by Craig Jackman
When I first started crafting a response to Forrest’s heartfelt criticism [A Comment on "Gunning For My Job" - October 2007 RAP], going through each of his points with my explanations, I came up with something that was probably twice as long as the original article. I’d like to thank him for his criticism of my somewhat unstructured writing style, and apologize for offending him so much. The article was written from my perspective and from my experience, so anyone else’s experience may be understandably different.
The most obvious point where Forrest and I differ concerns demos. He seems to be of the opinion that a great demo is your key to wealth and riches as a Radio Production Superstar, that a great demo lets you write your own ticket to heaven. I disagree. The demo is just one part of the process. You also need to be able to write a resume and cover letter. You need to be able to answer questions and inspire confidence that you can do the job in interviews. You may need to have other people, preferably in the industry, willing to say a good word for you as a reference. Yes, you need a good demo. You need a demo that will showcase your production skills. You need a demo that will showcase your creativity. You need a demo that will catch my attention and make me go over your resume a second time while I reach for the phone to set up a convenient time for an interview. A demo doesn’t have to set the world on fire, it has to be interesting or entertaining enough for me to think you’d be worth investing the time to talk to. To put it in perspective, when interviewing the person who provided the best demo for this position, it became glaringly obvious within the first 90 seconds, that he was not the right candidate. Typically I try to interview the top 5 most obvious candidates for a position, but I have no problem expanding that to as many or as few as I think are qualified.
Forrest asserted that the resume (he didn’t mention cover letter) is only used to see where you’ve worked at to see if they can call to get some background on you. I find that unbelievably shallow! In the first place a lot of production work is about the details, so I look to see how you string sentences together, word selection, and yes, spelling. I’m looking at your resume to see what kind of life experiences you have besides the list of stations. For example, post-secondary education, things you volunteer time for outside of work, hobbies and interests. If all you tell me about is a long list of where you’ve worked, I might question a trait like loyalty if you are constantly moving from job to job, or maybe that some of the moves weren’t by choice. I might also see that as initiative moving up from job to job depending on how it’s phrased. I’m reading your resume to see what kind of person you are.
Forrest seemed most indignant when I said that if someone was a Pro Tools expert, we wouldn’t go to the expense of accommodating that experience with new hardware or software. Sorry to break it to you, but to the letter, that is exactly what I’m saying. When I was working in the small company a decade ago, where everyone was on a first name basis, perhaps you could make the argument to the GM that an investment in hardware and software, above and beyond what it might take to hire the guy, would be worth it in the long run. When I started with the big company, we were able to invest in then state-of-the-art production computers through the Engineering budget, as the computers at the time were woefully out of date. Now, as the big company just keeps getting bigger, you don’t have any say on what computer you work on as they are supplied by the Shared Services branch of the company. You can get the Engineers to help in upgrading the RAM or hard drive(s), but the box they give you is the box you are expected to use. It really doesn’t matter how good you are on Pro Tools on a Mac. If they give you a PC and every other station in the chain is using PC’s, that’s what you use. If you can’t make the switch, then don’t. No hard feelings, that’s just the way it is. I suppose it would be easier if it was a similar platform with different software, something like Vegas Pro when the rest of the company is on Audition. You would have to convince the local Engineering and I.T. personnel to become familiar with it to provide some basic level of support, and if you need to share studio space, other users need to invest the time to learn the program as well. Don’t forget, at this point in the process, it’s my job opening, and I get to make the rules. I know who I’m looking for to fill the job. Bringing in your own computer poses other issues. If you only plan on using it as an analog record and playback device, then maybe. In this situation, I.T. wouldn’t allow it to be hooked up to the network (security risk), and hooking it up yourself to transfer files would be grounds for dismissal. Then comes the issue of who owns the data should you leave the company, or how someone else accesses it when you’re off sick.
In the job posting I asked people to apply electronically with resume and MP3 demo. I did that for a reason. I was very interested to read Forrest’s description of his application for a position in San Francisco. In reality, I was quietly hoping for someone to show similar initiative and creative thinking skills to get my phone number and station address if they wanted to send a hard copy of something. If I recall correctly, one person did (Please bear in mind that due to time writing the article, submitting it to RAP, and how the Editor wants the issue to come together, there can be some length of time pass before you read it. As I write this response, we are coming up to the second anniversary of when I filled the position in question). The reason I did ask for electronic submissions is to give everyone the best opportunity to shine by hearing the demos in the proper frame of mind in the proper studio environment. I didn’t want to short change anyone by listening in the car on the way home, or at the very end of a very long day at home if I didn’t have to.
Forrest was “downright sickened” when I said listeners aren’t listening to the radio for audio quality. Well, they aren’t! I mean how many stations are running commercials or other syndicated programming delivered via MP3 from other stations or national delivery services? All of them? How many record companies are servicing radio stations with MP3 delivery of new music instead of sending the whole CD or CD singles? Most of them? How many stations are running compressed audio files off their automation systems to save hard drive space? How many producers are affecting audio quality by not only compressing elements in a promo, but then running the whole promo through a multiband compressor before loading it into station automation, only to have it run through a whole other compression chain again when it goes through the transmitter? The average radio listener isn’t listening to the radio for audio quality! They aren’t listening to their iPod or satellite radio receiver for audio quality either, as both of those delivery methods use compressed data formats. In theory FM transmits to 15 kHz. In reality, FM rolls off the high frequencies starting at about 12 kHz. The typical range of human hearing is far beyond that. The FM signal is further compromised by Optimod-type processors with complex EQ curves, absolutely obscene amounts of multiband compression and multiband limiting, and phase distortion caused by aural exciters. All of these serve to make the station louder, but do nothing to increase audio quality. People listen to the radio for any number of reasons — convenience, personalities, and format to name just three off the top of my head. Why do people listen to other devices or other services? Again, for any number of personal reasons, including lack of commercial interruption, control over the playlist, and following the latest trend or new technology. If you look into MP3 data specs, you’ll find that 128kps MP3 files cut off at 15.6 kHz. A 112kps MP3 file cuts of at 13.6 kHz. Will they sound as good as the original CD copy? No, of course not, however they will serve my purpose to see how you’ve showcased your skills. I think I deserve some credit for being able to “listen between the lines”.
I mentioned the length of demos as well. It seems the harder some people try, the longer their demo gets. I understand that. I also said to aim for less than three minutes. The reason for the demo is to showcase your skills. I wanted to push people into doing that in a tighter time frame. I’m not kidding when I said the best demo I ever heard was 90 seconds. It showcased what he could do and left me wanting more. If I’m listening to your six minute demo, I’m usually left at the end knowing exactly what you can and can’t do and rarely feel like I want more. As for maximum file size, that’s just standard email courtesy isn’t it? Again, if someone felt that they couldn’t showcase themselves within those parameters, they should have been able to use creative thinking to get me something on CD.
Forrest didn’t seem to know what I meant referring to using the word “dude” in an interview, or mentioning you use a day planner. Do mention you use a day planner as it shows you know how to manage your time and keep track of your workflow. The difference between the great and the mediocre is in the details and how you keep track of them. My experience shows me that people who keep track of things in a day planner work well as part of my team. Someone who’s wall is covered in Post-It notes, or “knows where everything is” in a sea of paper? Not so much. As for the “dude” thing, it’s like dude that demo was awesome. Like I was telling the dude I work with, I said dude, that demo was kick-ass! Come on! If you haven’t guessed already by the number of times I’ve used the word invest, radio is a business. I don’t want to hand the keys to the car to some dude when we have to drive the lofty revenue and performance goals set forth by management. As part of a production team, you have to deal with Sales, with clients, and with the rest of the staff, and inspire confidence that you know what you are doing in all of them. I’m not saying this is a station where everyone on the Production Team needs to wear a suit and tie to work every day (I know stations that do, though). I am saying that this is a station where you are expected to always act in a professional manner. That “dude” speech pattern just isn’t going to cut it.
So to Forrest and everyone else out there who is offended or annoyed in some way about what I wrote, sorry, not my intention. To everyone who didn’t need any of my advice, terrific! I wish you well in your career. To anyone who took anything out of that article in an effort to improve their chances of moving on or up, thanks. You’re who I wrote it for.