by Craig Jackman

I’m in a dilemma. I don’t know if I should feel the way I do about this, but I do know that I’m not going to hear strings of sympathy from the vast majority of Producers around the world. What’s bothering me is a “gift” of assistance from my PD. To be more specific, a barter service that includes pre-produced IDs just waiting to have the station voice draped over them.

On the positive side, it does free up hours and HOURS of time in my week. This time is used to service clients, and since our main initiative for this year is to serve the clients better than the company across the street, this is a good thing. Given that we may not be able to beat some of their stations on total cume (although we’re competitive when you break out the demographics), being able to take extra time to make sure the clients needs are met to their satisfaction may help to swing a little extra business this way. Salespeople are also trying to use this in getting new direct and agency business as well. Since this is the radio BUSINESS and business means making money, I’m OK with that part of the equation. More money means more funds available for zippy new computers, software, raises and all kinds of other good things. This new service also frees up time to meet my personal long-term goals, which include spending more time out of the studio working as a manager, and working one-on-one with clients on their advertising, trying to get them to think long term rather than supporting a specific event.

Also, there are enough usable ideas and cuts that we can literally have hundreds of various production elements on the air. They rotate less often so that they stay fresher longer and form a really cohesive face to the station.

On the negative side, there is a quality issue. One service that we have does have some good ideas—I have to give them that—but they are sloppy in their execution and really poorly mixed. It’s a damn good thing that the elements are split out, or the service would be a waste sometimes. There is a great deal of processing I have to do to get an acceptable sound to put on the air. I have to re-write their suggested scripts to fit my vision of what the particular station should sound like—but then I do that anyway with the scripts I get from the people I work with every day. Given that they are marketing this to many radio markets, I can’t expect them to be appropriate to what I want to do, plus they are in a different country than I am. I understand and admire American patriotism, but it just isn’t gonna fly in Canada.

These are barter services; they give us jock prep and/or production elements while we give them a set number of spots per week. We were able to negotiate which services get spots on which stations, so we don’t have to give away too much time on stations that get sold out on a regular basis and funnel it to stations that have a hard time selling their inventory. Of course, if the service provider can’t sell the spot time that we set aside for them, they lose it and we end up with the service for free.

I’m OK with all that.

What’s really bothering me is my guilt. We are paying (in theory at least) for a prep/production service. To an extent, that’s really what I’m supposed to be there for. Given that due to consultants and the continued tightening of formats, the jocks are going to sound the same, the music is going to sound the same, the national commercials are going to sound the same, you may get local commercials from your competitor (and vice-versa), the only thing that is really going to sound different is the station imaging. If I’m using the same service as everyone else, am I not going to sound the same as everyone else?

Do I take this as a challenge for me to raise the level of my game? Do I take this much like the daily challenge of keeping my work on par with my compatriots in the Production Department at work and my compatriots within the RAP community?

Should I really care this much about such a small issue? Wouldn’t my life just be a whole lot easier if I just grabbed the disc, slapped some voice tracks from the big voice guy over it, and slotted the finished product into some automation slots? At heart am I just getting lazy and continually looking for the next thing that’s going do all the work for me?

Before you start sharpening the knives, yes I do appreciate that I’m lucky enough to be with a station that would go to the extent to get a service like this. I do appreciate that I’m in a situation—large market or small—where I do have PD support; I do have other producers to share workloads and ideas; I generally have the tools needed to do the job; I don’t have Sales Reps working at counter purposes to the Creative Department. I am in a situation that most would want to be in.

I sat down with the PD and talked about this dilemma I feel I’m in. He doesn’t see it the way I do. If the pre-produced elements save me time, freeing it up for any number of other things, that’s okay by him. He trusts my ear enough to remix stuff so that it will sound right on air... and if it won’t sound right, then to get inspiration from what we’re not using and create something from scratch. Create something from scratch in the time that this service frees up. If it sounds good it sounds good, and if it fits the programming it really doesn’t matter whose ideas or sounds they are, so long as it accomplishes a goal of showcasing whatever follows it on air.

Yes my life would be easier if I just slapped some voice tracks over production service audio and slotted them in. Most people in the station wouldn’t notice and difference, and if they didn’t, the average listener wouldn’t have a clue.

But you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to live firmly riding the middle of the fence. In the current consolidated radio world, making the sale is more important than quality—not to say that quality doesn’t matter because it does. It’s just that my standards of having to be better, that what’s important is the pursuit of perfection, isn’t necessarily the right way to go. What’s important is the pursuit of excellence and spending your increasingly limited resources where they will give the highest return. Given that, what more important resource do you have than time? If I can use my time to get a better return from the client, that is a wise investment. If I spend a couple of hours on a couple of IDs, that isn’t a good return on investment, no matter how amazing they may sound.

Much like analog 8-track then digital 8-track made life easier than a handful of mono tape machines and cart decks, and my DAW makes life easier than the old 8-tracks, I’m thinking that these production services are the next timesaver for the overworked and under appreciated consolidated radio producer. I’ve said it before, that it’s a brave new world where quality is secondary to making the sale and cashing the cheque. While that does disappoint me, I think it’s something I can live with.