By Ashley Bard
How often have you struggled to find that spark to start a trail? To find the creativity to produce 30 seconds of audio from hardly anything? It’s a common problem we all experience at some point -- the radio version to writers’ block.
The majority of us are perfectionists (in my experience) and we constantly feel the need to make award-winning, mind-blowing and innovative production, that bursts through the speakers like an aural stampede and commands the attention of any listener it finds. Ideally, we'd always want to write amazing scripts that feature a 'money can’t buy' prize, win a life-changing amount of money or maybe... a trip to space? But the reality is, these opportunities are rare. Instead we are worn down by the same disappointing briefs from the sales teams or station director:
“We need an amazing trail to win a... gift voucher!"
“Write a really original script about how people can win $/£25"
“Ok, we’re going to give away a car sticker and we need a promo that will blow them away. Think big!"
I know I’m not alone in feeling like I want to crawl under a rock and hide when I hear this on a Monday morning -- how can you fill a 30 second trail about winning a car sticker or something equally as plain and dull?
This is something that used to constantly bother me. It seemed a near impossible task, and I would often argue that the brief should change and the audio should be shorter because it was so boring. But now I learnt to move away from focusing solely on the prize, favouring a system of breaking the idea down and creating an environment that brings the topic alive.
For example, if the trail offers the chance to win a spa treatment, avoid going for the obvious option such as, “Having a tough time at work and need a break? Catch John at Breakfast to win a spa break for two!"
Remember to return to your station's playlist, and use the artists, the lifestyle, the language to cultivate a new approach.
With Capital FM, the VIP/star lifestyle is a key hook and ambition for the listener, and that's the spin that will sell a spa trail.
“Forget Katy Perry or Rihanna, Z100 want to make you feel like a VIP and send you on a Spa trip”.
Fill the time by using a hook of Rihanna’s “We’re Beautiful like Diamond’s in the Sky”. Or alternatively, add humour:
"Your mum might not have the voice of Beyonce...
<Clip of a badly singing Mum>
But that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t be pampered like her.
Next week on Kiss..."
Giving away an iPad or something similar? Instead of just rushing into the “All next week win an iPad!”, do a creative top referring to what you can do on the iPad, whilst tying it into your station:
“Do you LOVE gossip?
Or you just can’t get enough of One Direction?
Well, next week you could be downloading the Z100 app on your brand new Apple iPad!"
Or draw in seasonality, for instance going back to school:
"This new school term…
Lite FM could be upgrading your notepad…
To the latest iPad"
Not only will this sound better on-air, but it also gives you a platform to get creative with sound design and allows you to use drops to pad around the station Voice Over.
If you’re someone who struggles to script write, then instead of pulling your hair out, jump on the RAP Mag Soundstage or SoundCloud for inspiration. Listening to other people's production only makes yours stronger, and listening to something and liking a technique doesn't mean you're plagiarizing their work," (as long as you don't completely copy of course!).
It doesn't only have to be radio production you find inspiration in either. Watching film trailers is a great way to fuel your production processes, as a radio trail is effectively a film trailer without visuals.
You should also work hard to reach out to producers around the world if you hear their work and want to know how they did something specifically. TM's Kieran Bell from New Zealand has previously reached out to our producers at Capital FM in London as he finds himself as a bit of a lone wolf, being the only hot-brand producer in the company. Kieran sees the majority of his inspiration coming from online communities, and says:
"I follow a lot of radio producers [SoundCloud] and it’s great to hear other producers work and get excited about it. I’ll often hear some imaging and think to myself, how the heck did they do that?! Then I'll make an effort to reach out, introduce myself, and then try and pry as much knowledge from that producer as I can."
Kieran also interacts with other producers around the world to get feedback on his own production to help improve it:
"The critiquing process helps me gain a different perspective on what I’m producing and helps me look at what I’m doing differently”.
Between 2005-2009 I worked with a very established producer whose influence still inspires my work now. Nigel Wilmott works out of BBC Radio Swindon, and he says his ideas can come from anyone and anything:
"It could be what someone has said to you; if they have made you engage with them, then they have done the same job we [producers] do every day”.
He also mentioned that he finds inspiration from other types of media: "An ad off TV or a video from YouTube that everyone is talking about, what is it that have made people remember it, and it’s not about copying the idea but working out the formula of why it has worked, and that’s the bit you use."
And finally, Nigel talked about revisiting work, by firing up your backups and seeing what you did 5 years ago, because "if that production still works the same today, re-use the formula”.
Following on from Nigel's comment, I went digging through my DVD backups from early the 2000s and I was shocked to hear my production -- sure the standard isn't as good as it is now, but some of the ideas were workable and some can most definitely be freshened up and reused in 2015. So I suggest you go and do the same; you might be surprised what you might discover.