By Trent Rentsch
I’m always intrigued by what people consider Creative radio production. To some, it means funny, to others it means multiple voices, to others it means lots of sound effects, and to some it means “borrowing” someone else’s idea and adapting it to their use. Some find the use of children “sounding adult” to be Creative, others feel the use of adults (usually men) “acting like children” is Creative. Singing the copy will get the Creative nod from some people, while others find that simply speaking in a tone several octaves below God is a terribly Creative approach. You might be the kind who finds retro music under a commercial or promo to be a quirky Creative touch, or you could feel that high-speed, contemporary music “mash-ups” are the perfect Creative underscore. There are even those who feel that a bad impersonation of a character Arnold Schwarzenegger played in a movie two decades ago constitutes great Creative… hmmm.
It’s not a unique challenge to radio. Video, music, film, art, writing… any Creative craft has many definitions of what constitutes true Creative. You might recall that I dabble my toe in the world of magic arts… talk about diverse opinions on Creative! The stage magicians are all about the perfect costumes, music, choreography and big shiny boxes designed to make comely assistants appear, disappear, and be sliced, diced and reassembled. The wizards who perform miracles under your nose with cards and coins find a Creative act to be about the perfect words and actions to misdirect you. Some feel great Creative is becoming a dark, sinister, edgy character, while others find a silly, clownish uniform is strong Creative. Still others focus intently on being themselves and making Creative magic with the tricks themselves. Lines blur, the basic Creative focus is similar, but the discussions on the magic message boards would make you think otherwise. Everyone has “their own opinion” on Creative… and they’re all right. Just ask them.
Why can’t we find the true, across the board definition of great Creative? On the other hand, should we even try? Granted, it would make the Creative process easier… simply insert peg A into hole B and, BAM! Job done, Creative completed, everyone loves it, let’s go celebrate, the first round is on me! But wait… if everything is THEE definition of CREATIVE, won’t everything be the same? That doesn’t sound very, well, Creative to me.
So, we’re faced with a no chance for the “perfect answer.” I’m okay with that. Granted, it can sometimes be frustrating when a client isn’t clear from the start about what they consider Creative and then “rip” the delivered product as “boring” or “not what I had in mind,” but whose fault is that? Uh oh… I think I just asked another unanswerable question.
Yes, a Creative impasse with a client is really the most serious debate on the subject you’ll ever face. After all, no matter how talented you are, no matter how many tools and tricks you have at your disposal, and no matter how many years of experience you have, it’s still the client’s nickel. They want it the way THEY want it; anything less is a failure.
Once I was working with a small retail client, and managed to score a national voice talent to read their copy. You’ve heard him on countless TV commercials, movie trailers and the like over the years… he makes more voicing spots by breakfast than I’ll make in the next 10 years. Needless to say, I was happy to have him voice my little project, and excited to play the finished piece for my client. She listened intently to the commercial, then folded her arms and sighed… the sure sign that she didn’t like it. It must be my copy… no. The music… no. Oh, I know, that sound effect… no. Finally, she spoke up. “Where did you get that guy?”
“You… you mean the voice talent? Well, he’s…”
“He’s terrible! Honestly, it sounds like he’s never done this before!”
“You know who would really be good? My son. He’s got a great voice! Sings in the chorus at college…”
And, there it was. Anyone other than her son was not going to “be right” for her commercial, national credentials be damned.
So, I ask again. Who’s fault was it that I didn’t know that she wanted her son in the ad in the first place? Who is responsible to find out what a client finds truly Creative? And before you point your finger at the Sales Rep, ask yourself this: have I ever asked what “… and make it real Creative” means?
It’s okay for us all to agree to disagree about the definition… after all, it’s diverse thoughts and new answers that are the basis for fresh Creative. But when it’s a “pay for Creative” proposition, it’s vital that everyone who is part of the process has a clear understanding of what is expected. If you’re not clear, and if the answers aren’t available, for whatever reason, pick up the phone and talk to the client… really try to get a feel for what they really want… and what they really like. What’s Great Creative? In radio production, it depends on who is buying.