Inspiration – /ˌinspəˈrāSH(ə)n/ – noun – 1. the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative. 2. a sudden brilliant, creative, or timely idea. (Oxford Dictionary)
So, what inspires you? Hopefully, you’ve had that warm, tingly feeling after reading one of these columns at some point. Of course, it would be the height of hubris to think I do that every time, or even just sometimes, but a guy has to dream, right?
I remember clearly what really got my jets fired up way back when I was just starting out as the Creative Services Director of Z100/New York. Steve Kingston was my Operations Manager and he had reluctantly just promoted me to replace J.R. Nelson after a long period of management’s search for a suitable replacement. (I still think it was all a smokescreen to keep me on my toes.) I sat down with Steve and asked him for some inspiration to help me really dig in on the CSD gig. He immediately flipped on his office big screen and turned it to MTV.
Of course, this was back in the Dark Ages when MTV stood for Music Television, long before it was the home of goofy game shows, reality shows about narcissistic beach house residents and star-crossed millennial lovers. Back then it was all music videos and music news, but more importantly, it was all the “in-between” stuff that made MTV so much fun to watch. It was, in fact, that “in-between” stuff that Steve pointed to and from which I found so much inspiration.
For several months, I strove to make audio versions of what MTV was doing visually and…it worked. Their transitional video (and audio, TBH) was quick, punchy and always had something important to convey about the image MTV aspired to all the time. It was cool, hip and was generally eye and ear-candy of the highest order. All the kids are watching it, was more than a funny trope. It was real, high-end imaging of the first order.
I truly wish I could point to something like MTV was, back in the day, for producers to get some real inspiration for style and even content, but I just don’t see it out there. Nickelodeon comes close sometimes but their audience skews so much younger than MTV ever did. They DO have fun, so there’s that.
Whether you’re a producer currently working the 9 to 5 at a radio station or one of the many wondering what happened due to the recent bloodletting at major radio companies, I would remind you that inspiration is probably key to any future you hope to have. To be truly inspired, you’ll need something else first: Confidence… confidence in yourself, confidence in your abilities, confident that you’re doing the right thing, that you really belong. I could easily come up with a few bromides that are supposed to instill that confidence, but confidence does not come from external sources. It comes from within.
So how does confidence bring about inspiration? I’m gonna dive into some psychological mumbo-jumbo for a minute, so forgive me and trust that I’ll bring it all back around.
Everybody goes through periods of self-doubt, but self-doubt is NOT the opposite of confidence. Self-doubt is one of the best tools you have to build confidence. It identifies where you need to spend your energy to improve and ultimately build supreme confidence. If you’re feeling a bit low on self-esteem, just know that you can break that down into two distinct divisions: implicit and explicit. Implicit is automatic, unconscious and even spontaneous evaluation. Explicit is something you do on purpose when you sit down to think about what needs working on, taking into account everything you know about yourself. The good news is, while you can’t do much about implicit self-esteem, there’s everything you can do about explicit evaluations.
There are things you wouldn’t try to do because you’re not confident you can do them successfully, but…if you do them, you GAIN the confidence you were lacking to start with. That’s quite the paradox, isn’t it? A kind of Catch-22 in life we all face. Think back to when you learned to ride a bike. If you were like most kids, you were a bit terrified at the prospect of balancing yourself on two wheels. But, once you did it, your parents probably worried if they’d ever see you again as you rode off down the street. You had no confidence in the beginning, but once you did it the first time, you had all the confidence in the world.
So let’s build a scenario. You really want to ask for a new piece of gear, but your relationship with the Chief Engineer is, let’s say, “shaky.” You’re not feeling the confidence that you can lobby for the new gear because it’s a bit pricey or worse, you think he or she doesn’t trust your opinion about what you need.
Try to visualize what you would say to the Chief if you were really feeling self-confident, even assertive. Let’s imagine that your fear, insecurity and self-doubt simply disappeared. How would that conversation go? Speak like you are the Lord High Sheriff and he/she is the peasant. (Don’t make him or her kneel, that’s just not cool. Keep it upbeat and friendly.) Once you get past his or her objections and you get an approval, the next time becomes a snap. Your confidence mounts.
Apply that same ideal to everything. When you’re presenting a stellar new piece of production to the program director, BE confident. The Laws Of Attraction suggest that if you want to BE confident, you need to put more confidence out there…even when you’re not feeling it deep down inside. Here we are at that Catch-22 moment again. Now, if your PD has objections, don’t dismiss them out of hand. Deal with it and move ahead with that confidence you should now be feeling. After a few episodes like this, trust me, your PD will start to appreciate you as more of an equal and the confidence will start oozing out of your pores.
Trying to get an ornery client to realize that putting a phone number into a spot five times is counter-productive to their goals, BE confident. Explain how the audience uses your product and that it is rare indeed when people are so focused on your spot that they’ll learn the number the fifth time you repeat it. KNOW your product and help that client figure it out on his/her own and the problem will simply melt away. Just be certain about what you present and there won’t be an argument in the future when they want to have 5 price-items included. (That’s bad.)
To boil it down to something really easy to remember, fake it until you make it or, if you ascribe to the New Thought philosophy, act as if you already have it. If you’re not feeling confident in your presentation, never let them smell the fear. After a while, you’ll have some wins and you’ll really start to feel real confidence. It’ll just keep snowballing until you’re an unstoppable force.
THEN, you’ll start finding inspiration everywhere you look. You don’t have to find a single source like I had in the beginning. Just find your confidence and inspiration will start popping up all the time.
One last, quick story. If you’ve ever seen the original Star Wars movie (Episode 4) you might recall how impressive the sound design was. Sounds you’d never heard before forever imprinted on the mind. One in particular was the sound of laser cannons firing from the Empire battleships over the planet Tatooine in the opening sequence. (Forget the fact that in space you can’t hear anything because there’s no air to transmit sound. That would be SO boring.) It was huge and menacing. You know how they came up with that sound? Someone put a mic or two on a tension cable supporting a telephone pole outside the Lucasfilm studios and proceeded to bang on the cable with a hammer. The impact was cool enough, but as the sound traveled up and down the high-tension cable, it took on a much bigger controlled reverberation that became the Empire laser cannon sound and will no doubt be forever so.
Somebody was truly inspired that day by a simple high tension guy-wire for a telephone pole in Southern California. Inspiration comes from really weird places my friend, but you have to be confident that something magical can happen when you try weird things.
Confidence is something that does so MUCH for you, whether you’re asking for a new piece of gear or asking for a position at a radio station or production service. Act like you are the answer they’re looking for (without being arrogant) and they’ll be really inclined to say, “yes,” whatever the question. You can do this. I am confident.