R.A.P. Interview: Glenn Miller

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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.

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