The Truth about Creative sessions

Wallace and Grommit run a voice session - Photo - James Stodd
Wallace and Grommit run a voice session – Photo – James Stodd

 

A quick post triggered by Dan McGrath at This is Bounce for anyone who has ever had to run an audio session where an advertising agency (“the creatives”) or a client (“the pains in the backside who often change their mind for no reason but ultimately hold the budget”) are in attendance.

I’ve certainly had sessions like this (though thankfully not for a very long time – but the situations are all too familiar.

If you’re in the middle of your pre-Christmas client nightmare, take a moment or two to give it a watch!

And should you need any audio or music for projects, take a look at This is Bounce – they make a nice cup of tea and often have nice biscuits in too..

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oVPkm5zE6QI]

How do you promote your best content?

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I just saw this on Twitter from @dannywallace and think it needs sharing.

http://soundcloud.com/the-xfm-breakfast-show/behind-the-scenes-documentary

http://soundcloud.com/the-xfm-breakfast-show/behind-the-scenes-documentary

There’s a tendency, particularly in commercial radio, to run a breakfast show promo that contains a quick clip from the show. The normal reason for this is that the show is sponsored, and as part of the deal, the Sponsorship team have added in promo trails. The real reason it’s there is to get across a sponsor message. And the breakfast show clip is essentially the filling in the sponsorship sandwich.

Often, the promo is pretty rubbish. The reason; it’s pretty hard to distill the essence of a great breakfast show into a single, punchy clip.

So why do shows insist on doing it? Would it not be as effective to use the trail to give a tease of some great audio that’s actually worth listening to, and maybe direct listeners online to hear the whole section? And now that a significant number of your consumers are online, maybe there are new ways to promote the show too.

I like this “behind the scenes” “documentary” because:
It’s funny.
It’s irreverent.
It’s probably something extra that wouldn’t necessarily appear on air.
It’s really shareable too.

I’m constantly amazed why more stations don’t use clips of content from interviews in on air promos and imaging to drive the listeners online to hear more. If you’ve spent the time recording and editing a great interview with a guest, don’t assume your listeners were actually listening when you broadcast it. Why not use it to promote your show and then reward the listeners with more content online.

Make That Change

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There are some times in your career when you need to make a change.

Sometimes it’s because an amazing job comes up. Sometimes it’s for personal reasons. And sometimes (and more and more often), its because it’s enforced. When these times of change come along, you can either bury your head in the sand and despair. Or you can embrace the change and see it as a force for good.

Next month, I’m leaving the BBC.

It’s been a hard decision to make but one that is right; for me, for the family and for various other reasons. I’ll post news of where I’m going and what I’m doing next week.

Throughout my career, I’ve almost always been involved in hands on radio production. Whether producing programmes and events, managing production teams or co-ordinating projects. This is what I love doing and this is what makes the day to day job worth doing.

Ever since I left Capital FM in London in 2008, I’ve been working outside of radio stations.

I worked on documentaries for Wise Buddah. I created imaging for a production service and shows like the Ronnie Wood Show whilst at Puretonic Media. And for the last 2 and a half years, I’ve worked across some pretty challenging marketing projects on radio as part of BBC Creative Marketing.

But every job has taken me away from day to day radio.

And each job has required fewer of my core craft skills to be utilised.

Now, one can argue that as you progress in a career, you’d normally expect to do less doing and more managing. And this has certainly been the case with my current job. And it brings both challenges and rewards. But also it brings frustrations. I’ve sometimes had to manage the creative process when deep down, I’ve really wanted to make the finished product myself. In fact, recently, I was worried that I was beginning to lose some of the creative craft skills I’ve developed over many years simply by lack of “doing”.

So the new job is in some ways a step sideways. But the rewards that it will give me personally are far greater. Greater personal satisfaction. More family time. And a broadening of my production network too, as some of it will have an International element.

So, if you’re sitting in a job and are getting frustrated, maybe it’s time to think back to what it was that attracted you to radio in the first place. Are you still getting your creative buzz from what you do now. If you are – that’s great. But if not, then what are you going to do about it?

Skillset funding for radio freelancers

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All too often in the radio industry, the actual people who do the work are offered very little opportunity for training. If you are a freelancer, the opportunities can be even more limited.

Creative Skillset – the media skills funding provider have just announced training funds of up to £1500 for radio skills training for eligible freelancers.

Funding is available for freelancers to “spend on the craft, technical and business skills training the industry needs”.

To be eligible:
You need to have at least three production credits on your CV gained within the last three years. You also need to demonstrate that the training you chose is in the priority area of either craft and technical, or business skills and is delivered by a recognised training provider or high calibre industry professional working in their specialist field.

If you are a freelancer with at least 3 professional radio credits on your CV, this could be a great opportunity to enhance your skills.

You can find out more from the Skillset website

The New Sound of BBC Radio 1

For radio imaging readers, it’s worth checking out the new sound of BBC Radio 1. On air since the beginning of April, there’s a new punchiness to the sound – and the station has a real feel of energy and progression  to it – particularly in the new shows in the afternoon.

Dan Mumford, Radio 1’s Station Sound head worked with the team at Pure Jingles in the Netherlands to create a new sonic identity to the station. And what’s interesting is the way the team at Pure Jingles work.

Dan tells me they initially worked on a ton of music beds in loads of different styles. These then get passed to another producer in another studio who decimates the tracks, creating short burst of musical energy – often unlike the original track. These music elements then get thrown to the next studio where the audio mangling happens to the Voiceovers – giving them a final set of idents.

I love this idea of collaborative production – it seems very different from the production process I came across when working with companies such as Wise Buddah and Groove Addicts years back. They have a completely different (and equally valid) way of working. But for Radio 1’s sound, this new way is certainly a fresh approach.

The new imaging sound also includes 2 new station voices. Both have been discovered by the station rather than through traditional ways of going through agencies etc. The Female voice was discovered whilst auditioning for a TV show, and the new male voice was found through the annual search for the voice of the awards session at the the Student Radio Association annual conference.

Even if Radio 1 isn’t your bag – you can check out a montage that Dan created of the station sound here.

And there’s another montage of some more of the imaging on the Pure Jingles website.

A break from the Norm

How many times are you tempted to fall back on the same routines? How often do you approach creative challenges with the same, often predictable solution? I suggest that the answer it yes – on both counts – in many situations. This is totally understandable in many cases. We all have huge pressures on our time these days – and sometimes it’s easier just to get jobs out of the door. But don’t let that become the norm.

I’m working on a project that encompasses almost every part of the organisation I work for. It will involve programming on radio, on Tv and an equally large body of content that will live online. The creative brief was challenging – but the solution has been surprising – putting a contemporary filter over very traditional content. It’s taken bold decision-making to make it happen. And the challenge for me has been to try to make the radio part feel relevant – rather than overly traditional – but also accessible to a wide range of audiences – and to sound relevant to the station sound on a range of radio networks. The project delivers at the end of the week – and I’ll share he tv and radio creative (along with the story behind it) once its on air.

The problem with breaking creative boundaries is that you have to be brave and take risks.

I’ve been lucky enough over the years to work with Programme Directors who have been very creative – and loved to try new things. And I’ve worked with a couple who have not. Some ideas led to ratings success and were celebrated. Others led to audience indifference and were swiftly dropped. But whatever the outcome, they always needed someone with the balls to say yes.

It’s easy to push back on highly creative ideas. They may cost too much. They may be too risky. They may be challenging to your peers or the people you are trying to impress as you line yourself up for your next job. But sometimes, you need to go with a gut feeling.

If you aspire to work somewhere truly creative – you need to take creative risks once in a while. Are you brave enough to do that..?

A Demon of an Opportunity

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting the Media department of De Montfort University in Leicester. I was there as a guest of Rob Watson, who runs the Media Technology Degree.

Every year, they invite a load of industry practitioners from various areas – from business, to engineering to creative – to talk to the students about their real world experiences. We were on a panel called “It’s all going interactive”. You can read more about it here.

My fellow panelists were  Andrew Dudfield – who manages navigation for BBC Online and Chris Skinner who is a freelance producer for shows like Dave Gorman on Absolute Radio and The Bugle Podcast. We all shared some of our experiences in getting into radio, and I also shared some audio tips on creating and developing audio brands.

What was good to see was the enthusiasm from so many of the students. What also really amazed me was the opportunity they have available to learn new skills.

Rob showed us around the facilities of the department – and there’s a jaw dropping amount of learning spaces. From fully specced Pro Tools HD suites to acoustic engineering workshops; a green screen studio; AVID suites and even a mixing studio with a huge analogue NEVE desk.

And then there were the facilities on offer to the students who work on the student/ community radio station – Demon FM. All of the students on the course have the opportunity to get involved – planning, producing and presenting shows. They have 4 production booths for pre recording and prepping shows. Plus an office/ talks studio too. And they’re equipped with access to all the IRN feeds and news management tools to be found in any big newsroom. To be blunt – a wealth of opportunity they are unlikely to have to hand in many real world stations.

The temptation for many is to emulate what already exists. Some want to produce station sound that emulates Capital or Radio 1. Some want to be just like Chris Moyles or Greg James. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, this will probably be the one station that they get to work in where they can pretty much do what they like. Test out some new formats,
devise new ways of doing things, write some experimental drama, broadcast some sound art, or try out some comedy. It’s precisely the place where you can try and fail.

I really hope that they realise that this is their chance to experiment and create something fresh and exciting, learn some new skills and think differently. And then hopefully reap the rewards that should follow when they create something extraordinary.

 

 

Global Radio finally living up to their name..?

Two pieces of news yesterday finally cemented Global Radio’s ambitions.

First, they announced “an unprecedented long term partnership” with News International – creating a range of partnerships. The UK Press Gazette reports

Capital Breakfast will partner with The Sun
Classic FM’s More Music Breakfast will be presented in partnership with The Times and The Sunday Times
Heart’s Club Classics on Friday evenings with The Sun and Fabulous Magazine
LBC 97.3 will run special features, news round-ups and advertorials with The Times and The Sunday Times
The Big Top 40, the chart show syndicated across various stations UK-wide on Sunday afternoons, will feature Sun advertorial features.

They also announced a “new media opportunity” with Clear Channel Media in the US to create the Official World Premiere across Global Radio and Clearchannel airtime and advertising assets across the UK, Europe and the USA.

According to Radio Today

Ashley Tabor, Founder & Executive President of Global Radio said: “This is an unprecedented partnership between Clear Channel and Global Radio. The combined worldwide reach of over 150 million people, as well as the innovation of combining radio & digital outdoor, together with the geographical spread of this initiative, is truly eye watering. We’re delighted to be partnering with Madonna and Universal music for the very first ‘Official World Premiere’ today.”

This is pretty clever strategically for Global on both counts.

With the NI deal, there’s a tie up with a huge publisher, giving a tie in with the editorial power of a huge newspaper group. I’m guessing the showbiz-loving Sun will happily be featuring the sort of content that Global breakfast shows will be talking about, and featuring stories about Global’s huge events. I’m sure there’s no compulsion to do this – but an alignment like this certainly won’t harm either if them. One wonders how impartial reporting of Rajar day stories will be – but I’m sure the benefits will outweigh the challenges.

With the Clear Channel deal – the benefits are far more rooted in music partnerships. The recent Official World Premiere of the new Madonna track tied up the Capital Fm Network, Clear Channel’s Radio stations and billboard sites. The event trended worldwide on Twitter – driving traffic back to Capital and helping build the Madonna Brand. I’m guessing this will be sold to various labels to promote their content – 150 Million potential consumers is not to be sniffed at. And I’m guessing that if Global wanted to use it to promote any of their acts – they’d get a good deal..

I’m wondering though if the CC deal will go further. Both Global and Clear Channel operate music events for their stations. Capital has the Jingle Bell Ball whilst New York’s Z100 has the Jingle Ball. In the future, will huge headliners be tied into the type of partnership deal – whereby Rihanna or Jay-Z or similar artists headline both events over one weekend in two continents? An extreme idea – but with lots of possibilities.

The challenge for radio is to constantly come up with new ideas. Global are doing this with new strategic commercial partnerships – that could ultimately create exciting and unique new content partnerships. This must ultimately be good news for all radio brands.

Fireworks Soundtracks and Mashups

Image (C) Merlin Fireworks

“James – we need you to make a fireworks soundtrack. It needs to be 15 minutes long. Oh, and it needs to be beatmixed..”.

I have only had to make one full on fireworks soundtrack mix.

It was around 2001 and was for the AXA Skyfest Cardiff. It was a huge 15 minute display to celebrate the first Football FA Cup Final to be hosted at Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium (whilst London’s Wembley Stadium was being rebuilt). It took me a few weeks to make ( through various incarnations) using a very basic setup on ProTools5 (my first ProTools Rig) and with no fancy Elastic Time tools – just clever edits a little varispeed and a lot of edits.

It worked pretty well and it was fantastic to see the whole of Cardiff Bay lit up to a fireworks display set off and designed by the company that produced the fireworks for the Olympics ceremony at the Sydney Games. You can hear it here. I just listened back to it for the first time in a decade – and whilst it’s a little ragged in places, it was pretty epic!

I was at a party last night so missed the huge London 2012 New Years Eve fireworks display. These have become a Traditional part of each New Years celebration. My friend Will Jackson has tracked down the mix from last night’s display – so thought it worth a share here. It was mixed by BBC Radio 1 and Asian Network DJ Nihal. Take a listen here

In fact this mix was curated by Nihal and engineered by BBC Radio 1 Head of Station Sound, Dan Mumford. You can read more about how the display was put together here

My friends at the Benztownbranding Blog have also recently showcased a very clever Beatmix from David Konksy at Sydney’s 2DayFM here. 30 songs in 3 minutes!

And if you REALLY like this sort of thing – get bang up to date with DJ Earworm’s United State of Pop 2011

Now – if you have a good hangover cure after last night’s celebrations – let me have it…