By Dave Foxx
As I write this month’s column, I’m sitting in my room at St. James Albany hotel, just across the street from the world famous Louvre Museum in Paris, France. I’ve just spent a lovely evening over dinner with two dear friends from Holland, Diedereck and Berber of Pure Jingles/VHU, who are also here as principal sponsor of a conference called Le-Radio, a gathering of radio professionals from all over France and surrounding countries. As we were talking over coffee, I was reminded that I needed to write this month’s column. I decided that I would share with you the essence of what I’m presenting to our European cousins, and not just because it’s easy. It’s what sets really dynamic, top-end producers apart from run-of-the-mill producers everywhere.
Every one of you deals with music every day of your career. Some are working with Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Maroon 5 while others are knee-deep in The Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd and AC/DC. Others are working with Earl Klugh, Chris Botti and Candy Dulfer while across the street they’re working with Randy Travis, Martina McBride and Carrie Underwood. Still others work with Bach, Brahms and Beethoven. You News/Talk guys are tuning out right now, but don’t, because you deal with music as much or more than the rest of us. I’m not talking about the music our radio stations present as their main fare. That’s just the calling card those stations use to get the audience to tune in. The real music we deal with day in and day out is the music we use in our promos and sweepers, commercials and incidental pieces we produce every day of our lives.
While the big name artists and composers are important to the scheme of things, that’s really a concern of your MD or PD. As a producer, you want your music to fit the format you’re in. A Lady Gaga track would not sound too terrific to someone who is tuning in for The Peer Gynt Suite by Edvard Grieg or Blue Rondo a’ la Turk by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Everyone gets that, but what not everyone understands is how to make the music we use do more than keep the piece from sounding dry. To know that is to have the key to giving every piece a strong impact that can really move the needle for the audience… to pack your message with emotion. So, I am going to give you 10 things you absolutely need to know and understand about music.
The single biggest mistake you can make as a producer is to make your message intellectual. Contest promos that spend all or most of their time explaining how a contest works get an automatic EPIC FAIL. Commercials that explain why their product or service is superior: EPIC FAIL. Commercials that are verbose: EPIC FAIL. Our audience does not deal well with “why” or “how.” They never have and believe me when I tell you that they never will. Why? The answer is in how they use our product. Think about it. Almost 100% of the time, our audience is doing something else when we get our chance to influence them. They are driving a car, typing a letter, doing their homework or maybe doing the laundry. You are there for one reason alone: to provide companionship. They don’t need anything you have to tell them. You have one chance to get them to listen to whatever you’re trying to sell. The ONLY way you will ever get them to be excited about what you have to say is if they get emotionally involved.
Enter music: the simplest and most direct way to get the listener into the flow of your message. The question then becomes, what do you know about music? Do you understand its structure well enough to take it apart and reassemble it into a powerful driving engine for your production? If you’ve had any music lessons in your life, you have a head start over the next person who hasn’t. Music is like an endless Lego™ set made up of rhythm, tempo, time signature, key, counterpoint and harmony. If you know these things, you can make the music drive that emotional nail into the listener’s brain which will get them to actually pay attention – just long enough – to get the real message through. But know this: the message must be small. If you can get them to be cognizant of 3 to 5 words, you win… as long as it’s the right 3 to 5 words. (You’ve certainly read enough in these pages to know the importance of finding your Unique Selling Proposition. Those 3 to 5 words need to be your USP.)
So, here is the list, raw and ready.
- Music is made up of parts, which can be disassembled and reassembled.
- Tempo is ALWAYS flexible.
- Rhythm is NEVER flexible.
- Key is relative.
- Musical phrasing is similar to spoken phrasing.
- Placing voiceover over singing is very much like having two people talk at once.
- Ending the music is like putting a period at the end of a sentence.
- Sung vocals need to HELP the message if at all possible.
- Effects need to support the musical phrasing.
- Tracking your voiceover to the music can double its effectiveness.
Unlike the attendees of Le-Radio, you won’t get to know as much about each of these 10 items as you would probably need in one sitting, so this article should become a jump point for you… a place to begin some research of your own. Over the next several months I will explain each of these items in greater detail, offering examples so you can hear and feel what I’m writing about.
There is one more point I need to stress before we begin this journey, one that has been born out by study after study, using auditorium tests and focus groups. Only about five percent of your audience will ever respond to a contest cue to call. It simply does not matter how compelling you make the promo that number simply will not budge. It doesn’t matter how big the prize either. In fact, the bigger the prize, the smaller that number becomes. If you really want to get people to call, give away something simple like a t-shirt or CD… something people will think they at least have a shot at winning. But even then, you’re still only going to get about 5%. So the target of your contest promo can never be the listener who will call. He or she is almost a given. Your target must be the other 95% of your audience. The USP is not about winning a contest. It’s about how much fun people who listen to your station can have. You really must know what you’re selling. If you think Domino’s is all about pizza, you’re coming to the game with nothing at all. Domino’s is about service. Fresh, hot pizza… fast. THAT is what Domino’s sells.
Now that you know what the USP is, you’re ready to tear your music apart and then re-construct it into a powerful, emotional vehicle for those 3 to 5 words that will move the needle, keep you employed and in demand. You ready to step onto the track? Next month, we’ll talk about point 1, all the moving parts you can and cannot play with in music that will make you the master of influence, as well as points 2 and 3, which are two of the biggest parts.
For sound this month [audio link at www.rapmag.com/highlights.aspx], I offer a promo I just did a couple of weeks ago that brought most of this to the table, along with interview parts from the star of our weekend, David Guetta. David dropped by the Z100 studios several months ago and appeared on Elvis Duran and The Z100 Morning Show with an interview that was full of energy. Using key parts of that interview, I assembled tracks from some of his biggest hits of the last year and came up with a first class weekend promo for Z100. I hope you like it.