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Landing The Big Job

For more than two decades, I have been explaining to anyone who would listen, “How to get my gig.” Jerry Vigil can tell you, I’ve devoted more than a few column inches to the topic in RAP Magazine. I’ve given four major lectures on three continents with that topic alone. As of this morning, the post at Z100/New York remains vacant. It’s certainly not for a lack of applicants. I’ve been told the list is long and deep. Several people have asked me to listen to their demo, offer advice and are hopeful that I will make a recommendation on their behalf. Clearly, they haven’t been listening.

First of all, my influence over the decision makers is only slightly higher than none, in fact I am fully convinced that (quite correctly) I have zero input to the process. My blessing or condemnation is immaterial.

Secondly, not one person who has asked for my help has addressed any issue beyond production. If there are 500 applicants, I can pretty much guarantee that they ALL have mad skillz. This job has NEVER been about production alone.

Look at the state of the recording industry and think about why it is the way it is today. One thing becomes abundantly clear: Anyone can get the right software for practically nothing and teach themselves how to produce. The days of rolling into a major recording studio with massive consoles and earthmoving monitor systems is pretty much done and over. Sony Music Studios in New York closed its doors in the late summer of 2007. Dozens more are now just so much empty space. So who is making all the hit music we’re playing every day on our stations? Brilliant young millennial producers who’ve grown up “in the biz” working on a laptop. They don’t need a label to cover the costs of recording and mixing. They don’t need someone like Bob Clearmountain to come in and add his ears (amazing though they are) to the mix. They just do it themselves and sell the digital downloads…by the millions.

No, if this job or any job doing radio imaging depended solely on production ability, the job would have filled 5 minutes after the posting went online.

There are FIVE main areas of expertise you need to absolutely master before you can really expect serious consideration for a job like this. There are a few additional skills you should add to your references as well if you want to seal the deal. Let’s start with the big ones:

WRITING – Being able to write some strong, believable dialogue is the absolute cornerstone of a good producer’s skill-set…even if you are not writing any promos or sweepers. The real, underlying skill is understanding how dialogue works. If you completely own this ability, you can sell igloos to Eskimos because you can make them want your igloos. Emotion is the key! And make no mistake, every script is a dialogue…with the listener.

MUSIC THEORY – Music is the grout that goes between the bricks (the words you use) in every piece of production. If your production piece is about the music, the words become the grout between the musical bricks. Beat mixing is one of our favorite tools, blending one song into another or two others is similar to becoming a musical artist yourself, creating new music with different meanings and emotions. Without a strong foundation of Music Theory, beat mixing becomes quite nearly impossible.

PUBLIC SPEAKING – It is wonderful if you (or someone) writes a fantastic script for your promo, sweeper, or even commercial. It completely sucks if you cannot deliver the implicit emotions with the spoken word. To understand the subtle nuances of phrasing and pausing is to own the key to communication. If you can BE the voice, that’s terrific, but it is absolutely not a necessity. Being able to wisely coach the voice to maximize the emotional content is a far more valuable commodity.

PRODUCTION – The recording, mixing and producing of a piece is the one skill most radio producers have in spades. (Well, most of them.) It IS a skill that can wither without use. It also will grow with continued use. Having the knowledge of how to edit and mix is essential to any serious job in radio production, but without these other attributes it’s rather pointless.

THE ART OF NOISE – It might seem that this should be part of the previous Production point. There is a small but very distinct difference. Knowing how to apply compression to a VO track is Production. Knowing why you should or should not apply compression is the Art Of Noise. Knowing how to cut out a breath is a basic Production skill. Understanding how it will change the emotional impact is the Art. Like music, speech has a rhythm that MUST be maintained or it simply becomes a meaningless skiff of words. Keeping that rhythm and fitting it into the rhythm of the music without compromising either is The Art Of Noise.

Anyone who has achieved a Journeyman’s level of competence with all five of these skills has a very strong chance of being the next Creative Services Director at iHeart Media/New York. Falling short in just one area knocks your chances down by 20%. One day soon, that job will be filled, but that’s the nice thing about this list: It works for ANY serious production job.

Someone with good people skills, proficiency with computers, a great sense of fun (and humor) and is just a good person will get extra points too.

Do they already have a few applicants with all these skills? I have no idea. They might not be able to find one, which would be truly sad. Z100 deserves to have the very best.

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