R.A.P. Interview: Tom Barnes

R.A.P.: As a consultant, what problem do you encounter most often regarding production at your client stations and prospective client stations?
Tom: The biggest problem I see -- and I know there'll be a lot of people that will agree with this in the smaller markets and medium markets especially -- is the fear of technology. There's a fear of DAT and a fear of digital audio editing. That's really frightening to me because I really think that it's obvious, and I'm sure that it is for ninety-nine percent of your readers, that digital audio editing is going to take the place of the analog tape machines in the production studio. There are a lot of guys that are going to say, "That's a bunch of crap. I've got to feel the tape," and on and on. Man! The writing is on the wall!

All you need to do is go to a Digidesign seminar and see how the stuff works and not get hung up in the fact that it looks and feels different. Just see what the capacity is of the AKG machine, and the arguments become mute. Don't be afraid of the waveform. Don't be afraid of the different kind of feel digital editing has. If you don't make the move, somebody is going to learn to use this stuff, and he's going to dust your head! You're gonna be toast! People have got to recognize this. Yes, it's scary. Change is always scary, especially when you start talking about audio technology. For some reason, tech nerds love the audio realm. They love experimenting with it and bringing new technology in. We as creative people who have deadlines often times don't feel we've got time to learn about new things, but there are guys out there making the time, and they are going to be the ones who change the way the radio sounds.

When I come across GM's who don't want to put out the money for a portable DAT machine, it's very frustrating for me. I understand how they feel, and there are two arguments. The first is that the machine will be obsolete in four years. The second is that it is too expensive and they want to wait until the price comes down. Both of them are valid arguments and it's really hard to come back, but what's really the key here is what you can do right now with a portable DAT machine. Instead of having to bring people into the studio and cut stuff, you can go to them. You've got a studio under your arm! Because the noise floor is so low, now you can use noise to create an environment. You couldn't do that before because the noise floor of analog tape is so high, and you have generations that create an even higher noise floor. With DAT and digital transfers, you can transfer stuff forever and never have any of that noise problem, and that really does make a difference, even on the radio. A lot of people will say it doesn't make any difference because of the frequency spectrum of the radio. To some degree that's true. In the abstract, it is true, but in a more practical sense, you can still hear long reverbs on the radio and things of that nature. You can hear the difference when you're building an effect with several elements and you don't have that noise floor. And let's not forget the space saving benefits of archiving on DAT rather than on analog tape or that you can send your DAT's off and have them transferred over to CD and have them forever. That brings something else to mind.

I can't tell you how many times I've walked into a radio station and wanted to do things about heritage, and just couldn't find the stuff. One of the coolest things I ever heard was when Pirate radio first went on the air, and they pulled out all that old LA radio stuff. Talk about audio symbolism! They were grabbing people and throwing them right back into their teens, right back into their childhood with that old stuff! I'll go to radio stations and be lucky if I find things that are just three or four years old, just because they don't have the archiving ability.

We've really got to start recreating people's pasts for them because as the baby boom generation gets older, they're going to want to relive that childhood. That's why the hippest people are always wearing retro-fashion. It's just a grasp at reliving youth. Now, everybody's digging on the seventies disco stuff. Disco's the hottest thing in Europe, and in some of the major markets on Sunday nights, you can go to the clubs and listen to disco music. Radio is going to have a very hard time servicing that fun and that feel if we're not archiving things. If there are guys reading this that do have an extensive archive, I suggest they use it. Use your old production, your old positioning statements. It's fun. It's kind of warm and a little bit noisy, and all of that has symbolic importance. It's very effective.

R.A.P.: How do you approach the problem of GM's who don't want to spend the money on new technology or are afraid of quick obsolescence?
Tom: One of the best things to do if you're a production guy is keep learning the stuff and don't give up on your GM. GM's, for the most part, are salespeople. Some of us are fortunate enough to work for GM's that come from programming, but the general rule is that they come from sales. What production people need to do when it comes to equipment is continually try to sell the GM on the equipment they want.

First of all, get to know what's out there. Don't just say, "I want an SPX-1000 because everyone else is using one." Make sure that's what you want and that it's going to get the job done for you. There's also the Eventide H3000. Just about everybody has those two pieces, and so those are the ones that everybody thinks they want. But there's stuff like the Alesis QuadraVerb that really gets it done, and it's not as expensive. The only way you find out about this stuff is by learning. Pick up magazines with reviews. Go down to the music store and talk to the guys about the rack gear. When you go see bands, talk to the guitarist about what he's got in his rack and why. Find out about this stuff and then sell your GM, repeatedly. When you find a really cool article about something you want, put it on his desk! When you read about a new DAT machine that's portable and under a thousand bucks, put it on his desk and tell him about it. Tell him what you can do with it. Tell him you can go down to the auto dealer and put it in front of somebody's face who just bought a car and ask him three questions about the purchase process. When somebody is just totally psyched about their new car, stick the mike in their face and go, "Hey, what's it like to buy a car from Joe Steely's Chrysler/Plymouth?" They'll go, "Oh, this was just the best experience!" People can tell the difference between actors and real people, and if you've got a portable DAT machine, you can get a real good sound.

So, if you can try to show GM's why the old technology just isn't acceptable anymore, and repeatedly show them why you need this higher technology, eventually they will soften. Eventually, they will understand. Eventually you will be able to get what you need because if you don't, you're going to either A) find a better job with somebody who does understand and who is going to hire you because you understand this equipment, or B) the GM's going to face a situation where he's saying, "Man! Everybody else sounds great, and we're just not happening! What's the problem?" "Well, the problem is, Chief, I don't have the equipment I need." They basically come to a situation where they've got to make a move. It takes a long time and it is frustrating, but you just have to use their own tactic against them which is just wear them down! It's not really a question of beating them up as much as it is just reminding them, constantly demonstrating your expertise, and constantly expressing your need.

One of the problems with the new technology is that some of the people selling it are happy to take your money and hand you the new technology, but they're not really happy to follow up with the support and walk you through the problems you're going to encounter as you learn this new technology. It's very important to deal with people that can help you in this area. One company that's great about support is Micro Music in Atlanta. They handle all types of MIDI gear and digital audio software and hardware. I want people to know they're out there because these guys really understand how important support after the sale is. I think AKG is doing a great job in this area. So are Digidesign and Turtle Beach. All of these guys are really interested in tapping into the broadcast market, and they're willing to work with you.

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