Production 212: So You Think You’re An Aural Artist

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

As you read this, a lot of you will be getting back from an all too brief holiday for the holidays, so let me wish you a Happy New Year. To celebrate the advent of 2008, I want to hit the ‘reset’ button and see if we can really boost the quality of the radio industry’s production in the next 12 months. As you read this month’s issue of RAP Magazine, I want you to open your mind a bit and allow that we all need improvement. Once in awhile, we need to stand back and reevaluate how we do things to see if there isn’t a better way to communicate with our listeners.

For those who have not stopped to think about such a trivial thing, the name of this column is designed to evoke memories (fresher for some more than others) of college with basic courses all starting with the number 1, and more advanced classes beginning with a 2 or higher number. Like a course for upperclassmen in college, I write this column for people who have a good grasp of the fundamentals of production and are ready for the more nuanced aspects of creating images in the mind of the listener. This column is NOT meant to show you how to make sound, but how to make your sound better.

This month, I begin by pointing out that there are TWO parts to what we do. I like to think of them as the art and the science. The art and science of production are like fire and air. The science (air) of production can exist on its own, making noise for the sake of making noise — promos and commercials that take care of business by getting the message out there where people can hear it. If you want your listener to really listen to the message, you have to add the art (fire) to make it penetrate. Adding bells and whistles, like flange, EQ, compression and all that folderol is still part of the science. The art happens in the words, effects and music you choose, and how they all interact with each other. Any goof can paint on a canvas and call it art, but a true artist makes a message happen with color, rhythm, texture and contrast, among other things, all at the same time. This is what makes the difference between a chimpanzee painting, and a real artist’s masterpiece.

Let’s say you need to produce a promo for the Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana “Best of Both Worlds Tour” concert. Many of you have had to do exactly this over the last several months as Billy Ray’s daughter has skyrocketed to fame with the younger set. If you haven’t yet, believe me, you will. As I’m sure you know, her shows have instantly sold out in market after market after market. The science side of things is pretty straightforward. You’re going to need some of her songs and some of her opening act’s hits as well. (The Jonas Brothers might have sold the show out by themselves.) Add the usual effects and accents that’ll keep the music and overall rhythm going so we can deliver the message with style.

OK. Stop for a moment and give some thought to “listener benefit.” Your station has tickets they can’t get anywhere else. THAT is the listener benefit. How you bring it out without sounding like you’re bragging about it is going to be the center of our little art project. The audience hates having you brag about being the only place they can get tickets, trust me. You have to turn it around so that it’s about them and not about you.

I’d be willing to bet that a large number of you got panicky phone calls from friends and family, begging you to get them tickets. I know I did. Every family member or friend who has a daughter between 6 and 12 years old is desperately looking for those tickets. There is your delivery system. Talk about how difficult the tickets are to get, but point out that they have another way to get them. Do NOT say this is the ONLY place to get them. That’s obvious to begin with. Just say they can win them! Keep it totally on the positive tip.

Now, pop this month’s RAP CD into the player and start listening to track 2. Not only did I avoid bragging about Z100 being the only place you can get them, I emphasized the fact that they are in luck. Then, I added to the whole “you’re in luck” thing by actually telling them exactly when they can win again. Sure, it meant I had to make 20 different versions of the promo, but it is SO worth it. (Don’t ever force the audience to listen all day to win a contest. They resent it and will likely say, “forget it” when you do.)

On the science side, a decent little piece with the music blending perfectly (thanks to almost identical beats and a nice chord progression between the two songs.) On the art side, a really special piece because I made it all about the listener and the listener’s experience…NOT about Z100.

If there is ONE WAY you can improve the impact of your production it is simply this. Do NOT underestimate your audience. Don’t ever assume they are stupid or not bright. I’d be willing to bet that the aggregate IQ of your audience is a lot higher than you would ever believe. Don’t talk down to them. Do NOT waste their time. You are in their car, home or ears by invitation. When you insult your host, you’re likely to be thrown out. Instead, be a gracious guest. Empathize with them. Understand what they’re going through and the message you hope to impart will absolutely get there intact.

Now, I’d like to claim credit for the fact that the phones rang off the hook all weekend long for this promotion, but I know better. I probably could have said, “Miley Cyrus tickets…here…all weekend” and had pretty much the same impact. I DO think however, that what we presented was tasteful, successful and even artful. Even listeners who don’t need, want or care about Miley Cyrus tickets were entertained. It was 30 seconds each hour that I’m pretty sure did NOT cause any tune-out.

If I only accomplish one thing in the coming year, I want it to be this: we all need to graduate to the next level of production. We all need to keep the science of what we do sharp, while improving the art.

So. Are you an artist? Or not?

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