By Trent Rentsch
So you’re driving in your car, listening to your station, when suddenly this God awful commercial or promo comes on… I mean, a real dial-turning piece of crap. And you’re stunned that it somehow made it on the air. And you’re so annoyed by the thing that you pull over at the nearest bar and order a few shots, just to drink it out of your mind. And you say to yourself, “What the hell was I thinking when I produced that?!” Or maybe it’s just me…
Yes, I admit it. I have produced work from time to time that, in retrospect, I had no business putting on the air. Of course I’m ashamed, but I’m also not so self-deprecating that I don’t recognize that often there have been exterior influences that contributed to the suck. I mean, does it make it my fault when the client “absolutely refuses” to take anything out of their copy, and the ad nears chipmunk time-squeeze speed? Well…
Yes, there are outside influences. There is also such a thing as choosing your battles carefully in the war zone that is radio. That said, is it possible that I could have taken measures to insure that the P.O.S. spot never reached the air? Absolutely!
As I look back on the times I’ve tripped up like this, I realize that there were several simple, basic steps I could have used to avoid the fall. While I’m sure you’ve NEVER been in this situation, I think these steps are smart to consider every time you step into a production room… at the very least, they will help make the Creative process a lot smoother in the long run. So here, in no particular order, are my tips to abolish audio stinkage:
1. Sharpen Your Tools: The most basic, yet overlooked part of the Creative process. We all work crazy hours, often under impossible deadlines, so the thought of finding time to practice our skills “outside of work” feels laughable; but on the other hand, it’s laughable not to improve our skills. Learning “on the job” is not really focusing on getting better… it’s simply getting by. A Creative in any other medium studies and practices their craft before performing for the public. Doesn’t your Creative deserve the same attention? Practice your writing, your voice work, watch and learn from the endless production tutorials now available for free on-line, memorize your DAW inside and out… even the functions you’ll “never use.” Start with 15 minutes a day (don’t tell me you can’t find 15 minutes), and give yourself the gift of sharpening your skills. After all, the better you are, the less chance you have of sucking.
2. Choose Wisely: We’ve all been there… a client “wants a choice” of copy/music/voice talents/sound effects. So, we give it to them… often, an idea or two we know are right, and a third as “filler,” or because we simply don’t have the time (or desire) to think up anything else. What happens? The client chooses the weakest link, insists on it, in fact. And whose fault is that, really? It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s important that everything we present to a client is something we actually WANT TO PUT ON THE AIR. Anything less doesn’t just invite the scenario I described, it also means we’re putting out lesser work, and we don’t want to do that, do we? The rule of thumb should be, if it’s wrong, don’t make it an option for a client.
3. The Right Way to Do Wrong: I mentioned warfare earlier, and I do think it’s an apt analogy when describing the relationship we sometimes have with Sales and/or Clients. We have strong opinions about what works and what doesn’t; opinions a Rep or Client might not share, often because they don’t have your perspective. These differing opinions do lead to conflict; it’s a reality of the business. But we often lose the battle with one simple misstep in strategy… we use the words, “It’s Wrong,” and leave it at that. You might as well say, “PLEASE, put that stupid ad on the air,” because you’ve just told them their baby is ugly… and we all know the emotions that can ignite. A wiser strategy is to take the time to Create something better… really, truly better, and presenting it as an option, without slamming their lesser work. If it really is better, they can’t argue… well, ok, they CAN and still might, but you stand a much better chance of getting something better on the air by being proactive than combative.
As much as we’d like everything we put on the air to be a RAP award winner, the truth is, crap is going to hit the air. However, we can minimize our personal audio garbage by staying sharp and playing the game smarter. It’s also a great way to reduce your bar tab. Trust me.