Production 212: Beginning the Internship

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

I’ve decided that this is either going to be wildly successful or a gigantic puff of nothing. You may recall that last month I promised to take you along as I school my intern on the finer points of radio production. For most of you, this is going to be completely remedial learning. For a few like my intern Becca, it will seem like completely new material. Regardless of where you stand in that spectrum, I am going to assume everybody is at the same level, just to make sure that by the time we get into the finer points of beatmixing, we’ll all be singing the same song.

As always, this is production according to ME. Yes, I’ve had a great deal of success, but my thoughts and insights do NOT constitute Holy Writ. I sincerely hope that if you see (or hear) something that either makes no sense or seems wrong-headed, you will speak up. I’d like to think that if I am wrong about something and someone points it out, I am confident enough in my own self-worth to recognize it and make amendments. This entire exercise is not only about you learning how I do stuff. I should be learning from it as well. If you can contribute to MY learning, please write to dave@davefoxx.com and let me know what your experience has taught you.

So, as promised, here is the first of several chapters of my Production Syllabus:

Intern’s Syllabus I: What The Hell Are We Doing?

Communication is one of the most basic skills we humans have. From the grunts and gestures of earliest Cro-Magnon man to the 256Mb blast of data through your OC3 network connection, the process of transferring an idea or emotion from one brain to another has been constantly evolving through time. The words you are reading right now are designed to push ideas and emotions I have – into your brain. The melody of your favorite song was designed by its composer to create a mood in your mind. Preachers preach, politicians lie, singers sing, newscasters read the news and mothers coo to their babies, all trying to get across the physical gap to achieve unity, or at least understanding in thought or emotion.

You can break the types of communication down into three main groups, all based not on the communicator, but on the recipients of that communication.

The first type is personal, one-on-one communication. If I am speaking to you in a hallway, engaging in conversation, as I speak, I watch you and gauge your reactions. If I say something amusing, I expect to see a smile. If you don’t smile, I know we’re not connecting. You might not find it amusing, you might be distracted, you might not understand English, but we are NOT successfully getting what is in my brain into your brain. I will then make adjustments to make the connection work. I might touch your arm, or speak a little louder. I might even ask, “Are you listening to me?” Your reaction to what I say is called feedback, and it is critical to successful communication. It can be a nod, a smile or frown, even an, “Uh-huh,” but it has to be there before I can move on.

Type two, group communication, is broader. When I am speaking to a bunch of radio producers in Sydney, I stand at the front of the room with a microphone, a Power Point presentation and some pre-recorded bits of production I can use to illustrate certain points. As I speak, I watch the audience and gauge their reactions. If I see someone snoozing in the back, or whispering to a neighbor, I know I’m not connecting with everyone. Just as I did in my personal communications, I make an adjustment. Usually, I’ll step out from behind the podium, which displays a desire to connect. If I’m still not getting the right reaction, I’ll try some humor or become overly demonstrative. That feedback loop is once again, critical to the presentation being accepted and understood.

Type three, mass communications, is broader still and presents us with an interesting dilemma. When you’re on the air, telling listeners about the big sale at the local department store, there is NO feedback loop. Sure, the local department store can tell you later how successful your pitch was, but by then, the dye is cast. By then, you’re on the air promoting a local drinking establishment or selling male performance enhancement drugs, hoping once again that you’re getting the message across.

Understanding that lack of feedback, and learning how to cope with it is what we do. Everybody communicates by some method. As radio producers, we make a specialty of doing it using multiple disciplines, without feedback. How successful we are is very dependent on our understanding of all the components we work with every day. Ask yourself these 5 questions:

1. Can I write engaging dialogue?

2. Do I play a musical instrument or read music?

3. Do I have a voice that makes the opposite sex melt?

4. Do I enjoy mad computer skills?

5. Do I understand the value of sometimes pausing before speaking?

If you can honestly say yes to most of those questions, you have a future doing radio production. If you can train yourself in each of these areas, to the point where you can definitely say yes to ALL of those questions, you could be a superstar in radio production.

For many actually doing production in radio right now, one or two of those questions should be answered with a decidedly strong NO. Far too many of us depend on one or two of those areas to carry us through the rest, and for a time at least that will work. But, there will be situations when it’s really not enough. I can’t begin to say how many producers, some in major markets, cannot beatmix to save their lives. So they avoid doing that kind of work and use the lame explanation of, “It’s just not that important.” Trust me when I say it is. Not that you should be beatmixing every time you power up, but the skills that go with making a solid beatmix are critical to making production that flows.

Of course, not everyone reading this is cut out to be a superstar. Some are happy to be the best producer in town, raising a family and being a part of the fabric of their community. Frankly, I think you guys/gals are smarter than anyone in NYC, LA or Chicago would give you credit for, but you still should want or need to be as good as you can be. If you’re working in Tuscaloosa or Flagstaff, you’ll always want to be better than anyone else in town.

Sadly, this is not a career that pays well when you’re just beginning. But the good news is, it’s usually because some of the tools in your production toolbox have never been used. Even as you increase your skills and start moving up in market size, the salary is going to grow slowly. The big bucks come when you can pull out any tool and know that it is as sharp as it can be. Regardless of market size, the secure job in this field (an increasing rarity I fear) will be held with consummate skills in all these areas plus one more: creativity. You might not think you’re all that creative, but unlike many, I do not believe that one is born with creativity. It’s something you learn. The people you knew growing up who were very creative, simply learned it at an early age. And like any other skill, it’s something that gets better with practice.

We’ll deal with creativity soon, but first we’re going to look in your toolbox and see what’s there, what’s missing or rusty and get to work.

For my sound this month, I point to the CD that comes with a subscription to R.A.P. Magazine. If you don’t subscribe, you’re missing one of the best tools in the business to help you realize your full potential. For this particular issue that is doubly true. For 11 months of the year, you get to hear samples of production from dozens of markets from around the world. But this month’s CD is special because it contains all the finalists for this year’s RAP Awards, the cream of the crop. Every year, there are some wicked good pieces on there. This month’s CD should inspire any producer. I know it will inspire me.

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