By Dave Foxx
know that many of you dear readers have the weekly, if not daily, pleasure of dealing with multiple mind-sets as you do imaging for one station and then, for whatever reason, have to image another station. In a previous column I openly asked for advice on this double-jointed brain activity as I was named ringleader for the Creative Services crew here in New York City. Up to that point, I basically had one station to worry about all the time. Granted, it was a blowtorch of a station, but I always knew from one day to the next what was expected. The response to that column came from all over the world, and it was as varied as the different languages respondents spoke. Now that I’ve been doing it for a while, I thought I’d revisit the topic to see how far things have progressed… or deteriorated, and give you a few tips that I have found really help me keep my sanity (what little there is left.)
Attitude (Keeping your head when all others lose theirs)
Invariably, as soon as I think I have everything under control and I’m easing into cruise… one of my Program Directors has a brainstorm and decides that today is the day we need to re-image the station from the ground up. OK, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but it certainly feels that way sometimes. Of course, when you explain how that throws everybody else’s schedule into the proverbial toilet, they look at you with a “So?” look and you just have to deal. Consequently, I’ve learned to never think I have anything under control. Ben Franklin said it best when he suggested that a pessimist will never be disappointed and will often be surprised. So, I guess I’ve become a smiling pessimist. I never let on that my personal sky is falling and just get on with the job at hand.
It has become increasingly important to stop and think about what I can and cannot use on any given station. My organizational skills have grown by leaps and bounds as I set up partitions on my drives for each station, in which all production begins and ends, from VO work to music to effects. Before I thought of this, I would often catch myself about three-quarters of the way through a project when I realized that the centerpiece of the production was not licensed to that station. I had to start over way too many times. Fortunately, now I have everything on different (virtual) drives, and I just know that I can never pull anything from another drive without thinking very carefully.
Preparation (We all have to dance to the same score)
Ask anyone who knows me personally and you will learn that I despise meetings. They are almost always a HUGE waste of my time, as they tend to get way off track very quickly. Too bad meetings are probably one of the best sources of inspiration and absolutely the best way I know to motivate a Program Director to think about promotions long before they normally would. For example, I have a meeting every Monday with Sharon Dastur and other department heads at Z100. From that meeting, I know exactly what the next 2 weekend promotions will be and a pretty good idea what the one after that is going to be. I can actually think WAY in advance about approaches I can take to each one of those weekends. If your PD doesn’t have a weekly planning meeting, think about suggesting it. Since I’m dealing with five stations, I have 5 of those meetings, although I usually only go to 2 each week and rotate stations.
The single most difficult thing I cope with every day is the disconnect I get every time someone interrupts what I am doing. I’ll come back from a conversation with a PD about an upcoming promotion and it will seriously take 10-15 minutes to get back to where I was. Even then, I always suspect that I don’t end up with a finished piece that is as good as it would have been without the interruption. My own solution is to work morning show hours. I get in at five and leave at two. The first 4 hours of my day are almost always distraction-free, and it’s always when I do my very best work. The next 4 hours are when all the meetings and other distractions happen. That solution might not work for you, but you really need to set aside time to work when you don’t accept phone calls or visitors to your studios. You will accomplish so much more when you can germinate, execute and complete a project in one sitting.
Atmosphere (Part 2)
Most producers I know have a single place where they work almost exclusively. For me, it’s a studio on the 3rd floor of the AT&T Building in Lower Manhattan. I’ve made it into a sort of “nest” for myself. Mood lighting, really comfortable furniture and a candle warmer keep the room feeling very cozy and almost womb-like. I shut out the world when it’s time to get serious and really immerse myself in the project. I’ve found that I spend a lot less time futzing about and more time actually getting something done because I am “in the zone.” It’s my personal space and I’m really reluctant to let anyone else into it. If you don’t have a studio dedicated to you and the work you do, make every effort to make that happen. I’m here to tell you that you’ll double or even triple your output without anything but a positive effect on the quality.
Owning Your Job
This was probably the hardest part for me. I had always been associated with only one station. I didn’t have to think about different “styles” of production. I didn’t have to worry about which library I was using. It was my job and I loved it. Things have changed now, especially that we’re all living together, under one roof. There are five distinct radio stations, each with its own culture and personality. But, as I’ve gotten to know the people in all five stations, I’ve discovered that I don’t have to worry about “wearing the right hat” when I do work for a station besides Z100. It all happens naturally. In fact, others worry about it a lot more than I do. Jim Ryan (until recently, the Program Director at WLTW) used to put the same line at the top of every memo he sent me: “No lasers!” The funny thing is, I wouldn’t have dreamed of using lasers in anything I did for Lite-FM. It just wouldn’t feel right.
And my last lesson learned:
Don’t Take Yourself So Damned Seriously
I got it into my head that I was the big gunslinger in the production business because I was the ringleader of Creative Services at Clear Channel/New York. I started telling people how they needed to bend to my will on certain issues like deadlines. Guess what? I lost that battle. At first I fussed and fumed about it, but it became ever more clear that it was a battle I could never win. I had to make an attitude adjustment.
I’ve actually caught myself thinking, “I’m incredibly talented and even gifted at radio production.” (STOP it! You know you’ve done the same thing.) It all melts away when my new attitude says, “So what?” All these people want is a teammate who can consistently deliver a good performance.
I DO believe that I am incredibly lucky. I have a job I really love. I go into a padded room and play with toys all day… and every two weeks, they give me money!
OK… no more tips. Just a quick description of my sound this month: It’s a series of 3 promos involving two promotions with the same prize. They’re pretty self-explanatory. I hope they spark some ideas for you!