Production 512: On Plug-Ins and Strippers

By Dave Foxx

I just had a most peculiar experience this morning.

As happens from time to time, I wasn’t sure about what to write this month. I started a column talking about magic because I’ve been seeing David Blaine all over the TV promoting his special. In that column, which is 90% complete, I compared what we do to magic, or more precisely The Art of Illusion. It was pretty good, I think, but as I read it back to myself, I felt like I was going over old territory and decided to scrap what I had done in favor of something new.

My deadline was actually last night, so I started a frantic search for a topic on the web. Nothing popped out at me, so I started to review old columns. As I opened up my archive, I was first somewhat shocked to realize that I’ve been doing this for more than a dozen years. As I opened file after file, I started to see something weird that shocked me even more: my own learning curve.

Long before I ever started doing production for a living, I knew through my collegiate experience that the teacher almost always learns more about the subject than his or her students. (I spent a few semesters teaching undergrads about radio.) I don’t mean the teacher knows more and so is teaching the students, that should be a given…but doing the preparation for a given class, the instructor must research the topic to bolster his or her knowledge with specific examples and other, newer insights. In the process of doing that, new avenues of thought are opened and a myriad of small detours present themselves, giving the instructor a sometimes completely new view of the subject.

That happens when writing a column like this too. A few months ago, before I wrote a column about EQ, I did some research into the evolution of equalization. I was delighted with the resulting column because I had myself just learned a large part of what I wrote. Last month, in my video about branding, I learned how setting up and maintaining a brand identity makes the job of imaging so much easier. The branding you do opens a well-known path to understanding on the part of the listener and allows the producer to simply get on with the job of delivering a message. In several of my early columns, it was apparent that I felt creativity was in the DNA. I even commented once that if you have never felt that you were in the least bit creative, you might want to consider changing careers. What a dope! I now know, without any doubt, that creativity is a learned ability that can be nurtured and grown, even in the ‘least creative of us.’ Once one understands where creativity comes from, and how we can access it, the floodgates can open wide and the possibilities become endless.

So now, the lesson I have learned this morning, which I pass along to you, is that your education NEVER stops. Mine certainly hasn’t. And in light of that lesson, I’ve decided that my original column idea is fresher than I thought. To be sure, it covers some old territory, but it does that with some new insights that might open your eyes to new possibilities.

________________________

 

As I was on the couch, drifting off to la-la-land late one night, Jimmy Fallon announced that David Blaine would be a guest on his show that night. My body jerked upright as though I had just been slapped in the face. Magic is one of my go-to passions. From Blackwell to David Copperfield, and more recently, David Blaine to Criss Angel, magic has always excited my imagination. As a kid, I demanded (and got) from Santa, the latest and greatest magic sets. I probably ruined half of all the silk scarves my mother ever owned, all in the name of ‘Magic!’ One of my all-time favorite movies is Now You See Me, the story of a magic act called the Four Horsemen of The Apocalypse pulling off one of the biggest heists of all time. (The second movie wasn’t nearly as good, but I would gladly watch it again.)

I probably have owned more ‘kinds’ of card decks, from stripper decks (not what you might think) to Svengali decks than any other two people you know, unless one of them is a magician. When I needed some quick money as a kid, instead of setting up a lemonade stand, I’d put on a magic show for the neighborhood kids and charge them each 50¢. I’ve made coins disappear faster than Uncle Sam can claim them as tax revenue. In fact, the first date I took my (now) wife on, I made quarters disappear and then show up in the oddest of places. Luckily for me, she found it charming enough to allow for a second date.

My favorite kind of magic is what I call ‘natural’ magic; illusions that don’t require any special kind of equipment, but require some dexterity and lots of practice. I’ve been known to perform ‘mechanical’ magic too; illusions that use special equipment like the stripper deck I mentioned earlier, but my favorite remains illusions that utilize whatever is at hand, only because it feels like it really IS magic to the viewer.

In a very real way, you and I are illusionists of sound. Done right, our work creates an emotional response in our audience that will make them want to buy soap, blue jeans, a car, or simply make them want to listen to our radio station, and we do it all with just sound. Many people who take the time to send me an email with questions about a column I’ve written, mention in passing that they’d like more advice on plug-ins, or what I tend to think of as ‘mechanical’ ways to create magic. Just like doing illusions, I’m not averse to either method, but prefer to do as much as I can with the raw materials first, only because it feels like real magic to the listener. (Besides, there is another excellent column in RAP Magazine that deals with plug-ins on a regular basis.)

This is why I spend as much time as I do on the writing. I know many of you are not writing what you produce, but I keep hoping that will change. If you’re not familiar with The Wizard of Ads, you should be because he appears in these pages regularly. Roy H. Williams is the absolute Dumbledore of writing for radio. He has written some of the most electrifying radio copy I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. He even runs an academy for writers and marketers here in my new hometown of Austin called The Wizard Academy. (No, it’s not called Hogwarts.) It is so close to my house, I can almost throw a rock and hit it…seriously. (Well, maybe on an exceptional day…it IS a 20 acre campus.) If you’re wondering, J. K. Rowling published the first Harry Potter book in the US almost simultaneously with Roy’s second book, The Wizard of Ads: Turning Words Into Magic and Dreamers Into Millionaires.

The right words, delivered in the right tone and setting can truly BE magic, something that Mr. Williams teaches every day both at his Academy and in his worldwide lectures. I once had the absolute privilege of attending one of those lectures some years ago in Los Angeles and having Mr. Williams critique some of my writing along with others…during his presentation. I can still feel the pull of a big smile when I recall his rather strong praise.

If you want to really excel at what you do, you owe it to yourself to attend The Wizard Academy at some point in your life, even if you don’t ever intend to write. Classes last for 2 to 3 days and vary in cost from a few hundred dollars to 6-thousand dollars. Not cheap, by any means, but it will transform you. (They also offer an online option that is much less expensive.) You’ll forget there ever WAS a box. Your creativity will explode and your value to your station/agency/self will ratchet up exponentially. If your station won’t foot the bill, you really should. It honestly will transform your life and the way you create and produce forever.

When the words are right, what follows will almost certainly be magic to the listener. Your job as a radio producer is to marry those words to music and effects that are perfectly suited to the overall message. Setting the effects aside for a moment, let’s talk about the music. For years I’ve been preaching that any serious producer should take piano lessons, just to understand how music is put together. Today I’ve decided to expand that to ANY kind of musical instrument. There are Guitar Centers all over the US and when you sign up for lessons they ask you to explain what you want to get out of your lessons so they can match you up with the right instructor. Ding, ding, ding! Perfect!

Here’s why that’s important: the music you use in your promo or commercial should be able to stand alone and make musical sense, because when it doesn’t, it creates an automatic distraction for the listener. The person at the other end of your broadcast might not, even probably won’t know why the music is off, but they will notice. After you’ve spent the time crafting the words to deliver the perfect message, why would you ever let that happen?

Bite the bullet. Pick an instrument and learn how to play it. Learn to open up the music and peer at its guts, reach in and rearrange things to enhance the magic of your words. Make sure it never conflicts with or detracts from the message. Make it the perfect conveyance for the words, and rainbows and unicorns will spring up and dazzle the end-consumer AND your boss…every time.

To make the magic complete, we add effects. Whether it’s the sounds of the mountaintop, kitchen or concert hall where the announcer supposedly is, or if it’s an electronic swoosh or impact, the key is, it must always be subtle. (Well, always might be too strong a word.) When the kitchen sounds are obnoxiously loud, it’s a distraction. When you accent a pivot point with an explosion, it’s a distraction. Remember, distraction = bad…always.

My sound this month is a perfect illustration of this ‘direct’ approach to presenting the perfect words with the perfectly matched music and effects. It was produced a couple of years ago by a superstar producer friend of mine at 98FM in Dublin, Pat Gill. When I got the script, I knew it was magic time. Pat did not disappoint. The music is NOT conventional CHR production music; the effects are deliciously “just right.” This particular piece has been in my demo ever since.

Oh, one last thing for those who think a stripper deck has pictures of voluptuous women (or men, I suppose) on the face: a stripper deck is ever so slightly tapered on the long side. This allows a magician to begin an illusion with all of the cards aligned with the narrow end facing the same way. If the selected card is reversed in the deck, the wide end of that card is going to just slightly stick out. It won’t matter how many times the cards are shuffled, the magician can simply run his/her fingers along the edge of the deck and gently pull the selected card out again. Add the appropriate, magic words and other banter, and you have a pretty startling effect.

Dave welcomes your correspondence at Dave@DaveFoxx.com.

Comments (0)

There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest. Your post will be moderated. Your email address will not be shown or linked. (If you have an account, log in for real time posting and other options.)
0 Characters
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location