by Andy Capp
I wish I was Orson Welles. The Citizen Kane Welles, when his every gesture, every inflection was a masterpiece of equal parts genius and creative gift. Imagine possessing the ability to base an artistic milestone in film history on the utterance of a single word, to create a vision of imaginary disaster with words so vivid that an entire country was gripped by the terror of possible alien invasion. I wish I was Orson Welles.
I wish I was J.R. Nelson. The production wizard behind the sound of the original Z100 and Morning Zoo is but one of J.R.'s achievements. His bottomless, commanding voice, his off-the-wall writing, innovative music composition, and inventive audio production have been the image of radio stations all over the world, as well as clients like MTV, Busch Gardens, CBS and countless others. Some people would rest on top of such a pile of credentials, but J.R. continues to push the boundaries of production and music, creating new and amazing sound images, always searching for new venues for his talents. I wish I was J.R. Nelson.
I wish I was Stan Freberg and Dick Orkin mixed together. Each in their own unique style has made radio advertising not only effective, but entertaining, compelling, and fun. Just the sound of their voices radiates their humor and character. I wish I was Stan Freberg and Dick Orkin mixed together.
Wishing is fine, but no matter how much I admire these people and how hard I might try, I'd still be Andy Capp doing a pale imitation of these talented gentlemen. I can no more be Mr. Nelson than the cast of Baywatch can be the Royal Shakespeare Company.
I could whine about never living up to my own image of greatness. I could bemoan the fact that I'll never come near the talent of those whom I feel are the best--maybe give up on radio and production entirely and become a vinyl siding salesman. I could beat myself up the rest of my career over this issue, but two things keep me from that. First, I'm allergic to vinyl, and second, while I can never be Misters Welles, Nelson, Freberg, and Orkin, they can never be Andy Capp. "Who would want to be Andy Capp!?" you laugh hysterically? I would. I must. It's who I am, the guy that does my work and lives my life day in and day out. And while I can never make use of the talents of others, Andy's are at my disposal at any time, there to use and improve upon, as unique as Orson's, Stan's, and yours.
Now, I'm obviously in no position to give anyone advice on how to be a Superstar, but I have noticed that the difference between the "stars" and those of us who aren't even world famous in our own towns yet is not necessarily talent. To become memorable, or at least creatively satisfied, it's important to find those things that make you unique rather than wasting time trying to sound like someone else. Yes, imitation is an important way to learn in a business that often devotes little to no time in training new talent for something as important as production...but, I digress. The point is, imitation can give you the tools, but the raw building materials to construct your own style must come from inside. Voice and delivery, of course, but also sense of humor, memories, opinions, musical skills, values, influences, life experiences...everything that makes you, you. These make up those raw materials that define your own style.
For instance, Lonnie Perkins mentioned in December's RAP Interview that he studied Mason Adams, "...to try to figure out what makes him sound so nice and warm." Listen again to Lonnie's demo (on the December Cassette). Yes, he picked up some tools from Mr. Adams, but the delivery, the style is all Lonnie's--and a damn good style at that!
So, what about those of us still looking for a style? Well, we've found the tools and the raw materials. Now it's time to pick up the hammer and nails and start pounding that style together. That means hours in the production room, voicing and re-voicing copy, mixing and re-mixing. It means hours at the word processor, writing and rewriting. For the musically inclined, it means hours practicing and composing. It's a matter of putting in the time and work, no short cuts, no go-pass-go, no easy outs. And once you start building your style, it will never really be completed. You'll find new things inside yourself, pick up new tools, and use it all to add new additions, new exciting dimensions to your style. "Geez, that's a lot of work, Capp!" Yes it is, but it's worth working for.
David Martin, former head of Midcontinent's Radio Division and another person I admire for his brilliance and creative mind, once told me, "To win, be first or be different." Finding your own style, your own approach to production, makes you both, and this will ultimately pay off, whether it means the next big gig, legendary status, or just the contentment that comes from knowing you've done your best and the work is all yours. Because no matter where you are in your career, there's only one person you always need to please if you are going to be truly happy. Like the song says, the hero lies in you.
Of course, it might be cool if someday someone starts an article with, "I wish I was (insert your name here)!"