Production 512: Making Your Job Simple

Prod512 Logo 2016By Dave Foxx

Right about now, you (or whoever writes your copy) is starting to think about fall imaging. School is just around the corner with all the attendant sales events, moving into new dorm-rooms, setting class schedules and all the other scholastic folderol. We all hope for some cooler weather and maybe some great foliage in the more deciduous parts of the country. Everyone’s favorite football teams are already headed for practice and talking trash about the new season. The TV networks have been promoting their new shows for a couple of weeks now and reminding viewers that their favorite shows from last season are coming back to take care of the cliff-hangers they dropped on us last spring. Program Directors view this season as a nice time to reset priorities, pull all of the “soundtrack of your summer” lines off the air and start drilling down on the music messaging they want to imprint on their audience. At Z100, it was always the time when we would “pull a Madonna” by putting a fresh coat of paint on everything to make it feel new and exciting.

Regardless of the format, every radio station tends to put on its best face in the fall because they want the ratings to be over-the-top for all the Christmas advertising buyers. If your CHR station is in a college town, you want to win the hearts of all the incoming freshmen and solidify your standing with all the returning students. AC stations want to make sure all the soccer moms are tuned in for their rug-rat taxi duties to the games and school. News-Talk stations want every commuter, just back from vacation, to dial them up for the ride back to reality.

Of course for the imaging producer, that means a boat-load of work to insure that every sweeper, stager, bumper, promo and Top-of-the-Hour is perfect in every way: tight and bright, short and sweet, emotional and on-point for every position on the clock. Sometimes the amount of work can seem overwhelming and it’s really tempting to look for shortcuts that will get the job done without sacrificing quality. Today, I have a couple of thoughts that might simplify your life, but not always in the way you think.

Cookie-Cutter Sweepers

I got an email from Mario Gutierrez, a long-time friend, just last week asking about this method because he was about to launch into his fall imaging and he remembered most of the technique but wanted to make sure. I answered him directly, but wanted to give credit for bringing up something that I was going to write about anyway. (Insert reference to great minds thinking alike…or something.)

Normally, the term ‘cookie-cutter’ is thought of in a somewhat derogatory way, and normally, I would tend to agree, but there are times when you are asked to produce generic sweepers to promote all of the jocks with the appropriate times mentioned; something like:

Mo Bounce plays ALL the hits…afternoons from 2 to 6…on New York’s number one hit music station…Z100.

New York’s number one hit music station…where Mo Bounce has your fave jams…2 to 6 weekday afternoons! Z100!

Weekdays from 2 to 6…Mo Bounce plays the BEST music…on New York’s number one hit music station…Z100!

Often, there are even more variations on the same theme, so you could be doing a half-dozen sweepers for five different dayparts, for a grand total of 30 sweepers. Throw in some for weekend-only jocks or weekend versions for the same jocks and that can jump to 50 or 60.

If you take the time to make all the variations for one jock exactly right, keeping the jock’s name on one track and the daypart on another, plus keep a one or two-second gap between each, all you need to do is then copy the entire mix (all tracks) however many times as you have jocks and/or dayparts. Then you can simply drop in the new jock’s names on the “jock name” track and the daypart lines on the “daypart” track. Make whatever minor adjustments you need to make them each tight and then bounce the entire session to a single stereo pair. Pull in the bounced track and strip the silence. Export the resulting children files to your station playback system and you are basically done.

This works equally well on tracks involving jingles, although the timing might be a little trickier. If your VO can deliver each jock name and daypart in about the same time-frame, it then become stupid simple to mass produce jock shouts that your PD can tell the jocks to stop playing so much. (It’s a pretty universal thing they do.)

Consolidate Your Sessions

For years, I would create a session for a promo about an upcoming station promotion, and then make another session for the sweepers, and one each for the TOH, bumpers, solicit and winner stager. One day I noticed that I was importing the same music and effect files into each session and I thought, this is silly. You can just as easily do all this in ONE session, set markers for the various parts and move on. 

I was a victim of my own linear thinking, creating multiple sessions for not only the initial various promotion parts, but all the promo updates. By the time a promotion was done, I would have seven or eight separate sessions all wrapped around one promotion. If it’s a really BIG promotion, double that number! So, I started making ONE session for the PROMOTION, and did everything there. I had all the work parts I needed in one place, a quick way to reference what I had done before, and sometimes I could simply COPY the parts that can stay the same, and add the new setup or detail changes.

Additionally, there were several times that the PD or an Account Executive would ask for an imaging summary for the promotion and miracle of miracles, it was ALL in one place in the Bounced Files folder. All I had to do was drop them on a thumb drive or in a folder on my Dropbox and send the link. Because I use the date of first airplay on all my promo/sweeper/bumper, etc., files…they align in date order all by themselves, making life even simpler. (If you have your date set as YYMMDD, they will always come up in the order they were created, even when they span the end of one year and the beginning of the next.)

Be Smart About Using Erase Dates

If you’re running a promotion for Valentine Day, every related file should have an ERASE date of February 15, making it impossible to play once the promotion is done. If you want an archive for reference or perhaps even reuse, make one on your system, get cloud space like Dropbox or grab a cheap thumb-drive and make an archive. Keeping all that crap in the main system makes everything a pain to find, runs the risk of playing after it should (believe me, it happens) and just clogs up the system.

The main reason for putting an ERASE date on every file is it forces you to replace material before it gets played out…crispy critters…fried. As you start loading your shiny new fall imaging into the system, think about when talking about ‘back-to-school’ stuff becomes problematic and put an appropriate erase date on every piece. If you don’t have a Reminder app, get one and use it. Plug in a date a couple of weeks before your erase dates come up to get some new work done that will replace it. This is your chance to really OWN your job by being responsible for keeping things fresh. Once your reminder pings your computer, send an email to the PD or OM, letting them know that you anticipate needing new sweepers/bumpers, etc., and if you’re writing, give them some idea of what you have in mind. The point is to make sure there is always something fresh and new on the horizon.

If you’re asking how ERASE dates keep your job simpler and allow you to save time and energy, my response is simple: it doesn’t. It complicates your life in one way, BUT it makes it vastly better in another. Yes, you force yourself to do more production, but remember this: you signed up for a long-term vocation, not a long-term vacation. The one thing every top producer I know craves is having the time to create magic. Knowing that in two weeks, your jocks won’t have anything really fun and exciting to play besides the new song from Luke Bryan, is exactly the right kind of pressure you want to have. If you keep your reminder app up-to-date, you’ll find that you have more than enough time to sit and be really creative. Your on-air staff will always remind you how brilliant you are because they’re not having to constantly play a raft of generic sweepers. Believe me, when the produced imaging is fresh and funny or new and exciting, they are inspired to new levels of performance and the radio station’s energy grows exponentially. This…is what separates the pros from the amateurs.

To put even more gas in that tank, push yourself to come up with a handful of generic TOPICAL sweepers every week that somehow take advantage of whatever is going on in pop culture. Ideas I’ve had over the last few months for sweepers include:

This commercial break will be shorter than Katy Perry’s new do. Hang out…with Z100.

More hits than the Mets. Well, OK…that’s not so hard. Z100!

I bet Kesha is praying for more non-stop music. Right about now, she’s saying, “That totally worked.” Z100!

All of these would have an extremely short shelf-life of a few days, but it’s OK because I get inspired with pop culture memes just about every day. Do a half-dozen like that a week and it’ll really take the pressure off when it comes to your big fall push!

For my sound this month, a topical we played on Z100 back in March of 2013. Of necessity, it had to be a stand-alone sweeper (no music in BG) because of the sound effects, and we really wanted it to stand out. If you’ve ever watched one of the various versions of Pyramid on TV, you’ll recognize the format immediately. The sound is authentic, and clearly, there wasn’t all that much creativity on my part…it just felt really good to hear it for the week it played.

Dave welcomes your correspondence at Dave@DaveFoxx.com.

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