Production 512: Putting Words in an Artist’s Mouth

Prod512 Logo 2016By Dave Foxx

I can’t imagine a program director in the world who doesn’t LOVE celebrity endorsements. On a CHR station, the mere thought of having Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber saying your callsign is practically orgasmic to a PD. It is a validation to the listener that YOUR station is the best, perhaps ONLY one they would consider listening to when in your town. An all-sports station would probably kill to get one from Eli Manning (Giants) or Philip Rivers (Chargers). Country stations too would love having Garth Brooks or Carrie Underwood promote their broadcast. The problem is that unless you’re in New York or Los Angeles, the odds of getting celeb endorsements like that drop as your market number grows. This month I want to part the curtains a bit and explain how we handled these at Z100 and give you a few ideas about expanding your ID library which will no doubt make the boss feel mighty glad he or she hired you.

The truth is that even at Z100/New York, there are gaping holes in the artist ID files. Some artists, especially early in their careers, never get to Z100 to record them. During her first couple of years in the recording business, Taylor Swift was a country star. When she started to break into the CHR realm, it was several months before she made the trip to Manhattan as a guest on the Elvis Duran and The Z100 Morning Show. At the time, we thought of Taylor as a country star who happened to have a CHR hit, so we recorded a few generic liners. When her pop career exploded, we were on the phone nearly every day to her promoters trying to get her back as fast as we could. My first order of business on her subsequent visit was to get 2 PAGES of lines recorded. She was so very gracious about it and actually spent a solid 45 minutes in my studio getting all the bases covered, with multiple retakes and giving us a few versions of most of the lines.

Right about now, some of you are scratching your heads, wondering why we asked for so much. How many different ways can one say, “Z100 New York?” We went WAY beyond that. We had several versions of a greeting, from “Hi, this is Taylor Swift” to “What’s up New York?” We had her do several lines for each show so the jocks could drop her over an intro saying, “Hey New York…it’s Taylor Swift just hanging out with Mo Bounce on New York’s number one hit music station, Z100.” We had her read a few lines from Twas The Night Before Christmas to use in an annual “Name The Artist” contest on the morning show, and several lines about our perennial cash giveaway called Z100 Pays Your Bills. We had her doing lines to promote her upcoming concert at the Garden, long before she went on, or even planned a tour. We did website lines, social media lines and a few other things. The list was sizable and she read every last word.

Depending on who the artist was, we would write special lines that only work for him or her. For example, Lady Gaga did, “Hello all you little monsters, this is Mother Monster….” Demi Lovato did special lines for her ‘Lavotic’ fans, as did Selena Gomez and her ‘Selenators,’ and Fifth Harmony for their ‘Harmonizers.’ We even got Justin Bieber to shout out his ‘Beliebers.’ BUT, as I mentioned before, not all artists make it to the Z100 studios or, if they do, many don’t want to take the time to record all that. They’re almost always on a tight promotional schedule, trying to hit other TV or radio outlets on the same day and simply don’t have the time. So, as massive as the Z100 Artist ID library is, there are still gaping holes.

Drake, as big as he is in the CHR world is an absolute MONSTER on the R&B scene. Most, if not all of his promotional work is done for Urban stations. Until a few weeks ago, the only ID Z100 had from Britney Spears was from when she was a teenage ingénue and really sounded like she was 10-years old. For a long time, the same was true of Justin Bieber. His original session was extensive, but he really sounded young when Usher introduced us all to this Canadian wunderkind. Once his Boyfriend track hit, we got him in to do a new set, but for a long time his IDs were unusable. The first set we got from Shakira was from before she mastered the English language and was nearly unintelligible unless you happened to be Colombian. (Even then, not so much.)

As big as some of the holes in the Z100 Artist ID library are, they are no doubt minuscule in comparison to what most have to work with. If you’re trying to image a station in Winona, Minnesota, the chance of getting Lady Gaga or Justin Bieber to record some lines for your station are remote in the extreme. So, let’s fix that.

First, you need to do a bit of networking. If you are fortunate to have a certain callsign, like Z100, do like the PDs at Z100/Portland, Oregon and Z100/Eau Claire, Wisconsin did with me. They reached out and asked if they could use our library. Obviously, references to New York wouldn’t work, but there is so much more that DOES work. If yours is a KISS station, reach out to KIIS/Los Angeles or any one of a dozen other KISS stations and ask the same favor. Soon, you could find yourself using Rihanna to promote your station.

If that doesn’t work for you and your callsign, or if you need to expand the possibilities like I did, step two involves getting a service that does ‘generic’ artist IDs, just simple “Hi, this is…” lines. While they won’t be saying your name, there are some fixes I’ve come up with that should help.

The first fix depends on you having at least a few good artist IDs in the bank, complete with callsign. Gather the generics you’d like to have on the air. Then, using the full IDs you DO have as a guide, start grouping the generics together in pairs. Play one, play the next and then play the legit ID, all overlapping a bit so it sounds like the three of them were in the same room together. It might read like, “Hey y’all, this is Blake Shelton…Hi, this is Miranda Lambert…Howdy, this is Keith Urban on Utah’s #1 Country, Z104!” While Blake and Miranda might not ever say anything together ever again, especially not your name, it sounds like they’re giving you that celebrity endorsement you want because Kieth actually DOES say it. I can’t tell you how many times I used this little stunt to fatten up the number of artist endorsements at Z100.

Every Christmas I would add another layer to this little trick by bringing in a few officemates and having them chorus, “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” I would then layer that into the script that would read, “Hey, this is Selena Gomez…we’re One Direction…this is Taylor Swift! Merry Christmas!” Then Taylor would finish with “on New York’s #1 hit music station, Z100.” It always sounded completely legit and big as big can be.

Sometimes at Z100, I couldn’t even find a generic… on any service or from any bud in the biz. If it is for a group, I can do the same officemate stunt. Now, if there aren’t any generics anywhere for a band or group, it usually means it is a fairly new act. I would almost never use a new act like that for a standard artist endorsement. What would be the point? BUT, we would put on Z100 Jingle Ball every year and sometimes one of the acts fell into that new, never did an ID category. Boys Like Girls was one such band. In 2007, they were part of the ZJB lineup along with Fall Out Boy, Jordin Sparks, Colbie Caillat, One Republic, Jonas Brothers, Keri Hilson, Avril Lavigne, Backstreet Boys, Alicia Keys and Timbaland. One week, I decided to have each act do their ID, one after the other for the “Here’s who you’ll see” portion of the promo, but there was absolutely NO Boys Like Girls ID anywhere. So I called in 4 guys and had them shout, “We’re Boys Like Girls!” Nobody was ever the wiser. I finally got an ID from them the next year when they were promoting their tour with Good Charlotte.

I have one more fix to pass along in the form of my sound on this month’s Soundstage. When you hear it, if you’re a regular reader/listener, you will probably notice that it’s the exact same promo I presented last month. There was an ID fix in that promo that I am willing to wager (a significant amount) that you didn’t even notice. Near the end, there is an ID from Drake. You might recall I earlier said that Drake isn’t in my library. The first part IS Drake, pulled from a service saying, “Yo, what’s goin’ on? This your boy, Drizzy Drake and you are now rockin’ with my homeboy….” The last word you hear is “Romeo.” Drake never said it. That’s actually Usher doing an ID for the show, Most Requested Live… Worldwide with Romeo. I tacked Usher’s “Romeo” onto the Drake ID, stretched it a smidgen and finished the promo.

While all of these fixes will work for some, the real lesson here is you need to use your ingenuity, be creative (what a concept!), and don’t be afraid to experiment. Remember that orgasmic line at the beginning? It’s true. Your PD will thank you… a lot.

Dave welcomes your correspondence at Dave@DaveFoxx.com.

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