The great ‘bed’ debate

The great unwashed would wonder about the title of this update; and think it’s possibly about the comparative merits of soft versus firm beds. We, of course, know otherwise.

The use of beds under the voice is an ongoing debate, and both camps – for and against – offer good arguments to support their respective cases. I know of some PDs who have banned their use completely, and others who don’t have a problem with them. But there’s quite possibly a compromise that would benefit your style of broadcasting.

Firstly, here, briefly, are the arguments for and against:

For the use of beds – if the correct bed is used under the voice it can help ‘energise’ a presenter’s speech, deliver the right degree of tempo to help maintain the show’s flow, or it can set the correct mood for a link. It can also take attention away from the volume of speech, thereby reducing the perception of a high speech content in the show (a possible turn-off for people who prefer music).

Against the use of beds – a bed can be used as a prop for a link, i.e. as long as it remains running in the background, a presenter can rest against it and keep talking for longer, thereby extending speech content in a show. It can also detract from the content of a speech link, especially if the level of the bed is too high.

Radio professionals intent on achieving ‘the edge’ and who have a natural passion for radio should have already identified the compromise in the two arguments. The answer is of course: discipline.

If you fire a bed every time you do a link, you could just be a little lazy. It means you’re undisciplined in your use of beds and could just be using the bed to support you as opposed to setting the correct mood or maintaining the show’s tempo. This is such an easy trap to fall into. Many presenters fear that if they don’t use a bed, they will create the impression of a block of speech every time they open their mouths on the radio.

There are two ways to get around this:

  1. Use the music; and,
  2. Use your brain

If you’re presenting a music-based show, don’t be afraid to use the fade ends of songs as ‘beds’. Talking over the last 25-30 seconds of a repetitive fade is quite acceptable; and this will help provide the ‘energy’ for a link, set the mood and detract from the volume of speech. It will also encourage the discipline of keeping speech duration limited. Even better: talk over the last 25 seconds of a fade ending and then over the intro of another song. And don’t say that that’s difficult. Radio DJs of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s did it all the time; it was par for the course. This was before the advent of computer software that told you the duration of an intro and even counted down for you. There’s no excuse for not being able to do this.

If you can’t use the music, use that part of your brain that pre-constructs a link; i.e. prepare the link by using a notepad to scribble down the order of items in the link, key words and details that need to be included. This way you won’t go on air and deliver an unstructured block of speech that would normally have been masked/diluted by the bed. If you’re worried that without a bed your voice won’t have any energy, then your worries are either unwarranted because you’re forgetting that listeners expect presenters to talk on the radio and will therefore forgive you if you do; or they are warranted because you don’t have any energy in your voice and you sound bored or tired. Ask your PD, they will tell you.

So when should you use a bed under your voice?

Think of the way a film’s soundtrack contributes to a specific scene’s mood. Our attention is not often drawn to the soundtrack, but it’s there, and it helps create the correct mood for a specific scene. It doesn’t detract from the content of the scene. It adds value. Imagine that your show is a film made up of individual scenes and that each link in your show is a different scene in the film.  Some of your links may not need a ‘soundtrack’, and just speech will suffice. If, however, there’s a critical link, a ‘soundtrack’ might help set the correct mood or tone.

If you’re running a competition where there may be a protracted block of speech, select a bed that will help keep the excitement/suspense of the competition. If you’re going to tell a joke, a whacky-sounding bed underneath will create the anticipation of something humourous. Now, think of all the different moods you’ll be expected to create in your show and find at least three different beds for each of those moods. You will now have a series of correct ‘soundtracks’ for your show.

The secret to the effective use of beds is to NOT use them for every speech link. Instead, use them sparingly, and even then only to help create the correct mood for specific links. Remember, you’re not just linking songs. You’re presenting a show and it should boast a whole array of different moods and emotions. If you can match a bed to help create the correct mood, you’re obviously thinking about your show and directing it.

You’re not only the show’s main star and producer, you’re also its director; and the only people who can pull that off are people who command ‘the edge’.

[All the work here is original. Nothing has come from any other resource. So, if you’re going to use or repost any of The Edge then please give due credit. If not….fine – be an asshole.]

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