The Commercial Chronicles: Keeping the Creative Fires Burning!

comm chron logo1By Dennis Daniel

Let’s face it…this job can get pretty monotonous! In my particular situation at the ad agency, I am locked into the automotive retail division. This is the division that makes the most money by far because auto dealers NEED to advertise! It’s rather lucky, really…to have the kind of clientele that can only have true success if they get their message out there. Trouble is…they all pretty much have the same message! And therein lies the monotony! How many different ways are there to say, “Get zero percent financing up to 72 months!” Or “Zero down payment, just sign and drive!” Not many. And yet, every working day of my life, that’s exactly what I have to do! Day in, day out! I sometimes wake up in a cold sweat just thinking about the challenges that will be placed before me that I have to master because…it’s my job!

But, that is my “job.” It’s not my LIFE! One thing I have found to be extremely essential to maintaining a positive outlook about creative challenges is to find other ways to use creativity that have NOTHING to do with ADVERTISING. Pure creativity. Creativity for the love of creating! After all, isn’t that why almost all of us got into this business to begin with?

Of course, what we all find creative and inspiring is quite personal and unique to each individual. What I’d like to share with you is one of the things I’ve done that helped expand my creative horizons and given me inspiration that has bled over to my “job” creative needs. I ask you to put into context my story and see if you have anything similar that might spark a new creative light for you!

The Poe Project and The Shakespeare Project

Being a “radio guy” I have always loved the sound of the human voice. It amazes me that in this modern world we live in, the way a DJ sounds doesn’t really matter anymore. It’s no longer about having that perfect “radio voice.” It’s 100% personality driven. But the human voice is a beautiful instrument. And just like an instrument, it needs tuning and you have to practice using it! To me, there’s no better way to do this than reading out loud. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a novel, poetry or a play…the idea is to exercise your voice. Whenever I go into a booth to record and they ask to get a level, I never say “One two, one two.” I recite poetry I’ve memorized. Two of my favorites are Edgar Allan Poe and William Shakespeare. I have many of their works imbedded in my brain. The words are so beautiful, and the sounds they make when spoken properly, glorious! I have always loved listening to recordings of these famous pieces. I’ve heard Shakespeare performed by all the greats…Laurence Olivier, John Barrymore, John Gielgud, Orson Welles, Kenneth Branagh, Richard Burton, and more. I paid very close attention to their diction and pronunciation. The same holds true for the works of Poe, read by people like Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, Basil Rathbone and others. It was like music to my ears. Just the words…no sound effects or music. Just a performance of the text. (I often wonder whether young people even care about such things anymore, or seek them out. Sadly, I’m sure there aren’t too many!) Once I absorbed all these performances, I would make recordings of my own. I’ve including one for you to check out…it’s me reading Poe’s The Conqueror Worm. What’s fun for me is getting into the soul of the words and trying to perform them with true understanding and depth. I just hope I don’t sound like a big ham!

So, after having done this for some time, I suddenly hit upon the idea of creating new recordings using all my radio and musician pals. I was working at an ad agency that had a lot of connections with radio and TV stations. I spoke with my partners at the agency and we come up with an idea called THE POE PROJECT. I would have famous Long Island and NY DJs and a bunch of amazing musicians get together and record the works of Poe. We then put it out as a 2 CD set, with all the money going to children’s art charities. We even created a live show, where the musicians and DJs performed the works together on stage. We even had chorography!

What was wonderful about it is it was a pure creative outlet -- an outlet that I had always enjoyed, and was now sharing with my fellow pros. What amazed me was, there wasn’t a person I asked that didn’t think it was the coolest idea! It was a challenge for many of them because they’d never done anything like it before. I had to actually teach a lot of them how to do it. THAT was FABULOUS! To sit in a studio and work with my friends doing something that wasn’t selling anything but the joy of listening, the joy of words! We had so much success; we did it two years in a row! The second show was 100 times bigger than the first! We even had Richie Blackmore’s group Blackmore’s Night performing live! The pride I felt about all this is immeasurable! I had opened new horizons for my friends, AND we were making money for charities that would help kids learn more about the arts. It worked so well, we did another version based on Shakespeare.

THIS was something that soothed my soul. It was not for commerce. It was for the love of words and for the joy of giving. It opened my mind up to so many more ideas and possibilities simply because it was PURE! It wasn’t about anything other than the art of it!

Now I’m not saying everyone has the ability to accomplish all that I’ve been discussing here (CDs, Shows!), but it does all start with doing something FOR YOURSELF that is unique to you and that you truly love.

Doing what we do for a living can really clog your mind. I know it does that to me! I get so frustrated sometimes thinking about how I’m using my so-called “gifts” to just sell shit. And after the spots are done, and air, they go into the ether, never to be recalled again. I can’t even recall them! Yet blood, sweat and tears went into each one. Hey, I got my paycheck and I’m making a living. But on my deathbed, if I’m asked what life achievements I’m the most proud of…THE POE PROJECT would be pretty high on the list. For a brief moment in time, I was given the privilege of sharing something I loved with a lot of people, and it did some good.

I could give many more examples, but this one in particular was quite the epiphany.

So I say unto you oh RAP pack pals o’ mine…find those other non-commercial creative outlets, and use them to help fuel your creative home fires and keep them burning.

Dennis Daniel is the Senior Broadcast Creative Director at Cameron Advertising in New York. He welcomes your correspondence at ddaniel@cameronadvertising.com

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