Back in June, I wrote about five things you can do to simplify your life as a producer. That one column generated more feedback than just about anything that I’ve ever written mainly, I think, because it WAS really simple stuff: 1. Learn your system shortcuts, 2. Get a multi-button mouse, 3. Get in the habit of “name & save,” 4. Build a template for every occasion, and 5. Learn how to use side-chain processing. So, OK…maybe the last one wasn’t quite as simple as the rest, but it really does make life simpler, once you get it right. This month, I offer another five item list, but instead of making your life simpler this time, it will make your work better. I’m sure than many, if not most, of you already do some of these things, but if I can pass along one quick tip that really will make your work better, brighter and more effective, it’ll be worth all the other 18-hundred or so words.
1 - Keep It Simple
Think about what your ultimate goal is before you start slicing and dicing a promo or commercial together. Think about what your ultimate goal is while you are slicing and dicing. Once you are done, make sure that all of the slicing and dicing you’ve done hasn’t shredded your USP.
If you have added a “really cool” filter to your VO that doesn’t help your USP, there’s a good chance you have driven off the rails. If your music bed is grossly unsuitable for the subject at hand, you are probably bleeding in a ditch, off the road and off the point. You don’t get to decide what the USP is; it should be self-evident. Your client, a commercial client or your radio station has decided what the USP is long before you begin to write, voice or produce it. You become the pizza delivery person at this point. Simply make every effort to deliver the message hot and fresh. DON’T add mushrooms to the mix unless that is what the USP calls for.
Whenever I speak at a production seminar or convention, I’m always watching the other speakers and their demos very carefully as I look for tips and ideas that I can incorporate into my own work. Most of the time, I come away wondering how some of these producers can even function in a real radio station environment. I understand their desire to “dazzle the dorks” with their presentations, it’s a very natural tendency when one is cashing in on his or her proverbial 15 minutes. At the same time, I want to tell them that they’re not helping. Their presentation sessions are mostly convoluted demonstrations of how complicated they can make them to make an effect or mix that just about no one can or would need to emulate.
After my presentations, the comments almost always revolve around the simplicity of my approach, and how completely they deliver the message. To my mind, that means I am hitting it out of the park just about every time. Does that make me a genius? No…in fact, hell to the no! It means that I take great pains to not out-clever myself by making something that sounds really cool, but ends up doing nothing else. Does that mean the other presenters are idiots? Not even close. Most of them are celebrated for one particular skill, like beatmixing, for example, and even with all the rigors that skills demands, they manage to hit the USP bullseye. Too many times outside the convention hall, producers will get lost in the beatmixing and lose track of the USP.
2 - Be Your Audience
Most production pundits will say, “Know your audience” and that is generally good advice, but it’s oh so much more than that. You have to know them at a level where you can create a perfect picture of who your audience is. You have to be them to know how to approach them, market to them, and not piss them off. I’ve lectured at length about filling your “creative well.” Doing THAT will help you BE your audience. Even if you aren’t in your station’s target demographic, in fact, especially if you’re not in your station’s target demo, you have to learn to think like one of them. When you’re attending a live play, dining at a restaurant or even watching a football game, observe the people who fit your demo. When you’re shopping at a mall, listen to how they speak. Figure out what gets them excited. When you go out dining with friends or family, pay attention to the people around you who fit your demo. What do they like? What do they NOT like? If you want to speak to them in a way they will understand and relate to, you must know their language.
3 - Know Your Client’s Business
Regardless of what your client is selling, from aardvark pooper-scoopers to ziplock bags, flowers to bluejeans, learn everything you can about them. If your client sells cakes, go to their store and buy or at least shop for one. Find out what it is like to be in their store. Understand the level of service they give. See if they’ll give you a small sample so you know how good their cake is. It’s probably best if you don’t tell them who you are, because you want the “typical” experience to be your guide.
About now, you’re saying to yourself, “This guy is a nut! I can’t invest that much time into every client that rolls through the station.” You’d be right, too…you can’t. If it’s a type of business you have experienced before, whether with your client or somewhere else, you have a fundamental knowledge to work with and a trip to their particular store might not be needed. If their business is something you know nothing about, you’d better take a break and go.
While you are in the shop, make sure you casually ask a couple of people what they think of the business. It doesn’t have to be a game of 20 questions, just ask if they’ve ever been before. You’ll find within a second or two how much they like or don’t like the business. You don’t need any more than that as all you want is an overall feeling that you can incorporate into your work.
4 - If Your Client Is Your Radio Station, See Number 3
If you’re in the radio business, Sales, On-Air, Management or even Engineering, you still need to know your client’s business, BUT from a listener’s point of view. What is it like to listen to your station’s morning show on your way into work? Get in your car and brave the morning rush hour with your radio blasting. Listen carefully to the phone calls and try to get a sense of how the audience feels about your hosts. Set aside a couple of hours at night and listen like a listener would. Perhaps turn it on while you clean the kitchen, then sit down and read a paper. Try to forget that you know the jock on the air and become a part of his or her audience for one night. Trust me, you all think you know what your station sounds like, but I’d be willing to wager a large sum that you don’t know what it sounds like to the listener. The listener’s opinion counts about 100 times more than yours.
5 - Check Your Ego at The Door
This has a lot more to do with your relations in the radio station, particularly with your PD, but it certainly works on your listeners too. Whether you like it or not, not everyone is going to like you. I’m not talking about the clueless idiots who wander through your life taking potshots at things they know nothing about. (Twitter comes immediately to mind.) Some people simply won’t like what you’re offering or don’t agree with what you have to say. Accept their criticism, talk to them politely, and understand that without intending to, they help you become better! Don’t let your ego blind you from being awesome.
I had a PD once tell me that it would be a good idea to use a particular hook from a popular song as a refrain throughout a promo that had nothing whatsoever to do with the promotion. This PD was convinced that that refrain was being used by the masses almost like a figure of speech. (It wasn’t.) I told the PD that it was a stupid idea. (Bad move…any time.) The PD insisted and I reluctantly agreed. The result was one of the worst pieces of production I’ve ever done. (It was dreadful.) But looking back, I have to admit that it might have been because it was a monumentally bad idea, or it certainly could have been that I had a bad attitude and let it get in the way of my work. I really should have checked my ego and made the best of a bad situation. Instead, my name went on an awful piece of production and our regard for each other cratered after that, so much so that our working relationship was ‘officially’ changed a few weeks later.
Listeners can be even more of a trial, but the reaction time isn’t as fast. Let’s face it, not every piece you put on the air is going to be an award winner, but even the award winners won’t always be a hit with your audience. Even worse, your work might be a hit with the listeners but it won’t do a damned thing for the client. One famous TV campaign in the late 60s won every award possible for a TV spot. People would shush the room when it came on because it was so funny. At the end of the year, the agency that produced the campaign went to the client for a renewal. The client said, “But sales for our product the year are down, substantially.” Focus groups were set up and they performed every kind of audience test they could and came up with a startling revelation: the audience members ALL knew the campaign, in fact they could quote it, but not one of them could tell you what the product was. The Try It You’ll Like It campaign was a fundamental failure for the agency and Alka-Seltzer. Blame it on poor design or lousy execution, the moral here is don’t let it get you down when something doesn’t work. Don’t let it crush your ego…learn from it.
I do have some sound this month: my most recent promo for Most Requested Live Worldwide with Romeo. Now, I just produced this last week (as I write this) and I already am mentally wrestling with the idea of a “do-over.” Common sense prevails though. It is as I first released it. I hope you enjoy it.
Dave welcomes your correspondence at