The Art Of The 'Clean Version' When songs have profanity, sex or drug references removed for broadcast, it's a process known as clean editing — and it can get complicated. Priska Neely spoke with one of the masters of the form.
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The Art Of The 'Clean Version'

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The Art Of The 'Clean Version'

The Art Of The 'Clean Version'

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Finally, today, have you ever hummed along to a song on the radio, maybe with the kiddies in the car? And then you heard the original version, and you thought - whoa, what was that? That might be especially common with hip-hop.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ENERGY")

DRAKE: (Singing) They trying to take the wave from a - with the kid and pray for your...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY WAY")

FETTY WAP: (Singing) I got deep pockets. I swear (unintelligible).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TWIST MY FINGAZ")

YG: (Singing) Got two [expletive] want to fight me outside, fight me outside.

MARTIN: As Priska Neely reports, it takes a deft touch and a lot of steps to get dirty songs cleaned up for broadcast. And just to let you know, we won't be hearing any bad words in this report, but we will certainly be talking around them.

PRISKA NEELY, BYLINE: The process is known as clean editing, and one of its masters is Joel Mullis.

JOEL MULLIS: I can see a cuss word, you know, from doing so many clean edits. I recognize what an S-H looks like and (laughter), you know, what an F looks like in waveform.

NEELY: Mullis was an engineer at a big time Atlanta recording studio in the early 2000s. He worked with a lot of southern rappers - Ludacris, David Banner, Young BloodZ. After recording them in the studio, Mullis was often responsible for going back into the mix and making a version that's broadcast-friendly.

MULLIS: For a long time, that basically meant going in and chopping out the cuss words, but one thing that I got known for was making the clean edits part of the song.

NEELY: He earned a whole lot of cred after he tackled a Ying Yang Twins track called "Wait," or "The Whisper Song." The original is far too raunchy to play, but here's what Mullis did.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAIT - THE WHISPER SONG")

YING YANG TWINS: (Singing) Wait till you see my - oh. Wait till you see my - oh. Wait till you see my - oh.

MULLIS: I took another song of theirs - like, the oh - that was from a totally different song. Just sampled it and put it in the space, and then literally a sample of a woman moaning off of a sound effects library.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAIT - THE WHISPER SONG")

YING YANG TWINS: (Singing) Beat the - oh - up. Beat the - oh - up.

NEELY: There are, of course, certain words that broadcasters are prohibited from airing. But there's a so much gray area that Mullis and the Ying Yang Twins had to make a lot of different versions of this song.

MULLIS: MTV had things that they were more sensitive to, and BET had things that they were more bothered by. And so we went out, and we did all these different versions, brought them back into the studio, recorded alternate lyrics.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WAIT - THE WHISPER SONG")

YING YANG TWINS: (Singing) Wait till I show you this. Hey, girl. Wait till I show you this. You...

NEELY: But once a song ends up in the hands of a radio station, it can make more changes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: On Power 106, where hip-hop lives.

NEELY: LA's Power 106 is one of the biggest hip-hop stations in the world. Emmanuel Coquia, better know as DJ E-Man, is the music director.

EMMANUEL COQUIA: You'll hear a clean version that comes in, and it could be partially cleaned. You won't hear the full F-bomb edited out. We want to make sure that that is completely taken out - not leaving the F or the K.

NEELY: His rule is that before any song plays on air, three sets of ears take a listen for profanity, sex and drug references. If they feel that something crosses the line, they edit it out with a few go-to techniques.

COQUIA: Reversing it, just muting it or adding an effect, but it's, like, an effect that goes foh (ph). Like, it just slows down the word so you don't really hear the whole word.

NEELY: If you listen closely, you'll hear all different types of tweaks on different stations. Some allow mentions of a certain three-letter word for derriere or a canine reference to a woman. E-Man takes it on a case-by-case basis, but generally, he prefers muting. It's the safest option. There are others that play it even safer. Phil Guerini is the general manager of Radio Disney.

PHIL GUERINI: There is a Taylor Swift song, and one of the lyrics is hella (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHAKE IT OFF")

TAYLOR SWIFT: (Singing) To the fella over there with the hella good hair...

NEELY: And hella is about the most risque thing you'll hear on the network. Radio Disney, which is now almost all satellite and streaming, plays pop music aimed at 8-to-16-year-olds, so there are a lot of edits. Disney has a standards and practices department that pores over songs, word by word, reading and then listening to the lyrics.

GUERINI: When said in an up-tempo manner, that might not be an issue. But if it's said suggestively - or we talk about the tone in the voice - is that sensual? Is that - what is that?

NEELY: Radio Disney is big enough that it can go back to a label and say it wants songs cleaned even more. Artists often oblige so they can reach the tens of millions of tweens, teens and moms who tune into Radio Disney. When I spoke with Guerini, he said almost half of the more than 50 songs on rotation at the time had been edited. The lyrics for Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" were completely reworked. Boys like a little more booty to hold at night becomes...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ALL ABOUT THAT BASS")

MEGHAN TRAINOR: (Singing) She says boys like the girls for their beauty they hold inside. That beauty, beauty - that beauty...

NEELY: The goal for Radio Disney is that families can listen together, and things won't get weird. But over at Power 106, DJ E-Man says things can get weird if you super-clean a song. You could drive listeners to the competition, be it another station or a streaming service.

COQUIA: It's hard because if we were to do that for all the songs that are out or the biggest hits, if - then we'd just not play it, but it's tough. We can't take away from the creativity or the freedom of speech in the music. And if it happens to be the audience's favorite song - OK, this is what they want to hear, but now let's present it to where it's appropriate for everyone to listen to.

NEELY: Besides, if a dirty version is what you're after, it's only a click away. For NPR News, I'm Priska Neely.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I DON'T F*** WITH YOU")

BIG SEAN: (Singing) I don't give a - I don't give a - I don't - I don't - I don't give a - look, I don't give a - about you or any...

MARTIN: For Sunday, this is the clean version of ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. You can follow us on Twitter at @npratc or follow me at @NPRMichel.

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