by Dennis Daniel
Do you have trouble falling asleep some nights because you know what you're about to face in the morning at work? Do you come home from work so exhausted that your legs ache, regardless of the fact you've been planted on your butt all day? Do you lose your appetite at lunch because there's just so much work to do and your gut is in a knot? Do you find that your normal, affable, happy go lucky attitude is slowly turning into a sour, "F" the world one?
Are you, by any chance, a Production Director?
The effects of stress take on many and varied forms in the minds and bodies of those such as we. It's a very real, serious problem. The pressure of being, for all intents and purposes, a one man/woman ad agency are truly immense! Many times in this column I have spoken about the special kind of person it takes to be in radio production. If ever there was a creative challenge placed on the human mind, being a radio production person is high on the list. And, with the blessing of being able to handle such a challenge comes the curse of being sensitive, emotional, easily offended, and...well..."deep" seems to fit. We are "deep" people. How else could we pull off this God forsaken job? Now, I'm sure there are many who would refuse or negate the emotional labels I've placed on our profession. If so, all I can say is...you really don't get it.
Speaking strictly for myself, for the moment, I know that the guiding force within me that keeps the juices flowing is an all-consuming passion for what I do. Add to that a full understanding of the importance of the work as it relates to my inner pride. Take away passion and pride and Dennis Daniel becomes a paranoid quivering mass of flesh.
What takes away passion and pride?
For me, first on that list is the unappreciation of my so-called "higher-ups." It takes a special kind of manager to understand and cater to the needs of his/her creative people. I know that creativity comes in many forms, but the creative drive of a salesperson to "get the deal in the house" is not the same creative drive that gives the production pro the ability to create an idea from nothing and give it audio life. Once the Production Director is treated like an assembly line employee, one of the many faceless automatons in the crowd, a number, a paycheck, a cog in the wheel...the sense of "specialness" about his/her skills is diminished. They start to feel empty and ordinary. The magic fizzles. "Anybody could do my job." "It's not me and my individual skills that count, just getting the job done, at any cost, is all that matters. Who gives a damn about quality?" This leads to an astounding decrease in the "pride" level. Why should you feel pride about what you're doing if no one else does? A strong sense of personal pride in one's work can only last so long. I don't care how resolute one feels about their output, feedback is a necessary commodity! "Is the client happy?" "Did I do a good job?" "Do you like the idea?" More importantly, the answers to these questions have to be perceived as genuine! I don't need some ego stroking jerk telling me I'm "The King of Production" or a "Genius" for some stupid straight read with a bed. False praise is worse than no praise at all.
The understanding manager is specific in his praise. They mention the spot by name, the idea, a line or two from the spot, maybe even a story about where they were when they heard it -- in the car, in a restaurant, with a client. The praise magnifies tenfold if it comes from someone who has no vested interest in the piece! It's not their client! "Hey, great job on that Joe Blow spot!" Such simple comments can keep the passion and pride alive.
Am I overdoing it, asking too much? Look, how are we supposed to know what kind of job we're doing without some form of input? Again, I'm not trying to discount our own inner sense of personal accomplishment; that always comes first! You know, "To heck with them! I did a great spot!" But, as I said, even that gets pretty old if, for weeks and weeks on end, we're islands unto ourselves! Yes, I admit I'm a whiny, sensitive little boy who wants all the limelight and attention placed on me! It's how my mommy brought me up, and it's what makes me who I am. And I know that, for the most part, all creative people are the same way. It's a skill, but more than that, it's a gift. A little genuine attention and praise can go a long way! It's only a matter of time before being ignored and unappreciated leads to sleepless nights, dread about work, and feelings of abuse, which then leads to not giving a damn.
I can't do that! I have to care! I can't just go through the motions! And praise is just the beginning. How about a real concern for our technical needs? How about getting with the program and realizing that in these '90s there are amazing, affordable tools out there that can make magic in the production studio! But that's another column.
When I'm driving, I try to listen to what other Production Directors are doing. There's a station here on Long Island in my home town of Bayshore called B-103 that has a really cool oldies format. It's pretty new, and a lot of folks I've come to know over the years are now working there and doing a remarkable job! One such person is their Production Director. Her name is Suzanne Ventra. I dropped by the station one day and met her. She told me we had met one time before at a mutual friend's recording studio, but I had forgotten. Feeling somewhat guilty I decided to really pay attention to the station and listen to her work. I was very impressed. She projected a genuine enthusiasm in her straight reads and unique flair in her creative work, including the rare skill of directing ensemble spots with all participants sharing Suzanne's bright, cheerful demeanor and sense of radio theatrics. In other words, she sounded like she cared! After listening for two weeks, I had to call her and tell her what I thought. I was slightly embarrassed because I didn't want to come off like some self-important bozo who deigned her work worthy of my all important praise. Throwing caution to the wind, I gave her a buzz. I tried to be articulate about the specific things I enjoyed about her work rather than just saying, "Hey, love yer stuff, babe." To my delight she sounded genuinely happy about my call and even said I had made her day. Wow. Cool.
That little story pretty much sums up what I'm trying to say. In future columns I'll try to deal with other aspects of stress and how I try to combat it. In the meantime, keep doing the deal!