Production 512: The Hardest Part Of Our Job

Prod512 Logo 400pxI had a photography instructor in college who laughed at people who went out and spent a bucket of money for a “name” camera like Nikon or Hassleblad, but couldn’t take a decent picture. Again and again he’d tell us, “The camera is just a tool. It doesn’t take the pictures. You mind is what takes the pictures. The camera only records what your eye sees.” One of the greatest photographers of all time, Ansel Adams, very often used a Kodak “Box” camera, one of the least expensive cameras in the world. Most of the iconic photos you’ve seen from the last century and well into this one were shot on Speed Graflex 4X5 cameras, a not terribly expensive camera that was standard in nearly every newsroom in the world. Today, most of you are already carrying one of the most technically advanced cameras ever devised in your pocket: the digital camera in your phone! And still, most photos you see are, artistically speaking, crap.

Today, like photographers, audio producers have some of the best gear ever made. It’s certainly the easiest gear to work with when compared to what the recording giants of the last century used. Imagine having to “punch in” at precisely the right moment on your multitrack tape recorder because you couldn’t just drag it onto the tape in just the right place. The tape had to be moving at 15 or 30 inches per second with plenty of pre-roll because the 2-inch wide tape reels weighed a ton and took a few seconds to get to speed. You had to time the precise moment to hit “record” so that the sound you’re adding matches up with what’s already on the tape…and you had to do it all by ear. There was NO visual editing prior to the middle 80s.

And yet, many or today’s producers make sound that is flat (not in a good way either) that is often hard to listen to for more than a few seconds. Every nuance of production is right at your fingertips; gain, EQ, reverb, compression, and yet, too often the finished product is humdrum, out of sync, unintelligible or just confusing. Producers get wrapped up in all the technical stuff their workstation can do which in itself is not a bad thing, but they are lacking the most important ingredient to the mix. Too often, producers believe that because they have the latest version of Adobe or Avid gear and software, the quality of the work will always be stellar. Clearly, they never took Photography 181 where I went to school.

Cameras do NOT take the picture, JUST like your workstation does NOT produce the spot. Cameras are tools. Workstations are tools. Understanding all the widgets and gizmos on either helps without a doubt, but it’s the HUMAN element that takes the picture or makes the sound.

The hardest part of what we do has next to nothing to do with the gear or software. The hardest part of our gig is CREATIVITY.

Over the years, I’ve lectured about creativity all over the world, from Los Angeles to South Africa and from Amsterdam to Sydney. London, Copenhagen, Dublin, Barcelona, and West “by-god” Virginia have all heard from me about creativity, what it is (what it REALLY is), how to learn it, feed and grow it and even how to use it. I’ve written about it on these very pages several times. Today, I’m going to explain it on video.

The gear, the skills and techniques to USE the gear are important, but without creativity, none of that matters. Once you add creativity to your mix in the words, music and effects, everything will sound magical. You will be in demand because you have that “something” that makes your sound supreme.

Acquiring the creativity “skill” will spill over into your life. You’ll become better at just about everything. Pay attention. This video could change your life. Or not.

Comments (7)

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Looking good there Dave! Great post. As always.

Maurice Verschuuren
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See now, you're making me blush again, Maurice! Thanks for the thumbs up!

Dave Foxx
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Thanks again Dave. For me you're one of the most inspiring persons on this planet!

Dick Tamboer
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Dick, your Power Intros inspire me no end. I LOVE the work you do. Hope you're well there in The Netherlands.

Dave Foxx
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At some point we went from "production" people to "creative" people, but I agree that the difference didn't always make the transition in how producers "created".

It's a two part process. One, as you said here, is the construction phase, actually crafting the audio. Before that comes the concept and the copy. Knowing how to write good sales messages that also make for good audio is what I know I strive for in my daily work. I also came up in the quarter- and half-inch analog world. Good piece, Dave.

Andrew Frame
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Thank you, Andrew!

It IS a two-part process and both parts need to be strong to really hit the target. I feel like we spend a lot of time on the tech/skill side here, so I felt compelled to to bolster the creative end a bit. Glad you liked it. Makes me feel like it was worth the effort. ?

Dave Foxx
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I have always felt one of the best tools I brought to the job was when a sales rep brought me an idea for an advertiser (and they do come up with some good stuff sometimes). I could walk them through the creative process and together we could decide if their idea would translate into a good sales message. Did it convey the concept, or did it get bogged down in excess expository? Doing this also kept them from feeling like I was dismissing their thoughts out of hand if I went in a different direction. They could understand why it would, or would not, translate. Our experience as writers and producers allow us to have that "whole" view that we need, and can also be an opportunity to have positive interactions with our reps.

Andrew Frame
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