Production 212: Fill The Well... Drain The Brain

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

This month’s column is a follow-up to last time, when we discussed filling the well. One might call this article a “companion piece” to the previous, because it sounds a lot like I’m repeating myself by telling you to get out of the station (or agency) with more frequency and duration. With back-to-back columns about being anywhere but your studio, you might consider, not showing this month’s article to your boss, lest he/she think you’re trying to skate on your work. Or even worse, that I’m trying to foment some kind of radio revolution. Viva la pâté… or something to that effect. Trust me, when I tell you that this is all about getting yourself into peak creative condition. To put a simpler handle on it: It’s how to deal with what authors call Writer’s Block. For us, it’s Producer’s Block.

Brain-DrainYou’ll recall last month I suggested getting involved with the same things your listeners do to give yourself some common ground with them. I’ve spent a lot of time around deejays who, as they spend time with their significant others, are constantly getting their “idea” bulb lit whenever they see something funny or interesting. One very successful morning drive jock I knew and hung out with in Washington used to call out “BIT” whenever he heard or saw a funny incident. His wife started to get really irked about it, complaining, “He thinks life is all about finding those little nuggets of funny in our everyday lives!” She was right, but he still needed that input to make his show work. He learned to keep his mouth shut and just let the “idea” bulb shine, inside.

But, what do you do when you can’t connect the dots? Loading all that fun, relevant material into your work can be very difficult, especially when someone else writes all your copy. You can be brilliant with timing and mixing, but after a while, it just seems kind of pointless. A producer at ESPN Radio wrote wanting to know how to break out of the rut and start getting more of reality into his work.

Hi Dave, I’m looking for a bit of help. My production is stagnant. (Is that blunt enough?) I feel like everything is sounding the same. I handle imaging on multiple shows at the network level and image a local station as well. It just seems like nothing is as creative as I know it can be. I get out and “fill the creative well” so to speak, I listen for ideas, and I have them, but I just can’t seem to make the creative “pop” in the pieces. It seems like it’s the same thing over and over... image part - music bed with content - image part - and close. How the heck do I get out of this? Do I just need a kick in the arse?

Though not as involved, my response was something like; you’re probably just stuck on the hamster exercise wheel, which is where I am when I’m feeling like my stuff isn’t up to snuff.

Sometimes, when there is a high volume of work, one falls into the bad habit of just “getting it done quickly.” There’s no real problem with that, as long as it still moves the needle. Some people don’t even realize there’s a problem with their production until either someone says something about it or they sit down and listen critically over a few days. That’s when you need “a kick in the arse.”

When I realize that I’m on that hamster wheel, spinning away, it really helps to take a couple of hours and decompress my brain. Make no mistake; this is not part of filling the creative well. In fact, it’s more like drain the brain. You need to spend at least a couple of hours doing something that is so unrelated to work that it gives your brain a chance to really burn on something else and, more importantly, NOT spin its wheels in the muck of day-to-day grinding.

For me, it’s flying. When I’m wearing my “pilot” cap (no, I don’t really have one), I have one job – one job ONLY – and that is fly the plane! Lives depend on my doing everything I can to assure a safe and happy flight and landing, wherever I’m going. There IS no time to worry about the boss yelling at you this morning. You simply cannot worry about the argument you had with your significant other last night, or the ticket you got on your way to work yesterday. FLY – THE – PLANE! The wonderful thing about this is, how completely blank your mind becomes to everything else.

It doesn’t have to be something death–defying, it can be something very physical. For example, Jeff Berlin hops on his bike and takes a long ride. (Of course, he’s one of those guys. When he worked at Kiss108 in Boston, he used to ride his bike to work, several miles, in the middle of winter!) The point is to make sure you’re not thinking about your work at all for a couple of hours. Engage in something that requires all your attention. THEN, as you wrap up whatever that is, the rest of your life will start filtering back into your consciousness bit by bit, in a somewhat more orderly fashion. Solutions to production issues, scenarios for future production and all kinds of insight happen at this point, almost automatically.

Fair warning: If this doesn’t do it for you right away, get back to the grind and try again the next day. So you don’t fall too far behind.

This method almost always works for me. I find I have a completely new outlook on the work I’m doing, and the quality jumps back up to where it belongs. Just remember... whatever you choose to lose your mind to for a couple of hours, it has to be something that is completely absorbing, so you can’t think about work.

You CAN do this on your own time. I usually do. But if you do, it really has to cleanse the mind. (LOL – I sound like a Zen Yoga instructor.) If you’re up against a deadline and are shooting blanks, simply take a long break during your day (there’s nothing set in stone about 2 hours), it can help a lot, even if it doesn’t clear the brain unit completely. But make sure you go back and finish the job after your day is done.

So now you have two imperatives: Fill the Well and Drain the Brain. This really points up something I’ve known for a long time. What we do is largely a mental exercise. It’s not about plug-ins and mixes, effects and music or even platforms and operating systems. It’s about using all those things to achieve your vision. Know where you’re going, then go. Every step you take should take you closer to your vision. When you get there, you’ve made magic… sometimes, award-winning magic.

My audio this month has absolutely no ties to the column. It’s just a fun piece I put together with Jason Derulo for a recent promotion encouraging kids to not text and drive. Isn’t it funny how someone who can out-sing just about anyone, can’t read a script and make it sound natural? To be fair, it’s not a discipline most people ever train for and, in the end, he actually did really well. I should probably spend a column on VO coaching one of these months. We all have to do it at one point or other. Maybe next month.

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