by Dave Oliwa
It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas. And you know what that means. Put the turkey sound effect away until next year. If you've been saving them, go to those reels of November TV rating sweeps spots and throw 'em out. It's going to get busy real soon. Time, don't you think, for a little holiday checklist?
It's been a year since we all did this so please bear with me. Gathering up the Christmas stuff might take some time when you really need it, so now is a good time to put it all in one place so you can get to it when you're busy. I like to put all the Christmas music from libraries and other sources together in the CD rack. I'll keep an actual jingle bell hanging around (pick one up for a couple bucks in any grocery store's Christmas isle to make anything sound "Christmassy.") Maybe even put a personal coffee maker in the studio.
On the multi-track (provided you are using a rotating master system that has enough reels to rotate about eleven months) take a few minutes to listen to some of the season's spots and save some of the good Christmas effects you labored over last year. After all, the listeners haven't heard them for a year either! (I've got about 20 8-track reels that go back to December of last year; maybe this could work for you too if you start it now.)
If you've got a synthesizer, find all the patches that are bell or chime sounds and group them together so they're all in the same bank or screen. You know it: Christmas means bells! Sampler owners can group holiday samples together, including the obligatory "Ho, Ho, Ho." (You know you'll be using it at least once.)
Does recycling pay off? You bet. Your own personal collection of Christmas "stuff" can be used over and over and over again. Each year your library grows larger, the easier it is to get through the Christmas rush.
The review of last year's copy also pays off for the Production Director that does the writing too. If you've been filing that stuff like the FCC says you're supposed to do, you've got at least two Christmases' worth of copy to go to for ideas or even complete spots. Once again, the listener has not heard any of this for an entire year. And the chances that you would produce it the same way are pretty slim, giving an old idea a new punch. If you're going to use an entire piece of copy, use it for the original advertiser. Most clients don't like hearing "their copy" used for someone else.
Let's go to the typewriter and talk writing. It's first thing in the morning and it's time to be "really creative on this one." Well, in the early part of the holiday shopping season you're going to hear a lot of commercials saying "it's time to start thinking about Christmas" along with other classics such as "makes a great Christmas gift, for that special someone on your Christmas list, for the person who has everything, your one stop shopping headquarters, everything you need, Christmas is just around the corner, for you last minute shoppers, and much, much more!" Ok, I lied. You're gonna hear them until the day before Christmas. If you avoid using phrases like those above, your copy will be different from all the others. "You really were creative on this one," says the Suit. And, your spot breaks will be less repetitive.
If you take the same idea into the Production Room, you'll avoid music tracks that have actual Christmas carols on them. Other beds with bells and "happy feelings" will work very well at Christmas because they're surrounded by other commercials that have actual Christmas carols as their music tracks. Of course, your two dollar jingle bells (mixed way off in the background) will "Christmasize" any bed. A word of warning, though: try to record "jingle bell tracks" without a crowd nearby as it tends to be a great source of humor for the rest of the staff!
The copy writer avoiding those common phrases theory can also be moved into the studio when you produce copy you didn't write. If you feel you have "creative license" when you produce, and you find those clichés' in the copy, cross 'em out. Unless the copy is packed with them, you'll have a few more seconds to use while you do a better read or use another effect.
You know, there's nothing worse than having a dated commercial run on your radio station, despite the checks and balances that prevent it from happening. And there's nothing that can spoil a Christmas Day feeling faster than hearing an old Christmas commercial playing after the presents have been opened. Since this is the busiest time of the year and probably the heaviest workload aside from Labor Day, it might be a good idea to mark the label of any cart that has a Christmas pitch on it. The mark could be a typed "X" or a colored dot or a certain color highlighter or label. Don't forget the memo to everyone who produces for you -- or maybe a big sign would be a better idea. Is there any radio station that doesn't have a commercial free Christmas eve? When you leave that day, after everyone else except the DJ on the air has left, pull them carts from the rack.
Finally, a little Christmas thought from me to you. Creative people need to feel good to create exceptional things. Our job adds additional stress during the holidays. If at all possible, take some time to get into the Christmas spirit yourself. Drink some egg nog. Hang a bulb from the microphone. If it swings while you're talking, you're too close!
Have a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year.