By Dave Foxx
Last month I wrote about the need to improve our language skills as a group. A few of you wrote some pretty funny emails, telling me, “My English skills is just fine!” A few more wrote, commiserating about the lousy state of language in the radio business, with some (I think) unintentional goofs with punctuation and capitalization. My point here is, we can all use some help, trust me. (Note to Editor: Jerry, please take extra care with my column this month. If I screw it up, I’ll be in my own little hell with hundreds of emails.)
This month, it was supposed to be about music, but after four very long evenings full of frustrating re-writes, I have come to the conclusion that I cannot do it justice in this context. I hate disappointing people, and not covering this topic in this space is a huge disappointment to me. Perhaps you’re not as concerned. Maybe it was divine providence that delivered an invitation for me to speak at an event this summer, with a topic to be determined by myself. I am seriously thinking about going and doing nothing but explain how music works. It is a really complex subject that can get esoteric to the extreme sometimes, but I want to break things down into the simplest of terms and give everyone there a good grounding in music theory. It could prove to be the most valuable lesson any producer can learn. So, if you feel that getting a basic education in the structure of music can help you, start saving your dimes and quarters and keep an eye out for promotional materials from the Dan O’Day Production Summit, sometime in August. Unless Dan chickens out and rescinds the invitation, I’ll be there.
I recently had an email come in from Randy, a producer at a rather well known network, complaining that he was stuck. He felt that assembling image part – bed with content – image part was not stimulating his creative juices. He said he had tried to fill the well as much as he could, but somehow all his “not-at-the-radio-station” activities and his production seemed to be disconnected. At first, I wanted to just tell him that he must not be paying attention, but then I remembered that I’ve heard that same complaint from some really heavy hitters. I listened to Eric Chase complain about it over drinks in Atlanta once. Andy West made some noise about it at lunch in Manhattan. One year at the R&R Convention Production Gods dinner in Los Angeles, Kelly Kelly Kelly groused to me about sometimes feeling like Lucy at the chocolate factory conveyor belt.
If you’re feeling that way sometimes, you’re obviously in good company, but the question remains, how do you shake yourself out of it? I have to admit, this is somewhat new territory for me. The real challenge for me has always been in finding new ways to do something every time. Granted, I have my lazy days. When a scheduled weekend promo is about Rihanna, the first thing I do is search for some old Rihanna promos to see what I can salvage for the new promotion. But even then, the Barbadian beauty has no doubt had another hit or two since the previous promotion and I have to pull the puzzle apart and reassemble it with new pieces in play.
I guess my lack of empathy comes from the way I look at the process. Each artist, every prize and all promotional considerations carry their own production baggage that needs its own solution. The idea of taking a one-size-fits-all approach to any promo seems patently ridiculous. To be fair to Randy and my heavy-hitter friends, I suppose that his explanation of the problem is probably overstated, by a large margin. (I’ve told you a million times not to exaggerate!) However, I must admit that sometimes I do get bored. After all, how many ways are there to integrate an artist ID into a promo?
The real way to combat production boredom is to bore down to the next level and get very, very picky about every element. Don’t use the same effect in different promos until you have used every effect in your library, at least once. Even though it’s sorely tempting, don’t ever use the same production bed twice. (Is that even possible? Probably not, but make the effort. Roll with me here. If the promotion is artist/music driven, you shouldn’t even be using production beds anyway.) Remember to keep your focus on a USP. What exactly are you really selling? Does that ramp you’re using push the listener in that direction? OK. Now I am really going overboard (a ramp is a ramp), but I think you get the idea.
Yes, you DO need to keep an eagles-eye view of where the promo is going, but one of the easiest ways to do that is to micro-manage at the root level. It used to be, back in the day of acetate media, that you had to find shortcuts to getting the work done, or a promo could eat your entire afternoon. But now that we’re all dealing with ones and zeros, you can afford the time to examine every element, because those elements can be stacked and re-stacked like so many blocks in a toy box in almost no time at all. Timing is so simple to adjust, because you can simply slide things back and forth until they fit perfectly, and in most cases if they’re not the perfect size, you can artificially stretch or contract an element to exactly your specifications. So now, you can make sure you hunt down the perfect sound effect to frame your narrative, or makeit perfect…every time.
Now I’m probably boring you with my solutions to being bored, so enough already.
For my sound this month, I present a little something I did for all Clear Channel stations of the CHR persuasion. As much as we all snicker about Britney Spears and her public persona, I must admit a thrill chill ran up my spine when I was told I’d be doing a promo with music from her, as yet, unreleased CD. By the time you read this, you’ll have heard most, if not all, of her new album, but I got my hands on it a few weeks early. As she has done over and over before, she has proven her production genius. After the main promo plays, there is a second part of the track that is just the mixout of her music. I had such a blast!