Manipulating Audio As a Way of Living: The Jesse Shultz Story

Jesse shares why he is a creative and imaging director for iHeartRadio and makes a 400-mile commute to follow his dreams in New York City.

From Cleveland, Ohio, Jesse started in radio as early as 19 years old as a promotions assistant at a local radio station. Later he worked as a commercial production director for several years. In the last 2 years, he moved to New York City to write, produce and do voice-over work for the iHeartRadio app. 

An example of patience, resilience, and tenacity. While his family still lives in Ohio, he drives over 400 miles on the weekends to see them.

He shares his passion for music and valuable advice to people that want to start in the audio production industry.

Renzo: So tell me about your job

Jesse: I produce content for the iHeartRadio app. It could be a commercial which can be as simple as a voice and a music bed or could be a piece of imaging–as we call it–to brand the station. That might have sound effects and music clips, basically, an audio collage to paint a picture for whatever we’re advertising, whether it be the radio station or a product.

So I sit in the studio, I have a program called Pro-Tools which is like Photoshop for audio. You’re manipulating things to make it look better, look cleaner, make it crisp while applying industry-standard techniques.

I do voice-overs as well as record other people’s voices. And the finished product is what you hear on the air.

R: What is the official title of your job?

J: I am a creative services/imaging director. Creative Services meaning writing, composing, producing any kind of audio content. 

Imaging refers to the audio production for a certain radio station. The way I produce a soft rock station is obviously much different than a CHR, contemporary hit radio station. The way I produce a Christmas station is way different than, like, a hip-hop station. So it’s just being mindful of what the voice should sound like, what the music sounds like, and making sure that it fits within that station brand.

R: You are from Ohio, and now you are in New York. How was the move to the big city?

J: It’s still ongoing but almost complete. I started in a small apartment while my wife takes care of the kids in Ohio. We just recently bought a house and soon I won’t have to drive back there on the weekends. I’ve made the commute for almost 2 years.

I never thought I’d end up in NYC. I went to a broadcasting school after high school. So I was like 18, 19, learning about TV, radio, film, and technical aspects like how to set up a camera, how to set up lighting, voiceover and production techniques. 

And they required an internship to graduate. I got one with the rock station in Cleveland: WMMS The Buzzard (Clear Channel Radio) which is now iHeartRadio.

First year in radio (2003). Engineering a live broadcast for WMMS in Cleveland - Jesse Shultz
Jesse in his first year on the radio (2003) engineering a live broadcast for WMMS in Cleveland

I started as a promotions assistant and what we did was: go to concerts, hang banners, set up the tent, interact with listeners, prize giveaways, that kind of thing. Basically an on-the-streets team who has the bumper stickers and T-shirts, stuff like that. So I did that for about three years. But radio production is what I wanted to get into because all my life I’ve always loved music. I loved audio in general and I liked messing with audio from as early as the days of dual cassette decks, making mixtapes and recording the radio.

In the beginning I thought, if I can get paid to mess with audio, like, to do that for a living, that would be amazing. And eventually, I went from promotions to commercial production director for that rock station. So I started making commercials and the longer I was there, the more work I got to do and, eventually, I was the commercial production director for the cluster of seven radio stations. From there, I started to do imaging for our top 40 Kiss FM station in Cleveland and the alternative station. That was the first time I had done imaging, which is slightly different than commercials but there’s a certain sound it has. It’s those things that you hear between songs that introduce the station. Complete with zaps and laser sounds (And that’s kind of cliche, but it’s a different animal than commercials.) So once I started doing that, lo and behold, a guy from New York calls me and says that they’re looking for another production person to do the stations on the iHeartRadio App.

I was blown away that New York City, market number one is going to call this hayseed from rural Ohio to work there. It was kind of overwhelming at first. I have a wife and two kids and we’re like, “We’re gonna make this work. This is a dream job in one of the best cities in the world.” 

R: Wait. Your family is still in Ohio? How often do you travel there?

J: Yes. they’re still in Ohio, but they’re moving out here when the kids finish school in June.

So, I go back every weekend. I do a six and a half-hour commute if I don’t fly. I leave Friday night, come back Sunday night and do it all over again. I close up shop on a Friday night, get in the car and drive. I got plenty of podcasts and music to pass the time. 

It’s all worth it. It’s worked out, like, as stressful as that sounds. And my family has been real troupers through all this; we know the long-distance thing isn’t gonna be forever… And they’re super excited to move to our new house in New Jersey in the suburbs outside of the city, which is nice. We get the best of both worlds: go home where it’s quiet but then come back here to the hustle and bustle of the city to work. I’m not the only one who makes that kind of commute. There’s a guy here whose family is in Charlotte and he makes it work. The company is also accommodating letting us work from home when needed, which is great.

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R: What do you wish you had known when you started in radio?

J: Good question. I’ve been super fortunate to have great on-the-job training because I went into this business completely blind. I’ve learned that there are things that aren’t for me in this business, like sales. I couldn’t sell somebody something and I don’t want a responsibility like that. I like being behind the scenes. There’s a lot that I don’t understand about what goes on in this industry.

But my place is to be behind the scenes and just kind of a sculptor with audio.

Give me a lump of clay and I’ll try to make whatever you want. I’m not a business or numbers guy. I’m just a guy who likes audio and playing on the computer. Perfect fit. 

R: What is something that moves you to do what you are doing: traveling to Ohio every weekend, and to wake up every morning?

J: Not only do I enjoy the work but it’s a fun environment. It’s still show business. I’m constantly in awe of the big buildings, the big names. I’m a kid in a candy store.

I’m not shy, but I don’t want to be on TV, be famous or anything like that, but it’s nice to have a foot in that world at the same time. I like going home and nobody knows who I am, but at the same time I got to meet this band today or I got to work on something that’s gonna be heard all over the country and nobody has any idea that I had something to do with it. That’s appealing to me. It’s fun to watch it from behind the scenes.

R: What do you think about the way media is changing with videos, podcasts, platforms? Everything’s changing especially with local radio stations.

J: I still think there’s a place for all of that stuff. I don’t think that one thing is necessarily phasing out another. There’s more choices out there and the more kind of globalization that goes on, we realize how different individuals are. Therefore, you need different content. There are so many radio stations in this country to appeal to everybody, but there are over 300 million people. 300 million different tastes.

So the fact that we have more choices that can be tailored just for you and–that’s one good thing about the changing industry is the customization aspect of it. Now you don’t have to wait for the radio station to play that one song you’re waiting to hear. You can create a station based on that one song and work your way out from there.

It’ll be 17 years working for this company this summer and in my short time here, I’ve seen the birth of streaming, podcasts–which is huge. Even to the point where there are radio stations that are broadcasting podcasts because it’s compelling talk and compelling content, listening to someone who you trust tell a story or inform you. That’s always been constant, whether it’s an AM morning guy or an hour-long podcast.

The principle is still the same and what I like is that it’s personalized for everybody. There’s something for everybody out there.

There’s more of a visual aspect now. Personalities have an extension of their radio program. People can go on social media and see videos and pictures of what went on during that broadcast or in their personal life. So there’s a visual element to an audio-driven world. There’s more of a one-on-one connection now more than ever before, which is pretty exciting. There’s more listener interaction. As we learn about our listeners, we can tailor content specifically for them, and the same goes for advertising, too.

First day at iHeartRadio NYC 2018 - Jesse Shultz - SerProducer
His first day at iHeartRadio NYC 2018

R: What are you curious about right now?

J: I’d like to get more involved with music. Our team does jingles and sonic branding. I would like to get more into multitrack recording, bands and stuff like that. I think there’s a lot to learn to get a song to sound good. Have it sound slick. It’s not as easy as building a commercial: you have your voiceover track, you have the music underneath it and then it’s just a matter of balancing that out. With music, you still have a vocal track but there’s so much more going on like harmonies, effects, etc that the average listener doesn’t hear. That seems like the next step for me in this arc. 

I’m a hobby guitar player. I make beats, remixes, and mashups. I can use that experience to make beat mixes to advertise the stations, like a collage of song hooks that are all in the same key and the same tempo. There’s certainly a place for music production on the radio.

New Studio at iHeartRadio - Jesse Shultz - SerProducer
His new studio at iHeartRadio

R: What is your advice for somebody that wants to start in the audio industry?

J: Well, first listen to everything you can. The more your ears can take a piece apart and figure out how it goes together, the more you may be able to replicate it. The only job that I could feasibly get at that time that did something similar to producing music was producing for a local radio station. 

There’s a lot of resources out there that don’t cost a lot of money. Between YouTube and free editing programs like Audacity or GarageBand, you can start right away. That’s how I got my first production job. I was making demos in my bedroom, recording my voice under a blanket to help soundproof it. You’ll sweat like crazy but you had to do what you had to do. It’s guerilla recording but it works.

Start making stuff even if it sounds bad.

Don’t let that discourage you because it’s only going to get better. Let other people listen to you. Keep creating things. Do fake breaks or commercials, whatever you gotta do. It doesn’t have to be a real thing. Just get it on tape. Give it to professionals. There are plenty of professionals who give tutorials and advice on the internet. You don’t even necessarily have to be looking for a job, but you can ask for advice. Say, “Hey, I put this thing together. I would love to get some pointers from you.” So take advantage of the resources that are out there: the internet, people that are already in the industry, and just start banging stuff out.

I think relationships are important too. It takes a lot of departments to make this place go. There’s programming, sales staff, client partnership people, engineers, producers, copywriters, project managers. You know, they all have a place. With our team, we call it a family because it takes a village. We respect each other’s art. They’re all really good at what they do.

So having a circle of influence that will inspire you but also challenge you because you don’t want to have to phone it in.

Like if it’s getting too easy and you’re getting too comfortable, then something’s not right. I think you should keep extending yourself beyond your normal reach. That’s how you grow.

So, it’s relationships, start working on your own stuff and start knocking on doors.

R: Why do you have a Back To The Future Poster in your office?

J: That’s one of my favorite movies. I think it’s more a conversation piece, but that–my best friend’s family used to own a video store in the 80s and 90s. And that is an original cloth poster when the home video was released. I like 80’s pop culture and a lot of different kinds of music. I’ve got a Ghostbusters Mr. Potato Head’s over there. I like keeping that childlike amusement. These things remind me of the kid who always wanted to be in show business. I like my work environment to be kind of reflective of me and not too sterile or too corporate. The lighting makes a difference. What’s hanging on your wall makes a difference. I’ve got artwork from my kids…just keeping things fun. That’s another good thing about this company, too. They make sure that we get to get out of the office once in a while. We have group outings, ping pong tournaments, video game tournaments, and some good camaraderie team-building stuff. It’s good when management recognizes your hard work and wants to reward you for it.

R: Thank you, Jesse. 

J: Hey, man. My pleasure. I’ve never done this before, so I don’t know how interesting I am. I’ve never been interviewed. I feel so important.

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