I remember an old feminine hygiene product add campaign that included the line, “Ever have that ‘not-so-fresh’ feeling?” I couldn’t tell you the name of the product now (poor ad campaign I guess), but the line is buried somewhere deep in my cortex. It pops out every time I hear a producer say, “My prod sucks lately! Effect/bed/VO/filtered VO/effect/more VO…blah, blah, blah.” That ‘not-so-fresh’ feeling is a place I think we’ve all been to a few times and it’s NOT fun. Very often it comes at the end of a long run of a promotion and you’ve done 45 promos, 90 sweepers, another dozen stagers and another Top Of the Hour or 14. Everything starts to sound the same. I mean, how many different, creative ways can you say “Win a boatload of money?”
If you’re anything like me, you start to question your sanity after a while. You start to worry about job longevity and question why you ever got into this crazy part of the radio biz.
I clearly remember the enthusiasm I had when I first started doing radio production. Working in the analog world at the time, I would try new combinations and configurations just about every time I’d start a new project. I played endlessly with the Yamaha SPX90 effects box, looking for any cool new way to treat my sounds. I spent hours upon hours playing on my Roland D50 keyboard, making cool new effects and musical bridges. One day, I found a cheap rubber basketball, the kind that ‘pings’ when you bounce it, dropped a mic to the floor and recorded a few bounces, then spent a bit of time speeding up and slowing down the recording until I had a really slick impact effect that I used for a couple of years. It was so much FUN!
Once I had a pretty substantial library of effects, music snippets and a really useful room configuration, I stopped experimenting quite so much. I started getting pressure to do more work in less time. My toolbox was pretty full so I decided to use what I had and streamline my studio time. The time it took to produce a promo dropped from 2-3 hours to 20-30 minutes. Once or twice a week, I would devote a few hours to experimenting, just to keep my tools sharp and my mind focussed.
In spite of all this, I started to get the odd ‘not-so-fresh’ feeling from time to time. I tried compensating by doing even more experimentation, but by then, I’d tried pretty much all the configuration combinations, modified all the D50 presets a couple hundred different ways and that poor old SPX90 had given up most of its secrets long before. After two or three bouts of the ‘feeling,’ I started to panic a bit. Is this all there is? Do I already know everything there is to know about doing production? French painter/sculptor Henri Matisse once said, “I would like to recapture that freshness which is characteristic of extreme youth when all the world is new to it.” The freshness was missing! Clearly, I’ve already reached the pinnacle of my profession! How do I get the freshness back?
I struggled with this for several weeks, falling deeper and deeper into the abyss of despair. (I know, I’m being a bit melodramatic, but roll with it.) As it happens, I was long overdue for a vacation. I was heading for the pristine snow of Snowbird, not far from my mom’s digs in Salt Lake City. I knew I’d be spending a lot of reflective time over my career choice that week, but that didn’t really happen. The first night there I started explaining my concerns to my mother but she stopped me short with the question, “When are you going to get a REAL job?”
I didn’t answer. The next morning I ran down to the local ski shop and grabbed some new poles (mine were broken in the move to NYC) and drove up to beat myself against the mountain for 6 hours. If you’re a skier, even a novice skier, you know that you have to pay attention to what you’re doing or you’ll pull a Sonny Bono and wrap yourself around a big ol’ tree. So I put my problems on hold and skied all over the mountain. Moguls, powder, easy runs, black diamonds…it didn’t matter. I had a blast. That night, as I went to bed, thoroughly exhausted, I decided I wasn’t gonna worry about my career for the rest of the trip. I didn’t realize it then, but I had just found the secret sauce.
When I got back to New York, I was sporting a very tan face again, except for the white raccoon-eyes from always wearing my ski-goggles. I was also flying through the buckets of production the PD had waiting for me and it all sounded FABULOUS! It was all sharply focussed, had great rhythm and flow and really snapped out of the radio. After a couple of days, Steve made the comment that I should go on vacation more often. The station sounded amazing.
Lesson learned! From that point forward, every time I started to have that ‘not-so-fresh’ feeling, I knew it was time to do something else, anything else for a few days or a week. But that got to be expensive! That’s when I found the recipe for the secret sauce. It’s not how long you’re away from the console, it’s learning to not carry the console around with you. When I’d go home at night, I closed the door to the studio and left it all behind so I could enjoy life! Dinner with friends, a quiet night home with the missus playing Boggle, an evening cheering the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, a long weekend in Atlantic City all became ways to keep my fresh factor high at all times. It has never failed me.
If you’ve ever seen or heard me speak about creativity, you know that this is the key to being creative. Being creative consists of putting different ideas together and creating the spark of a new idea. Your life outside the radio station provides all the building blocks you need to be truly creative. But you can’t think of it as the building blocks. You simply have to live it, enjoy it, celebrate it without any thought to being the creative person you want to be. When you enjoy it for what it is, it becomes a part of you that you will carry for the rest of your life.
I’ll offer a few suggestions you might try, but you must keep an open mind because some of these things might seem utterly foreign to you. The absolute BEST building blocks come from the odd, unusual things you might do over your life.
1. Read at least one book every month. (Typically, I read 3 or 4 every week. For real.) Different genres, authors and subjects, fiction, non-fiction, it really doesn’t matter. Try some science-fiction for some amazing ideas. Seriously!
2. Get a map of your area and draw a circle around your house that’s 100 miles out. Make it a habit to hop in the car and drive to a city, town, lake or river within that circle every chance you get. Once there, get out and look around. Eat at a local burger joint. Get to know it a little and then go home.
3. Visit EVERY tourist spot near home at least once. Don’t wait for relatives to pop in from out of town, just go do it.
4. Make a goal of trying every dining establishment within 5 miles of your home. You gotta eat…add a side of adventure. (And while you’re at it, try some dishes that are way out of your normal cuisine.)
5. Even if you don’t have a child attending, go to your local High School football, basketball or soccer games once in a while.
OK, I could go on for a long time, but I think you probably get it.
Follow these suggestions and I guarantee you that you’ll hardly ever get the ‘not-so-fresh’ feeling any more. By reading a lot, your writing will improve. Visiting the little towns and municipalities in your area will help you understand what does and does NOT appeal to your audience. Knowing what the local tourist spots are really like will definitely help you be authentic with your listeners. While dining out all over town might add to your waistline, it will also add to your credibility. (So, eat light, but try it!) Attending the local HS soccer team game will put your fanny in a seat right NEXT to someone you’re gonna want to reach out to with your imaging.
Let me give you a couple of other ideas to do IN the radio station that seem to help as well: A. Spend a few days listening to music that is really OUTSIDE your format. It’ll put your mind in a new place, giving you a completely new perspective. B. In your copious free time, produce some promos for the station across the street. Don’t give the work to them…it’s just an exercise for your brain. It will definitely give you a different look at your station.
My sound this month goes back to 2007, but swap out the band performing at the “M-E-E-T” Market, and it would totally play the same today. The ideas in this promo come from a lot of different places. I’ll let you figure them out…and hopefully you’ll smile a little.