Production 212: Hay Foot, Straw Foot

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

I’ve written many times about the dual sides of production: science and art. A good, creative producer needs both to be successful, but certainly will almost always be better at one over the other. Which are you? By the end of this article, you’ll know. I suspect being science-minded or being art-minded is a lot like being right or left-handed. Great athletes, writers, actors, painters and even radio producers come in both left and right-handed varieties. Coordination is the key. Being art-minded or science-minded can work equally well, as long as you play to your strength. Knowing which you are can help you be stronger and more coordinated.

A Little Physiological Science (Very Little)

Whether a person is right or left-handed is something that is determined by the brain. One side of your grey matter is almost always dominant over the other. Being left or right-handed is not the important question; it’s whether you’re left or right-eyed. If the left side of the brain is dominant, the right eye will always lead the left eye and the person will be most comfortable being right-handed. The reason for this is simply because the right eye is more in alignment with the right hand, allowing for better eye-hand coordination. An athlete who has left-brain domination will be much more coordinated and comfortable swinging right in the batter’s box.

Do you know whether you’re right-eyed or left? Here’s a simple test: Ask a friend to stand about 20 feet away from you. Using your right hand, point at their right eye. Put your hand down and do it again with your left hand. After repeating this 2 or 3 times, have them tell you which of your eyes your hands are most closely in alignment with and you’ll have your answer. If you’re right eye is dominant and you are right-handed, you are truly right-handed. The same is true of the left-eye/left-hand alignment. If your friend tells you that your alignment with both eyes is about the same, you are ambidextrous. Folks like this might write with one hand, but eat with the other. Ambidextrous batters can really be comfortable swinging either way.

The rub comes when you suffer from cross-dominance. If you are left-eyed, but your parents trained you to be right-handed (as many did in recent generations), you will always be a little bit slower, a tiny bit clumsier and generally be uncoordinated. It’s not the end of the world if your brain and hands are cross dominant. You could always retrain, but at this point, it’s not really needed. It would have been a lot more helpful when you were still choosing sides for sandlot baseball.

What The Heck Does This Have To Do With Production?

Not a thing. It’s just a really strong parallel to being art or science-minded.

Is it better to be better at the art or the science of production? Like most things in life, it all depends on what you make of it. Although there are a few successful cross-dominant athletes, they have to train twice as hard and work twice as long to become truly proficient. Producers who know what their strengths are and play to them, will always have a much easier time doing this work.

So which are you, art or science-minded? If you begin the process by sitting down and conceptualizing what you want to do before you even open a session, chances are very good that you’re art-minded. This is my dominant side. I can hear the promo in my head before I even touch the mouse. I spend the rest of the time in production, making the finished product sound like what was in my head.

However, I think I might be ambidextrous, at least when it comes to production style. There have been times when I’ve stared at a blank screen on my laptop for 45 minutes or longer, almost paralyzed because I can’t come up with a promo in my head. So, I then put the cart before the horse and just start producing. I’ll grab music files of songs I know I’ll need/want to include, maybe a good drum and bass track or two and then start combing through my effects libraries for things I know will compliment the music I’ve already selected. Then, as a track begins to materialize, I start hearing snippets of voiceover that will fit perfectly into the little holes, nooks and crannies that are developing. Then I sit down, say all those things and start parsing them into a finished promo.

I doubt most would be able to tell which approach I used on any given promo, mainly because I am so end product focused. But I can tell the difference… big time. To my ears, the promo I contemplate, write, voice and then produce always sounds sharper, more to the point, and almost always gets people inside the station more excited.

But what I do is not THE method. What I do is A method. I know some people who really get off on the science and fill their work with all kinds of really neat, cool, sometimes dizzying effects that really sell the promotion or product. (Remember, this stuff works the same for promos and commercials.) I listen to work from people like Chris Cole at Q95-5/Detroit or Randy Marks at Hot95-5/Houston and am blown away with their technical proficiency. Then I’ll listen to someone like Rick Gangi at Q104.3/New York or Kelly Kelly Kelly at KIIS-FM/Los Angeles and laugh myself silly at a really simple phrase or the placement of a word. These people are stars because they play to their strengths.

There are two cuts from me on the R.A.P. CD. See if you can pick out the “science” approach promo from the “art” approach promo.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering what the title of this article means, it’s a phrase that dates back to the Civil War era. When the Confederate Army got a bunch of recruits, mostly fresh from the farm, they wouldn’t know their left foot from their right. To get them all marching correctly, the sergeants would tie some hay on one foot and straw on the other. Then, as they called out the cadence, it would be “Hay foot, straw foot.” I… didn’t want you to get off on the wrong foot. {Ahem}

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