R.A.P. Interview: Chris Nicoll

JV: What is your approach to doing a promo?
Chris: Well first of all, we’re very lucky we have two great voice-over artists that actually work here in the building, which is excellent. I can grab them within reason whenever I need. Ultimately an idea will come through for a promotion, and I will try and get someone who doesn’t have a really good grasp on the whole element of radio, and I will sit down and brainstorm ideas with them and see what interests them. I’ll try and get away with someone who might listen to our station, and if I can’t do that, maybe I’ll just flick some emails to some friends and see what they think, just get some ideas floating around about a particular promo. From there, I’ll take some of the best ideas and write up a few scripts. If it needs approval from a client, it goes to them. If the approval’s given, it goes to the studio and I’ll record it and start piecing it together. Usually things kind of morph when they get to the studio because your ideas don’t carry as well, or you find you don’t have said effects that you wanted, or you need to create something slightly different.

JV: How do you know when you have a good promo? When are you satisfied with it?
Chris: I don’t think I’m ever satisfied to be honest. But when I write the scripts and come up with a good one, it kind of gets the back of my neck tingling. I remember a promo we did a while back sending people to London, or maybe it was New York, to see U2. The promo just painted a picture of how amazing they are as a band. It was just a case of saying some really interesting facts about the band. I think we started out with some lines like, “From when they started in the seventies to today, no one has ever left the band; no one has joined it. They’ve earned the title the world’s greatest band…”, something along those lines. But sometimes I’ll write things and go, “Yeah, that really speaks to me.” Or if you run it by some friends or talk to someone who might listen to your station who’s in the demograph, and they go, “That’s cool. I’ve got tingly neck hairs when you say that.” or “I really love that line, it really speaks to me.” That’s when kind of go, “Yeah, that’s cool.”

Then when you get into the studio and you put it together, I guess you’re done when you can listen to the whole promo and sit there and just smile and go, “Yeah, that feels good,” like I really feel like I’ve nailed that. Then other times you get close to the deadlines and you’re like, “Oh man, I have to get this on the air.” It sounds good but I’d change certain things about it if I had the time. So you put it to air and you keep working on it and then just reload it once you’ve got it where you like. That tends to happen; we’ll put things on the air on ZM, and go, “You know, this could be modified slightly to be just that little bit better.” So we’ll change it and drop it back in as soon as we can.

JV: Finish this sentence: “I do my best work when…”
Chris: I do my best work when I’m really organized and get a good night’s sleep. Looking at computer screens all day, I get twitchy eyes if I look at them too long and if I don’t sleep right. 

JV: What do you do to get the creative juices flowing?
Chris: Actually I listen to a lot of music. A lot of music. I don’t know why, but for some reason it just relaxes me, and I hear things and go, “That’s a really cool idea” or “That’s a cool bit I could use in a promo.” Certainly from a production perspective, I listen to as much music as I can and soak up that. I’ll also find work that other people have done, either off the RAP CD or using various Clear Channel resources. We subscribe to ChaseCuts which is great. I’ll download some of that stuff and have a listen and get inspired. I find that’s a good way to get my juices running.

Writing-wise, I guess just watching everyday life gets things going for me. Just go for a drive or go for a walk around the block and see something and go, “That’s cool; I’ve got to remember that.” Sometimes the ultimate place of contemplation is the toilet, where you sit there and you’ve got nothing else to do but your business and think. You can come up with some really, really strange stuff. Like this morning, I came up with three really ridiculous promo ideas that we probably won’t run with because they’re a little extreme, but one I thought of was “Toilet to Let,” where you could rent out a toilet for a week to someone and they can’t leave the toilet at all; they have to stay there the whole time. The other idea was something like Kitty Litter for Kuala Lumpur, where you either win a trip to Kuala Lumpur or you win your weight in kitty litter. It’s not my role to come up with ideas like that, but I would just happen to be contemplating and that’s what came out. I went and told PD and we might move on them. But checking out everyday life I certainly think is one of the best ways to get the creative juices going. Reading random stuff is another way. Those forwarded emails you always get; they’re so annoying, but you should read them because there’s always something in there where you go, “Hey, actually that is kind of funny” or “I see what they’re trying to do, maybe I can do something better.”

JV: Tell us about your studio.
Chris: I’ve just moved into a new studio. It’s nice and big. I was in a little two by four box before. We work off Nuendo, which is really, really good for media. I have a Pro Tools set up at home, and I actually don’t like doing radio stuff on Pro Tools as much as I do on Nuendo. I find Nuendo much easier. It’s a fantastic program, and the best thing about Nuendo is — we run off PCs here — if I want to find a new, crazy plug-in, like something that no one else will have, I can jump on the net and go to www.vstcentral.com. They’ve got six hundred plus different plug-ins that I can download for free and use for free. I’ll get some weird effects and use them, and then a couple of weeks later I’ll go find another one. That’s one of the best things about using Nuendo on the PCs for us, and also it’s just a beautiful system to work on; it’s really fast. Other than that, in here I have a telephone, a pair of JBL speakers which is quite nice; I have a couch which is rare, but very exciting. It means I can use it after hours for sleep, and of course video players and DAT players and CD players and an assortment of crazy keyboards and stuff. I do a little bit of sound design here on the side, just to give us a different sound to anyone else. I use the keyboards and radios to get static from and make some crazy noises.

JV: Ever hope to put together a library of these noises for everybody?
Chris: I was sort of aiming to do so, but it takes so long. A lot of my time is spent making all the work parts up, and I don’t necessarily have the time to look at creating a web service sort of thing. It’s certainly something I’d like to do in the future, but I think it’s probably going to be a couple of years down the track, when I’ve got a lot of effects.

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