Production 212: Studio Junkies Need Not Apply

Production-212-Logo-1by Dave Foxx

In my last column, I talked about Digital Workstations and how they don’t bestow any special ability on the production wizard wannabe. I put forward the idea that the magic is in you and said I would address how one accesses that magic in future columns. Well, the future is now. Let’s begin with a question: Are you a studio junkie? Do you spend a lot of your spare time hanging out at the station or in the studio? Not good.

Studio junkies can quote chapter and verse all the things Howard said that morning, or can speak for hours about the evils of de-regulation and consolidation. Studio junkies can tell you what song was at number one seven years ago today and then explain the power struggle that went on behind the scenes at the label that record came out on. Studio junkies know all about compression, limiting, EQ and signal expansion. In fact, studio junkies know everything there is to know about radio and production…but they don’t know jack about life.

If you’re a rookie, being somewhat of a studio junkie is forgivable, barely. Rookies often spend the first couple of years of their career honing their skills, practicing the beat mix or figuring out how bussing works. But after a while, anyone who spends an inordinate amount of time wandering around a radio station is a studio junkie.

So, I ask again, are you a studio junkie? If so, there is no 12-step program for you. You just have to re-program yourself to go home occasionally. You have to force yourself to go out and socialize. Go to a bar. Go to the movies. Go skydiving. Take an extension course at a local college. Meet new people; people who know nothing about radio or production. In other words, get a life.

So now it’s your turn to ask, “What’s this all got to do with bringing out my magic?” The answer is straightforward: Everything. If you want to pull magic out of your well, there has to be something in there to draw from. It’s up to you to keep it full.

The listeners really don’t care what the number one song was on this day seven years ago. They don’t care what Howard said today; they don’t care about compression, or any of that other stuff. What they care about is life. If you don’t have one, how in the heck are they going to relate to anything you say or do? Musical artists spend years “living life” so they can communicate on a meaningful level with their audience. They might not consciously think about doing that, but that’s what they’re doing, just the same. As artists mature, their message becomes more piercing or powerful. Critics talk all the time about the maturing process and how it improves the enduring performer. If you are struggling mightily to lift yourself from market 934, you have to start thinking like an artist. Getting a life outside this medium is step one.

Step two is a little trickier. As you start living life, think about how you can put your experiences into what you do. Make everything you produce, personal. Turn it all inside out and look at it from different perspectives.

I was once told to make Z100 sound like MTV looks. It sounds like an impossible thing to do, and I thought it was back then. I took the task to heart and started watching MTV, something I seldom, if ever, had done before. For several weeks, I watched every chance I had, and slowly I started to hear things in my head that were very MTV-ish. I started to think of blurred images as flanged sound, overexposed film as very clipped compression and scratchy film stock as static. Within a month, people were commenting on how hip and cutting-edge the station was sounding. Hmm. That sounds like MTV looks.

At this point, I re-discovered the dangers of being a studio junkie. I started to watch every TV show the same way. Soon I was doing the same thing at the movies and even live theatre. (I LOVE living in New York!) Blue Man Group has been inspiring me for a couple of years now. They’re the blue guys who are doing the Pentium commercials on TV, and have an off Broadway show that kicks major butt. I became thirsty for new life experiences that I could use in my production.

Now, even listening to a CD is a completely different experience for me. As I am writing this, I’m listening to a CD by DJ F & Clutch and have already heard several things I want to re-create in promos on the air here.

No doubt, the one experience we can ALL relate to over the last several months is the attacks against Washington and New York on September 11th. So, how did I find something creative in that? Within 5 days of the event, there were at least 15, maybe 20 songs mixed with actualities from the horrible experience, which aired on stations all over the country. It’s pretty tired cliché by now, but it seems Program Directors wanted something that made a statement on the air. If they couldn’t get one done in-house, they borrowed one from another station.

Well, it was a shocking event. You can’t just ignore it. But we all saw and heard the same things. My question to me was “How can I do something creative with this?” My second question was, “Why add to the general misery?” Instead of playing the emotionally charged clips of eyewitness accounts of the attack, I played the emotionally super-charged clips of the heroic things people did after the attack and set them to Enrique Iglesias’ song, “Hero.”

So, does this make me more creative? Maybe. I did the same thing everyone else was doing, but I took an event that everyone could relate to and turned it inside out. A skill I learned by watching MTV and making my station sound like it looks made my perspective a lot different. When it comes right down to it, it is more creative.

So, if you’re a studio junkie, even if your addiction is mild, kick the habit. Go home early. If your boss wants to know why, just tell him or her that you’re re-filling the well.

Go to the movies at least once a week. (Even a bad movie can give you ideas.) Watch more TV. Read more books. Go see a live show. Listen to compact disks all the way through, especially the RAP CD. And always keep your mental ears on. You’ll be amazed with how much magic there is in you.

The best part of all this is, you will soon discover that doing production will take less time because the ideas will just flow out of you. Then you’ll have even more time to have a life.

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