R.A.P. Interview: Glenn Miller

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Glenn Miller: Part-Time "Production Wiz" at WKDF-FM, Nashville, Tennessee

Shortly after Glenn had submitted his first few tapes for The Cassette, it became obvious that he was not your everyday production guy. The fact that he only works part-time for WKDF only added to the mystique. Our mission: Track down this relatively unknown master of the pen and blade, find out what makes him tick, and disclose his secrets to the world.

Glenn's 20 year tenure in radio began in Bellingham, Washington as a "long-haired hippie playing Buck Owens and Conway Twitty" at KBFW. After a couple of stops in Des Moines and Pensacola, Glenn found his way to WKDF in Nashville and will soon celebrate his 10 year anniversary with the rocker. Glenn pointed out some interesting similarities between this interview and last month's interview with Dan Popp. Both Glenn and Dan work a 30-hour work week. Both submitted demos to Word Records (Dan's was accepted -- Glenn's was reportedly exorcised.) And, while Glenn can say "booger" on the air, he doesn't. Glenn's official title (his own creation) is "Production Wiz." His motto: "Give me production and I'll wiz on it."

R.A.P.: What are some of the things you listen for or try to do to make a good spot?
Glenn: To start with, I keep in mind that I'm always working for two clients: The radio station and the individual merchant. Their needs and/or desires may be complimentary and compatible, or they may be conflicting. To put it simply, the station wants to keep listeners listening, and the individual merchant wants to move merchandise.

My primary concern is the radio station, so I try to make the spot as pleasant as possible. Give the listener as few reasons as possible to tune out. Don't shout at them -- I don't like to be shouted at. Don't announce as in, "Hey, all you good people out there." Radio works best on an intimate, one-to-one basis like we're talking now, but get your hand off my knee, okay? Don't talk down to them. Don't preach. Don't insult their intelligence.

I want my delivery to be enthusiastic without being pushy. I want it to be friendly without being smarmy. I want it to be sincere without personally endorsing the product or service. I also want the spot to move along at a good pace. I'll find or make a music bed with a good steady beat or rhythm, and that's a good spot. That's my definition of a good spot for an electronics store that's always having a "tremendous sale"; or a car dealership that has a whole slug of prices, model numbers, and options; or a piece of agency copy that comes across the fax machine at 4 pm and starts the next morning.

However, bustin' your butt on the mundane is only gonna drive you insane. You've gotta save yourself for something that matters. Mind you, I said save "yourself," not your great ideas. That's important. "Save yourself" means save your voice, save your time, and save your energy for a spot or promo you have total control over -- something with some possibilities. Let's say you've got a great idea for a spot, and you've got to write some copy for one of those electronics stores that's "always having a tremendous sale." If you say to yourself, "I'm not gonna burn this idea on this client; I'm gonna save it for someone or something more important," in about 3 months, you won't be getting anymore great ideas. "Use it or lose it" applies here. It's as if using up these ideas creates a vacuum; and nature will not tolerate a vacuum, so more ideas rush in.

R.A.P.: What about something you have "total control over -- something with some possibilities" as you just mentioned?
Glenn: Take the "30 minutes of continuous R&R" intros, the "No-Talk Triple Play" intros, the Work Force 103 intros and drops (on this month's Cassette) -- To a certain extent, they define what the contents will be. If I come across something I've videotaped that I find amusing or obliquely related to one of the above, I'll slap it together and give it to the PD. If he likes it, it goes on. If not, I had fun doing it -- Most of those things I do to amuse myself anyway.
In the case of a station promo, it may appear obvious or sound dumb, but I ask it anyway: "What is this promo supposed to accomplish?" And, surprise, surprise, there's an answer! Of course, it varies from case to case. Sometimes the promo is part of a trade-out, so we have to give them "X" number of mentions to fulfill the contract -- simple as that. Other times, the sponsor wants "visibility" in the community. The "Stupendo Nintendo Olympics" we're doing now is a case in point. You can win this new GAMEBOY video thing by looking under the cap of "specially marked Pepsi products." This is being advertised on TV and we're running ads, too. To generate more interest, to more closely link the fun of GAMEBOY with the fun of Pepsi, we're doing this in-store promotion. The object here is to get people's attention and get 'em in the store.

Here's another example: We ran a history of the Rolling Stones -- Who hasn't? It was put together by ABC Radio, I think. This promo was just to draw some attention to the show. Not a lot, not a bunch of bells and whistles, but let's showcase it -- let our listeners know what it contains and when it's airing. Part of the promo they sent had the "official" announcer doing a cold voice thing. I thought, "This is too pretty for the Stones, too tame, too clean. No one will be offended. We can't have that!" So, I put some music hooks under his voice, came up with this "Rex Reed Meets Liberace" character, and basically just said whatever came to mind -- "Bring a switch." I wanted to deliver the message and exude the essence of the Stones.

R.A.P.: What about regular spots, ones where you don't have as much freedom to go crazy?
Glenn: I'll quote you a couple of little blurbs from a 16-page magazine that comes out 24 times a year. It's "Boardroom Reports." Its purpose is, quoting now, "to bring executives the most useful and timely advice and ideas from the most knowledgeable experts, business innovators and lawmakers. To open doors to important ideas outside the individual's area of specialization." That's to let you know it doesn't primarily deal with advertising, but I have yet to go through an issue that didn't give me some information or insight that makes me better equipped to succeed in life. That to me is worth $49 a year.

Anyway, this is from July 1st of '86: "Product features need to be translated into product benefits to generate consumer interest. A product feature is something the product has or does -- It belongs to the product. A product benefit is what the feature does for the customer -- It belongs to the user. If a dishwasher's product feature is a 10-minute operating cycle, its product benefit is that it does a complete load of dishes in only 10 minutes. Always keep product benefits, not product features, in the forefront of your sales thinking -- the benefits make the sale."

Here's something else from December 1st of '89: "People buy because the product makes them feel good. It underscores their sense of self. Examples: Wall Street traders wear wide red suspenders because they make them feel like powerful money men. Health-conscious women drink bottled Evian spring water at the gym because it makes them feel better about health and working out. For advertising strategists, the lesson is... concentrate not just on 'features' and price bargains, but at least as much on the people you're selling to. They're flesh and blood humans who buy products for emotional gratification."

You've got to know your product and know your customers. I'll put it another way: You have your product or service. It is the solution. Now, define the problem. That usually provides me with several "slice of life" scenarios to set the stage for selling whatever to whomever.
Here's more from "Boardroom Reports," December 15th of '89: "Never use negatives in ad headlines. Example: An air conditioning company ran two advertisements. One read, 'Don't swelter this summer,' the other, 'Now you can afford summer cooling.' The second outdrew the first three to one. Key: Headlines with a negative like 'don't' in them fail to tell the readers what they should do; and negative thoughts tend to be associated with the party that states them, regardless of advertiser's intent."

Political ads are a case in point. More and more money is being spent on political campaigns, and voter turnout keeps declining. There are other reasons besides the snide, mean-spirited ads that predominated many campaigns, but I think their tone and thrust have to bear a large responsibility for people en masse rejecting the entire political process. Enough of that -- I'm beginning to feel dirty just thinking about it.

One thing I try to do with spots as a final critique is suspend my "voice of judgment," that "NO!" part in all of us that says, "That's the wrong music! That's the wrong inflection! That's not a good enough sound effect," and so on. I try to suspend this judgment and just let the spot flow through me. "How does it make me feel? Am I a little happier? Sadder? Lifted or depressed? What?" It's very subjective. It's difficult to do -- distance yourself from something you've just put a lot of yourself into -- but, if you work at it, you'll begin to get a "feel" for the totality of that spot. Gee, that sounds pompous, "the totality of the spot." At any rate, you'll feel one way or the other, positive or negative. Rarely will you get no "feel"; and, in those cases, more than likely the spot will be cancelled before it airs, shortly after it airs, or there'll be some information that's wrong and it'll have to be redone. In this case, there's really no spot there to "feel." It's spooky, huh?

Another thing I try to include in spots is a "listener payoff." It's like a contract between me and the listener. "Give me 60 seconds or 30 seconds of your time, and I'll make it worth your while." Then I look at whatever it is the spot is about and ask, "How can I make this an experience? How can I engage their imagination? How can I make it memorable, or amusing, or entertaining, or thought-provoking?" The very fact that this "whatever" exists means that it has something worthwhile to somebody. "What is it and how can I dramatize it? How can I bring it to life or make it bigger than life?"

R.A.P.: Is that how you generate ideas, interview the product, so to speak?
Glenn: Only when I have to. For example, a few days ago I had a record spot for the Hooters' ZIG-ZAG album. It was an in-house production and our Production Director provided the copy. It was good copy, too; but, as I was listening to the single release, I got caught up in it. It's got a darkness and a desolation to it; yet, it's acoustically warm and friendly. The Hooters added a verse which they say is about the recent student demonstration in China and the way it was crushed. The more I listened to it, the more I was convinced the copy provided was too frivolous; it was inconsistent with what the music was saying. So I threw that copy out and just "felt" my way through it. I wanted to keep it light, without dismissing the song as superficial, and engage the moody undercurrent the song has. I wanted it to have an edge; I wanted it to make people smile uncomfortably. Whether I accomplished that or not, I don't know; but listening to it still intrigues me. It's a quirky bit of work.

R.A.P.: You have a good deal of faith in the power of the subconscious mind. How do you use it in your work?
Glenn: The way I prefer to work and the results that satisfy me the most are produced by putting my subconscious mind to work. I'll get the copy info, say two days in advance. That's usually plenty of time. Then I pick out the essentials that must be in the spot. For example: "KDF/Miller Lite Hockey Night. Spot must have KDF, Miller Lite, Nashville's Rock & Roll Beer, and the first 500 fans with home-made hockey masks get in free Monday November 6th. It's at Municipal. The mask must include the letters KDF and Miller Lite," and so on. I review it a couple of times and tell my subconscious mind, "Go to work. Give me some ideas by 4 pm this Thursday," or whatever the deadline is, and that's it. I go about my other business without seriously thinking about it.

Then, sometime between that time and the deadline -- could be anytime, day or night; could be anything or nothing, but somewhere along the line an idea or a phrase will demand my attention. I'll consider it in relation to what I need. Most times it'll be perfect. It'll appear complete, all the parts there. I may have to juggle 'em around but it's basically done. I just have to write it down and produce it. Sometimes, I get an idea and say, "Nah, that's too ordinary or too mediocre or too much work. Give me something else," and I get something better. I've learned that if I believe I'll get what I need when I need it, it's always there. If I begin to tense up as the deadline approaches and think, "Oh, this'll never work," it doesn't work.

R.A.P.: That sounds pretty incredible, even scary!
Glenn: Wanna hear something even scarier? This happened recently and I documented it. Sunday, November 26th, I'm half watching TV and half reading, and the words "ballad salad" pop into my head. A "salad of ballads." It struck me as funny, but how could I use it? If I was on the air and I played three ballads in a row, I could use it; but I'm not on the air anymore. I wondered why it occurred to me and why I felt compelled to write it down.
I go to work Monday the 27th and find a production order for the Sound Shops. The product is Scorpions, "Best of Ballads & Rockers." I think, "Wow! I'll use that ballad salad idea." The start date is Thursday the 30th. I figure I've got it done, except for the details, so I'll blow it off until Tuesday, at least.

It's Tuesday and I figure I'll start assembling the parts for this spot, find out what the ballads are, how long the musical hooks are, and see where that leaves me. Turns out there's only one ballad we play. There may be more ballads on the album, but none of our listeners give a damn about them. I'm kinda screwed because one ballad does not a salad make. I begin to break out in chives!!!

Now it's Wednesday. I'm on my way to work, not only not knowing what I'm going to do, but feeling betrayed. That was such a good idea. If only there had been just one more ballad on that album. I mean, what's a serious ballad lover to do? It clearly says, "Ballads." That's plural, more than one. Ballad lovers, beware! I've discovered what I believe to be a sham. Then it occurs to me: "This ain't a salad; it's a bunch of croutons! -- hard, tight, fast and nasty pieces of work." That's about it. Once I had the basic premise, the rest was "connect the dots." This is a bit disconcerting because of the way I interpret events -- I had the answer before I even knew the question existed! This is one for THE AMAZING RANDY.

R.A.P.: Is there anything you've learned in the past 20 years that you'd like to pass on to those just starting out?
Glenn: Yes, a couple of things. First of all, increase your vocabulary. Start with what you have now and build from there. Make a concerted effort to enrich not only what you say but how you say it. Words are power. Most people use words interchangeably; No two words mean the same thing. There are shades of meaning, and your ability to say precisely what you want will increase your ability to get the reaction you want. For example, take the words dirty, grimy, gritty, and scummy. Call someone dirty, and it means one thing. Call 'em grimy, and it means another. Gritty means still something else. Call 'em scummy, and you've got a fight on your hands. Here's another example, even better: This story was used to demonstrate the power of just one word, an average, everyday word. A guy says, "I'd like to make love to your wife." The husband, who doesn't believe in the power of words to incite or enrage, replies, "That doesn't bother me. She's a beautiful woman. I can understand that." The first guy says, "I'd like to make love to your wife again."

A healthy, robust vocabulary is extremely advantageous, not just on paper or in copy, but in everyday life. It'll help you express yourself and get what you want. There's a definite correlation between the level of a person's intelligence and their vocabulary. So, get smart! Improve your vocabulary.

In that same vein, if you're weak in grammar -- sentence structure, direct objects, article adjectives, dangling participles, that kind of stuff -- get a book on it. Set aside 20 or 30 minutes once a week, learn a thing or two, and then use it.
Secondly, learning to play the guitar, what little I can, has been invaluable in production work. I took guitar lessons to become a better songwriter, but I'll definitely make more money doing production than writing songs; so it was time and money well spent, well spent because in the process I learned chord progressions, relative minors, rhythm, and where the beat falls.

Essentially, I learned how to take a song apart because I can hear how it was put together. For example, "The Call" spot from November's Cassette: That music bed doesn't exist in that form on the record. That's a cut and splice job, but it's done so well it sounds like a custom made jingle -- it is! Same thing with the Hooters spot I did the other day. The intro is spliced from the first verse to the third verse, which is the one I wanted to highlight. At the break where I give the album price and so forth, I spliced in some extra measures so I'd have time to say what I had to say the way I wanted to say it. And again, at the end where the guy says, "Why is it called Zig Zag?" -- There's a chord change and vocals start. I didn't want my character voice competing with their vocals, so another cut and splice was called for to make it "feel" right.

R.A.P.: Has your ability to play the guitar helped you with spots other than concert and record spots?
Glenn: Definitely. You can take virtually any music bed and chop it up or down to size. How many times have you found an intro that was perfect for a 30 second spot except that it was only 20 seconds long? With a little bit of training and practice, you'll know whether you can stretch it or not. You won't have to waste your time experimenting, unless you want to just to confirm your suspicions. This expands your possibilities immensely. You'll always have new product coming in and most of it will never get played. This brings up the subject of "copyright infringement," which I'd like to address later.

What you want to get right now is knowledge you can use immediately. I recommend the guitar because they're relatively cheap. You can buy a good acoustic for what you want to do for $150 tops. They're also portable. If you anticipate a slow day, take it to work and practice. If management should ask questions, just say, "Hey, I'm working! I'm improving my production skills. Get outta my face!" Maybe you can persuade management to pay for the lessons. It's worth a try; They can only say "no."

So, you'll need a guitar, a tuner, and a metronome. Before you get those, find a teacher and tell this person you want to learn how to play rhythm. If the teacher says, "I only teach my way and that starts by learning scales," thank them for their time and tell them "good-bye." You don't want to learn scales, not now at least. Besides, when was the last time you saw a guitarist get on stage and play scales? If you can't find a teacher where you live who will cooperate, postpone learning this for now. It's an exercise in futility. More than likely, you'll end up hating me, yourself, and the teacher. Save yourself the anguish.

Once you find a teacher, stick to the basics. Stay in the key of C. Learn the fingering for C, F, and G. Work with the metronome, staying on the beat. Expand to the relative minors. Bring in some songs on cassette and ask, "How does that rhythm go?" It may be overwhelming at the start, but it's not that complicated. Playing like Clapton or Knoffler? -- That's complicated, but you don't have to play like them to know what they're doing and how to exploit it for your own purposes. Other than that, keep at it. If you can't take a lesson every week, take one every other week. Another tip that will help you make progress: Four 15-minute practice sessions are better than one 1-hour practice session. You got a few minutes? Pick up the guitar, relax, and strum away.

R.A.P.: What are your thoughts on copyright infringement.
Glenn: Regarding this "liberation" of music from un-aired album tracks, it is illegal, as you pointed out in a previous issue; but, unless you're incredibly arrogant and insensitive towards the rights of other people's property, nobody's gonna come after you. The property, in this case, is music.

There are two parties concerned here: The copyright owner/administrator (the person or persons that own the song), and the record company that produced that version of the song. Let's take the record company first. This following story is true. I personally know the people involved. This major record company signed an artist to record an album, sent him to London for six months to record it, pressed it, and released a single from it here in the States. It didn't do anything, they dropped the album and the artist, and coincidentally, everyone at the record company associated with that project was fired shortly thereafter. They weren't fired because the record flopped; it was a change in management and the new leader brought in his own team, just like in radio.

There's ten tracks of music nobody cares about. The record company doesn't care anymore. They have new artists and new releases that they are hot on. They would just as soon forget that that record ever happened. It was an abysmal failure, and nobody wants to be reminded of their failures.

And what about the artist? The artist has probably written 20 new songs since then -- all of them ten times better than anything on that album. Ask any songwriter what their favorite song is and they'll tell you it's the song they just finished yesterday, or the one their working on right now, or the one they're going to start on tomorrow. That's the nature of the creative spirit -- ever onward towards something new or different. The artist is grateful for the opportunity to make the album, sad that it wasn't well received in the commercial market place, but life goes on. Tears are shed, yes. Bitter feelings? More than likely, but life goes on.

Beyond that, record companies have a symbiotic relationship with radio. You really have to piss 'em off -- do, what they consider, some real dollar damage before they'll come after you. I saw a blurb in R&R a short time ago where Geffen was taking legal action against some station in California for airing a Whitesnake album prematurely and encouraging listeners to tape it. That is getting down on your knees and begging for trouble.

Now, for the copyright owner: Their property, a hit song, has a market value. They seek to enhance or, at least, maintain that value. If your use of their property diminishes its market value, they're going to take steps to stop you. If someone is kicking your car, you're gonna tell them to stop it! Same thing. However, if their property is on an album that never charted, by an artist nobody ever heard of on a record label that doesn't want to promote it, its market value is negligible. It's like going into a wrecking yard full of rusted-out, stripped-down cars and kicking one. Who cares?

The bottom line is: Yes, it is copyright infringement to use music in this way. It is illegal. It may even be unethical and immoral, but to me, it's a bigger crime to throw it out as if it were garbage. Ideally, I'd like to see some sort of an arrangement involving the radio industry, the licensing companies like BMI, ASCAP and SESAC, and the recording industry, whereby certain material would be cleared for use by a radio station, to what extent that use would be, and what it would cost if an individual station wanted to take advantage of it. I envision a system whereby record companies would make a determination about their "properties": "This one we have no further interest in promoting; This one we want to think about a while, and this one by Springsteen -- don't mess with it under any circumstances." The product they had no further interest in would go into a music pool. Radio stations that wanted to make use of it, within clearly defined parameters, would pay for the right to do so. The money generated would be divided up among the people that made that music.

My interest in this is more than academic. If this resource were suddenly no longer available, it would adversely affect my ability to make a living. I know the people that make this music, not all of them personally, but I know how hard it is for them to make a living. I also realize no one is holding a gun to their heads demanding they make their living this way; but to prohibit the use of this material on the one hand and treat it like garbage on the other hand strikes me as being very wasteful and most unclever.

R.A.P.: That's an interesting point of view, but the producers of production libraries probably will have something else to say.
Glenn: Yes, I can hear the "music library" people saying, "Buy our service, you pinhead!" I think there's room for both. Neither one addresses all the needs of the marketplace.

R.A.P.: One final question we usually ask: What's in Glenn Miller's future?
Glenn: Nothing specific. My immediate goal is to bring an end to these terrible cola wars.

With our mission accomplished, we'd like to thank Glenn for a most interesting and information packed interview. Look on this month's Cassette for several of the spots Glenn refers to in the interview.

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