By Dave Foxx
When I was a little younger, feeling pretty full of myself and just starting to build a reputation in the business, I thought it was perfectly reasonable to say “A lack of planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part,” to my Program Director when he strolled in with a last minute promo. I said that exactly once. In a very quiet, dry voice, I was informed that if I didn’t make it my emergency, he would find someone who would… permanently. What I had failed to recognize at first glance, was that some things are not in the Program Director’s control. Secondly, there are a LOT of people out there who can do what I do and some can no doubt do it even better than I can. End of life’s lesson.
Some quick background: at Z100, the weekend promo usually runs Friday, beginning at midnight, through eight in the evening on Sunday – Monday if it’s a holiday weekend. Most of the time, I know what it will be about on the first day of the week before, giving me almost two weeks to think about it. I daresay that is one of the biggest factors in my ability to deliver my best work pretty consistently. I also know that this kind of advance planning is something most producers don’t get very often in this business. Usually, the weekend promotion isn’t decided until a day or two before its scheduled to start. All too often, the producer isn’t able to really begin work until the day before.
I mention this because I am hopeful that more than a few Program Directors will double their efforts to lay a plan out as far in advance as they can. Most of the time, this will result in much better production, which is the main reason this column and magazine even exist: to raise the bar in the quality of production, industry-wide.
At the same time, I recognize that even the best planning strategy must go out the window when something so stupendous comes along that you have to go with it. Case in point: Z100 signed The Fray to do a mini-concert in our theatre downstairs. Contracts being difficult to iron out, in some cases, are not completed until just a few days prior to the show. So, even though we knew that we were talking to the band’s management, it would hardly be smart to schedule a weekend giveaway until we knew we could do it.
In this instance, the contract didn’t come back until late Thursday afternoon for a show the following Tuesday. We had to have a promo on the air that weekend or it would end up a wasted promotional opportunity. Thus, a flurry of emails flew around the office and I was off to the races, without my usual lead-time.
Of course, our Program Director, Sharon Dastur, knew we were talking to the band and knew the possibility existed that we would be doing a The Fray Weekend, so she sent a script to the band and asked that one of them cut tracks in a studio and send them to her. Isaac did the honors, but as often is the case with artists, he sounded a little less than enthusiastic. (His forte is singing, not announcing.) So, when I got the nod to start on Thursday afternoon, it came with instructions to use some of his track.
Being a power ballad band, The Fray does not lend itself to beat mixing, so that was off the table before I even started, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t use beat matching. After selecting the portions of Isaac’s track I wanted to use, I began to build a music track around those pieces, allowing room for my, as yet unwritten, voice track. Some of my track would need to be sizeable because of licensing and sponsorship issues. Every time the theatre is mentioned, I must call it The iHeartradio Theatre presented by P-C Richard and Son. Because the appearance was arranged through The Fray’s label, I also had to say sponsored by Epic Records. So, there were some good-sized chunks of non-vocal tracks.
Once that was laid out, I dropped in Isaac’s tracks and began cutting mine to the music, wrapping what I was saying around what Isaac said and the vocals, of course. I did a rough mix and posted it to my FTP and sent an email to Sharon, asking her to listen and suggest whatever adjustments she wanted to make. (If you have the monthly CD, give a listen to that rough mix now on cut 3. Just listen the first part of the track and pause it once the promo is over.)
A return email popped back less than a minute later saying she was uncomfortable with splitting the theatre name into two pieces. Somehow I knew that wasn’t going to fly, but that’s how the music was laid out and without making some major adjustments, I felt it had to be that way. Consequently, I started in on the major adjustments.
15 minutes later, after switching two of the songs around and re-cutting my VO, I made another mix and posted the new version, which kept the name of the theatre all in one piece. (If you’re listening along, you can hit play now and hear the second mix.)
We had lift-off. The promo went on the air, an email blast went out to Z100 ZVIPs, and the weekend began on time.
One of the biggest selling points our business has to advertisers is our almost instant flexibility. We can react to events as they happen. Television and Newspapers don’t have that kind of instant gratification for clients. There are just too many people involved to make that happen. But, when it comes to radio, it can all boil down to one person: you. While having more time to plan and execute promotions will always make them sound better, you must be prepared to jump in and go at a moment’s notice. Be ready to make artistic decisions quickly, and throw it all together… without having it sound thrown together.
Could I have done a better promo with longer lead-time? Probably. Was I concerned that what I did wasn’t really up-to-snuff? Not at all! What was the big plus for me in all this? The promo I had already done for this weekend will be used the following weekend so I can start looking ahead to the weekend after that.