Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Road More-Traveled...

The basement level of the domicile here that houses "Matt Anthony World Headquarters" has pretty much anything a guy could want. The largest part of the room contains a large-screen HDTV, a few chairs, a ping-pong table, and a bar. The smaller part has all of the guts, including water heater, furnace, and an older washer and dryer. It also contains an extra stove and two extra refrigerators. (what do you imagine resides in those units?) Speaking of beer, this part of the room, in addition, has a great "storage shelf", dark and temperature-consistent, perfect for conditioning the German Altbier that I brewed 2 weeks ago. The smallest part of the lower level contains the studio.

I think it was my wife's master plan to send me, permanently, to the basement. Little did she realize that the environment deep in the catacombs here is probably as nice as most middle-class apartments. And for that, I feel pretty fortunate. But during the day, I'm fairly confined to this 6-and-a-half by 8-and-a-half-foot space I call a "studio". I have a window that allows me to gaze, reflect, and occasionally yell at the deer who simply will not stop chomping flora on which they're not supposed to be chomping! But amongst the "reflecting" during down-time, I've come to the realization that Radio's "new world order"...can be fairly lonely.

2006 was a pivotal year for us. After cruising along in a good position in a major market with a handful of freelance-client stations, I, like many, found myself on the short-end of the "job elimination" game. In over 20 years in broadcasting, this had never happened to me before. It was an adjustment, to say the least. Being that I am skilled in exactly nothing else, I was forced to do what virtually every Production and Imaging guy dreams of: go out on my own. Don't get me wrong; I love what I do. And I'd like to continue doing it for a long time. However, the reality of instantly deciding to be an entrepreneur is an exciting, eye-opening, panic-inducing feeling.

But, compared to walking into a building every day and fraternizing with other like-minded folks, it can also be relatively lonely. Yes, I can go to the gym during lunchtime. I can take Maggie for a walk whenever I like. I can go grocery-shopping for voluminous amounts of toilet paper at Sam's Club in the middle of the afternoon. And although I think I'm a bit of a loner by nature...and probably do my best work without the need for massive amounts of brainstorming with six other people in a conference room...I do miss, well, people.

I have not completely given up on the prospects of one day joining a station, or group of stations, and contributing, either On-Air or in the Production studio. (of course, I would have to have a terribly understanding Program Director who wouldn't mind me stopping occasionally to record the sponsors for the "Game Open" of Texas Tech football, or one of the other AM sports/flagship stations with whom I have the luxury of working. I DO love those assertive Sports-Talkers!) But as cutbacks and downsizing continues, the opportunities at stations are becoming less and less available. I'm sure I'm not relaying news that isn't already known. However, even after being in radio for 20 years, I continue to be amazed at how the landscape, on so many diferent levels, has changed. Many industry contacts, and even former employers and associates, who were once consistent and dependable job contacts, are no longer available. There just simply aren't a whole lot of opportunities or prospects out there, even for an experienced, somewhat-solitary guy like myself.

I advertise and subscribe to Small Market Radio Newsletter, and the last issue included an article from a GM who wrote about the need to have exciting, invigorating, or as he put it, compelling, programming. (I do wish a committee would get together and unanimously agree to ban this word from the radio lexicon.) At any rate, this gentleman waxed philosophically about competent, fully-functioning stations needing to train their salespeople properly, keep their websites up-to-date, maximize revenues, utilize techniques to add to the bottom line...and, oh yeah, make sure we're providing compelling programming content. So I called this GM and introduced myself. I told him that I read his article and wanted to inquire about his need for compelling programming content. He said he was already utilizing lots of syndicated programming. I asked him why he didn't utilize and local talent and, of course, he responded that there wasn't any "budget" for local talent. I then asked him what he had been doing for his station imaging and he replied, "What's station imaging?" After I explained the use of a "station image-voice" and "branding" and such, he again responded, "Oh, no, we wouldn't have any money for that."

So, I thought to myself, hmmm...you have no budget to hire any local personnel, including a grizzled veteran like myself, You have no budget to place towards imaging or creative production. And, yet, you're writing articles imploring other GM's to make sure that they utilize compelling programming. Interesting.

So, as I sit here deep in the bowels of my basement lair, I try to be appreciative and grateful. There continues to be more and more Production/Imaging folks who are forced on to the same path that I took in '06. But, in the throes of downsizing, cutbacks, non-existent budgets, and a bit of lonely nostalgia for days gone by, I'm thankful for the opportunities I've had with my clients and appreciative that I have something to fall back on. Who knows...someday I may hook up with a forward-thinking group who just happens to have a cool AAA station that needs an affable host, who also happens to work for a boss who doesn't mind him stopping occasionally to record a weekend AC/DC concert ticket giveaway promo.

Until then, Sam's Club beckons. We're a little low on paper towels!

-30-

* Why not grab your favorite beverage, cop a squat, and groove to some DEMOS at www.mattmultimedia.com

Friday, October 3, 2008

4 Seconds with Tiger!

I was driving home last week from a session at Technisonic, a beautiful post-production studio just west of downtown St. Louis. To be honest, I was exhausted. I had spent almost an hour-and-a half there after being hired through my agent to do a spot for TLC Laser Eye Centers. I (and my agent) thought it was a booking for a whole spot; it was not. When I arrived at the studio, there were already two people present from the company, two from the ad agency handling the account, and two people recording and directing the session. Up on this huge HD screen...was Tiger Woods. After 25 seconds of Tiger praising TLC for helping him win the Masters, and the U.S. Open, and the Colonial, and the NEC World Golf Championship, and the 3 million other tournaments he dominated last year, I was to say, "Call today for your free TLC Lasik consultation." Simple enough, right?

Uh, no. I stopped counting after reading it for the 35th time. The word "today" should be "TOO'day" and not "TUH' day". Make sure "Lasik" is pronounced with an "s" and not a "z". Pause after "today" and "for". End on an "up-note" and not a "down-note". And then there was the word "consultation". For some reason, I simply could not nail the right inflection of this word. Jeff, the very amiable and well-spoken "director" of this session kept coming in to say, "Matt, we're almost there. Give me 5 or 6 more 'takes' and we'll pop it up next to Tiger to see how it fits." Well, after more than 45 minutes, I was getting a bit agitated. Even with a pristine Neumann U87 staring me in the face, I began to lose focus on....what exactly should be focused on. Maybe I needed a Lasik procedure done on my medulla....or my larynx. Something wasn't right. But, finally, somewhere between 'take 23' of "Call today for..." and 'take 12' of "consultation", we arrived at a finished product.

But driving home, I sensed that the client wasn't happy. Hell, I wasn't happy. I didn't like the sound of the finished product. Perhaps they were tired of me reading the same :04 line repeatedly and thought to themselves, "Screw it. I have Cardinals tickets for tonight and it's almost 4:30, so let's pick one and wrap it up." Whatever the case, I was pretty drained. I've read and performed hundreds of commercials and promos, but I've never been so wasted over :04 of copy in my life. Needless to say, when I arrived home, the Raison D'Etre from Dogfish Head was, indeed, blessed relief.

As I sipped this glorious mahogany concoction (yes, it's brewed with beet sugar and green raisins!) I gave some thought to the "keeping it simple" rule...and how far we've strayed from it. I'm as guilty as the next person, of course. Here in voiceover-land, it's not uncommon for us guys and gals to traverse the galaxies in search of the secret "chain", that Holy-Grail-of-microphone-preamp-compressor-limiter satori that will make itself known so as to bring us to vocalic enlightenment. "Gosh", we mutter to ourselves, "if only I could pair up this Focusrite box with this hand-built German tube microphone. Then, I'd be rockin!" Seven or eight-thousand dollars later, we're ususally off on yet another search. It's never-ending. In reality, we should just "be who we are", I suppose. Brian Cooney, who I hear all over HGTV and ESPN and a half-dozen other cable channels, said in an email recently that he simply stopped looking for the perfect chain. He said, "This is me. This is my voice. I perform with it. I'm tired of looking for the perfect microphone and the perfect preamp. I quit trusting gear and started trusting ME."

I like that. I like that alot. I wish that after 'take 43' of the TLC session that I would have had the testicular fortitude to say "Folks, that's it. You have the best I can give you. Use one of those cuts 'cause I , too, have Cards tickets tonight. Nice meeting you. So long." But, I guess it's not in my temperment to go that route. However, it doesn't mean that things have to get so complicated. Better put, I don't have to make things so complicated. Brian is right; sooner or later, you have to trust yourself and just "go with it".

I can't even begin to fathom what must go through the head of Tiger Woods before teeing off. Perhaps I'm surmising that a whole trigonometric equation presents itself to him prior to impact, which then results in a massive 340-yard drive down the middle of the fairway. Or, maybe he just says, "hit the ball". Or maybe he doesn't say anything at all and, like Brian, "just goes with it".

Until I can be "awakened", I'll pop the top on another Raison, soothe my frazzled nerves, and continue to search eBay. Rumor has it there's a Soundelux U99 with only 6 hours left for bidding. Not that I have any money, or anything. Heck, a :04 tag doesn't pay that much.

-30-

* Why not grab your favorite beverage, cop a squat, and groove to some DEMOS at www.mattmultimedia.com