by Andy Capp
I've been accused of treating radio production like it's an art form.
"Now then, Mr. Carp...."
"Whatever. There's something fishy going on here."
"I'm not sure I know what you mean."
"You know, strange, odd, out of the ordinary."
"No, I mean, what do you mean by fishy, strange, odd, out of the ordinary?"
"I'll ask the questions, Mr. Clop. Now then, do you consider yourself a good radio producer?"
"Well, I guess I'm okay. Look, just call me Andy."
"And isn't it true that a good radio producer writes and produces ads and promos that communicate a clear message to the listener?"
"Sure, but there's more to it than...."
"Then, if you're a good radio producer, Mr. Clap, why would you write and produce something like this?!"
Ah oh, I recognize the promo. A little shtick, a lot of bells and whistles. In fact, I was kind of proud of it until....
"So tell me Mr. Cramp, just how many calls did your radio station receive asking what exactly the promotion was about?"
It was all over now. Sure, there would be other evidence, rebuttals, more slaying of my name, but I was guilty. I had spent so much time crafting clever copy, finding the perfect music and SFX, and editing custom Harmonizer patches for the promo that I forgot to communicate.
It's times like this a guy needs a buddy with a white Bronco.
Ha! Ha! Huh?
Did you hear the one about the highly creative, award winning ads that everybody raved about? Seems that they were tested by some independent research team, and I'll be darned if most testees didn't remember the name of the client, much less the message!
Not very funny, is it? Hey, it's an easy trap to fall into, especially today, with all the new toys available. There are all sorts of new ways to be louder, faster, lower, wild and crazier...but is the message being heard?
Mary L. Collins brought it up in her profile two months ago; "I hear a lot of stuff where more attention is paid to the effects, all the funky, wild production effects." Mary suggests: "Go back down to a very simple, single voice provocatively reading a nice piece of copy." Mary's right. We all need to go back to basics now and again.
"But Andy," you're screaming at your magazine, "isn't the name of your article ...And Make it Real Creative?! Aren't you the advocate of off the wall, take no prisoners production? Only a year into this column and you're already losing it?" Now, before you start plucking chickens and stirring up tar in the microwave, I'm not suggesting we throw away the wacky writing, dangerous drop-ins, magic boxes, keyboards, and computers that have made us all the production equivalents of the Six Million Dollar Man. I am suggesting a step back, to look things over and use all the doodads available smarter. Besides, I lost it months ago....
Do a little research. Play your work to anyone who doesn't know what it's supposed to mean. Ask them what message they hear.
Another gauge: ask the jocks how many calls they get after a promo or ad airs. How often are they forced to re-explain what the production supposedly just said?
Try this if the promotion is a write-in: ask the PD or Promotions Director how many responses they get and how soon those responses start rolling in.
These are quick, easy ways to see if the message is getting through. If the universal answer is, "huh?" some re-working is needed.
Where to begin? Here are a couple of ideas:
Talk The Talk
I lead such a wild life. Saturday nights I like to really go nuts. Of course, my idea of going nuts is couching with fat-filled munchies, watching schlock drama/thriller videos.
It was during one of these on the edge evenings that I realized even schlock has some merit. The hero was a writer, and he and his partner in creative spent time in a restaurant eavesdropping, with hopes of getting some "good dialogue." While it grew apparent that the writers of this video masterpiece hadn't used this idea, it occurred to me that we could.
It's time to get out the trench coat and play private eye. Find out where your station's demos spend their time (restaurants, clubs, malls), then grab a legal pad and/or a mini-cassette and do some eavesdropping of your own.
Listen to how people communicate, what words they use, how they convince, how they tell their story. Not only will you find new, different, and personal ways of presenting a message, but you'll make that message clear by talking the listeners talk! (True, eavesdropping seems a little shady and sneaky, but it beats lying round watching bad videos.)
Stella! Hey, Stelllllaaaaa!
Words are powerful, but so are the emotions behind the words when they're spoken. Several speakers come to mind: Martin Luther King Jr., JFK, Winston Churchill, Orsen Wells, James Earl Jones, Hitler. Brilliant words behind what they said (in Hitler's case, twisted, too), but the interpretation and genuine emotion in how they said those words stirred the listeners and brought the message home.
The same treasure trove of emotions is in all of us. The trick is finding it. A lifetime ago I was a theatre major and learned a bit about method acting that I've tried to apply to radio voice-over. This is the simple explanation: basically, you take the feelings from past experiences to get the appropriate emotions for a character in a play.
You can try the same thing with copy, "method speaking," if you will. Whether the copy calls for excitement, tension, sadness, anger, relaxation, whatever, find an event in your life that brought out that emotion in you. Let it fill your mind, then read the copy.
Again that's only the very basic idea, and while it seems easy enough, like anything else worth mastering, it takes practice. It's also a very personal technique that requires letting go and opening up -- not being an announcer, but being yourself. Personally, after years of being a DJ, that's harder than it seems when I step up to a mic.
You might consider taking some acting classes at a local college or community theater for a guided tour of the technique, but be forewarned that many basic acting classes have their share of "be a tree" exercises before they get to the meat of things. Of course, that could come in handy in greenhouse ads.
What Goes Around...
Well, look at that. We've come full circle, and I'm getting all "artsy" again. Okay, I know that none of my promos are going to get played at a museum. In fact, most radio production is incredibly disposable. That doesn't mean that it isn't the outlet of choice for many gifted, creative people. It also doesn't mean that radio can't touch the heart and soul of people while communicating a clear message.
Our old friend Webster defines art as "human creativity." A snooty critic buddy of mine calls art "a reflection of the times, of the human condition." If all of this is true, then friends, we are artists and deserve the respect that goes with it!
"Thank you, Mr. Crap."