Prod512 Logo 400pxWhen I first started working creative at Z100, deadlines were the absolute bane of my existence. My studio often felt like a pressure cooker, full of boiling hot oil with ME bathing in it as the entree. I didn’t sign up to become a Kentucky Fried producer! After a couple of months, I wasn’t sleeping well, my diet was absolute crap (to be honest, it wasn’t all that great to start with) and my reputation with the staff had deteriorated to that of an 85-year old curmudgeon yelling at the kids to get off my lawn.

It would be really easy to blame management for my condition. I’ve known many people in the same position who’ve done exactly that. On the surface it kind of feels right to say my PD is a slave driver or my Operations Manager doesn’t give me ANY support, but like so many situations in life, the biggest problems have nothing to do with others. That kind of blame-placement never deals with the real issues at hand. Sure, they could do things differently and my chronic deep-fried skin might fare better, but it never solves the real problems.

Let me give you a very personal perspective. I’ve been married three times. My first wife was a lovely woman, attractive, faithful and generally supportive, but we had problems from the get-go. My second wife was quite different, kind of boyish in appearance but certainly good looking. She too was faithful, but she had a certain assertiveness that my first wife lacked. I was convinced that this was my “forever” wife because she always stood up for herself. Just a few months into the marriage though, problems started creeping into the relationship. The SAME problems I’d had in round one of the marriage sweepstakes. We split within a year and I was left wondering what the hell happened. “Forever” indeed.

When my third wife and I met, something remarkable happened. We started having the same problems right off the bat. She was (and still is) majorly attractive, self-assertive and quite in control of her own life. My initial reaction was to blame her for ‘our problems’ and started contemplating never getting married again, thinking those problems were inherent in EVERY woman. Then I had an epiphany. What is the common denominator in all three of those relationships? ME!

I was my own worst enemy. I was actually CREATING those problems. I was source of all of it. Though it took a lot of learning (which is still a daily struggle), I stopped blaming everyone around me and started to FIX the problems, one by one. Of course, number three and I ended up getting married a year later, right before we made the move to New York. Now some 30-odd years later, we’re living large in Austin, Texas and loving life.

Well, I didn’t start out this column meaning to talk about my marital tribulations, but the timing of my third marriage is key to this story. I was still getting started in making daily adjustments to my own foibles in my personal relationship, when I got dropped into the giant pressure cooker called “Studio X.” As I began to blame management for my extra crispy skin to my wife, she said something incredibly simple. “What’s the common denominator?” After a long pause, I knew exactly where the problems were coming from and precisely where the solutions would ultimately be found. Me.

I still detest deadlines. As it happens, I’m writing this column the day it is due. I certainly can’t blame my editor, Jerry. I’ve known for three weeks when I needed to send it. And I ALSO know that I write one of these every month. I have no excuse. One of my biggest faults is my deep-seated belief in the phrase, “Why put off until tomorrow what I can put off to the next day?

I don’t exactly recall how big a part procrastination played with my frustrations when it came to doing the creative for Z100 back in the day, but I CAN remember some of the ways I learned to deal with the mounting pressure of deadlines. THAT is what I would like to pass along to you today.

(Wow, that has to be the longest introduction to a topic ever!)

1. DON’T Procrastinate – The really bad thing about putting off work is your creative options diminish with every passing minute. By the time you are bumping up against the deadline, whatever you throw down on the workstation is going to be your finished product. You won’t have the time to go back and hone it into something you can really be proud about producing. You’ll never win an award for that kind of production.

2. ANTICIPATE – Hopefully your boss keeps you posted about upcoming promotions. If you haven’t read one of my columns about keeping a spreadsheet called The BIG Picture, please do. It’s surely the easiest way for Programming, Production and Promotion to always be on the same page. Check out Production 212: A New Years Reso-Revolution from January of 2006. If your PD and Promo people don’t subscribe to the idea (many simply won’t take the time), then it’s incumbent on you to get into a groove with your PD. Pay close attention to what they like and don’t like: the kind of humor that works for them, whether they like or detest alliteration, how high-brow is too high, how low-brow can they go…anything that they appreciate in a promo and then start banking on those things. If you know the preferred style, USE it. Pre-create some scenarios for promos/sweepers/stagers/legal IDs. I began writing promos and sweepers ahead of time, and while they didn’t use them at first, it wasn’t long before I was writing everything. Then, you can work ahead and be totally in control of your deadline angst.

3. MAKE ‘Creative’ TIME – This might seem a little counter-intuitive at first, but over the long haul, it works out really well. Choose one day a week when the production is typically light. For me, it was always on Tuesday. Monday was spent nailing down week-long work and from Wednesday on it was gearing up for the weekend. Sometimes, if I worked things right, Friday’s were good too. Spend a couple of hours on whichever day, combing through music or sound effects. Spend some time fine-tuning your template session. (If you don’t have a template, that’s a whole ‘nother way to take the pressure off on deadlines.) When it’s time to start cranking, you’ll have all of your tools in exactly the right place, sharp and ready to take on any task.

4. ORGANIZE – Keep your system squeaky clean in every way. The first time I did a time management seminar in Atlanta, a lot of people scoffed at my insistence that you need to CLEARLY label every audio file you work with and DELETE every spurious file that is created in the process of production. Many of the handful who took that advice to heart have since (some of them many times) communicated to me that this one factor has saved untold amounts of time ‘in the long run.’ Searching for audio files, knowing precisely where clean sessions are, based on date and time, being able to open any session, any time without that dreaded “missing files” pop-up showing up, all combine to shave a ton of time off of having to re-visit a promo or sweeper session which happens WAY too often.

5. PRE-ZEN – I’ve watched a LOT of people jump into a session quickly, start dragging in VO, music and effects and then come to a screeching halt, sometimes for a couple of hours as they contemplate how to make a creative approach to the design. They’re putting the cart before the horse, which is awkward and seldom produces the best result. A much better result will almost always come if you sit down and spend five to ten minutes designing your work in your head before you ever open a new session. This does things that will give you incredible speed and artistic control.

A. You’ll be laser focused on what you really need to finish the product. No more loading fifteen to twenty effects and a half-dozen music beds and then trying each one out as you produce. You grab the two or three effects that you know will serve your needs and the one music bed (two or three if you are designing it that way) that will keep the flow going for your masterpiece. Because you’ve already ‘heard’ the production in your head, you stop experimenting and begin to construct it in accordance with your virtual blueprint.

B.    When your production sounds like what you heard in your head before you started, you’re pretty much done. I’ve heard far too many promos/commercials that went way beyond the original design, pretty much destroying what was a simple and elegant way to deliver the message.

C.    Once you’ve finished the construction, you simply polish the rough edges, bounce it to a single file and present it to the boss. Usually WAY before any deadline.

Does this do away with the fear of deadlines? No. Bosses are notorious for making arbitrary judgements about things like that, mainly because they’re looking at a bigger picture and are trying to fit all the pieces together without much thought as to how that impacts your work. You just need to get it done…quickly and efficiently. That’s the part YOU control.

Case in point: Z100/New York. While I am no longer doing the creative, I am doing the VO (along with Kelly Kelly Kelly), so I get to see and appreciate the creative process that’s going on there. Every week, Staxx sends me a few pieces of copy that have his definitive stamp of creativity. He can be really funny. He’s made it clear on several occasions that some of the copy is speculative, stuff that he’s written to support upcoming promotions, without much (if any) input from his PD, Mark Medina.

I know from listening on Sirius/XM or iHeartRadio that not all of it makes the air, but MOST of it does. The beauty of doing business this way, is when Staxx sits down with Mark, he’s ready, and in some cases done. Staxx thus gives himself a TON of time to work out all the kinks and does work that is consistently stellar. Colonel Sanders never comes into play and Staxx can relax at a reasonable hour every night without a second thought to those dreaded deadlines…er, DREADLINES.

You want biscuits and gravy with that bucket of creativity?