Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Land of the "Free"...

Twenty years ago, I was an instructor at a business college in Akron, Ohio. I had graduated from the seminary college a few years earlier and had been teaching at a school in Canton when I was transferred to a school a half-hour north. Teaching was a way to try to utilize my newly-acquired Bachelor of Arts degree; however, I spent most of my time between classes running up towards the receptionist's area to see if any Program Directors had called in regards to the dozens of tapes I had sent to stations all over northeast Ohio. My father, a 30-year industrial arts teacher, told me that it was good that I had other goals, since teaching, in his words, "didn't pay squat". Obviously, he had been mis-informed about the salaries of most radio broadcasters.

During my time there, I was asked by another instructor to assist him in a writing project. He wanted to do some freelance business consulting but needed some assistance in writing a few brochures. Being new to the faculty, I told him that I'd certainly give him a hand and that he didn't need to pay me for it. He looked at me and said, "You're a professional, aren't you?" I sheepishly nodded, "Uh, well, yeah, I guess." He said, "Well, professionals never do anything for free. If they're good at what they do, they deserve to be paid".

I've though of Eric Starbuck's words (no relation to the coffee empire, unfortunately for him) more than a few times in the last couple of weeks. As the economy continues to dissolve and panic continues to follow, more and more companies and stations are tightening their belts, looking for ways to trim the fat and survive the onslaught. One of my client stations even called last week to inform me that they had decided, by February of 2009, to cut all of the "Station Image-Voices" for their four-station cluster and use the money to keep at least one more person in the building employed. I understand that. I also understand a Program Director calling me up and saying, "Matt, we don't have 'imaging' in the budget next year, so send us a final invoice." I don't like it, and I don't particularly agree with it...but I understand it. What I don't understand, however, is asking a professional to offer his or her services for free.

I came across this advertisement on a popular industry website:

Low budget radio station in top 25 market needs an imaging pro who can crank out 10 or 20 sizzlin' promo's and liners per day... Your reward? We'll send you free bumper stickers, coffee mugs and maybe, just maybe... T-Shirts! It'll make that resume look real tight too! That's right! Just send me a demo of your best imaging and we'll put it on the air. Then, you can tell all your friends that you are heard 24/7 in a big market, and not lie!

Wow, just imagine: you text a friend and tell him, "Dude, I'm the new 'voice' of KXXX! Check me out! Their streaming online at..." He texts you back and says, "Dude, that is so cool! That's a Top 25 market. You must be raking in some dough!" And you respond, "Well, no, not really....but you should see my new KXXX coffee mug!"

I concluded that it must have been a prank of some kind that somehow made it on to the company's website. A couple of days later, I spot this:

Smaller market N/T with no money has an opportunity for you to populate your demo tape with a REAL radio station, a station with a day signal heard in both a Top 75 and a Top 180 market. I'll give you the opportunity, won't swamp you with a ton of copy, will produce on this end, and get you the returned product. You'll be produced by a guy who's an experienced imaging hand, so you'll sound great. Again, I'll give you the opportunity, you just provide the voice.

I wrote the author a note and, basically, asked him if he thought imaging was important? Being that his station is a News-Talk station, I'm assuming that, since I voice a number of News-Talk stations, it's a busy one. I'm assuming that news promos with current actualities have to be changed on a fairly regular basis. I'm assuming that promos have to be done to promote upcoming station events, Holiday activities, or even just the weekend's highs school basketball games. Being that it's a "real radio station", I'm also assuming that there are weekend "car talk", "home improvement" and "gardening" shows that occasionally need revamped imaging. If that's the case, I wrote, what is it saying about your organization that you would try to solicit that work from someone...who doesn't want to be paid? Unless it's a really good friend, what kind of quality are you going to receive from somebody who, consistently, doesn't want anything in return?

Sure, I've helped friends of mine in the industry who need a hand. I've voiced something for one of my client PD's who needed a quick imaging piece for one of their other AM's in the cluster. I've helped a buddy of mine with a produced commercial because it's Friday and his Production Director had to take his wife to the hospital. And I think I say this with all humility: my clients know that I give them 110% with some of the fastest turn-a-round times in the industry. Yet, I don't think I have one client who would ask me to be the "Voice" of their station or their off-site Production Director...gratis! I wouldn't ask them to do their jobs for free. Why ask that of me?
Of course, I also offered this gentleman an attractive offer to be his News-Talk station's "Image-Voice". I also offered my copywriting and production services at, what I considered, a reasonable rate. I did not receive a response.

Then, I get an email from my good friend Chuck "Big Voice" Matthews who titles his email "What is going on with all the free stuff lately???" He forwards this:

VO Needed for a country format! Today's Smokin' Hot Country and we need a Smokin' Hot Voice talent! Prefer barter deals or talents that are willing to VO on the cheap! If you believe that's you, send a demo to us (both male and female talents encouraged) Rookies welcome!!

I think the branding of a station is vitally important. I think the "sound" of the production is critical. As Chuck once said to me, "If you're not spending some money on the sound between the records or between the talk segments, well then what are you spending it on?" Obviously, that's a bit simplistic. The bottom-line is the bottom-line. Budgets have to be met. But I believe he's right: the "sound" of the station from a Production and Imaging standpoint is just as crucial as hiring the right morning show or the right Talk Host. From the Top-of-the-Hour ID to which music is chosen for the florist who only runs her commercials during the "Garden Talk" show on Sunday, the "sound" IS the radio station.

So, let's make a deal, ok? You are a professional, right? Good. Me, too. Let's not ask each other to do anything for free. It depreciates what we've chosen to do with our lives. Times are tough for all of us, but the "sound" of the station should matter. Find something in the budget for the professional to do it. The reward will come back at you through the speakers....and through satisfied customers and loyal listeners.

Oh, I can't forget about the one I came across just yesterday:

Telephone On-Hold and In-Store messaging company is looking to add a freelance voice...
WE: pay you $2 per script minute with company check for monthly assignments. Please don’t try to start a negotiation. This is what we pay and that’s it.

TWO DOLLARS PER SCRIPT MINUTE? Oh, well....at least he's paying something, I guess!

-30-

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

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

So long, Piper Court!

I think I have a pretty good handle on radio's "vagabond lifestyle". I've forced my wife to move more times than she's probably ever wanted to, and suprisingly our relationship is still intact! Throughout all of these various moves to DC, Knoxville, Baltimore, Pittsburgh and so on, my mother was always amazed that I, and folks like me, could just throw all my belongings in a Ryder truck and hit the highway.

Last week she did it herself. After 33 years, my parents finally exited Piper Court in Canton, Ohio for a small, 2-bedroom apartment on the other side of town. And this time, I'm the one who's amazed.

As children, we grew up in two houses: a two-story with a glassed-in front porch on 14th street and, two houses down, a big white colonial at 1414 Piper Court. I can still remember, during freshman year of high school, carrying boxes down the street. It was one way to save on a moving truck! Although I was raised on 14th Street, the home on Piper Court will be the one I'll always remember.

I come from a big family...three brothers and three sisters, with one brother being my twin. (Yes, there are two of us. Fortunately for Mark, we're "fraternal twins".) So, as the years passed and various brothers and sisters grew up, married, and had children, the Christmas Eve celebrations and other events became, understandably, quite crowded. Also during those years, the neighborhood itself became quite neglected. Many of the neighborhood's grand old middle-class homes with well-manicured lawns and cared-for property had become, essentially, run-down rental units. There were even instances where people would knock on my parents' front door at 11 o'clock at night asking for money and such...and my father would answer the door! What once served as a safe place to sit outside on the front porch on a hot, summer evening was now just a target for crime and vandalism.

They'd had it on the market for about 9 months when another landlord interesting in renting out yet another home on Piper Court made them an offer. In the throes of today's dismal economy, they had no other choice but to take it. I wasn't able to be there for "The Move". Through phone calls and text messages, I tried to follow the saga of my mother trying to decide what items to keep, throw out, or give away. It's hard enough for me to do it every couple years. I can't even imagine what was going through her mind.

Now, they spend their time organizing their new apartment and trying to get used to a completely new environment and lifestyle. I assume that they're probably shell-shocked over the fact that they don't have to listen to gunshots, dozens of barking dogs left out all night, vagrants ringing their doorbell at midnight, the house on one side playing Snoop Dog till 3 in the morning, and the guy in the other house outside during the day chipping golf balls with a 9-iron into the side of his own house.

I'll miss that house. More importantly, I'll miss my home. My brother and I shared an attic bedroom, until he went off to school. I spent hours in that room with headphones on air-drumming with Neil Peart on A Farewell to Kings, matching Jimmy Page lick-for-lick on Houses of the Holy, and providing backing vocals for Bruce on Darkness on the Edge of Town. It's also the home where Mark and I, on more-than-a-few-occasions, staggered in at some ungodly hour, only to find my mother still up, waiting for us so that she could give "the lecture", while we stood there, struggling to keep our eyes open and our feet on the ground. It's the home where our grandmother stayed with us throughout the winters until she passed away, and where brothers and sisters brought home their boyfriends and girlfriends, a few of which are still their husbands and their wives. It's the home where I told my mother I was going to the seminary to be a priest, and the home where I told her after graduating that I had decided not to be a priest.

I'm happy for them, though. I certainly was one of the children who urged them to try to sell the home and move out of the area. But it was definitely odd to walk into an unknown apartment lobby, look up, and see my parents peeking their heads outside of an strange new home. It was even more surreal to see their easily recognizable belongings now adorning the rooms of a new place on the other side of town. It might as well have been the other side of the world. But, as I look around at the well-manicured lawns and the ample walking areas, I feel pretty good that they've made the right decision.

But I'll miss that old white colonial on Piper Court, a mere ten blocks from the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Excuse me while I put on "D'yer Mak'er" and go pound-for-pound with Bonzo. Just like old times.

-30-

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