R.A.P. Interview: Brian Lee

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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.

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