R.A.P. Interview: Brian Lee

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Brian Lee, President, Advantage Productions, Fort Myers, Florida

brian-lee-nov95

by Jerry Vigil

It's the dream of many Production Directors, to one day break away from the radio station and start your own production company. We regularly visit with people who have done just that, but rarely do we find someone who has done it so quickly and with as much success as Brian Lee. With several Radio And Production Awards under his belt, and over 60 stations paying for his services, it's no wonder Advantage productions enjoyed 100% growth in its first year, 100% growth in its second year, and third year projections at 80%. What's even more impressive is that Brian is only 25 years old. It's safe to say, Brian Lee and Advantage Productions have a bright future. Join us for a very informative chat with Brian--"must read" info for anyone with the same dream.

R.A.P.: Tell us about your background in radio prior to going into business for yourself.
Brian: My father was in radio and television news. He brought me into his station one day when I was a kid, and it just fascinated me. I guess I caught the bug at age two, and it just stayed with me. I was thirteen years old and living in Albany, Georgia when I got my start at a five thousand watt AM country daytimer. About a month after my first air gig, my father took a new job at an ABC affiliate in Florida and we moved to Fort Myers, where I am now. I was only fifteen, but I picked up a job at another AM station. This time it was a Big Band station, and I tell you, it wasn't very desirable working for a Big Band station at age fifteen. However, I got a chance to learn who Benny Goodman and Tommy Dorsey were. That lasted five months, then I was working part-time at the CHR station here in town, WINK FM97. I was sixteen, so I could finally get to a station without my parents driving me, and that was exciting. I worked part-time there for a while and dotted around from station to station in the area until about 1987. In 1987, I went to work for WRGI in Naples. I was seventeen years old. That's where I began to produce commercials and promos for a Program Director there named Russ Brown who really let me experiment in the production room.

By 1990, I became Production Director back at WINK-AM/FM where I worked for a year. There I kind of got myself into analog multitrack production and started being a little more creative because of the tools I was working with. In 1991 I got a job at WMXB-FM in Richmond. I was there for two and a half years as a Production Director. That's where my career started to take a turn, and this is where Advantage Productions originated.

R.A.P.: How did Advantage Productions get its start?
Brian: I was vacationing in Sarasota and heard a voice on an oldies station, and I really liked the voice. I was interested in getting him to be the sweeper voice at the Richmond station where I worked. I called up and asked him if he would be interested and he said, "Yes." So Ray Otis became the voice of 'MXB in Richmond. Then, about two or three months into that, I got a call from WUVA in Charlottesville, Virginia, a college station. They asked if I could produce some sweepers for them. It was the first time I ever got a call like that. I went ahead and produced a package for them. They were happy and came back a couple more times to get some more stuff. I thought this was pretty neat, so I went ahead and asked Ray if he would be interested in voicing some other stations, and he said he would. So I wrote up a bunch of bogus sweepers for bogus stations and placed an ad in R&R. I will never forget the day. I walked in from lunch and the receptionist said, "Brian, you got your first call." It was for a demo request from KAYL in Storm Lake, Iowa. I'd never heard of KAYL; no one had. The receptionist was really excited for me, and I was jumping up and down. So, I went ahead and sent a demo and got some business from them. That was the beginning of Advantage Productions, and I picked up stations pretty quickly after that.

I wasn't making a whole hell of a lot of money because I would just sell my work to a station and basically wait for the next call. So I would do a little work, get the money, pay for the supplies, and then move on to the next one that called. But in April 1992, a good friend of mine named Chris "Blade" Corley and I started talking about teaming up and producing sweepers and promos. Now, Chris was already well known in the voice talent industry, and, at the time, I was only using Ray Otis. Being able to offer two different voices seemed to be a good idea.

The turning point for me, as far as earning income on the side, came when Chris told me stations were paying him monthly retainer fees for the use of his voice. I adopted that idea immediately, then started offering stations not only voice, but voice and production for a monthly retainer fee. In 1992, a lot of the voices were only offering themselves and not any production. By offering a really good price, stations quickly jumped on because they couldn't turn it down. I mean, I was charging almost the same price as others were charging for voice alone. I was doing it for beans. I was meeting Chris's price and just taking what I could.

The station was really good to me, though. They let me use their production facilities. All my work was produced in WMXB's 4-track analog production room, and needless to say, it was really hard to keep the stuff clean and in phase, considering that Ray and Chris sent me all their stuff on reel. I had to lay down all the audio on a 4-track, add all the effects, and then dump them all back on a 2-track with some reverb to help cover up a multitude of sins. But at that point, I'd started picking up stations. By November 1992, business had gotten so good that I decided to invest in my own studio, and I built a digital recording studio in my house.


R.A.P.: To what do you attribute the rapid increase in business?
Brian: I was always getting plenty of calls, but what made the money was the way I was selling the material. Before I adopted the retainer fee way of doing business, I would get a station like WKDQ in Evansville, Indiana, and they would come back like every five to six months to get a couple of sweepers here and there. I was only charging about twenty-five bucks per sweeper, so I wasn't making any money, especially after I split it with the voice talent. Then I started putting each new station that called on a retainer fee of from two hundred to five hundred dollars a month. They liked the work so much that it was worth paying monthly for it. And for that fee, I not only provided them the voice and production, but I provided them new work every month. Soon, I saw the money start coming in to the point where I realized I could do this stuff out of my house and basically live off of that.

R.A.P.: How did the home studio come about?
Brian: I was lucky and had some cash to put into the studio. I also asked my father to invest in the business. He saw the books and saw how much money the company was earning just being run out of the radio station, and he decided to match my investment. My investment was twenty-five thousand dollars. So, I built the studio in the house with fifty thousand dollars. He believed in me, and that was great. My dad and I are very close. He is the Vice President of Advantage Productions. His name is Steve Floethe. Lee is my middle name and professional name. I have the same last name, Floethe [pronounced Fler'-ta], but nobody knows me by that.

Anyway, he started a Florida-based corporation for Advantage for tax reasons, instead of putting it in Virginia. I put the studio in the house in Richmond. So I was working in Richmond, and he was doing some bookkeeping in Fort Myers. By March, business had taken off so well that I was on the phone with him too much, and I needed to be there with him. I was making enough money to make a salary. It had built up that fast in seven months with these new stations on retainers, and this was with just two voices and a little bit of commercial production work on the side. So, on Saint Patrick's Day, 1993, I left WMXB in Richmond, packed up my entire house and studio, and moved it down to Fort Myers and set the studio up in my condominium. Then I started to add more voices.

R.A.P.: What made you decide to add more voices to your talent bank?
Brian: I was sending demos out to people, and I would call back and they'd say, "Well, you know, neither voice is going to work for us." So that told me right there that, hey, if I had more voices to offer, more styles, even female voices, the chances of getting turned down for business would be even less. Offer your clients or potential clients more choices for a voice, and you have a better chance of getting business. It works like a charm. It's just absolutely fantastic. And that's really the mainstay of Advantage Productions currently having sixty radio stations on retainer to this day and growing. You can figure what the income is for a company with sixty stations on retainer anywhere between two and five hundred dollars a month. In gross income you're looking at upwards of seventeen to eighteen thousand dollars a month every month. Stations go under annual contracts, so once they sign up, they're with you for a year usually.

R.A.P.: You had fifty thousand dollars to build a studio with. How did you equip it?
Brian: Well, the studio's currently worth a hundred thousand. That's how much it has grown. We're in the process right now of rebuilding. I'm renting office space now, and we are in a nine hundred square foot space. We have one office, one studio, and a voice lock--a soundproof room. It's big enough to put a small band in, actually. But we've grown so much in the course of two years that we're building a twenty-four hundred square foot facility upstairs with two digital studios.

As far as the equipment goes, in 1992, digital was really coming into the picture for the first time. There wasn't really a lot of it out there, and I took a big chance going digital. I went up to one of those seminars that DigiDesign was holding in Washington, and a couple of Production Directors went up from the Richmond area. We went to check out the ProTools system. It was very antiquated. It was just absolutely horrible because it was new. It had a whole bunch of software glitches. There were two different companies. One was making the editing software; one was making the recording software. But, it looked really neat, and I went out and spent a ton of money on it. When I first got it, it was just such a pain in the ass with all of its lockups. When I first set up the studio in the house, I got so frustrated with problems that I would actually get in my car and drive back to the studio to use the 4-track analog. But DigiDesign cleared up their problems, and it actually ended up being a fabulous system.

The studio consists now of a ProTools 8-track system with Sound Designer Two. I have a SMPTE slave-driver to lock to video. I'm running ProTools on a Macintosh Quadra 950 with 24 meg of RAM and four gig of hard drive space. I have an APS Hyper DAT ten gig backup system, a Neumann U87 microphone, and an AKG C3000 microphone. Both of those are running on Symetrix 528 processors, and I have a Valley 401 as a backup. I also have an Aphex Compellor Model 320, an Aphex Studio Dominator 2 Model 723, an Aphex Aural Exciter 3 Model 250, a Urei 1178 dual peak limiter, two Panasonic 3700 DAT decks, an Ensoniq DP/4 parallel effects processor, an Ensoniq ASR-10 sampling keyboard, a Technics SLP-1300 CD player, a TASCAM 122-MK2 cassette deck, an Otari MX5050-B4 reel-to-reel, and a Symetrix TI-101 telephone interface. We're ISDN equipped with a Telos Zephyr stereo digital network audio transceiver. It's all fed into an AMEK 16-channel console with EV Century 100A monitors. And we have a little more junk in there.

R.A.P.: To what extent are you using ISDN, and what are some of your thoughts on its future?
Brian: ISDN has really come into play. Now I can use voice talents all over the world who have these ISDN boxes in their studios, and it's all real-time stereo. I think ISDN is absolutely one of the most wonderful things to come along. It enables me to produce sweepers and liners with voices from out of town. All my sweeper voices are out of town. I use Art Morrison, the Production Director for KKBT in Los Angeles. He has his Zephyr at KKBT. So when he does his liners, I just fax it to him, and we link up. I roll the computer and he just reads the liners on his microphone. I pick them up immediately as he reads them, and I can also talk back to him. It's stereo and it's full duplex. I'll call Sean Caldwell at Y100 in Philadelphia, and we'll trade sound effects back and forth or other things we need for production. "Hey, do you have a copy of the theme to Cops? I need it." He just plugs it into his CD player, I dial him up, and he feeds it down to me, instantly. It's fantastic.

I use several free-lance voice-over people to produce commercials for this market. With ISDN, I've basically opened up an entire talent bank of people for commercial production and sweeper production. Without ISDN, you try to get someone to cut something in New York or Los Angeles, and you have to listen to it over the phone then have them send it to you. If they cut it and send it to you Federal Express and something's wrong, it takes another whole day to get the revision. With ISDN, I can hear exactly what he's doing in full fidelity, and, if they miss a point or there's a revision, it can be revised in seconds just by calling them up and saying, "Hey, they changed a line. Can you just read this for me?" It's fantastic. Everyone will have ISDN eventually, and there will be no limit.

We do WGRL in Indianapolis, and we're able to send their voice-overs directly to them. "Your stuff is ready. Want to go to your production room?" "Sure." Dial it up, send it to them, and you're done. No packing, no boxes, no labels, no anything. It's finished. Just play it off the DAT after you finish producing it. Think of all the time you've saved. Plus, since the stations dial you up, they don't have to worry about a FedEx cost, and it only costs a little more than a standard phone call. That's pretty incredible. And more and more people are getting ISDN. The boxes only cost about five thousand dollars, and to have that kind of capability is just incredible.

Peter Thomas is a voice-over talent heard all around the world. He's probably the biggest voice talent on the planet. He's the one at the end of NBC Nightly News saying, "NBC News, now more than ever." He has a house down here in Naples, and he lives down here Thursday through Monday. He uses my studio because of the ISDN. With ISDN, I can be like a studio in New York City. He can come in and do stuff for NBC, Bayer Aspirin, the Discovery Channel, AT&T, NASA--any of the big narrations or anything he wants to do if anybody needs it. He can feel free to be down here in Florida and not miss the work. He can come in the studio and just read it over a microphone, and it goes directly to the agency. The agency will go to the recording studio that Peter would normally use and hear it in real time as it's being recorded. We did Heineken Beer in London, England live via ISDN.


R.A.P.: ISDN obviously increases the value of a studio. What kinds of rates to you get to rent the studio to a voice talent like Peter Thomas to do voice-over work for an agency in New York? Is the rate basically the same as what you would you charge for someone who just wanted to come in and record a commercial?
Brian: I consider myself to be very thorough and good at what I do, so my rates are about one hundred and fifty dollars an hour, which is probably up there around the New York City studio costs. That tends to weed out some of the whiners. The quality people with quality work are willing to pay for it, and that's really good.

Mike Ditka has a house in Naples. A Detroit radio station called me up and scheduled time the day after the Super Bowl earlier this year for Ditka to do his radio show live from my studio via ISDN. He canceled, though. He didn't want to drive forty minutes to my studio, so he said screw it and decided to do it over his telephone from his house, which really pissed off the radio station--and me, too. But my point is the capability of ISDN. I'm able to offer talent of any caliber anywhere. I think ISDN is really a big part of the radio industry and the recording studio industry.

R.A.P.: How quickly can you turn out a package for a radio station?
Brian: We're able to turn around fully produced packages in three days for radio stations. Most dry voices take that long to get the material there--anywhere from one to three days. We can do a whole produced package in three days. This makes stations really happy.

R.A.P.: You must have added some personnel to handle the production load. How big is your staff?
Brian: I have three part-time producers who work for me. I've really fallen into the management aspect a lot, but I still do a lot of production. As far as the station stuff is concerned, the other producers take care of that for me now, and I delegate work to them.

R.A.P.: How do you get the "Advantage Productions" sound or the "Brian Lee" sound out of these other producers?
Brian: It takes a lot of time for the producers to learn that style of production. Basically, they have to start as just plain editors. They listen and they edit the talent's raw voice work. They do that for a couple of months, then finally I'll let them start adding little effects. I'll make them listen to packages. We save every single package we've ever done on DAT. We've got hours and hours and hours of stuff saved. You could ask for a package from KLOS from 1993, and I could pull up any package we ever produced for them. It's all logged on a computer, and I make them listen. And it's very important for them to hear the different packages, because not only is there a certain standard that we have at Advantage Productions, but each station has a particular style. So, these producers usually will form a relationship with the sound of the station. If they have any doubts, they're instructed to go back and listen to the last package done, or a package done by me.

R.A.P.: How did you pick your producers? What criteria did you use?
Brian: One producer was a friend of mine who, when I was sixteen working at WINK, was fourteen years old. He said he was always interested in radio and we became friends. He basically hung around until I left about four years later to move to Virginia. He stayed in Fort Myers, and I moved away and started the company then came back. He ended up getting into radio as a disk jockey. He started as a jock, but he was able to produce before he was a jock because he hung around the production studio so much. I asked him if he'd be interested in doing some part-time work for me, and he said, "Yeah." So he came on line, and I had five years of my style of production in his brain. Once he learned technically what to do, he was able to just implement it and produce it. He wasn't difficult to work with and teach because he kind of knew it. It was automatic for him. I was very fortunate to have him available to me. His name is Jason Fisher.

As for the other producers, one was a Production Director at a local radio station here who wanted to make some extra money on the side. Then I brought in a guy who was into keyboard music and programming. He produces albums, like house and club music for small record labels in Miami. He was interested in picking up some part-time money, so I hired him as an editor. He came in and worked his way up and is just coming along fantastic.

R.A.P.: How would you define the Brian Lee style of production? What do you try to do with every piece of work that comes from Advantage?
Brian: The objective with every piece of work, I think, is to create a flow. Flow is very important--a smooth, if you will, sound. Create an environment when you're producing a commercial. You should never leave anything out. When a guy walks into a room, it should sound like that. A good Production Director and a good producer will know what I'm saying here. For example. Say you want the sound of someone walking from outside into a room and saying, "Hi, Joe," or "Ooh, what a day, I'm tired," or whatever. When he opens the door, your standard producer these days would tend to use the sound of door opening, sound of door closing, and then nothing else. It's dead. Then comes the voice-over. This really doesn't create theater of the mind. I would go further. When he opens the door--and some people would put footsteps in, too--you hear what's going on outside. You'll hear traffic when he opens the door or birds or something that's an outdoor atmosphere. I don't care if it's a war, but when you open the door, you hear that. You walk in, so you're slightly off mike. You move around the microphone to create a little bit more of a change as if your head was moving, as if someone was sitting in the room and hearing it. I might pick up my car keys and rattle them a little bit in the microphone as I'm walking in because usually people walk in with keys in their hand. I might throw them down on the counter in the production room as if someone was putting their keys down. I might take my jacket off or take my jacket and fluff it around the microphone when the person walks in to create a sound of movement, which is very important.

It's creating an environment, and I've always prided myself on being able to create an incredible environment for a setting to where you don't even have to ask where somebody is. And if it was mentioned in the commercial, then it would be obvious where they are. I say use as many tracks as you can to create an environment. It's really critical for good production. A lot of good producers understand that and will do that, but it's a combination of that mixed in with really good writing.

I think the Brian Lee style is to be different than normal. Everybody can turn on a microphone, and everybody can put music under it. Being different is so important. Taking the time to produce something is important. If you want to create something really neat, take the time to do it. Make it colossal. Just let your imagination go wild when you produce. When you do that, when you just step out of normal when you produce, oh, so many things can come to mind. And if you have the facilities to pull it off, you can pull off almost anything. I think the Brian Lee sound is really what everyone has in them, but they probably don't have the time or the facilities to make it happen.


R.A.P.: As anyone who produces IDs and promos knows, it's difficult sometimes to please your Program Director. What you think he wants, and what he really wants are two different things. What things do you do to help narrow the gap between Advantage Productions and its many PD clients?
Brian: There was an article I got out of Radio and Production Magazine called "Writing For Your Station Voice" [March '95 RAP]. I adopted that article and it works so well. Take KRPM in Seattle, Washington for example. The PD there is able to type out what he wants from the voice talent. He'll write, "ballsy," then he'll say, "It's coming...this week." Then he'll write in parenthesis "a little laid back." Then the next line will be, "Your chance to win a dreamy vacation." So having that kind of instruction from Program Directors when you're producing sweepers for their radio stations is fantastic. It gives the voice talent the direction they need to take in order for the product to come out perfect. It's very important that producers instruct their clients to write down what they're thinking rather than just writing your standard liner on paper. "We play the most music allowed by law on Rock 106." Instead of just writing that, they would probably put in parentheses before the line "ballsy/very official sounding." Then they might put in something like, "Use theme to Cops" or "use siren" or something like that. If the Program Directors are thinking about it, then they should be writing it down if they want to get what's in their mind. Some of them do, some don't. When you know what's on his mind, you're able to give him what he wants. So, communication, I think, is the key.

R.A.P.: Something that comes up in conversations with producers who do a lot of free-lance work, as well as independent producers, is the matter of collections. Does Advantage Productions encounter problems in this area, and if so, how do you approach them?
Brian: I think everyone experiences that a little bit. That really determines the cash flow. More stations are going to pay than not, and you're always going to have a few problem clients. The key to success, I think, is getting enough clients and enough people on retainer fee so that when you have that one or two or maybe three or maybe even a handful of radio stations that are slow pay, it doesn't hurt you. You basically set up your company in a way that your overhead isn't too high and you have a good cash flow. Set it up so you're not relying so much on that money. There will always be clients that don't pay. There will always be problems. My suggestion is that when you set up a contract for a radio station, include a clause that says, "you don't pay, you can't use it." When you stop paying upon expiration or termination of a contract, whether it's for liners and sweepers or commercial production, upon termination or expiration of contract, you pull all the material off the air. If you don't, we'll come after you. And we'll actually go as far as calling a competing radio station in a market and having them roll tape. Pay some night jock twenty bucks to roll four hours on the competition. We might do that depending on the attitude of people.

If stations don't pay and they say something like, "We're very, very sorry, but we're going through some economic problems right now," usually I'll let them continue to run the material they have. But I won't give them any new material. I'm not going to go out of my way and pay my producers ten dollars an hour to produce for them while they're not paying. Usually I'll do that within sixty days. If I don't get payment within sixty days, no new material. And they understand that. The last thing they want to do is lose their voice in the middle of a book, or at all, and the last thing they want is a law suit. We had to go after a couple of stations legally. Having an airtight contract is very, very important.

R.A.P.: Did it help any when you brought a lawyer into the situation?
Brian: Oh, yeah. It works very well. Pay a lawyer twenty dollars just to write a letter and have it on some nice looking official stationery that says, "Bowden, Bowden, Simon, Goldstein & Hunter" at the top of the page. "...you're in default. You owe money to...." And getting collection agencies isn't a bad idea either. Get a collection agency that takes a percentage and let them hound and hound and hound and threaten and threaten and threaten. We've had stations where we just had to let them go, even stations we felt sorry for because of their economic problems. We've just had to say, "look, you're going to have to pull the material off the air unless you can come up with the money by such and such date," and they'll comply. They know it's not our fault if they can't pay. I rarely find a station that has a bad attitude about me supplying more work for them when they're not paying their bill. You don't hear that.

Have a good client base and have an airtight contract. If they don't pay, you've got to take something away from them that they want or need. If they need your work, take it away from them if they don't pay. It's not your fault; it's just business. I tell Program Directors and GMs and business managers that. "It is nothing personal; it's just business. You have to remember that I have to pay my voice talents to do that work. They get a cut of the contract. I continue to pay them monthly as long as there is a contract with the radio station. I'm paying my talents and I'm not getting any money for it. I'm losing." I'm not going to do that for very long.

R.A.P.: What are you doing for production music and sound effects?
Brian: I can't find one Production Director out there who has enough production elements in their library. They run through them and burn them out, and they're stuck with the same library. You order twenty disks, and within three or four months, you've used everything. Then you've got to start recycling music. We pay FirstCom a monthly fee for a blanket lease on three production music libraries: FirstCom, Music House, and Chappel. We have 416 disks, and we get quarterly updates. We also have Sound Ideas 2000 and 6000 Series sound effects libraries.

I never felt there was an excuse to have a production room that was not up to date or didn't have what it needed. Screw the stupid carpeting or the wallpaper or even the boom box if it needs a new paint job or whatever. I know image is important, but the product is more important to a station. Equipment needs to be state of the art. You need to give the tools to your people in order to create a good product and make money. And the production libraries are a big time part of those tools. It's amazing how the sales staff gets Tapscan and everything else to use. They get endless amounts of marketing kits and "trade" to offer their clients to help push things through. And we have Production Directors at stations trying to scrounge up cassettes to put spec spots on, trying to scrounge up tape to use or carts to use. They work on boards that have dirty pots on them that are shorting out. Equipment is breaking down, even at the biggest stations. Any production person knows what I'm talking about. It's just very, very frustrating. I will take a cut in my own salary in order to have the tools that I need to create a product that is good, that is the best. I will never spare an expense.

R.A.P.: How hard do you work? What kind of hours do you put in?
Brian: Eleven hour days. The cool thing is that Program Directors aren't in on the weekends, usually, so we usually don't get orders to fill over the weekend. I try to take weekends off.


R.A.P.: You're now out of a radio station as a full-time employee. Do you miss it?
Brian: I miss some things about not working in a radio station. When I was with WMXB in Richmond, I had the most wonderful Creative Director that any Production Director could ask for. You did an article on her some time last year, Holly Buchanan. Like she said in the article, Holly and I were like a science experiment gone crazy. She's a fantastic writer. She would write it and I would bring it to life and we just had this fantastic relationship. I really, really miss working with Holly. I have to say something about her for two reasons: one, she's such a wonderful person and talented and creative and I miss her; and second, she'd probably kill me if I didn't.

R.A.P.: How much voice work are you doing, if any?
Brian: I do a lot of voice work. But I'm not the number one voice in the company. When I started Advantage and started doing sweepers, did I market me? No. No way. I marketed other much better people than me. But I'm doing some sweepers. I voice a couple of stations. I voice WSSX, which is 95-SX in Charleston, and I do KKDJ in Fresno. I have a handful of stations I do. I voice all different formats from rock to country, and I do commercial production as well. I voice seven stations in Tokyo. By the way, they pay a hundred dollars a line in Tokyo. They wire it right into your account, too. That's really neat. They flew in from Japan to meet me two years ago.

R.A.P.: Are you doing any commercial production?
Brian: I still get to do commercial production. I really missed doing the commercial production like I was doing at WMXB in Richmond. Free-lance production these days is now a part of my life which I really like. There are some stations out in the Sacramento, Modesto and Stockton area and in Salt Lake City who have me on retainer to produce commercials for them. You don't find that too often where stations will actually farm out for production, but this company, Citadel Broadcasting, has got this neat concept where they hire out to three or four different production houses, and that leaves the Production Director free to manage his department. So I jumped on line with a couple of those stations to produce a number of commercials per week. They fax the copy; I cut it and send it back. I'm on a retainer for like six hundred dollars a month for which I produce a few spots a week for them. It's great.

R.A.P.: What advice would you offer someone who wants to break out of the radio station and start their own production company?
Brian: Don't turn down any business. Don't be so proud. Never get a chip on your shoulder. Always realize there is work out there. Never be too big to do work for anybody. Cheerleading moms will call me--I'm in the phone book--and say, "Hey, I want to put together a cheerleading tape, a little composite of about a minute and a half for my daughter's cheerleading team. Is that possible? Can you do that?" You're never too big.

I've worked with talents with an attitude like, "...if you don't let me say the word 'environment' like I want to, I'm walking out of the studio, and you can just shove it up your ass!" There are voice-over people who are like that. Never cop an attitude.

The customer is always right. I believe in customer service. The radio industry is way too small to get a bad name for yourself. I don't care if someone calls you a dirt eating, dog licking jerk, don't lower yourself to someone else's level. Don't insult anybody. Just take it, hang up the phone, and then you can say whatever you want. "That asshole." You don't need enemies. It's a very small business. Keep your nose clean, always, because someone's going to tell someone, and someone else is going to tell someone, and the next thing you know, "Oh, I've heard about him." How many times have you heard that in the industry? "What kind of person is that guy? Oh, well, let me tell you!" So keep your nose clean. You're never too big.

And always keep this in mind: no matter what, always remember that you never arrive. The second you think you've made it, you'll go down the drain. You never arrive.

Here's something really important. Always surround yourself with good people. Always surround yourself with good voice talents. You can't be everything to everybody. Always be able to offer people a wide range, diversity. Be able to offer that because the more you have to offer, the further you'll go. There will be less pitfalls. If you surround yourself constantly with people who are smaller than you and less talented than you because you want to be number one, you'll end up with a company of dwarves. I think that has been said before. There's always going to be somebody out there who is better at some particular part of the business. Don't alienate them. Work with them.

This is a business that will never die. Advertising will never die. The need for sound will never die. And if you start your own company, plan it properly. Setting up radio stations on retainer fees is a great idea for building a business because it builds a mainstay of business. As long as stations pay their bills, you can count every month on a certain amount of money coming in, and that's a great way to build your business.

There are nine thousand radio stations in America, and there are only a handful of producers out there. There's maybe fifty, sixty, seventy recognizable guys out there doing this, so it's very easy to get the business. Offer a good product, good pricing, and you really can't go wrong. And I'm not greedy about the stations. I mean, I offer them a good deal, a really good deal. WNEW in New York was only paying a thousand dollars a month, and they're a number one station. For a New York City radio station, a thousand dollars a month is nothing, and you can go all the way down to about two hundred bucks a month. Getting someone who is imaging their entire radio station for them for a few hundred bucks a month is a real deal.

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