A few months ago, I had the pleasure of being invited to speak on Commercial Creativity at the annual VOX Voiceover and Audio conference at the Radisson Blu in Manchester.
VOX is a UK based conference, designed to serve the voiceover and audio industry. Wander around the room and you’ll find yourself bumping into voiceover artists, actors, producers, voice & advertising agents, creative writers, radio & TV stations, productions houses…the list goes on. It’s a real who’s who of creative media talent…
So imagine my mental state leading up this event, knowing I was giving a keynote presentation. Honestly, if it weren’t for my wife, I’d probably be a total hermit. Facing the sunlight only to extend a pale, pasty hand into the fridge for another Diet Coke. That’s fairly standard for a producer though, right? Suffice to say, speaking in front of a room full of industry professionals isn’t my natural habitat.
However, despite my daunted nervousness beforehand, I loved every second of it!
The day started with a meet and greet, followed by a series of “round table” discussions. These included showreel production, branding, in-store radio, producer expectations, some genius tecchy stuff with Rob Bee, Aston Microphones (I LOVE these mics, but I’ll save that for another blog) and even an insurance expert. Not bad for a mornings work, VOX!
We broke for lunch, which for me consisted of a glass of water and mini croissant…nerves anyone!?
Then we were up…
…a strange thing happened next, I felt completely at ease. Be it the lovely bunch of warm, smiling faces looking back at me, or a particularly spectacular croissant, I had a total blast. Even better, I was joined by my bespectacled friend and Wireless Group colleague, Creative Writer – Dan Seavers. (He was on Dinner Date once. The half and half shirt guy).
So, how about a run down of our talk?
Ooh-err…not like that. This is the creative working relationship between Client, Writer & Producer. We aim to foster creativity in our work by allowing each person to be fully involved throughout the process. Essentially, the good old “creative led sell”.
We experience this as a 5 stage process.
In our experience, clients can say some pretty strange things. Here are a few examples.
“I don’t want anything creative”
“I know you’re saying that voiceovers read things slower, but I got one of the lads in the back to read it and he could fit TWICE as many words in”
“We don’t want this to bring us any extra business”
“Can we change it to ‘if you don’t use Bob’s Rentals, you must be f****** mental?’”
“Can you make me sound less miserable?” (client voiced)
“Can you enunciate ditty, so it doesn’t sound like titty”
“You said the VO would sound like Sean Bean. He sounds too much like Sean Bean.”
Most clients in the current climate have been brought up listening to radio…they have an idea of what radio advertising should sound like. But are they right?
Very often, they will come up with ideas that they think will sound like a typical radio ad – 2 people talking over a fence, jingles, and cliché’s “Big enough to help, small enough to care”.
This is exactly what we’re trying to get away from. We don’t want their ideas, we want their information. We want their DNA. Their heartbeat.
For this reason, the brief taking process needs to be a conversation. We must find out what makes this business unique and attractive by asking the right questions.
One thing I feel very strongly about in my approach to what I do is making myself totally open and available to the earlier stages in the creative process. Some producers don’t want to know about a job until it’s written and ready to go…which is fine, but I don’t work like that.
I actively encourage writers to bring me in early on in the process, to run initial ideas past me and ask questions.
“will this be possible?”
“could you create a sound effect like this?”
“what sort of voice would work best on this?”
By doing this, you drastically reduce the chances of having to go back to stage 1 & 2 because something isn’t right, or can’t be done…because you’ve already been involved in stage 1 & 2. Therein lies the power of fluid and constant collaboration.
We have 12 local radio stations in the Wireless Group, each with its own writer. These writers are very different individuals with different styles, methods, personalities and approaches to their work. The very best experiences I’ve had as a producer have been with people who collaborate throughout the whole process. And the end result is invariably better too.
In order for this to work to its full potential you need a few things.
Hone your craft – As a producer, voiceover, musician or whatever you do, you must practice and learn your skillset until it becomes 2nd nature. That way, when you find yourself in the midst of a high pressure environment where you’re expected to come up with ideas on the spot, your mind is solely on creativity and innovation.
Be brave – There is no such thing as a bad idea…just ideas that don’t work. In trying the things that that fail you get a clearer idea of what is right. You end up in a stronger place for it.
Producers, don’t be grumpy! I’ve worked around many producers over the years and I’m still surprised at how many find themselves in a bit of a rut. It’s taken me a while to figure out that actually, a lot of people just aren’t being utilised fully. Producers by large are a creative breed, who need an outlet for their gifts and abilities. If they find themselves in a position that should be their perfect job but in reality, they’re just churning out the same stuff day in day out with little or no influence over the creative output…they will often lose their way. I’ve found that the way out of this is to engage in the wider process.
Identify your style – My experience is in music production, and animation. 2 disciplines that may not always seem like they marry up in everyday situations; but in the job I do now, I bring those disciplines together: musicality and timing (music production), with characterisation and evoking imagery (animation)
I showed this video to illustrate my point.
How would you identify your style?
A huge part of my job is voiceover casting. It’s easy for some people to get stuck into using the same 3 or 4 VO’s, which is lovely if you’re one of the 3 or 4 VO’s in question! But I’ve set myself a golden rule…which I’ve never broken yet. To use at least 1 new voiceover every month. This constantly grows the pool of talent available at my fingertips. But it also varies the sound of your work, and increases the quality by improving the suitability of the Voice in the particular project.
VOX 2016 was an amazing experience for me. What struck me is the strange relationship dynamic of knowing a voiceover remotely for years without meeting them. Getting to meet these guys in person is already becoming an annual highlight in my job.
Finally, the VOX Awards evening showcased some fantastic creative work. Our very own Dan Seavers and Thys Brame won the award for Best Local Radio Commercial.
We also had the first ever Sayer Producer of the Year award, in honour of the late Phil Sayer. Phil was a fantastically well loved member of this voiceover community, and this was a touching way to honour his memory.
The brilliantly talented Ben Davis from Global was the deserving winner.