by Dennis Daniel
I have changed. I am not the same man I was only one year ago. I have evolved more dramatically in my overall view of the world than in any other year in the thirty-five I have lived so far. I have developed a callas, a thick skin. I have built an impenetrable fortress, complete with moat and man-eating alligators, that surrounds my entire being. I've become something I always tried to avoid, something I fervently believed was abhorrent. I now wear a suit and tie. I now have my own designated parking space. I've become a sonofabitch. A prick. One hard-assed M-in-effer.
I've become (gasp!) a businessman.
When I waved good-bye to a full-time production gig in the radio world (because that world had betrayed me) and stepped into the dark, bloody, shark-infested waters of the advertising world, I thought I knew it all, man. I mean, come on! Seventeen years, four radio stations, and a countless parade of PDs, GMs, VPs and owners surely taught me everything I'd ever need to know about clients, pressure, deadlines, egos, and dealing with A-holes of every size, shape and budget, right?
Wrong. I never even scratched the surface. I'd hardly reached stage one. I wasn't even close to t-minus ten and counting. I was a complete novice. A fool. A bubblegummer. A putz.
It's my hope that what you're about to read may change the way you think about the "job" of "being creative." I think what I have to offer from my experience will strengthen your resolve to maintain a creative edge and help you beat the bastards at their own game.
Becoming a Creative Director in advertising and running my own production company gave me a real hard dose of reality, so hard I almost OD'd. There's no room for excuses. No room for, "I'm sorry's." No room for, "what are they gonna do, fire me's?" You deal with the client manno e manno. He's not paying the station to run spots and getting a free commercial to boot. You can't hide behind the "we produce your commercial as a service, so don't bust our balls" shield. He's paying you directly, Sonny Jim! And he wants results. Nice guy? They don't care if you are. Family man? Big deal! Go home and play with your kids! The client is saying, "This is my business. I'm entrusting you with it, Mr. Creative Genius, and if your idea doesn't work, you're out on your ass!"
The simple fact of the matter is, it's impossible to survive on your own by just being a "creative soul." You must learn to adapt into both a "creative" type and a strong "business" type. (And perhaps, most important of all, you must wipe away any trace of ego...any trace they can see, that is.) If not, you will be eaten alive. Period.
Here are some of the words I've heard used to describe "creative" people: "Fragile." "Easily hurt." "Gullible." "Intense." "Sensitive." In other words, "weak." All my life, I have used these words to describe myself, or had them used by others in describing me. These words have been brandished to explain consistencies or inconsistencies in my "creative" performance. These words no longer exist for me. If anything, my life has now been dictated by age-old cliches that suddenly, for me, ring true.
Friends, there are many cliches that have become a part of mankind's vocabulary. The funny thing about cliches is, we knock them for being just that, cliches. Yet, we can't deny that they speak universal truths. Let me lay a few on ya: 1. "It's a dog eat dog world." (aka "It's eat or be eaten.") 2. "F them before they F you." (aka "Trust no one.") 3. "That which does not kill me makes me stronger." 4. "Can't see the forest for the trees." 5. "Nice guys finish last."
All of these and more used to occasionally creep up in my life. Now, they have become words to live by, daily Mantras, guidelines for living. These phrases are nothing to sneeze at. They are the cornerstone for my survival. The sooner you all realize that this approaching millennium has given these words more power than they've ever possessed, the sooner you can be sure you'll never have to worry about where your next meal is coming from.
To help give further credence to my current belief system, let me clue you as to how I used to think, live and work.
To say I was "coddled" during my radio years is a vast understatement of epic proportions. I was breast fed, folks. I suckled at the feet of creative freedom afforded a radio station Production Director with reckless abandon. "Hakuna Matata" indeed! As we all know, Production Directors--that is, the ones who really dig their job--have a power of creation way beyond that of any other radio station position. An idea can be born, produced, and heard in a matter of minutes. Whether you're producing for in-house clients or the station itself (promos, drops, etc.), chances are, the work will not be subject to intense scrutiny. Ya got da gig. Ya do yow thang. Sure, you'll have an occasional snag or two--client hates spot, PD hates promo--but those snags are few and far between. And so it goes, day after day, week after week, year after year. Barf it up, spew it out. Barf it up, spew it out. At the end of each week (or two weeks), you get your check--same numbers, same deductions. As time goes on, you hope (and pray) that those numbers will get higher, along with the way you're appreciated. I lived like this for nearly all my adult working life and never thought twice about it. It's the American way, right? To whip out another cliche, "an honest day's work for an honest day's pay."
But those days are over for me. I learned the hard way that the radio business is no longer a safe bastion for the creative mind. Upper management doesn't hire a production person just because he's good. They've also got to be cheap. So what if they're not original or wildly creative? Can they do tags and donuts halfway decent? Can they rip off other ideas? Can they imitate Beavis and Butthead? Will they work for $17,000 a year? Great! Hire them and promise them squat!
Nothing is done by instinct anymore. You see, the way I figure it, creativity is not something that can be "researched." It's not based on "demos." It's pure instinct. It's God given. Oh sure, there are plenty of folks out there who just rip off other people's ideas. But the true creative mind is appalled at such a thought. Look at what's happened to our industry. Every time a jock opens his mouth, it's a liner or a promo. All the music is picked and researched up the bunhole. It's all so stale, academic, and devoid of soul. It sucks! I wonder if the listeners can even tell the difference...or care.
Yes, I know it's not like this everywhere. But I can tell you, without fear of reprisal, that it's the rule rather than the exception. Where are the fresh new minds going to come from? How will creative people get to truly hone their craft? Unless a radio station is willing to fork over major buckatood along with a solid contract (not to mention, God willing, a real belief in the person being hired), what experienced creative person in his right mind would be willing to work for any station?
And that's why I became a businessman. More on this next month.