JV: We read often in the pages of RAP about the importance of “the story” in our promos and commercials, and it sounds like these stories are a basic element of your promos. Where do you go to get these stories? Where is your creative fountain?
Ann: It took a lot of practice. I wasn’t very good at either getting in the mood to write or brainstorming. I have a couple of huge spirals for starters. Banker or drugs or Indians or smoke signals, these can be some of the trigger words that are in those spirals. Aside from that, let’s say we’re sending someone to the Super Bowl. The first thing I think of is what does my 25-year-old male listener care about the Super Bowl. Our team didn’t make it. They’re actually very disgusted with the Redskins right now. What about them is excited about the Super Bowl? Well I know when I was a kid, my brothers, and even myself to some extent, used to play football. We would play football on the schoolyard and even in the street. We’d get the gang together. We’d get everybody together and just play football. But we weren’t a whole bunch of kids playing football; we were pro-football players. Our imaginations took us so far as kids. You start to think, well I bet that inner child in my 25-year-old listener still wants to go to a Super Bowl. I bet that my average 25-year-old listener has not been to a Super Bowl and probably never will. But when he was eight, there was nothing else he wanted. So, you try to grab that eight-year-old inside of him, and that’s kind of the direction I go. I try to figure out what’s going to get my listener excited about what we’re doing, whether it’s music, the weekend promo, or a show we’re doing.
JV: Do you feel like you know your audience, the young male demo?
Ann: I’ve been imaging for mid 20-year-old males for a while. I’m not necessarily the audience, but I date them. And I think to some extent they’ve always been my best friends. Not that I know what’s going on in their heads, and not that I know how to talk to them. I don’t pretend to be able to break the female/male barrier, but I know they’re just like me. They’re human. They like to be entertained. I know that they have insecurities like I do. I know that they have to go to work everyday like I do. I know that they would rather be at home, maybe drinking a beer like I would. Those things always stay constant. So, I try to go for those generalities, the things that are generally the same between men and women. And you find that you strike deep chords that way.
JV: How many stations does Clear Channel have in Washington, DC?
Ann: I think eight.
JV: Are they’re all in the same building?
Ann: No, there are only three here in this building, DC101, the business station, and what was formally the Music of Your Life station.
JV: Are you doing work for any of these other stations?
Ann: No, I am just doing the imaging for DC101, which is a blessing, and it’s hard to come by. I’m very lucky to have held onto this one position and to be able to focus so closely on DC101.
JV: What about the commercial side of the station? Is there a Production Director or somebody that’s solely responsible for the commercials?
Ann: Not really. We’re somewhat non-traditional. I guess. We have a couple of guys who handle the commercial production.
JV: For all three stations?
Ann: No, just for DC101. We’ve haven’t really felt the consolidation yet. AMFM came in and didn’t really consolidate. They were more concerned with making our station succeed, so everyone just kept their jobs. When I came in, there were like three people handling commercial production. One would do it Wednesday through Friday, the other one Monday and Tuesday. That’s kind of been the rule, and no one has ever come in and changed that. So, we have a couple of guys who handle that, and it seems to be working fine.
JV: What equipment are you working with?
Ann: I rely mostly on my Orban Audicy. I have Cool Edit in here, but I prefer the Audicy just because it’s a lot faster. I use some of the effects on Cool Edit, but I keep the project in the Audicy. I don’t use any outboard processing. Even the Harmonizer is getting dust on it.
JV: Do you have a studio at home?
Ann: I have Pro Tools at home. It’s actually more for voice work. I voice maybe 10 Clear Channel stations, and I also do a lot of freelance production for those Clear Channel stations, a lot of launch work. I’m usually here about 6 in the morning. Early mornings are busy with different voice work sessions. ESPN is always at 9. I have a cable company session, which is at 10. Then things slow down around lunchtime. Voice work is real heavy in the morning. I do many of my auditions then. A lot of stations call around 10 in the morning wanting something, and that’s when I’ll fit it in before lunch. After lunch I try to keep it all to DC101, although the 5 to 6 o’clock hour is pretty hectic with voice work because that’s right before FedEx picks up. So, if I have any emergencies, I’ve got to stop what I’m doing at 5, get my voice work done before FedEx picks up, and then I can pick up production again. I basically have the Protools at home not only for a tax write-off, but my voice work is growing at such a rapid pace—I have about 30 regular clients right now—I figure I’d better have a backup.
JV: When did the voice thing take off for you?
Ann: When I was at KBPI. My very last day there I submitted a couple of pieces for FMQB and then I left and went to Dallas. Friday Morning Quarter Back featured one of my pieces of production on a production CD, and Paul Jackson out of WHJY tracked me down because he liked the sound of my voice. That was my very first station. Also, we had a consultant in Dallas. His name was Tom Barnes, and he believed in me a great deal. He started telling all the stations that he consulted that they should use me. So I became the station voice and started doing some freelance production for WAAF in Boston. That was my second station. Tom Barnes was instrumental in getting me some work in Salt Lake City and other cities, too. He was wonderful. He really believed in me as a voice talent and as a producer.
After getting WAAF, through word of mouth I picked up about six more stations here and there. Then I was picked up by Don Buchwald & Associates in New York, but nothing really happened for over a year. Then, when I came here to DC101, my agent, Hoss, who split from Don Buchwald & Associates and started his own agency called Atlas, called and asked me to join him. At this point, I still only had like six stations I was doing voice work for, DC101 being one of them. In no time, Hoss and this new agency were taking me places. I was in auditions three times a day for different things, and they were selling me to all sorts of radio stations. Before I knew it, my client list had jumped from six clients to 30. This last year was really the voice work year for me. I hope I haven’t peaked. I’m still trying to get the word out. People are starting to find that there’s a female voice out there who likes to stretch and can do some different things.
JV: Give us some thoughts on voice work.
Ann: Another thing I got from Eric Chase…we talked a lot about voice work when I was down there. Eric is a big fan of watching pop culture, watching other media to see what they’re doing. He likes to learn from voice people on TV, and he likes to soak in what people are doing in the movies. He’s really very good at starting radio trends based on what some of the major advertisers are doing. And that’s so valuable to think that you’re Creative Services Director is basically following the lead from all these people who are spending so much money to get it right. So we talked a lot about voices, and from that point on I stopped putting voices on my radio station that were announcers. I talked all my PDs into hiring guys that could be very conversational, very natural. Read a line as if we’re just driving down the street. “Pam, why are you listening to this radio station?” “Ahh, you know, they’re the only station that really rocks.” That’s the style that I believed in. I didn’t like the announcer when I was younger, when I was 20. I didn’t like being talked down to. I didn’t like the station voice telling me how big his balls were. I didn’t like any of that. So I coached a lot of my voices to be very natural, and that is how I started doing voice work – very naturally. I tried to be the cool chick, not the announcer. I’ve never ever been good at dripping with syrup mainly because I’ve never subscribed to that philosophy. I always wanted to be the girl next door that was telling you how cool the radio station was.
JV: You seem to be excelling in several areas at once. Your voice-over career is booming, you’re stretching your writing skills, and you’re pushing the limits of the technical side of production as well. Does this come naturally for you, or has this been a conscious effort?
Ann: The one thing I pride myself on and another thing Eric Chase taught me was that you try to be good at everything. You try to be good at everything production can do. Why do you have to have just one strong point? Why can’t you have many? And not a lot of people think you can. So I went back to the studio and I thought, you know what, I’m going to do my best to be good at parodies. I’m going to start singing. You get in the studio, and you’re real nervous at first. You’re really off key, but you give it a shot; and before you know it, it becomes very natural for you. You feel like you’re in the shower. You start to sing lyrics and start doing all sorts of wacky things on the microphone. You let go of some of your inhibitions. I know I’m off key. I know I don’t sing like Madonna. But I write my parodies and I write my lyrics so that they are funny. I’m not meant to be an expert singer. I’m not. It’s not to be taken that way.
Learn how to beat mix and learn how to do it well. And exercise your beat mixing enough that you become proficient in it. If I were asked to put together a whole bunch of bumps with some movie drops in them, just some quick transitional bumps that are fun and kind of move the music along—maybe 10 seconds or so—I know that I would be able to put those together well. If somebody asked me to come up with a promo that was creative and out of the box, I know I could do that. I’ve spent the last five years really trying my hardest to be good at everything. If I hear somebody doing something that I’ve not heard before, I tackle it. I try it. I give it a shot. And it’s not going to be good the first time. I allow myself to fall and fail, and I know the next time it will be better.
JV: You’ve come a long way very fast. Any lessons you’ve learned along the way that you’d like to share?
Ann: I was very jealous of other producers. I didn’t like the fact that they were better than I was. I didn’t like the fact that there were producers who were doing some extremely good stuff. And what that came back to was the fact that I was 20 years old and very insecure. I was trying to make it in radio production, which was full of masters, and I was a punk 20 year old, and a female at that. I had a lot of people saying, “Wow, you’re a girl doing this. That’s pretty strange.” I felt, “Well crap, I’ve got to be extremely good at this in order to make it then!”
But the biggest lesson I ever learned was from Yo-Yo Ma, the famous cellist. I was watching an interview with Yo-Yo Ma, and he was talking about how he goes around to kindergartens and grade schools and plays for the children and gets them excited about music. And whoever was interviewing asked him, why do you do that if you can make literally millions on a performance? Why do you give it away for free? And Yo-Yo Ma basically said, what’s the use of being good at something if you can’t share it? I came away from that realizing that I’ve got a lot of tricks. There are a lot of things that I do very well. What’s the use of me being able to do them if I can’t share that with other producers and help them to be better as well?
So, with that, some of those insecurities melted away. I noticed that as soon as I started sharing the eggs in my basket, others were much more willing to share their eggs with me, and I automatically grew as a producer. I was learning so much more, and I was sharing more. And not necessarily sharing sound bites and music beds, but just basically sharing philosophies, a lot of times just sharing what I felt was really important. I’ll get on the phone and brainstorm with a lot of my production buddies only because, in my world, that’s sharing eggs in your basket. If I share eggs, my basket becomes bigger and so does yours, and we all prosper from that. No one loses when you share. That’s really when my growth spurt started, when I started to share my own discoveries with others.