R.A.P. Interview: Brian Lee

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.

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