by Dennis Daniel
Could someone out there please explain something to me? Why is it, whenever I end up doing a spot for someone that I personally think is awful, I receive nothing but universal compliments from everyone? Clients, salespeople, listeners...they all say, "Hey that (blank) spot you did was fabulous!" Has the world lost all its aesthetic ability to tell good stuff from crap? My God, what are we becoming? Here I am, trying to change the face of radio production with cutting edge, daring, thought provoking, mind melting, blow you away concepts and ideas for commercials and promos, and all these culturally numbed bozos can compliment me for is a stupid, overused, been done a million times before, General Patton spot!!! Or even worse, a rap spot!!
This salesman gives me an order to cut a spot for a place called Webster Hall, a huge club in New York City (it used to be the famous Ritz). They were having a band called Kid Creole and the Coconuts performing live, and one of the owners of the club wrote this bizarre rap commercial that made absolutely no sense to me! He wanted me to sing these out of sync rap lyrics that didn't even rhyme right! I couldn't believe the salesperson just let this one go by! I mean, what did they do? Tell the client, "Oh yeah...even though we're a Modern Rock format station, our Production Director is really a home boy who knows how to get down in a stupid, nasty, fresh way when it comes to rap. No problem!" I brought the copy over to this salesperson and said, "WHAT IS THIS!?" She just looked at me and said, "Call him." So, I did the "client is always right" deal, and with a pleasant, slightly forced smile on my face called the client to explain why his spot was a bad idea. To make a long story short, he wasn't buying it. THIS WAS THE SPOT HE WANTED, PERIOD. What could I do? The dirty deal had to be done, so I took my instant home boy pills, sat before the mike, and rapped my little lily-white ass off. The only change I made was in some of the lyrics so it would rhyme better.
To tell you that I hated this spot is truly an understatement. I LOATHED IT! But, and this is important, I gave it all I had. Regardless of my feelings about it, I did the best job I could.
After it was cut, I spent the rest of my day warning anyone who cared to listen to me about this God awful spot that would be airing soon and how I had nothing to do with its creation. I didn't want people to think I'd finally gone over the edge. "Listen, you're going to hear this lousy rap song spot. I just want you to know that I didn't write it. I tried to change the client's mind, but he insisted this was what he wanted. Please don't hate me."
The spot starts airing. My anus tightens.
One person I didn't get a chance to warn about the spot was my PD, Tom Calderone. It had been on for several days before I got a chance to talk to him. When I told him about it he said, "Did YOU do that spot?" I bowed my head low, "Yes." "That's a GREAT SPOT!" This is my PD talking, ladies and gentlemen. Get ready for the next exact quote. "I thought it was done by an AGENCY!" (Imagine the word "Agency" echoing in your head over and over and over....) And the compliments didn't stop there. Several of my fellow radio professionals made it their business to let me know about this most amazing of spots.
That word pretty much describes my reaction to all this. AND THEY WERE SERIOUS! I mean, I just didn't get it. How could anyone like that spot? There's no accounting for taste, I guess.
The following week, another spot comes my way for Webster Hall. This time, it's General Patton screaming about how rock and roll has survived all the music changes that have taken place since its inception. I just looked at the copy and wept. I knew it was hopeless to fight it. So, once again, I trudged my sorry butt into the studio to do this lame, overused concept. Needless to say, everyone loved that spot, too. How did this club owner even know I could imitate George C. Scott doing Patton? He must be the amazing Kreskin.
The following week, I received a call from the club owner. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was the greatest commercial producer he'd ever encountered. He weaved a tale of woe about how he had tried and tried in the past to get radio stations to do his spots exactly as he wanted them. I was the first person who not only could do it, but did it better than he had imagined. Would I be interested in working for him? Do I have the time to cut his commercials, not only for Webster Hall, but also for a group of clubs he owns in Canada?
Do you all smell the wood burning?
First, I told him my price. No problem. Second, I told him I wanted more creative control. No problem. Finally, I told him I wanted C.O.D. payment when the work was completed. Again, no problem. He actually turned out to be a really cool guy, and I must admit, even though I wasn't crazy about doing the voices, the copy was well written for the character.
And so, I ask you once again. Why is it that I bust my hump doing amazing ads, when all anybody really wants is the same old crap? To me, this is the true eighth wonder of the world. However, if they want to pay me for it....
It all boils down to one basic principle: no matter how much you may hate what you're reading, give it your all. My killer spots make me feel good, and if they win awards or receive any kind of compliments or praise, that's great. But when it comes to making extra money, I've rolled in the bucks doing dumb overused impressions like Humphrey Bogart, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon, General Patton, Inspector Clouseau, James Cagney, Arnold Schwartzenegger, or any popular character at the moment from Saturday Night Live, be it Wayne and Garth, the Church Lady, or the perpetual liar. It's what people like. It may compromise my artistic integrity, but hey, I gotta eat too.