By Trent Rentsch
I forgot to set my alarm. No big thing, my step-son leaves for school at 6 — I always hear the front door as he leaves, still an hour before I begin my commute. What I didn’t know was that he didn’t have school that day and there would be no door slam. No big deal, my internal clock always goes off around 6:30 in the morning. Except for that morning. My eyes popped open at 6:47 a.m. A rush, to be sure, but no biggie. 5 minutes in the shower, a quick scramble into clothes… out the door at 7:07. Just a few tiny minutes late into rush hour traffic, it’s hardly ever an issue, and besides, even leaving that late leaves me with a good 15 minute buffer before I’m late. 2 stalled cars and 3 accidents later, my buffer was gone. Small worry… our daily status meeting starts at 8:15 — I’d surely be there by then. I had forgotten that the meeting started at 8 that morning. By the time I got there at 8:14, the meeting was nearly over. Okay, fine, I missed one status meeting, it’s not like anything big ever comes up at them. Except… you guessed it… that morning.
The morning wore on. I ended up running to our Coordinator several times, asking questions about scripts which had already been answered in the meeting. My stomach started growling about 9 because I didn’t have time to grab anything at home, which on most days is no big hairy deal since there are ALWAYS munchies in our break room. Not a crumb that morning, however. Annoying, but it was just a short time before lunch. At least it would’ve been, if I hadn’t been asked into a brainstorming meeting at 11:45 that lasted till 1:30. By that point my appetite was huge, but restaurant row is just a few blocks from our office. And just imagine how quickly I could’ve gotten there… if, in my haste to rush in the building earlier for the meeting, I hadn’t left the keys in the ignition and locked the door behind me.
I could go on, but the day continued much the same. A comedy of errors, starring… me. The icing on the cake came when a friend called to tell me that he had a client that was looking for a character voice, and that he would add my demo to the audition that was going on that afternoon. Big gig, he thought I had a good shot. All I had to do was email my demo to him. But even that small, simple act became impossible. As I had flown out the door that morning, I forgot to grab my backpack… which held my thumb drive… which had my demo on it.
Dominos. Such small things, aren’t they? But set them up, side by side, into a long line, tip over the first one… and they all end up in a big pile. The mess could all be avoided by not upsetting that first tile. Not setting the alarm clock had been my first mistake. That one small oversight set off a chain of events that turned my day into a big mess.
With all due respect to the experts in the self-help industry, there are times when you really should sweat the small stuff. Investing a little extra time to take care of the small details can really make a huge impact in a piece of creative. What details? Little things, like…
Good Copy. The basics need to be there: the client’s information, what they are offering, and why the listener should accept the offer. The words that present that information should be compelling, yet direct, inventive, never cliché-ridden. The words should speak to the audience they are intended for. They shouldn’t talk down to the listener, yet must be easy to understand. If the words aren’t right, a few moments with a pen is all it takes to make them right.
Clean Sound. Clear your throat, speak into the mic. If you muff a word, re-voice the line. If your chair squeaks in the middle of a line, RE-VOICE THE LINE. If your breaths are too loud, edit them out. If there’s vent noise when you’re not talking, EDIT IT OUT. Once you have the full read down and edited, listen to it, start to finish. If something needs to be re-done or re-edited, for heaven sakes do it. All obvious, you say? Then why do so many crappy voice-overs hit the air, say I.
Choosing a Proper Underscore, Part 1. A favorite station of mine in a past life seemed to only have 5 music beds to play under commercials. All 5 opened with some lovely cue burn (yes, children… production music used to come on albums). Later I worked at that station, and discovered that 3 of the tracks were cuts 1 through 3 on the first album on the rack, 4 and 5 were the first cuts on albums 2 and 3. The moral? Cue burn may be a thing of the past, but listeners will still notice if you keep using the first few cuts on a production CD over and over.
Here’s the other problem; the first few cuts on a CD might not fit the mood and tone of the copy. My favorite example of this was a bridal show promo I heard some years ago. The words were right, the voice talent had the right feel, but the music was, I kid you not, HAIL TO THE CHIEF. Was it mistaken for the Wedding March, or was it cut 1 on some Specialty/Orchestrated CD?
We’ve all been around the block. We know when the music is right, and when it isn’t. If all it takes is an extra few moments to find the right music track, why not take them?
Choosing a Proper Underscore, Part 2. The same theory applies to sound effect selection. Better to avoid a sound effect entirely than to put the wrong one under a spot. Think a sound is a sound? Try underscoring a cycle ad with the rumble of a Honda for the local Harley dealer.
You probably won’t get a medal for taking care of the little details. In fact, if everything is right, 99% of listeners won’t notice the extra attention you took — and yes, that probably includes your boss. However, do it wrong and everybody will hear it. Before that happens, listen, objectively. If it’s wrong, the alarm will go off in your head. Heed it, and fix what needs fixing. And trust me, if you don’t give the alarm a chance to chime, you might really have a mess on your hands!