By Ralph Mitchell
By show of hands – how many of us have ever been distracted right in the middle of a creative endeavor? Ok, everybody put your hands back onto the steering wheel now. Whether it happens while writing your usual witty commercial copy, voicing your latest masterpiece, adding music, sound effects, other voices, or doing the final mixdown, undoubtedly, distractions are among the most frustrating aspects of working in any creative field, largely because there’s not much we can do to end the onslaught. However, there may be a couple of ways to minimize creative distractions.
To get to the root of a problem, it’s often wise to consider its history. For instance, consider how many times any one of the great renaissance artists might have been interrupted during their creative processes. It took Michelangelo some 4 years to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Now imagine how much longer it would have taken if someone had unexpectedly popped in to recount the previous evening’s debauchery at the local pub… and then segue to a discussion about the artist’s progress so far, and how his work might be improved if he were to “revise” it once or twice! Would the finished work have been better? Not likely. In my mind’s eye, I can see such a great master dumping a can of paint on the head of said helper in a fit of rage! Of course, I would never compare myself to Michelangelo. However, I think of my microphone as my paint brush, and my computer therefore is my canvas. So I submit to you that what we all do in our cozy little rooms with padded walls day-in and day-out is an art form, even if today’s tools are more technical in nature.
Another fine example: It’s now after 1:00pm. I started writing this at 10am and got to “fit of rage” in the previous paragraph, when suddenly one person after another either called, texted, emailed, or paraded through as though I’m hosting an AM radio talk show. Now THAT can be an easy one to stop. Management willing, you can put a sign on your door stating that you’re up against a deadline and cannot be disturbed. True, it won’t stop the most tenacious offenders, but it’s a start. Always keep in mind that you have to work with these people, so you don’t really want to become known as the grouch on the 2nd floor. As little Piglet always said, “Just be nice”, and keep those unavoidable conversations focused, on point, and short. Of course in most cases, you’re expected to answer your business phone in the studio or office, but as for your cell phone, try muting it, or better yet, leave it at your desk or someplace out of reach so you’re not tempted to pick it up. That handy pocket sized computer that promised to make us so much more efficient can really slow the creative process down to a grinding halt. I think it’s a good thing that Michelangelo didn’t have a cell phone.
Sometimes even other creative people forget that just because you’re just sitting there staring at an unfinished document on the computer screen, it doesn’t mean you’re not working! We all know that writer’s block is a part of the job. Unfortunately, so is burn out, which is similar to writer’s block… only the computer screen is totally blank… for long periods of time. And then for those of us who have home studios, or who simply prefer to do their writing from the comfort of their own comfy couch… a TON of other issues can quickly derail an otherwise productive environment. The dog needs to go out; the delivery man needs your signature; your neighbor sees your car and comes over for a chat; your spouse – who’s heard your complaints about interruptions and distractions for years - comes in to offer his or her support, or to talk about dinner plans, then vacation plans, retirement plans, funeral plans – just about anything except your plans to finish your Presidents Day commercial sometime BEFORE Presidents Day! Always remember, no matter how frustrated you become, you have to LIVE with this person, and similar to being nice to your co-workers in the previous example, you don’t want to become known as the grouch who sleeps on the couch.
So in summary, we can post signs on our doors, we can mute our cell phones, and we can call attention to our deadlines. But for me, no matter how many distractions and interruptions come my way, it always boils down to reminding myself to be thankful for the work, and also for those friends, family, and co-workers who sometimes slow you down, because in the end, they’re what counts, and they’re the ones who bring to the table an entire palate of interesting color combinations for your audio art. So the next time you’re scraping the bottom of the barrel trying to come up with your next masterpiece of a script, you might begin to draw on those relationships and accompanying frustrations as plots and schemes, or at the very least as thought starters, and once again get back to the business of making magic. I for one feel fortunate to be among the employed. After all, earning money in a comfortable office with a computer and a microphone sure beats working for a living!
Ralph Mitchell is a Production Director for iHeartMedia and owner of LetMeVoiceThat.com. He welcomes your correspondence at