by Dave Oliwa
Have you ever produced an average spot that got rave reviews? How about a big production number that took hours to produce, sounds incredible, and wins an award, but goes unnoticed by the folks at the station? I sure have, and it's been a thorn in my side for years! There are probably hundreds of reasons a psychologist could offer for this strange occurrence, but I think I've got a few practical, explainable reasons why this happens.
Let me say up front that I value the reaction from a non-radio person more than that of someone in the business. Folks in broadcasting each have their own preconceived notion of what is and what is not "good production" from the first time they opened up the mike. Radio station office personnel and friends outside the business are judging your work by what they've grown up with, not by a clever edit or the EQ setting on that sound effect. It is those people, educated by their media exposure throughout their lives, that give you an honest appraisal of good and bad. With that in mind, let me offer a few technical answers to the intangibles that make someone say, "I love that!"
First and foremost, commercials, promos, and sweepers must "begin." I can make a promo that starts with a white noise frequency sweep fading in and not get a comment. Take the exact same promo and start it instead with an explosive sound (one that starts "hot"), and I'll get people walking up to me in the halls telling me how much they love that ID!
Things must start.
We could fill the mag with discussion on reads and interpretation of copy, but the one thing that stands out with just about everyone I know who isn't a radio person, is pacing. I used to think the best way to read copy is to interpret it. I made a regular practice of slowing down and speeding up to dramatize the copy points. However, and I stress however, every time I "cheated" and just read the copy at the same speed all the way through -- you guessed it -- they would come out of the woodwork pouring praise! Want to make 'em break out into a sweat? Throw in a pause after some-thing that's important. It gives the brain a quick rest to comprehend what you've said. It draws attention to the copy point without slowing the read down.
Things must move.
Drops and sound effects punctuate your copy in all the right places. I used to let the effect have its own "stage" so it could be heard. Wrong. Now I make sure they are going on around me, and, a little off in the background. What comes out of the radio comes off being a complete idea rather than lots of little ideas strung together. And the effects can be taking place when I make my "pause."
Things must flow.
It used to be, big production was few and far between, with the average spot or sweeper being fairly dull. That's what made the "big production" a "big production." In comparison to everything else, it stood out from the crowd. Not now. Most things are produced to the point of being over-produced. Suddenly, a simply produced piece can stand out more than everything else because everything else is a big production.
Things must change.
In the end, your production must culminate in a final copy point, or an address, or a disclaimer. I see it as a master chef cooking his or her specialty with flair. You sizzle the onions, dice the meat, whip the potatoes, make the sauce, and it all comes to the dinner table at the same time, even though each of the individual elements took different amounts of time to cook. But even the simplest meal can be delicious! It's not how big, big, big the meal is; it's whether or not everything compliments everything else, and if you get to eat the food groups all on the same plate at the same time.
Things must end.
It could be a real blow to the ego to think your "best work" is not appreciated, but, consider this: The client you're calling for spot approval is in the category mentioned earlier -- self-educated by being exposed to radio they hear now and have heard since the first time they clicked the radio on. The Japanese economy shows us that bigger is not necessarily better. It's how it's made that really counts.
You may have figured this out a long time ago, but it took me years. I had to stop listening to radio folks and start listening to what the everyday kind of person had to say. Ah, the things you do for love.