How To Be Creative

by the REAL Bob James

Do you ever wonder why most radio productions are so bad? Why radio doesn't capture your attention or make you sweat with enlightenment? Why everywhere around you radio copy seems to be catering to some mythical consumer who is exactly like you only completely stupid? Are you discouraged by excessive blandness? Would you like to take popular radio in your fist and just smash it? Me, too. Boy, we're a couple of malcontents, huh?

Or are we?

We live in dark and fearful times, an era of focus groups and ratings and market research. Focus groups and ratings and market research have their place, I suppose, but they are directly responsible for nobody wanting to listen, I mean really listen, to radio anymore. Research and ratings and focus groups should help creative people be more creative, not less. They're tools that exist to stimulate creativity, not make us afraid to be bold and compelling in our copy and productions. But, alas, everyone is so damn afraid.

Many radio owners, GMs, and PDs wander around asking, "What do people want?" rather than asking, "Hey, I'm a person. What do I want?" They do massive perceptuals to "find out" what people want. Then, they give it to them. Unfortunately, this doesn't work. You see, when people find their alleged ideas tossed back at them, what they said to the researcher is somehow changed, diluted, or not what they really meant at all. Oh, sure, they're kind of interested in Madonna's new bra or Kevin Costner's buns, but they already knew that. It's the same stuff they told the researchers. By now, it's old. It's boring.

Well, despite what you've heard, people are not stupid. They're, more or less, like you. And since human beings are more the same than different, it's safe to assume they actually have a taste for unconscionable desire and subtle irony. So how come so many copy writers and production people think that radio listeners won't "get" a certain concept or idea?

Far too many of our colleagues actually believe that they write and produce stuff for morons who buy toilet paper because it's as soft as a white cloud. Wrong. Yet we still have SMs, PDs, and Creative Services people who say, "No, no, no. Too goofy. Too weird. Re-do it. Make it, you know, more banal." Now, I'm certainly not saying what you write and produce should be so wacky no one understands it. Copy and production must be effective. After all, we're involved in commerce. We create and produce ideas which sell products, concepts which move autos out of showrooms, sounds and words which package our station's big "six-pack weekend." Important stuff...sort of.

That's why a creative person must be unbound to think and write and produce what he or she needs to, to do the nearly impossible: change a fellow human's awareness on a given product, service, or event.

The fact of the matter is, radio is in the hands of business people who don't know they are business people. They fiddle with talent and copy and second-guess the CSD and hire market researchers to make random phone calls to unsuspecting homebodies who suddenly have to decide if "more music, less talk" means anything to them anymore.

These execs think that perceiving mass consciousness is their job, and they're having trouble. Are they living in a dream world? Has their contempt and cynicism taken over? No. They just live in fear.

But, you know, everybody lives in fear. We all think we're incredibly weird and depraved, and bonkers, and if people only knew us, they'd squirt acid in our faces and make us live in an Iraqi mental institution.

In fact no matter how weird, depraved and bonkers we are, the guy next to us is just as strange. The truth about mass consciousness is that it is our very weirdness, eccentricities, and hidden lusts which bind us together.

I have found there's only one real way to be creative, and that is to have the courage to examine all your secret convolutions, hopes, and jokes, then transform them into art. To hell with what the other guy thinks. To hell with the faceless populace; they can take care of themselves. The odder and more personal we get, the more everyone identifies. It's magic.

That's why truly great radio productions are never fashioned by committee. They are permitted a single vision. Powerful, compelling messages happen when the creator has the courage and power to implement that courage. I mean, hey, Seinfeld isn't trying to please anyone but himself. It's the show's very weirdness we tune in for each week.

So, you wanna create? Go out on a limb. To hell with statistics. Be a sensitive person who can assimilate all the market data and still write clever copy to which other humans will respond. Try to work with executives who know they know only about LBOs and duopolies and won't try and screw with your work. Be nice, but don't listen to anyone. And don't copy anyone.

And, finally, in every project, for every assignment, measure the copy points against that twisted, deranged core of your very being, and wrench it into the light. Do that and you will make one million dollars.

 

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