By Dave Foxx
A wise man once told me that if I charge too low a price for my services, people would be suspicious of the quality and not buy. So, here I am, dispensing free advice to production people all over the world. Maybe I should double my price. OK. Let’s see, two times nothing is…uh, well…. If you’re a guy or gal who’s slaving away in market 943, trying desperately to move up in the world, here’s my free advice: learn to be a triple-double player.
In the NBA, triple-double players are franchise makers. Any player who can get double digits in rebounds, field goals and assists will invariably end up as the team MVP every time. In radio, that could translate to writing, voicing and producing.
A couple of months ago, I talked about getting a life and mentioned taking an extension course at a local college as a possible activity. (If you’re a student already in school, this should be automatic.) I highly recommend three. First, take a creative writing course. Learn how to tell an engaging story. Learn how to stay away from bland words that are too subjective, and find the emotionally charged words that truly motivate, fire up the senses and stimulate Broca’s Brain. (If you don’t know Broca, you really need to read Roy H. William’s books.)
An example: the word beautiful. What does beautiful mean? On the surface, this word would seem to be “emotionally charged.” According to Miriam-Webster…
1: having qualities of beauty: exciting aesthetic pleasure 2: generally pleasing: EXCELLENT. Synonyms LOVELY, HANDSOME, PRETTY, COMELY, FAIR mean exciting sensuous or aesthetic pleasure. BEAUTIFUL applies to whatever excites the keenest of pleasure to the senses and stirs emotion through the senses.
But what does it mean, really? To me Julia Roberts is beautiful. But I know a LOT of people who might think Angelina Jolie is more beautiful. The old saw says that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You might think Matthew Broderick is beautiful. (There is no accounting for some people’s taste. Sorry Sarah, he’s just not my type.) Beautiful, as a word, has so many meanings, it’s useless for our purposes.
What you need to learn is how to write promos or commercials the way William Blake writes poetry. Use an economy of the right words. Red becomes crimson, blue is azure…soft becomes velvet while hard is flinty. Learn to use words that describe a common experience. Not common in that it’s everyday, but convey a shared experience. Everyone knows the smell of gasoline or sizzling bacon and the texture of buttery-smooth leather.
And, while you’re at it, learn to write for speaking. The most common mistake in all of radio gets repeated every day on nearly every radio station. Think about this: how many times have you ever heard anyone say the words “located at” in a sentence? In real life, never. On the radio, maybe millions of times. If you write copy that says, “located at 18 South Main,” lose the word located. You don’t need it, and it sounds completely unnatural when spoken.
OK. That’s one of the “triples” down. Next up is voicing. You say you don’t have an announcer’s voice? Good. There are too many Ernie Andersons in this world as it is. Your radio station might want to have a power voice do a certain amount of the image work, but certainly not all. Your audience would be more able to relate to a “guy-next-door” voice anyway…provided the guy next door can speak the King’s English. So, while you’re up at the school signing up for a creative writing class, sign up for a Speech class. Oh, and the third course would be English. (Learn to HATE bad grammar!) I’ll get to that in a moment.
When you first show up at your speech class, make sure your instructor knows why you’re there. You’re NOT there to learn to speak in front of 100 Rotary Club members. You’re there to learn to speak in front of 2.8 million radio listeners. (Your actual cume might be smaller in market 943.) You’re there to learn how to sound natural, to sound authoritative or sympathetic, depending on circumstances. If you have a strong accent of any kind, you’re there to soften the edges, giving you a more sophisticated bearing, without making you sound snobbish. What you are there for is to polish your instrument. Don’t forget that when you speak on the radio, you don’t have the lights, makeup and costuming that an actor uses to portray his or her character. You have to include all of that in the words you use and the way you use them.
Understand, I am not advocating that you lose your accent. I am suggesting you learn to use it with more discrimination. If you were born and raised in Georgia, and are working in your home state, being able to speak real “Georgian” is a good thing. However, you don’t want to use it all the time. Even native Georgians will think you are uneducated. (Unfortunately, that IS the stereotype.) If you’re not working close to home, you definitely want to be able to turn it on and off.
So, with two courses down, that leaves grammar. With all the polish you’ve given your voice and creativity you’ve added to your writing, you would think that would be enough. Wrong again, Toulouse. If you have a great delivery, creating all the right emotions, you can totally screw things up with the wrong use of one word. Learn to keep all your writing in the same person. Learn to use the proper tense. Learn to parse your sentences correctly, so your audience doesn’t turn you off in disgust saying, “What an idiot.” It happens, all the time.
Again, I’m not saying you need to use perfect grammar all the time. There are times when the wrong grammar is exactly the right thing to use. Last night I voiced a promo for a station in upstate New York which had excellent grammar throughout, until I got to the question, “Ain’t got nobody?” There just about isn’t anything right about that question, grammatically speaking. But as a counterpoint to the rest of the promo, it was perfect. The big difference here was, I knew why it was wrong and I knew why it was right. Most of the time, questionable grammar is a subtle thing.
Now, let me explain that I am far from perfect in any of these categories. Learning is an on-going process and I do learn new aspects of all of these just about every day. However, I manage to hit the triple-double most of the time, which is one of the big reasons I am my boss’ MVP…at least for today.