Production 212: Less Really is More

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

This column has nothing to do with Clear Channel’s mantra of the last several months. (Some people outside the company have been thinking that the math doesn’t add up and that less really is LESS, but I digress already.) This column is about something entirely different. It’s about clarity of thought.

I guess I’d be less than honest if I didn’t tell you that I get almost all my inspiration for this column from you, dear reader. I always answer requests for critiques, but there are some days when I’m just too busy to even think about it. Those are days I dread opening my email because I’m afraid I’ll find 15 production demos. (OK, there are seldom more than a couple.) But, you know what it’s like; too many pieces to produce and not enough time to do it. Oddly, that’s when I should listen to them because I am almost always inspired… not always in a positive way, but inspired nonetheless. Today is a perfect example.

We are in the throes of promoting our annual holiday concert called Z100 Jingle Ball 2005. Tons of sponsors, a lot of acts, all screaming, begging and otherwise pleading for primacy in the promos make my job pretty miserable for the last couple of months of every year. We’re also doing a major cash giveaway called Z100 Pays Your Bills. As I slid into the big chair in my bell and whistle factory this morning, I knew I had to write a whole series of sweepers that set appointments for listeners to have their bills paid.

Well, I opened my email and found a demo from Allan Peck II at The Twister in Dallas. It was a really good demo; full of brilliantly written lines, delivered with an open, accessible style that I really like. It’s the kind of non-hype production that the CHR audience of today really relates to and I told him so. He owned up to the fact that at least some of the writing was by Sean Demery at Live105 in San Francisco.

This… got me going. I started to write sweepers by the pound! An hour or so later, I emailed Ann DeWig (the feminine voice of our station) with the results. This afternoon I produced them. This months Production 212 audio on the disk is a short medley of those sweepers. Odd as it might seem to some, I am more proud of this work than just about anything I’ve done all year, and yet the production borders on non-existent. This is what this column is all about.

Production, at least creative production isn’t about the screaming sliders and explosions, the soaring guitars and deep tympani. It’s about the thought process. Taking things to their ultimate basic level, it’s about communicating with our listeners. I always define communication as the process of transferring a thought from one mind to another. Successful communication is marked by how accurately the thought in the receiver’s mind matches the original thought.

When we’re communicating on a personal level, we have little visual cues like nodding and aural clues like “Uh-huh,” that we depend on to know whether the message is getting through. If the person we’re talking to keeps checking their watch or looking over your shoulder, you know you’re not getting through and you adjust the delivery to make sure you get through. Same deal when you communicate with a group of people, like giving a lecture or speech. If the audience is doodling, or worse, snoozing… you know you have to tell a joke or step out from behind the podium. But, what do you do when you broadcast? There IS no feedback. Oh sure, if the client calls on Monday morning to rave about the success of her weekend sale, you know you scored a home run on her spot; and if she calls to tell you she’ll never buy your station again, you screwed up. (Well…somebody did.) But you can’t adjust a spot or promo while it’s running because you don’t know the reaction you’re getting until it’s basically over. That’s the ‘gotcha’ we all face every day in this business.

This means you have to be ‘on your game’ every time you sit down at the console. You have to make sure the message is transparent every time. That is the benchmark of great production.

If you are thinking about sending me, or perhaps RAP Magazine an MP3 of some of your work, think about clarity first. The one place most producers fall down is letting the production get in the way of the message. Having the most awesome bed, drops and effects are only a good thing if they add to the message clarity. Don’t get me wrong… I love the whiz-bang stuff as much as the next guy, but when the message is really simple, the production needs to be simple too. Otherwise, you’re forcing the listener to wade through a big swamp of stuff, just to get to the nugget you’re supposed to be imparting.

OK now… ‘keep it simple’ doesn’t always mean ‘keep it plain.’ Don’t be afraid to use that really awesome bed. Just make sure it fits what you’re trying to say.