By Dave Cockram
A few Christmases ago, my 7 year old boy brought a Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar to my house on Christmas break. I thought it was the best invention of all time. It’s got everything! An Advent Calendar, Star Wars AND Lego! What 7 year old boy wouldn’t go bananas for this?! I couldn’t get my head around it. Who thought of this? Why didn’t I think of this!? What an amazing idea!
WRONG! The more I thought about it… the more I began to realize that this is NOT an original idea. It’s just 3 ideas collapsed into one. *Brain explodes*. It combines the magic of a plastic toy, characters from a successful entertainment franchise, and the anticipation of counting down to Christmas.
I started looking around to see what else I could find that was a similar multi-idea invention. Hey look! A car! (We’ve all seen one before right?) Each vehicle has the same basic components as every other vehicle on the market, but each manufacturer puts their spin on it. Cars have stereos, engines, light bulbs, cameras, even Wi-Fi. The more ideas they can put in a car, the more cars they fool you into buying. What? You have the 2015 Moosemobile? Well better trade it in for the 2016 Moosemobile XL! We put an XL at the end of the name and a couple more features you’ll never use!
Adding more stuff you don’t need to an old idea is essentially creating a mashup. The human race has been building and expanding off of old ideas since the dawn of life, and now we sell it back to the masses as “new”. It’s really just a conspiracy to keep people buying the same crap they don’t need over and over again until they die. Welcome to marketing! I digress.
WTF does this have to do with radio? Well, if you are a radio producer, I would imagine you create mashups every day. You take your voice tracks from your NEW Image Voice, who in NO WAY sounds like your OLD one. You sample NEW music from your library, even though every song sounds essentially the same as the last one. Don’t forget the NEW special effects… aaaand you’re done!
Most of what you created already existed. But you put it together in a new unique way, and that helps fool your audience into thinking that the radio station they are listening to isn’t the same boring old radio station they grew up with! It’s fresh! It’s got a new name! The music selection is different than it was! Yes, we trick people every day into thinking that what they hear is NEW and EXCITING! But the reality is, you are just adding new techniques to old tricks.
Now that we have cracked the code… creating ideas just got way easier. We are now free from being obsessed with who is more original because now we know nothing is original!
Radio is a cesspool of antiquated ideas. It’s old technology. Every station sounds the same. The market is oversaturated. I myself find very little compelling about it. I suffer through tuning the dial on long road trips and am rarely surprised by anything that comes out of the speakers beyond a song I can tolerate. So… why am I still in radio do you ask? Good question… I ask myself that at least twice a week. I stuck with it this long because I believe that it can be better.
I’ve been asked to copy the sound of my competitors more than I care to mention. “Do what they do… just do it better”. Wait… what?! That isn’t doing it better. That’s a peeing contest! Anyways, where was I? Oh yea. There are no new ideas… but maybe there are ideas you are not utilizing. Wow, that took a long time to get to the point and I apologize.
Apply this method of thought to anything you create. When you read a script for the first time, ask yourself “what sounds are associated with the text?”
If it’s a concert spot you’re going to add the “10,000 screaming chicks.wav” sound effect.
If it’s a game show spot you will be adding the “standard game show buzzer.wav” sound effect.
If it’s a Monster Truck spot you will be using the “insanity echo” plug in and the “butt rock stock music library from 1997.”
Wow. You guys are quick learners. Let’s move on.
Now that you have the basics of associating words and noises down, you can take your production to the next level! This is where you throw in curve balls! This is where we start bringing in other ideas not at all associated with the initial idea. The more ideas you put into something, the more special the experience for the listener. Remember, it’s not just an Advent Calendar; it’s a LEGO / STAR WARS ADVENT CALANDER!
Advanced Producers ask this question. It’s THE question to ask yourself every time you are asked to create something.
“How can I make this better?”
Let’s use the Monster Truck spot that we have all produced 1000x in our career. How do you expect to make your creation stand out from every other Monster Truck spot ever created? Here are some ideas.
- Have a 10 year old girl do a ridiculous imitation of the typical Monster Truck Read.
- Make it a ridiculously sexy soft sell.
But Dave! These Idea’s make no logical sense! Why would the client agree to do it differently than the last 300 spots he bought from us? BECAUSE HE WANTS HIS MESSAGE TO STAND OUT ON THE RADIO! THAT’S WHY!
No one would ever make a 10 year old girl read a monster truck ad. But people would listen because they would have never heard anything like it, and if you do it right, it would be funny as hell.
Now imagine the sultry cougar voice talking about slowly crushing thousands of automobiles under a 6 ton high performance death machine.
You are now using other radio clichés to sell another radio cliché. You are combining 2 concepts that do not typically go together to make something “new.” That… is a mashup.
As a producer it’s not just about the sounds you use and the music you select. That’s only the basics. Try taking your production in totally new directions by combining ideas. If you can combine sounds… you can combine ideas.
Dave is owner of Scoundrel Studios Inc. in Toronto, ON. He welcomes your correspondence at