I have another list for you this month and next, something you can check off, item by item, when you have that particular aspect of your skillset under control. You will no doubt notice something a little different about this list: it has almost nothing to do with gear. This list is more about your mind and attitude, math and language skills, plus your life skills as a non-radio human being. I suspect most will blitz through the list, muttering, “Check, yup, got that, of course,” and so forth…but I would urge you to spend a little more time on each, carefully evaluating your personal skills and deciding where you could use some improvement. I know I can always find improvement in my own skillset.
What this month’s offering is really about is listing the essential things you need for success in imaging and commercial production and, perhaps more importantly, success in your day-to-day life.
1. Use a DAW that goes far beyond your capabilities.
I don’t need to go into a long diatribe about which Digital Audio Workstation is the best. They all work. They all are capable of producing award winning sound that motivates your audience. The only important difference between any of them is WHO is using it. That’s you cupcake, and if you’re using a system that does everything you want without challenging your skills or intellect, you will never grow. That’s bad. Really bad. Growth is good. Growth makes YOU better. It makes your work better over time. Growth is critical to your long-term success.
For those of who are happy in your job and aren’t really looking to move to a bigger station or market, your growth is still critical, otherwise you’ll eventually be replaced by someone from a smaller market who is hungrier than you. If you DO aspire to working in a bigger place with more prestige and money, well…it should be obvious why this is needed.
MY ADVICE: Try out a new system from time to time. Maybe you have a friend in the business who uses a different DAW. If you can, try to arrange doing a full promo on his or her rig. You WILL struggle. Struggling is where the challenge is. You will probably take a LOT more time to finish the project, just like you did when you were first learning your system, but, aside from dealing with a new system’s quirks, you will also start to see some universal truths. I guarantee you will go back to using your system with some new ideas for shortcuts. You will look at your DAW in a new light. You might even start thinking about changing your system.
2. An excellent grasp of music theory.
I have probably written more about music theory and its importance to excellent audio production than anything else. There’s a reason for that: it’s extremely important. Being able to follow the ins and outs of music gives you an incredible edge over anyone who can’t. It’s like having a GPS system and not having to depend on a badly folded paper map to get you to your destination. Sure, you can do it the old-fashioned way, but having that lovely voice tell you to turn left at the next intersection makes the trip smooth and almost effortless. “Destination ahead, on your right,” works for me.
MY ADVICE: Take a theory course at your local school of music, college or university. A few nights a week over several weeks will help you always find the downbeat, making music edits effortless. You’ll discover how changing one note in a chord will make a happy song sound sad. You will begin to understand why some mixes work and some will never work. It’s easy, once you understand how the music works from inside the composer/performer’s mind.
3. Being able to parse a sentence properly.
Think about language skills the same way you think about music. When you absolutely know the difference between nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, gerunds and participles, you can instantly hear a mistake and know exactly how to fix it. I am constantly amazed at the number of times I hear awful grammar every day on radio. My reaction is always the same: “Well, that person’s an idiot,” and I know not to give what they’re saying any weight. Is that what you want your audience to think? Um…no. While it might be true that many in the audience don’t hear the faux pas and just go with the flow, a really large number, perhaps even most, do. You cannot cede any ground to the smart ones if you want to capture your entire audience’s imagination.
MY ADVICE: Sadly, this is something our current educational system has decided isn’t very important and have dropped grammar requirements from the curriculum almost entirely. BUT, I’m pretty sure most high school educators in language arts can tutor you quite successfully. Just tell him or her what you need, be willing to pay a small fee and dive in with both feet. By the way, though I am not proficient with any language other than English, I know with absolute certainty that they ALL work the same way, but with different rules. Whether your first language is English, Spanish, Italian, Swahili or Chinese, find a tutor and brush up. You really don’t want the audience thinking you or your VO person is an idiot, especially when it’s so easy to make sure they don’t.
4. An active social structure beyond social media.
Modern living has become so tethered to our electronics, many of us have forgotten how to carry on a real conversation with a live person sitting in front of us. So many times, I’ve gone out to dinner and watched couples in the restaurant, on their phones checking email, Twitter or Tik Tock, not really being “in the moment” at all. We’ve all experienced people saying things like, “OMG” or “LOL,” refugee phrases from the online shorthand we all use. (I once heard a guy say, “I LOL’d out loud.” Really.)
Our first job is to have a conversation with our audience. They might be driving in their pickup truck out on the highway or washing dishes in the kitchen, but if you want to capture their mind, even for a moment, it needs to be in the context of a conversation. I don’t have a particular problem with the occasional LOL or OMG, because they’ve become part of our everyday lexicon, but the whole conversation cannot be in online shorthand. It needs to feel real and personal. You need to have the skill and personality of an actual face-to-face conversation going on between you and the listener.
MY ADVICE: Conversation is your life. Practice every chance you get.
Leave your phone in the car when you go out. If you need the phone to pay for dinner or to check on the sitter, leave it in your pocketbook or pants until you really need it. In the meantime, have an honest-to-goodness conversation.
When you go to a movie, don’t just silence your phone, turn it off. Trust me, the world can get along without you for 2 hours. But DON’T do it to be polite to the other moviegoers, turn it off for YOU. Get engrossed in the film, munch your popcorn and sip your blue Icee quietly while you soak in the entire cinema experience. Be a part of the conversations you hear on the screen. Don’t talk back though, it’s really annoying.
Go out dancing without your phone. Talk (or yell, I guess) with your date and again, have a conversation.
Never text and drive. It’s dangerous AND rude to whoever is in the car with you. Have a conversation. If you’re alone, STILL don’t text and drive. The dangerous thing still applies.
5. Have an absolute thirst for knowledge.
When I would interview a potential intern at Z100, I would always ask what kinds of things they read and what kind of films they enjoyed. What I really wanted to know was how they felt about learning about the world around them. Of course the thing about so many kids in high school and college is they think they have a pretty good handle on life. Some do. You can tell almost right away by how they react to my question. If they’re thirsty for knowledge and constantly looking for ways to get a leg up on life, they are without exception, voracious readers. The films they like are generally fact based movies rather than a constant diet of Sc-Fi or Fantasy. (There’s nothing wrong with Star Wars, mind you, but they are the desserts of cinema. All sweets without the meat makes for a pretty poor diet.) A few times I had wannabe interns tell me that they never read, that books are too old-fashioned in this era of high tech. Those students never saw the inside of my studio again.
Some of you might think that’s pretty close-minded of me, but the opposite is true. These would-be interns had closed off one of the richest sources of knowledge and information ever devised. I am completely comfortable learning anywhere, whether it’s new or old-tech. I sincerely doubt any high tech medium could ever do justice to classic books like Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy, Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, Middlemarch by George Eliot, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain or The Stories of Anton Chekhov by Anton Chekhov. There ARE movie versions of some of these, but the scope and drama of the original books a mostly missing. Sorry, not sorry, Leonardo DiCaprio.
The old trope, “Knowledge is power” is absolutely true. You rightly might wonder why I think this is important, but I refer you to the 2013 movie Now You See Me, starring Jesse Eisenburg and Mark Ruffalo, with an incredible performance by Morgan Freeman, in which Jesse’s character says, “The first rule of magic: always be the smartest guy in the room.”
What we do for a living is magic. You need to be the “smartest guy in the room” every time.
MY ADVICE: Soak up knowledge like your life depends on it, because that is mostly true.
By the way, I have a small confession to make: I haven’t read all ten of those books I mentioned…yet. I’ve been putting off reading Madame Bovary for many, many years only because my Lit instructor in college warned me that I wasn’t ready for it. A friend in class said the same, so I just haven’t decided to BE ready. Maybe it’s time.
Of course ALL of this column is just my opinion. Opinions are like orgasms. Mine are the best and I don’t really care if you have one.
Yeah. it’s time I checked out Flaubert’s masterpiece. Part 2 next month. I’ll add a book report.