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Promotional ideas and technique. Always radio, always positive.

ReelMix 2016: day one afternoon

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This is a live blog of the afternoon sessions. You can catch-up on what happened in the morning here.

There’s also a Periscope feed you can watch.

PDs and their imagers: it’s complicated

This first afternoon session is about a key relationship in every radio station.

Chris, Mark and Staxx (plus photographer)

Chris, Mark and Staxx (plus photographer)

On the panel are Mark Medina, program director of Z100 New York, Staxx, Z100’s new Creative Services Director, Tony Lorino, program director of Star 94.1 Atlanta and Dino D’Addario, his production director.

By way of introduction, each panellist explains how they got to where they are with their brands. When joining Star, Tony and Dino stripped their station back to the bare bones and built it up again. By contrast Staxx found that Z100 was not broken so needed a different, more careful approach.

How do you sound out a new PD? Dino says leave your ego at the door. Talk to your PD – get inside their head to understand what is their vision. Moderator Chris Kelly suggests that with every new PD comes an opportunity to learn new things. Dino agrees. Experienced PDs are well worth listening to.

Mark Medina from Z100 thinks that he may not know all the technical terms for the work that Staxx does on the station but he still must take responsibilty for the programming vision. Once that’s understood, Mark leaves Staxx to create the sound.

Staxx advises that it’s important to let your PD know who you are, and what you like doing. Mark calls Staxx ‘the arts guy, not the science guy’. I think that’s a compliment, especially when Mark explains that Staxx does understand rotations and gives daily scrutiny to the logs.

Tony and Dino from Star 94.1, Atlanta

Tony and Dino from Star 94.1, Atlanta

In the relationship between Tony and Dino, the former writes all the copy for on air creative and Dino makes the audio. In a show of hands around the auditorium it seems that about half those in the room work in that way, the other half writing their own work.

Mark and Staxx return to a point made this morning by Dave Foxx: there’s a lot on Z100 they would never change. New York is a loyal city, in sport, in life so they’d never change “From the top of the Empire State Building”, for example.

By contrast, Atlanta is a city of transient people so there’s little loyalty. Even so, just changing the station name from Star 94 to Star 94.1 prompted concern among the staff and some listeners that now everything was going to change and that was unsettling. Tony makes the point that Star was not a ratings success for several years before the change.

How guilty can PDs be of micro-management?

Mark Medina plays that down, although he is a PD. He says that there is a further layer of corporate ‘accountability’ being in New York among the senior iHeart management. Occasionally he says he will stop something from airing if he thinks it doesn’t work.

Staxx says it’s important to argue for your work. You might sometimes be wrong, though.

Dino says that Tony does not do micromanagement, but he’s had former PDs who were dreadful in that respect.

Stop and start

Staxx gives a case study. He made an amazing sounding promo with a lot of dynamic range but which stopped a couple of times in the middle for impact. Mark was cautious and thought that it fought against the nature of the whole station which was to be continuous.

They discussed it in detail and exchanged their views to more deeply understand each other’s vision. The spot aired.

Dino said he needed a bit of persuasion to do a spot with only the voices of listeners, proposed by Tony. He was pleasantly surprised how well it worked but he admits to have been a doubter.

Talk of ‘soccer mums’ to much audience hilarity – I’m really going to have to find out what that’s about. #culturalreference

Actionable takeaways from each panellist:

Tony: learn the shared vision of what the brand is supposed to be. And why.

Dino: check your ego at the door – ask them why are we doing this? What’s the rationale?

Mark: be open with your thinking, don’t just issue demands. Keep the corporate politics away from your creatives – protect them from that.

Staxx: when you’re feeling creative, keep going until that moment is gone. If you have ideas, keep getting them out. Don’t stop when the work is done.

Questions from the auditorium:

How do you direct a remote voiceover if you don’t hear the read you want? Dino says you should pick up the phone and have that conversation.

A question from Denmark: how do you teach your DJs to use your imaging? Who does that? Staxx says he takes on that responsibility. It’s important to execute the imaging properly on the air.

Imagers: what do you do when you get bad vibes about a new PD? How do you garner their trust? Staxx says you have to keep communicating. Every email, every phone call is an incremental interview for your career. Dino says ‘always have a demo’. The ultimate insurance policy for an imager.

VOs from the VO’s point of view

Rachel McGrath and Dave Foxx

Rachel McGrath and Dave Foxx

This session is all about voice artists, moderated by Jason Garte of The Mix Group.

Dave Foxx opens with a description of the working relationship he enjoys with remote clients. He says he has a new client in the Middle East who he’ll never meet but he has really strong idea of what he wants from a read.

Rachel likes a lot of people to see the scripts before her. She says that she gets a lot of copy that needs fixing and Dr Dave agrees that happens a lot. Even scripts that jump between fonts midway.

Dr Dave

Dr Dave

When you hire me you get my attitude, my ideas and my opinions says Rachel. She likes it when production directors open up and admit they don’t know too much about the demographic they’re working to and invite her to add some insight.

Dave will sometimes give alternative versions of a script to a client if he thinks there may be a different way to craft the copy. He has a client in Beirut who really values that input.

He recounts a story that will be familiar to many vos – a client working over ISDN who liked take one but then went on to do ‘some safety takes’, followed by major changes, various direction alternatives and then, of course, went on to use the first take after all.

Dave won’t work over ISDN. He closes the studio door, does the work and sends it off. Done. No direction during the session.

Rachel has some advice for producers. Much as she looks in the mirror before a night out and removes one accessory, producers should look at her voice in their session and remove three effects. A bit of eq and compression – that’s enough folks.

The panellists are giving examples – yes, real examples – of bad scripts they’ve been asked to read. Dr Dave has one in two font sizes and two different colours.

Rachel has a script that could leave her susceptible to attack.

Dave has a current client (unnamed) which sends him scripts with no punctuation and a positioning line that’s a whole paragraph long he says. Goodness.

Tech

We’re talking about equipment now. Dr Dave uses a Symetrix 528 and calls this old-skool. Rachel uses very little processing on her voice. She chose her mic while working on a project at Clear Channel.

Dave Foxx has two set-ups. One which includes a $5000 tube microphone designed for piano. He hooked it up straight into ProTools and it was perfect. At home and on the road he uses an Electrovoice RE20 with a Sure mic pre-amp USB adaptor.

Agents

Rachel was anti-agent but found that hers (Atlas) is good and stops her from signing bad deals. Dave Foxx went round all the agents in New York but found he had to get a body of work done before any agent would look at him seriously. It took seven years to break that Catch 22. Dr Dave sees the value in agents: they chase payment.

The Netherlands is still awake..

Nice question about the best time of day to work. Dr Dave says he has greater range in the mornings (but not Monday mornings after soccer matches). Rachel prefers mornings but will work at any time and is open to clients around the clock. Dave Foxx says he can do deep early in the morning. Get your scripts to him early if you want that chesty bass.

Tips from VOs to imaging directors: Dr Dave says ‘be specific’ with your instructions. Emphasis scripts with proper mark-up. Rachel says that she is lucky to have producers who are friends. Her advice is to only send something you truly believe in. She can see through bad copy and knows you deserve better. Dave says he loves his work and it feels like he’s never done a day’s work in his life.

A question to Rachel about working as a woman in radio imaging. Rachel says don’t typecast me as an ‘accent voice’ (a secondary voice). She did a recent demo, thinking she was the station voice. When she heard the produced work she was accompanied by a male voice. The main voice. That would never happen to a guy she says.

A question from yours truly: how often to get to hear the other elements in the mix before you record your voice track? Dr Dave says not very often but he tries to hear it in his head. Rachel says 99% never but it’s essential if you are required to react or respond to a voice drop. Dave Foxx likes to see the other elements in the script, even if he cannot hear them. In TV he often gets a rough guide track but never in radio, and that’s a shame.

We seem to have a short break for cocktails now. See you at 4.30 Eastern / 9.30pm UK with a session about copywriting.

Oh, it might be an hour.

Write good

It’s about writing, led by Victor Lisle.

He’s starting with an animated list of 29 ways to stay creative, provided by Eric Chase. It’s going too fast to live blog but Victor promises he’ll share the list for publication within Earshot later.

Update: here’s the actual video..

Writing is no more than ‘providing creativity with a pen’, says Victor. He reads a script he heard recently. It’s rambling, formulaic and dull. And it doesn’t work.

On the panel on the left are Bob Coates, Creative Services Director for iHeart Media in Cleveland and Flounder (that’s his name) who creates for Production Vault’s classic rock and rock formats.

Flounder and Bob Coates

Flounder and Bob Coates

Plus, on the right, Neal Martin from Production Vault classic hits format and Mike Beubien, Creative Services director for iHeart Media in Houston.

Neal Martin and Mike Beaubien

Neal Martin and Mike Beaubien

Some tips to get started on creative stimulus: Flounder says he uses everything from his surroundings to inspire him. Neal Martin uses his friends and other people he meets. He finds it easier to respond to the needs of real people than made-up personas or demographics.

Making the complicated simple: that’s creativity, says Victor.

Talk to one person in their car. Excite that one person. That is what makes a connection, says Bob.

A mantra for commercial radio ‘entertain and tell the listener where to shop’.

Victor plays examples of ‘relatable’ scripts. They sell the benefits and effects of the services being promoted, not just the features.

Theatre of the mind is now Victor’s theme. The audience closes their eyes while Victor describes sweet scene involving a beautiful sunrise and a defacating seagull.

Storytelling is powerful, but you don’t have to write all the stories yourself. Your listeners and other members of the public all have relatable real life stories from personal experience. Their words write your script for you.

A shout out for Mike Kaminiski whose parody voices and production are favourites of Victor.

Now, an example of an original approach to a staple of US radio: the 9/11 anniversary promo. This time the words nine or eleven didn’t even feature in the spot. It was members of the public doing the storytelling.

Britain’s Andy Jackson receives praise for a piece he made to celebrate the work of Prince. It didn’t include a single word of copy, just other people talking about Prince and his contribution, plus music.

Mike talks about the triggers to creativity. Sound effects and new releases on Spotify can set off the creative chain. One member of the audience found a piece of spooky music that inspired him to get the voice and the script for a Hallowe’en promo.

This session is actually not about the crafting of words, but the formation and development of ideas, and it’s pretty strong for that.

Victor Lisle

Victor Lisle

These approaches to idea creation give us the canvas but you have to paint the picture says Victor. Think of your radio station as a museum in which all your work is on show. Your job is to keep them there for longer.

Finally, citing Steve Jobs, let’s be human.

Well, I hope I’ve navigated through the references to soccer mums and the US elections sufficiently well for you.

More tomorrow, live from Miami.