AD on Radio gave me an insight into how the rest of the world was producing better radio commercials than the UK. 

The Black Pencil for K9FM, which is rarely given for Radio, was a true testament to how cleverly written dialogue, great casting and creativity could draw you into listening to adverts and programme clips for a radio station designed for lonely dogs whose owners go off to work.

This goes to show what can be achieved for radio, if given good creative and a proper budget and yes, you do need more than 20-30 seconds to achieve it. Where TV spots are often given 60-90 seconds, especially on new product launches and Christmas campaigns, radio is often left with the 18 seconds of creative content, a voice over and long end legal.

If you think you have a campaign that deserves a Pencil, enter your work into the D&AD Awards and see if our judges agree. When it comes to awards, nothing matters more.

For more creative inspiration and the opportunity to get up close and personal with the world’s best design and advertising, join us at D&AD Festival.

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