by Jerry Vigil
In this month's article, "10 Ways To Shorten Your Day," we suggest keeping commonly used music beds on the front of your multi-track tape so they'll be handy when it's time to use them. If you produce a lot of spots this way, saving beds on your tape can quickly use up available space on the tape. At 15 ips, a reel of multi-track tape only has thirty minutes of tape time on it. If you store ten 60 second beds on it, you will use up one-third of your reel. If you're blessed with at least an 8-track machine, try using sixty seconds of tape to store more than one music bed. For instance, on tracks 1 and 2 you could have one bed, then on tracks 3 and 4, put another bed for another client. This leaves you with at least four tracks for voices and sound effects. If these are beds that almost always only need one voice track, you could put yet another bed on tracks 5 and 6 and still leave two tracks (if 8-track) for voice work.
There are many Production Directors who, aided by assistants and jocks, manage to enjoy short days at the station. Other Production Directors savor their jobs so much that they actually enjoy long days in the studio. But the majority of Production Directors don't have it quite so easy, particularly outside of the major markets. For them, it's a never ending series of long days and sometimes long nights plugging away at spot after spot, promo after promo. If this sounds like you, here are a few tips that can shave some time off your day in production.
1) Get an assistant: Yes, this is the obvious way to shorten your day but usually the least feasible. The difficulty in getting an assistant is that this person will cost the station money. If you can convince management of your need for an assistant and get one, more power to you. On the other hand, you might have to turn to other means of getting the help. Maybe there's a jock on staff who would be willing to take on the job of Production Assistant for a few extra dollars. It's much easier to ask management for a raise for someone else instead of yourself, and this would be less expensive than hiring a new person. Explain that this assistant would allow for more time for spec spots, better spots, etc.. At many stations, it is standard procedure for all jocks do their part in production. If this isn't the case at your station, you might want to have a chat with your PD and let him know you need the help. If all the jocks at your station are spoiled by the fact that they don't have to do production and won't do any, suggest to your PD that the next new person that comes on board be given production responsibilities. Considering the high turnaround of jocks in general, you could have your assistant inside of a year. You may have to do some training, but if you can get five hours of work a week out of one individual, you can shave an hour off of each of your days.
2) Get an intern: The next best thing to an assistant is an intern. There are people out there in school who are more than eager to come on board as your intern. They may not have the voice or the skills to go into another studio and produce spots for you, but there are other things they can do. Consider how much time you spend filing tapes, pulling carts from the control room, locating sound effects for a spot you've got to do later, and numerous other little tasks. What about those cassette dubs you make or even the agency dubs. With just a little training, any intelligent person can dub a spot to cart. The list goes on and on, and this intern costs the station nothing. Check with area colleges and universities. Look for a school with courses in broadcasting, make your contacts, and let them know you're looking for an intern. Interview several candidates and make your selection carefully. Look for someone who prefers playing with the equipment rather than their ego.
3) Organize your production: If you're multi-tracking your spots and have five of them to cut, cut them all in one session. If several of the spots only require one piece of music, lay all the music beds down to multi-track, then gather your voice tracks. Get all your voice tracks down one after the other. If any of the spots need sound effects, pull out your sound effects library and lay down all sound effects for all spots as one step. Once you've recorded all the tracks for all the spots, set your console and tape masters up for one session of mixing and mastering. This saves the time spent setting the console up for recording then resetting it for a mix for each individual spot.
If you have five spots to cut, consider using the same voice on all five, if possible. The next day, use a different voice for that day's spots. This way you'll still get the variety of voices on the air, but you won't be waiting for each individual announcer to come in and record their voice track. One person can do them all.
4) Hold your calls: Determine what part of your day is the busiest. For most Production Directors, it is the later part of the afternoon. Set aside at least two hours, say from two until four, when you won't accept calls. Tell the receptionist to take messages, then gear up for a serious two hours of uninterrupted production during that time. If necessary, go so far as to post a sign on the production room door asking visitors to wait until four o'clock before entering with their questions, orders, or whatever.
5) Have commonly used beds and SFX ready to go: You've heard this one before and most of you already do this. Dub music beds that you use regularly to cart and keep them close. Better yet, reserve a portion of your multi-track reel just for commonly used beds, say the first five or so minutes of the tape. Then, when it's time to cut that weekly spot for Joe "Can We Get This On Tonight" Nightclub, the music bed will be on the multi-track waiting for a voice track. Keep commonly used sound effects on cart, too -- cash registers, crowd noise, door opens and closes, jet fly-by's, some of your favorite "lazer zaps," and anything else you find yourself looking up in your SFX library too often. Those of you with samplers should have disks loaded with these commonly used sound effects. When it's time to produce a cash winner promo, load up the disk with the appropriate sound effects and they'll be on your keyboard ready to go. Also, keep common voice tracks handy such as tags for theatre spots, lines from your "promo voice guy" such as, "More money, more music," "XYZ-FM, with another winner," and others. These can also be stored in your sampler if you have enough memory.
6) Keep studio visiting to a minimum: When you're getting voice tracks from co-workers, the session can become a convenient time to visit. Maybe you'll discuss the latest gossip, ponder the latest ratings, or listen to somebody complain about their job. The production room somehow always seems like a good place to talk. It seems more private, more secure, more sound proof! Push your voice talent along. Let them know, kindly, that you have lots to do and need the voice tracks quickly. Save your socializing for after hours or when you're less busy. The same goes for other staff members who like to pay you visits from time to time. Learn how to politely cut conversations short, whether by telling the visitor you'll get back to them later on the subject or by continuing to work while they talk. You're not being impolite when someone takes up your time with small talk, and you work while they talk. You're only establishing the fact that you've got work to do and they apparently don't.
7) Take a course in typing: If you can't type well, consider the incredibly small expense of taking typing at a community college in your area. If you can't type the cart label for a sixty second spot within the sixty seconds it takes to dub it, you need the class. Time yourself as you type out one cart label completely, then multiply that time by the number of labels you think you might do in a day. Learning how to type can cut this time dramatically, and you'll find yourself dubbing spots much faster. Needless to say, a typing class will also come in handy when writing copy, typing memos, or doing data entry on a computer.
8) Let announcers prep for voice tracks before entering the studio: Make copies of all scripts to be cut. When you've determined who will voice what, give a copy of the script to the voice talent before you're ready for the session in the studio. If the voice talent is on the air, give him the script a half hour or so before he gets off. During a song or two, he'll have time to look over the script. When he walks into your studio, he'll be ready and so will you.
9) Use your programmable effects processors: Most effects processors require some adjustment to factory programs before you use them. If you find yourself adjusting a particular effect -- be it reverb, EQ, delay, or whatever -- every time you use it, store the modified program in one of the user memory locations. Give it a title that will designate its purpose. Next time you need that effect, it'll be there ready to go. Keep a log of what modified programs are in your processor so you won't have to scroll through all the programs to find yours.
10) Seconds add up: Consider all the little things you do in your studio and look for ways to shave a second here and a couple of seconds there. If you're always getting up from the console to get a blank cassette, start storing the cassettes somewhere within reach. If you can never find a razor blade when you need it, stash about 20 of them near the tape machines so you're not having to get up to get one. If your typewriter always runs out of ribbon when you're using it (which is the only time they seem to run out), keep a spare ribbon near your typewriter. The next time the ribbon runs out, you won't have to go hunting for a new one. Learn how to do punch-ins with your 2-track or multi-track. Punch-ins are much faster than editing. If a client calls to hear a spot, take a number and call him back if you're in the middle of something else. Let him know you're busy and avoid the interruption if it's going to slow you down. If you can never find a pen when you need one, start collecting them so you have MORE than enough laying around all the time. The same goes for editing pencils -- have them everywhere so there'll be one when you need one. When you have some spare time, clean a bunch of 5 inch reels and set them aside. Next time you need one for a dub, it'll be empty and ready to go. If you're producing a simple voice over music spot (one voice, one piece of music), don't multi-track it. Do a stereo mix like you did in the old days of 2-track production rooms. Save another step and dub it to your master reel at the same time you dub it to cart, rather than mastering first then making the dub. All this is nothing more than basic time management. You won't notice saving a few seconds here and a few there, but you have saved some time, and these seconds will add up to minutes and the minutes to hours.
Probably the most effective way to shorten your day, outside of getting extra help, is to spend all your time at the station working and working fast. Keep personal calls to a minimum. If you write copy and find yourself stumped for that first sentence, set it aside and go back to it an hour later. Don't sit idle waiting for a light bulb to turn on. Decide what time you want to leave the station, then work as fast as is necessary to get the job done an hour earlier. Chances are you'll need that extra hour. If you've done everything you can to be more efficient and still find yourself putting in unwanted twelve hour days, then you probably either need that assistant or a new job.
This is not THE list of ways to shorten your day, and we'd love to hear any additions you might have to the list that have worked for you.
Now, a tip for those of you who are fortunate enough to only have to work five or six hours a day: If you're getting concerned that your PD doesn't think your doing enough work, just do the exact opposite of the suggestions above. It's guaranteed; Your days will get longer and you'll look like your doing more work!