By Andy Capp
Once again I am a stranger in a strange land. The alien without a map or compass, blindly stumbling through a new world—new customs, new language—and while there are translators out there, I’ve always found that the best way is just to dig in and learn it all myself. It is a longer road, and it’s filled with a multitude of booby traps. But in the end it makes the journey much more interesting and fulfilling. Of course, that’s not to say that I’m going to ignore the lessons I’ve learned from previous creative side roads.
First and foremost, learn the language. Hours and hours of work be damned, if you aren’t using the language of the people you are aiming your creative at, you will be ignored… or worse, noticed and ridiculed. If you are talking to kids, TALK to kids. Find out what they say, how they say it. This is not just words; it’s the pacing of those words, the speed of communication, the attention given to any one topic. Lord knows that kids now are used to fast paced communication—wordy will be ignored. I’ve whined about this before, but I will continue to until everyone starts listening: THAT LONG WINDED SPOT THAT RUNS ON YOUR NEWS/TALK STATION IS A TUNE OUT ON YOUR TOP 40 STATION! Conversely, that Marilyn Manson sound-a-like ad that’s gotten great response on your alternative outlet will get an entirely different response on your Lite AC. It’s such a simple idea, talking to your audience in a way they can relate to, yet there are still so many people out there forgetting or being too lazy to do it.
The next step in heading down that new road is learning the rules of that road. One might also say that you need to learn the tools of the road at the same time, because you need to know both the tools and the rules before you break the rules with the tools. Huh? Let me give an example. As a baby radio producer, I learned early on how to create tape flange. Armed with that knowledge, and little else, I began to soak every ad with tape flange, I mean EVERY ad. And not just the whole mix, I would flange the voice, the music, the sfx, and THEN the mix! Can you say impossible to listen to? Can you say pointed visit with the Program Director? A little knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing, especially when someone is just starting out. It’s important to take it slow. Learn everything step by step, rather than jumping from Point A to Point Z. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to experiment. In fact, it’s the best way to learn, and many happy creative accidents happen that way. It is a fact, however, that good solid basic skills will take you farther toward your ultimate creative goals than a small bag of creative tricks.
The next lesson is one that I’m still struggling with. When jumping in with both feet, you have to remember what you’re going to be landing in. For me, that means that I have to remind myself time and time again that my current creative palette includes pictures. Funny, I always thought that TV people had it so easy. After all, the worlds that I had to create in people minds for the radio were laid out all nice and neat in the visuals viewers saw on TV. Now that I’ve started writing for those images, creative should be SO much simpler! I couldn’t be more wrong. Let’s set aside for a moment the limitations of space and time when it comes to bringing visuals to life (the logistics of bringing even a basic 2 person ad to the screen can be a pain of ice cream headache proportions). The real problem for me is the crutch. I keep hobbling along with the nagging question in the back of my mind, “How would I do that on radio?” It’s a question I’m used to, and while it was an important question when I was producing for radio, it really means nothing to my video project. The audio is still important, but in a different way, and I have to not only hear but also look at the big picture. Creative is creative, but how you get there changes from medium to medium, and what works in one medium may not work in another.
These are three of the many lessons I take with me on this new trek, to boldly blunder where no me has blundered before. In the end, every new creative adventure is completely different, yet strangely the same. It just takes embracing both the differences and the common bonds to get to the final destination. That, and clean underwear… it can be a bumpy ride!