As you read this, most are just getting back into the swing of the daily radio routine, so let me wish you a Happy New Year. To celebrate the advent of 2019, I want to hit the ‘reset’ button and see if we can really boost the quality of radio industry production in the next 12 months. Today, I want you to open your mind a bit and allow that we all need improvement. Once in awhile, we need to stand back and reevaluate how we do things to see if there isn’t a better way to communicate with our listeners.
There are three movies I’d like to recommend to you this week. Pick one, look it up online or on demand and watch it sometime soon. Each tells a story that hits deep in the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche: Charly (1968) starring Cliff Robertson, Patch Adams (1998) starring Robin Williams and The Bourne Legacy (2012) starring Jeremy Renner and Rachel Weisz. Each of these excellent films plots are quite different and yet have similar subplots: Once a man experiences a higher consciousness, he will do anything to stay at that level, rather than slide back to his previous level. There are actually dozens of movies that delve into this idea, some quite famous and mostly Science Fiction. Off the top of my head, there’s Space Odyssey: 2001, Stargate, Lucy, Bladerunner (both) and many more. Nietzsche’s idea of man’s ascension to godhood is a really popular one with Hollywood types.
The reason I suggest you watch one or all of these films is that they are very entertaining. I don’t know that you’ll walk away more brilliant, but they happen to help me make my metaphor work, I think. That’s all. It can wait until you’re done reading this.
There is an old canard that says if you put an infinite number of chimpanzees in a room with an infinite number of word processors and allowed them to type constantly, that eventually, one of them will write Shakespeare’s Hamlet. (It strikes me that someone did a movie plot like this once too.)
You are a chimpanzee. (Don’t worry, I’m one too.)
In our business, there are TWO parts to what we do. I like to think of them as art and science. The science of production is our tech. It’s HOW we get the message to the listener. If you want the listener to really hear the message, you have to add the art to make it penetrate. Bells and whistles, flange, EQ, compression and all that folderol is still part of the science. The art happens in the words, effects and music you choose, and how they all interact with each other. Any goof can bang away on his or her keyboard and create something that LOOKS like Hamlet, but one must understand poor Yorrick and the confusion of “to be or not to be…” for ANY of the resulting play to make sense.
Let’s say we need to produce a concert promo for the Ariana Grande tour. Most CHR producers definitely will soon, as her Sweetener Tour kicks off on March 20 in Albany, New York. Ariana’s shows tend to sell out very quickly, so let’s figure out the science and art of making a promo. The science side seems pretty straightforward. We’re going to need some of her songs from the Sweetener album like, God Is A Woman, Breathin’ and thank u, next and maybe Imagine. Add the usual crowd effects and accents that’ll keep the music and overall rhythm going so we can deliver the message with style.
OK. Now, stop for a moment and give some thought to “listener benefit,” or what will drive the promo. Your station has tickets that your audience can’t get anywhere else. THAT is the listener benefit. How you bring it out without sounding like you’re bragging about it is going to be the center of our little art project. The audience hates having you brag about being the only place they can get tickets, trust me, so let’s stay as far away from that as we can. You have to turn it around so that it’s about them and not about you.
I’m willing to bet that a large number of you will get panicky phone calls from friends and family in the area, begging you to get them tickets for Ariana. I can count on getting those calls myself. Every family member or friend who has a daughter between 8 and 14 years old will be desperately looking for those tickets. There is your delivery system. In the copy, talk about how difficult the tickets are to get, but point out that they have another way to get them. Again, do NOT say this is the ONLY place to get them…that’s obvious to begin with. Just say they can win them! Keep it totally on the positive tip. Emphasize the fact that they are in luck. Then, add to the whole “luck” thing by actually telling them exactly when they can win again. Sure, that means you’ll have to make 20 different versions of the promo, but it is SO worth it! (Don’t ever force the audience to listen all day to win a contest. They resent it and will likely say, “forget it” when you do.)
As chimps, you and I have the science. We’ve been using all the cool plug-ins, doing the really sweet beat-mixes and adding all the lovely accents. But NOW you have the art and we have transcended to something beyond chimpanzees to make a perfect promo whenever Ariana comes to town. We must fight to stay in this transcendent state, understanding both the science AND the art, knowing how to deliver a message that will penetrate the listener’s heart.
If there is ONE WAY you can improve the impact of your production it is simply this. Do NOT underestimate your audience. Don’t ever assume they are stupid or not bright. I’d be willing to bet that the aggregate IQ of your audience is a lot higher than you would ever believe. Don’t talk down to them. Do NOT waste their time. You are in their car, home or ears by invitation. When you insult your host, you’re likely to be thrown out. Instead, be a gracious guest. Empathize with them. Understand what they’re going through and the message you hope to impart will absolutely get there…intact.
If I only accomplish one thing in the coming year, I want it to be this: we all need to graduate to the next level of production. We all need to keep the science of what we do sharp, while improving the art.
So. Are you an artist? Or just a chimpanzee?
And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music. – Friedrich Nietzsche
I’m dancing…I’m dancing… –Dave Foxx