Production 212: Thanksgiving Leftovers

Prod212 Logo 2014 webBy Dave Foxx

Yeah, I know… Thanksgiving is over now. Hopefully, you’re about done with turkey sandwiches, turkey soup and turkey tetrazzini. Every year, I try to put at least a little meaning into Thanksgiving beyond food and football. I’ll spend some time thinking about all the usual things like having family (crazy or not), having a job (crazy or not) and having, well… having stuff. This year was slightly different for me though. I did my holiday ruminating in Ireland, where they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving at all. No big turkey dinner, and football, well… that’s a whole other conversation, played on a pitch!

I’m pretty sure a few of you are now wondering when I’m going to talk about my big news of a few weeks ago. I’m getting to that. I have so many things I am grateful for this year and I wanted to tell you about some of them first.

I’ll start with this column that Jerry so graciously allows me to write every month. Yes, I am being paid (some) and yes, it gives me a pretty big pulpit to bang on once in a while. I am thankful for all of that, but I’m even more grateful for the chance to pay it forward on a regular basis. When I was first getting my chops up in this biz, I had nobody to ask about the burning questions I had every day. What is compression and why is everyone always talking about it? Where can I get ideas to use in production? Why does everyone get wound up over branding? In fact, what the heck is it? Well, I could write questions all day. I had millions of them. But there was no place I could go for answers. I just had to figure it out. Once all the noise of those questions died down a bit, I swore I would make sure nobody ever had to “figure it out” again. This column is one way to make that happen.

Of course NOW, people can get answers to most anything. Just ask Siri! Wait… OK, maybe she’s not such a good place to go for compression questions, but she’ll get you started by finding articles on the internet. YAY Internet! I really wish I’d had it years ago. Of course, the biggest problem with the internet is there is too much information about any given topic and because anybody can post, far too much of it is flat-out wrong. Still, what an amazing resource. A little common sense and a few minutes searching and I can get answers to most of my questions.

I find myself really feeling gratitude for certain people recognizing something in me that allowed them to hire me, to give me a shot and allow me to learn everything I have. There are a few people I owe everything to, opportunity-wise. I won’t mention names here. They know… I know… it’s enough.

Finally, the big one: my time at Z100.

For those who don’t know, on Friday the 13th, I resigned my position as Creative Services Director at what is arguably one of the biggest radio stations ever. To have been a component in this behemoth radio station is without question, one of the biggest achievements of my life. To have been here for nearly 29 years simply blows my mind.

If you’re a VO guy/gal, don’t get your pants in a twist just yet. I am thrilled to tell you that I will be staying on in that department. I just won’t be in the building when I say, “From the top of the Empire State Building….” AND, since I am writing this a couple of weeks prior to publication, the production gig will be probably filled by now, although that is far from certain. (There are a TON of people applying.)

I don’t want to give you the whole story of my arrival at Z100 here. I pretty much laid that out on my blog a couple of weeks ago. If you’re interested, feel free to check it out on my website: www.davefoxx.com. It’s hanging onto this gig through all those years that seems surreal to me. I’ve had so many friends in the business become regular gypsies, changing jobs every couple of years, always looking for the bigger market or paycheck. So many others have been forced to move on because of personality clashes or personal problems. (As a group, I think radio people are a neurotic bunch, myself included.) Nearly 29 years in one place seems like a miracle. I once read somewhere that the average job-life expectancy in this business is 18 months. I don’t know how accurate that is, but it seems about right.

So, how did I do it? How can you do it? I can’t give a truly definitive answer, but I can give some pointers. (Finally, the point of this column!) These are all based on absolutely true experiences during my tenure at Z100.

1.     Know that some program directors are really good, but a lot more are not. When your PD brings you an idea that is monumentally stupid, do them the service of respectfully pointing it out, but do not be insistent. Be prepared to simply say, “OK, you’ve got it,” and forget about it. Just remember that the more stupid ideas they run with, the less time you’ll have to deal with it, because pretty soon they’ll be gone. Never forget that they are the PD and as such, they have the right to their stupid ideas. Once you’re committed to doing it their way, make sure you are 100% on board, so they can’t turn around and charge you with sabotage.

I learned this one day when two police officers were killed in the line of duty in two separate incidents on the same day in New York. Scott Shannon, my PD at the time, walked into my studio with a stack of recordings and some very specific instructions as to how he wanted them all put together. The entire time he was explaining, I was thinking, “This is going to be awful! It’s WAY too maudlin, sappy and un-hip.” But I ate it, said I would and I did. It turned out to be one of the most popular pieces ever heard on the radio station, with requests coming in months after it initially aired. His “stupid” idea taught me that I didn’t have a clue about what was stupid and what was not.

2.     Always own up to your mistakes! This was perhaps my most difficult lesson. Chances are you’ve been steeped in the CYA mode of business that infects businesses everywhere. I know I was. As soon as something, anything, went wrong, I started covering my ass, making sure the blame didn’t fall on me. It’s hard accepting your mistakes and the fallout that follows, but it doesn’t help the situation. You might not get blamed, but the cause of the problem is never addressed. Fix the problem. Take the heat. Vow to never let it happen again and then make sure it doesn’t. Your bosses will appreciate the fact that you’re a problem solver a LOT more than they will dislike you causing the problem to start with.

Tom Poleman was PD when I royally screwed up a series of promos on the air. I had completely wrong venue information in every one of 7 concert promos that were supposed to rotate over the course of 14 days. My first inclination was to go CYA and say that I’d been given the wrong information. But before I could even get it out of my mouth, my higher brain function kicked in and I said, “Yikes! My bad!” and ran off to fix it. Tom later told me his appreciation for me doubled at that moment. Now, if I screw up, everybody knows it. (I really try not to.)

3.     Never take credit that isn’t yours. This was another difficult lesson for me. It’s natural to want people to think you’re a genius. But never do that at anyone else’s expense. Far and away the most successful teams I’ve been on are teams that cheer for each other, pump each other up and learn to depend on other team member’s strengths. Taking someone else’s light drains the rest of team. You have probably had a boss who took credit for an idea of yours. You know how much resentment that buys. It can completely destroy a team.

4.     Similar to not taking credit for someone else’s work is not inflating the worth of your work. Everybody on a team contributes. Some give more than others. That is the natural order of things. If you get a pang of jealousy because someone else is basking in the light of a job well done, swallow hard and try to add to their ‘light’. When you stand up and figuratively say, “Look at me!” you diminish their accomplishment and the team suffers. Just be assured that your time to be the hero is coming. And even if it takes a long time to get there, the part you contribute to other people’s success, day after day, is key to the success of your team.

5.     Be ready to support other team members at all times. If one of them comes to you and says they’re struggling with something, help them get past it. Sometimes it’s just giving a few words of encouragement, sometimes it takes more, even a lot more, but in the end, they will be there for you when you’re struggling.

6.     Know before you even begin that some people on your team will quit, move on, get fired or in rare cases, die. (It’s happened to me.) When this happens and a new team member comes in, welcome them. Help them. Try to understand them. You need to become the grease that helps them slide into a meaningful place on your team so you can all get back up to full speed faster.

OK… you’re no doubt wondering why I keep talking about teams. It’s my frame of reference for the PD, Promotions Director, Music Director, Morning Show Producer, Webmaster and myself. Your team can have different people in it. We all work together to give Z100 its personality, above and beyond the jocks and music. Tom Poleman used to call it his “Brain Trust.” Mark Medina calls it his “Super Top-Secret” group. Even if your team doesn’t have a cool name, it exists. Even if you don’t have regular meetings, it exists.

For my sound this month, I’m posting a promo that is clearly the result of excellent teamwork. One of the issues we have with a long-term promotion like Z100 Jingle Ball is we don’t have an unlimited number of tickets to give away. To help with the ticket count, we will do 2 or 3 weekend promotions that, in reality, have nothing to do with ZJB. BUT, we want to continue to promote the concert, so we have to figure out a connection. This promo does it perfectly. Joe D’Angelis (Z100 Promotions Director) brought us the promotion, the “Super Top-Secret” group came up with the concept as a group, I wrote most of the script, Mark Medina (Z100 PD) refined it, then Mark, Kelly Kelly Kelly and I handled the VO before I put it all together. I hope you like it. (I’m told that Halsey loved it. LOL)

So, what’s next for Dave Foxx? Well, my resignation is not retirement. I plan to continue with my VO work, writing (yes, this column) and making the odd appearance at one convention or another. I have a couple of bookings now and more than a couple of inquiries. I am also planning to actually write the book I’ve been threatening to write for several years. Nothing is set in stone as yet, but I am thinking about making it an “online” how-to book, filled with video tutorials, audio examples and a few, hopefully interesting or funny anecdotes. A few contract production houses have already asked me about doing some freelance production. I haven’t said no, but I’m thinking that might happen down the road a bit, if it does happen at all.

I will be relocating to Austin, Texas. (I might actually, FINALLY attend SXSW!) After a few weeks, I’ll know all the best Tex-Mex restaurants and BBQ joints, so I can entertain all my biz-buddies when they’re in town. I have also already donated my snow-thrower to one of my kids, because I know what I will NOT be doing in Austin. My next column will have been written there, so the move is imminent.

Anyone (and I do mean ANYONE) who would like to get in touch with production questions, critiques or career advice, feel free to hit me up on my permanent email address: dave@davefoxx.com. (By the time you read this, my iHeart Media address will no longer be functioning.) I would truly love to hear from you.

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