Production 212: You Wanna Go So Frikkin’ Bad

Production-212-Logo-1By Dave Foxx

I’ve been keeping an ear on radio in South Africa for the last few years as they’ve emerged from all state sponsored radio to the commercial side. I’ve met several producers from Johannesburg and Durbin, gotten some swag (of course!) and even was invited to speak there at the South African version of the NAB conference. Unfortunately, aside from the nearly 24 hours it takes to fly there from New York (a prospect I find quite daunting), their conference always seems to coincide with my busiest time of the year, so we’ve just never been able to make the connection. In spite of that, they’ve kept my interest all along. I’m pleased to say they adapt very quickly and take great pains to push the envelope as much as they can. A lot of the production I’ve heard has been every bit as good, and in some cases a good deal better than what I hear in the US, Australia and Europe.

I mention all this as an introduction to a friend who has been writing for some time from 94.7 Highveld Stereo/Johannesburg. This month’s column comes straight from Lindsay’s email. After I answered the email, I realized that this would probably be something we’ve all dealt with before, so I asked Lindsay if I could use it for this month’s column. With his very gracious permission, here it is.

In your opinion, what are the key factors that make a concert promo a success on air?

Here is my dilemma. Each year our programming and production departments go back and forth on concert promos. The feedback we get constantly is that ‘the promo is not working, it needs to be revised!’ Mainly this feedback comes on the basis of tickets sales. How fast are they moving? Whatever their ticket sale quota is, we need to sell 15,000 and we’ve only sold (let’s call it) 8,000, with a few weeks left. Everybody is always up in arms about it and immediately the focus moves to the promo – IT’S NOT WORKING, ITS NOT DOING THE JOB! I believe that other factors have a hand in this. Like, what time of the month the promo is running (do people have spare cash to go out and buy tickets at that very moment), which artists are on the bill, are there any other big events happening around that time that people would be more interested in, are people tired of seeing the same local artists? The specific event I’m talking about is one 94.7 Highveld Stereo throws each year – Joburg Day. This is the biggest annual concert event on our calendar and in most cases, come concert day we have a turn out of 15,000 people. It’s at that point that our PD is so relieved and suddenly the promo did its job.

The first thing your PD needs to understand is that it is not the job of a promo or even commercial to sell the product or service. Anyone who thinks this way is headed for disappointment every time. As a commercial producer, it is my job to inform the public, in the best light possible, about whatever the product or service is. If I do a commercial for a car dealer, and his/her sales do not improve... who should be blamed? Not me. My ONLY job is to get people to the door. If no potential customers show up, then there is room for a complaint, but in the end, the client is responsible for the actual sale. Advertising (and to a large extent, promotion) is a client mining operation. I get the potential clients to show up, they handle the sale. Otherwise, I’d be charging a commission on every sale and you know that would never fly.

With a concert promotion, the real driving force behind ticket sales is NOT the promo. Otherwise, how could one explain how U2 can sell out an arena in less than 10 minutes with no paid advertising whatsoever? On the other hand, if you’re promoting a show with a lot of “B” artists and track acts, you can advertise (promote) until the cows come home and you’re still going to have a hard time selling tickets. Add to that all the other things like economics (can I afford tickets?), location (is the show in a rather inaccessible place?), timing (is it on a night I can afford to stay up late?) and other less tangible factors, and you could be running the world’s most amazing, absolute BEST promo 24 hours a day and still not sell out.

Honestly, our task, as concert promo producer, is so incredibly simple it’s almost embarrassing to take a salary for doing it. Yes, we have to make the show sound exciting, but our main function is to merely inform, or perhaps pre-dispose the listener to actually want to go. “Tickets go on sale this Monday,” “Just added to the lineup,” “All proceeds go to,” and the all-important, “Complete details at station-dot-com,” are all stock phrases we use time after time (which is actually not a very good thing and should be the topic of another column). In a Rihanna concert promo, you play hooks from What’s My Name and Only Girl – not to make the promo sound more exciting, but to inform the audience just who Rihanna is, because some people really do live under a rock.

Here at Z100, we’re promoting our annual holiday concert called “Z100’s Jingle Ball.” There are 10 artists this year (most of whom are “A” artists.) Consequently, at least for the first couple of weeks, I have to play 10 hooks. I am also restricted to 30-second length promos, which is going to make those hooks extremely short. (Listen to the first promo on my track on this month’s CD.) In the previous version of the promo, I used the B.O.B. song Magic (featuring Rivers Cuomo on vocals), mainly because it has a much stronger hook and faster tempo. Wrong choice. Magic was an “also-ran” hit of his. A much bigger hit was Airplanes, so when I had the chance to update the promo with changing sales information, I decided to update the hook too. While Magic might’ve made better production of the promo, Airplanes did a much better job of defining who (or what) B.O.B. is in terms the audience gets immediately. I also changed the Bruno Mars hook because I had originally used Dynamite, but that song is still fairly new to our listeners. Just The Way You Are is a much better choice.

The upshot of all this is pretty straightforward. Selling tickets is NOT our job. That’s the job of the people who put the lineup together. That’s the job of the promoters (or planners) and the venue, particularly if it’s a recurring show like Z100’s Jingle Ball or 94.7 Highveld’s Joburg Day. (The concert going experience at that venue must be a generally good experience or they won’t buy tickets to any show there.) Concert planners are doing their part when they are creating the lineup and making their selection of time and day of the week. Add to that all the other less obvious reasons people buy or don’t buy tickets, and the perspective on what we do is altered considerably.

Based on all this, I have to say the production you sent is excellent. The Joburg piece would actually qualify for use on Z100 (being right around 30 seconds long) and the Daughtry piece is especially good with the listener/fan comment adding to the immediacy in a very big way. This is not to say I think our job is utilitarian in the least. But, when it’s a concert promo, we often best serve by getting out of the way of the music. The music is the primary selling point first time, every time. These both really do the job perfectly.

And so, I ended my letter to Lindsay. At the end, you’ll notice I said “these both,” because there were two promos with Lindsay’s email. The promo we were talking about was actually produced by one of his colleagues, Gavin Deysel. You can hear Gavin’s promo on my track on this month’s CD too. It’s the second part of my track. The LAST part is my follow-up promo, which started after tickets to Z100’s Jingle Ball 2010 went on sale. As you will hear at the end, the show sold out in very short order.

I included the third promo because it’s a great example of a ‘creative’ way to tackle all the same issues. For those who haven’t heard it yet, Bruno Mars (who is on the bill) came by our studios a little over a week before we announced the lineup. The lineup also happens to include Travie McCoy, who’s song Billionaire featured Bruno. David Brody, one of the producers of the Elvis Duran and The Morning Show, re-wrote the lyrics for Billionaire and Bruno very kindly agreed to sing them for us. After a bit of editing (the re-sing was considerably longer than what you hear here), I came up with a 30-second donut that really sells the show perfectly. Once again, serendipity strikes and the show gets an excellent bit of promotion and this column gets a really cool title.

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