I was pondering what to write about to start 2020 off on the right foot, when my wife playfully suggested I write about taking time off and rightfully recharging my batteries. The unspoken criticism of my choices of what I do with all my spare time was duly noted and acted upon with a couple of days of short shopping trips and dine-out dates. Yet, once again, I’m buried in my studio, writing, voicing, producing and doing all the stuff I truly love. I think back to the many, many times I’ve counseled everyone to limit studio time every day and go out and “fill the well” and realize that sometimes (only sometimes) I am a rank hypocrite.
A few weeks ago, I was shaking my head over a friend’s kid who was spending an inordinate amount of time playing video games online. My wife’s eyebrows went up…a lot…and I instantly knew why. I was once hooked on World of Warcraft. I had an undead warlock character named Fellonia that I had built and used to quest and raid throughout Aezeroth for several months, often with my kids and friends in cities all over the world. I’d come home from the studio in Manhattan and plop down in front of my mega-powerful Apple Tower computer and play for hours on end. Yup, the same several thousand-dollar computer I had convinced my wife I needed to ‘work’ from home. I was such a chump. When she started to complain (a lot), I resisted (a lot), explaining that I was spending quality time online with two of my kids.
Eventually, I saw the light and figured out that I had substituted the obsession of doing audio production with the obsession of living in Blizzard’s make-believe world, and I honestly had ZERO justification for it. I mean, a hobby is one thing, but spending that much time and money on a fantasy life was truly pointless. By that point in my career, I was lecturing at radio conferences and for large radio groups, and one of my main themes was “filling the well.” My epiphany over WOW made me feel pretty small, to be truthful. I was breaking from production, but I was filling my well with garbage that would NEVER help me be truly creative.
To be fair, I do not condemn playing online games, far from it. I know they can be relaxing and exciting, diverting and engaging, but I clearly have a problem with obsessive-compulsive behavior, so I’ve made a choice to stay away from X-Box and the like, just to keep me in the sane lane…at least until I find another shiny object that captures my attention. My problem, not necessarily yours.
My champion shiny object of course, is production, so here I am, sharing my obsession with anyone who takes the time to read this little column. Yes, my wife does have to remind me from time to time to come up for air and live life in the real world. These days I’m more inclined to listen to her, only because she’s been right so much of the time. I sometimes feel like the luckiest man I know to be married to Jan. I found a woman who is attractive, smart, funny and generous. I DO feel kind of bad though, because she was looking for the same thing in a man. Oh well.
I guess the point of this month’s article is to encourage you to find some balance in your life. I know that, like me, most of you truly love this production thing we do, and are always looking for ways to improve our skills. That’s the never-ending quest we’re all on. You might recall that a couple of months ago I was encouraging people to find a career doing something they truly loved so that in the end, they would never ‘work’ a day in their lives. That’s what this profession means to me. When people ask me what I do for a living, I usually quip, “I spend all day in a dark room, playing with toys every day, and every two weeks they give me money!” GOD, I love this!
The thing is, you can’t be really GOOD at it unless you take the time to live your life outside the studio. The spark of creativity hits when you take two or more concepts and mash them together. If all of your concepts are centered around DAWs, plug-ins and compression/expansion, your creative sparks are a dud with people outside of this group. You really can’t effectively communicate with your listeners unless you have shared experiences that are rooted in living life in today’s world. As messed up as today’s world can be, that’s the currency you have to spend if you want to be a voice that means something to the millions of people around you. If you want your promos and commercials to have an impact (and man, that better be your goal), you must live in the same world as your audience.
Here’s a short checklist to help you get started:
1. Get a library card. You don’t have to spend a lot of time in the library itself (most libraries even have electronic books you can get online), but you need to read. It doesn’t matter what genre, but read two or three books every month. Your audience does.
2. Go to the movies once or twice every month. I don’t mean catch up on Netflix, I mean do the whole popcorn-get a ticket-sit in the dark for a couple hours thing. Yes, sometimes there aren’t a lot of good movies to choose from, but there are usually one or two you need to see because your audience does.
3. Unless you’re strictly doing national imaging for one of the big dogs, you need to start following local sports teams, even High School. Make it a point to GO and see a game or two every month, just like your audience does. It’s easy if you have a high-schooler playing, but if you make the effort, you’ll meet a lot of (mostly) really nice people (potential listeners) who care desperately about their team.
4. Volunteer! Every election cycle, I volunteer to produce radio/TV spots for candidates running for city/county and state elections. It doesn’t matter what your politics are, find a candidate you feel good about and pick up the phone. Every candidate will be in front of the public, looking for votes and every listener will be able to relate (one way or the other).
5. Limit your social screen time. You HAVE to spend some time with social media, but there pretty quickly comes a point where it’s chewing up your time for other things. If you have a political bent, understand that you will NEVER change anyone’s point of view. Support views you agree with and move on. I honestly spend most of my time on Twitter, FB and Instagram just lurking, seeing what people are doing. I simply don’t have the time or energy to flame people I disagree with, so I very seldom do. Use it to gain insight into your audience.
You being the creative sort I know you are, you certainly won’t be limited by a list like this. Expand on it. If you have a significant other in your life, get them involved too. Not only will they appreciate being included, but they will likely come up with some other ideas that might be even more fabulous. (They’re a significant other for a reason, right?)
My wife, who reads all of these columns religiously, will probably give me a bit of grief over talking about her so much in this column, but honestly, she’s an integral part of my balancing scheme. As I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, she is the source of many of my best ideas along these lines (like this column, I think). Oh, they’re not all gems, like the one about volunteering at a local assisted living facility. Nice thing to do, but that’s really not my audience. She did convince me to announce games at the local high school, and she is constantly coming up with ideas for attending local events that I might not even have on my radar. We went to the local Christmas Tree lighting party in the town square a couple of weeks ago, which turned out to be fun. I even met a woman running for State Representative to the Texas legislature, who is very interested in having me work with their team.
As we embark on the journey of 2020, I sincerely hope you’ll make a new effort to balance your life. It will probably strengthen your personal relationships, but it will definitely help you relate to your listeners in new ways you can’t even imagine now. Your boss will have a newfound respect for your skills and finally give you that much-deserved raise. Probably. Maybe. Or not.