Shine Up Your Crystal Ball

By Craig Jackman

crystal-ballConsolidation is here, and there is nothing that you or I can do about it. There are some good things about it of course. By listening to RAP CDs, I would say that the high spots are higher than ever. Collectively, we are doing some beautiful pieces of momentary art. Those who “just don’t get it” are being weeded out, slowly but surely. The advent of DAWs has made it easy to make those details just the way you want them to be without hours of passes on the tape machine—not that anybody but you and I hear those details, but now it’s effective in terms of time getting them right. Of course, since those DAWs are generally trouble free, you’re spending a lot less time in a dead studio waiting for the engineer to roll in. Having the ‘net on your DAW makes it easy to gather those pop culture drops to make your work “relevant” and send and receive MP3 dubs. With e-mail, do you really need a fax machine anymore?

On the other hand, PDs are under way more pressure for ratings success, and being the friendly, sharing types they are, they pass the fun along to you. Salespeople are looking down the cannon barrel as well, with every single dollar essential to survival, let alone success. The friendly sales weasel, who’s been there/done that and knows how to use radio and you and your skills to the clients success, is likely out the door by now, moving on to something much more rewarding and with a different level of stress involved. The new guys coming in generally have no idea how to use radio effectively; they only know how to sell “units.” They don’t give a hoot about the art of radio; they just want to get the client’s newspaper ad on the air, and get to the bank and cash that cheque.

Speaking of clients, are you left at the end of the day wondering how any of them stay in business? I have some that really care about every single syllable of the script and putting the right emotion into the read. Of course, those who literally send in a page torn out of the morning tabloid that has to run right now would vastly outnumber those clients! I understand the advantages that General Motors has using “just in time” parts supplying, but because it works on the assembly line necessarily mean that it will work in the production studio? If all you are doing is assembly line production, I guess it would; but if the production is the only thing you have on the air that is local, I don’t think it jives.

Of course, in the lean/mean new millennium, we all have to do more with and for less. How many of us are working 50 or 60-hour weeks and only being paid for 35? I’ll never forget the look on the VP’s face when he figured out that Producers where I work were doing close to 60 hours a week each (there are 4 of us). If Radio Production is all you have in your life, I feel sorry for you. How can you be a well-rounded human being on a schedule of sleep-work-eat-repeat? If you have family, you know what the phrase “there are not enough hours in the day” really means. How long is it going to be before management discovers what they really want is Joe College who’ll work from 6am to midnight 6 or 7 days a week for minimum wage and a case of Kraft Dinner a month? “Sure, he/she may not have a clue what they’re doing, but they’re cheap; and if they’re going to be any good at all, they’ll figure it out soon enough. By the way, do we have any room for make-goods this month?”

After digesting all of that, how I see the future can be summed up in the quality vs. quantity argument that has raged as long as I’ve been in this business. Ultimately in Radio Production what will matter will be quantity. Just get it on the air, fulfill the contract and get the cheque¼repeat as needed. Quality? Who cares; “the listener isn’t going to notice anyway.” Art will be for galleries and museums while radio will be for cookie cutter sound-alike stations all the way from Alaska to Alabama—if it’s not like that already.

Pretty bleak huh?

What bothers me most is that maybe it doesn’t have to be this way. There are many talented people in this business, people who are passionate about what they do. Maybe you’re one yourself. Here’s the test: when you get up in the morning, are you just itching to get to work, or do you have to force yourself into the studio every day? If you don’t like…no, if you don’t love what you do for a living, you really should be doing something else. And if you do leave, just go. Don’t whine to the ones that choose to stay.

Radio works best with talented people who really REALLY want to be there. It is a business filled with huge egos and artisans who know how and when to use their egos to their advantage. Production pros like you and I have it the worst. We may want to walk our ego around the block like the drive jocks, but to keep our station vital and competitive, we usually subjugate it for the greater good. We can do great work on a daily basis, but have to put it aside to churn out what the station is contracted to do.

How do I suggest mating the two very different sides of this coin?

It’s simple in a way. Take a minute once a day, once an hour, whatever you need to keep organized what is on your plate at that time. All that BS stuff they force you to churn out, to use a phrase, “Just Do It.” Turn your brain off, rip and read, first take, who cares! Management won’t, the sales guy won’t, and the client won’t. Don’t invest hours of your life into it; your soul deserves better. However, when you do find something that stirs your creative juices, dig in and take a big bite. Savour it and let the flavour swirl through your brain out through your fingers and onto the audio plate.

In this bleak future that I see in my audio crystal ball, this is the only way that I can see to keep myself sane. Find one thing per day to really hang your hat on, one thing that you can sit back at the end of the day and say “¼ that’s pretty good, ya know¼” One thing to prove to yourself that even though you are up to your eyeballs in dreck, you can still do it. One thing that makes you want to pick your beret up off the floor and call yourself an artiste again. It doesn’t even have to be once a day (although that is my goal). If you can live with one thing you’re proud of once a week, then just do that.

One thing per day to flex my creative muscle. That’s not too much to ask is it?