by Steve Stone
I don’t care what anybody says, today’s radio imaging Production Director is the most overworked employee at a radio station. Oh sure, the GM and PD may have more responsibility, but the fact is, when 5 o’clock on Friday comes, everyone jets out of the station faster than a marriage counselor at a “Danny Bonaduce Husband of the Year” ceremony. The only one still around is you! Why? Because you’re the one who has to get that weekend promo on the air! Let’s face facts, you are the life spark of creativity and your audio masterpieces are the glue that holds it all together. You’re the one that makes the station pop and sizzle. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
Now, how do you do it for more than one station? It’s not easy to successfully produce high-end imaging for multiple formats at the same time. No matter what the format, or multiples of stations, it’s done everyday and you can do it too, without bringing a sleeping bag to work.
I write from almost 15 years of experience when I say, “I know what this is like.” Years ago I worked at a pair of radio stations, one was alternative the other country. Constantly switching producing gears from alternative music sweepers to the country stations morning show promos was very difficult. I felt like I was being pulled from all sides, all day long. I also had the issue of having not one but two bosses to please. Luckily for me they were two great guys (Phil Manning now at KNDD-FM/Seattle and Justin Case now at WZZK-FM/Birmingham), so it was a very creative and fun dynamic. Even though it was hard, I’m really glad I went through that experience. It taught me that a station’s overall creativity shouldn’t be bound by the station’s format.
With a lot of trial and error, I’ve managed to have a constant 7 key factors for multi-format producing:
- 4.Efficiency/create, re-create, re-cycle, re-use
- 6.Imaging FX library
- 7.Image voice
Writing: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, it all starts with the writing. Since one person is producing the multiple formats, the writing must be focused on from the start, in order to properly differentiate the sound of the stations. I had to be very organized and cognizant to the fact that these were two very different audiences, and needed the same amount of attention. I would meet with both PDs daily to discuss the stations needs and immediately start writing. I knew the alternative format just fine. I had spent years in rock and alternative format stations so I was in my element. When it came to the country station, I had a lot to learn.
I would reference as much as I could while writing. I talked to the jocks, bought magazines, read the trades, etc. Another great source of understanding the country listener’s culture was to actually go to a few shows. You can learn a lot by people watching. The country format is not just a ten gallon hat and some cowboy boots. I learned pretty quickly how amazing the format and its listeners really are. Now grab some whiskey, and put on some Johnny Cash!
Networking/Research: I don’t claim to know everything, so I’ve never been shy to call and ask people who do. Get off your butt and start networking with people whose work you admire and who work in different formats. I still talk to people today who I met by picking up the phone and saying “that was a great promo, how’d you do it?” Also, read as much as you can. RAP mag is great! There are some websites that have forums for imaging producers to exchange ideas and tips. www.radio-info.com comes to mind, also www.audiomastersforum.org. The internet is so loaded with music and pop-culture websites that it boggles the mind. There is no excuse to not know what’s going on.
Organization/Delegation: You can be a slob at home, but not in the studio. I understand if you have a certain way of doing things, but keeping organized is key. Make sure you have separate files, or better yet, keep separate hard drives for each station you produce. Storage is cheap nowadays, so tell the GM to cough up some coin! Managing your audio, scripts, scheduling, etc. will be a breeze when you clearly divide your imaging world. Make sure you keep track of the licenses for the different imaging FX libraries you use, and offer to help your PD with managing and fulfilling the contracts of your voice talents. From past experience, I can tell you how being on top of things has saved me more than once. I learned quickly and so should you. Your sanity and creativity will thank you for it. Also don’t be shy to delegate the simple meat and potatoes work to your assistant. They want to learn from you and here’s their chance. If you don’t have an assistant, pick a jock who has the best production sensibilities and beg! Again you might want to grab some whiskey and Johnny Cash at this point.
Efficiency/create, re-create, re-cycle, re-use: You’ve heard of working smarter, not harder right? We’ll this isn’t about making a :60 promo a :30. This is about not spinning your wheels, you know, obsessing about one part of a promo. How if you could just get that one effect on the voice it would be perfect. I make this mistake a lot myself. If I had spent more time preparing I would have gotten through it quicker and with better results. See points 1, 2, and 3. Details are important, but you have to look at the big picture. Time is your enemy. Make sure you have a clear vision for what you want to accomplish and don’t stray.
You need to crank out high quality at a high rate. Your audio library… it’s the foundation of any great imaging producer. Aside from having all your FX organized for quick access, make sure to save any workparts you create at length for future use. There are ways of extending the life of music beds, FX and stagers by reusing and recycling them in other works. This is not an easy way out, rather it’s an effective way to use what you’ve already spent hours creating in a different setting.
Try and schedule your day so that you are spending the most time producing and the least miring in the management muck. This is where a strong PD is helpful. Keeping you out of time wasting meetings and conferences that you could easily catch up on with a memo. Again this is not to say that you should not be involved with what’s going on, but there’s just only so many hours in a day.
Topicality: You’ve got to stay ahead of what’s happening in the world, and even more importantly your city or town. There is nothing as harmful to a station’s image as a missed opportunity to connect to your audience. With so many tragedies recently in the world, it’s a great time to re-visit and re-work your stations PSA library. I’ve always felt that PSAs should be produced as high end as the stations imaging, and not like an after thought. Again see key factors 1, 2, 3. Also, seasonal imaging can be a bear to put together. Once you get through a full year, re-visiting saved Halloween, Christmas, and New Years workparts can only help you in the future. Again the clock is ticking!
Imaging FX Library: There are a ton of high quality libraries and imaging services out there. Most are very good and offer lots to the user. I’m not going to point you in any one direction, but I will say that it’s not always the popular choice that’s the best choice. Diagnose your station’s situation carefully. Are you in need of just some short FX or music beds? A little of both? Do you need a complete turnkey system that will allow you to image 3-4 stations at once? They are all out there. Get the demos and make your choice. Just make sure you are getting the service and sounds you want and need for the reciprocal commitment you are making.
Image Voice: When you’re juggling the imaging production of multiple-stations, it makes it very hard to manage a stable of voice talents. It’s also even harder when they are difficult to track down and work with. So I suggest trying your best to work with your PD and GM to get a voice talent that you all trust to deliver the read you want. Someone you know can count on to turn the work around in a reasonable amount of time, and preferably with no grumbling. Aside from that, picking an image voice is such a subjective thing; there are many very talented people to choose from. I can think of one right now. Wink! Wink!
To wrap it up, imaging people rule! It’s a great gig! We get paid to let our imaginations take the listeners on one hell of a joyride. Shouldn’t you be going home yet? Oh, you’re not done with the whiskey and Johnny Cash. Don’t let me stop you!
Steve stone is a national voiceover artist and imaging producer. You can check out his work at stonevoiceovers.com or call him at 724.847.2776. He welcomes your correspondence at