This article was originally posted to AllAccess’ “Consultant Tips” series, written by Charese Fruge on June 18, 2019
One of the biggest fears among radio talent is voicetracking. Most believe that it decreases the number of, or prevents opportunity for jobs, and that it also prevents companies from developing and growing new talent. Most of the talent that I come across these days are honestly just begging for a little coaching and feedback and sadly they can’t get it anywhere, because no one has the know-how or the time. As much as we hate to admit it, voicetracking is a necessary practice in the radio world and once mastered, can be a profitable business or side hustle for the right person.
As the talent pool continues to grow smaller and smaller in traditional radio, and companies continue to do everything they can to save money, the quality of voicetracked shifts is left mostly to major-market stars who have no idea about the importance of taking the time to be local, or it’s left to small-market talent with little experience, who will execute the shift as quickly as possible for very little money while they tend to the three to four other responsibilities that they have on the job.
I’ve spent a lot of time monitoring small markets for companies with four and five stations in a cluster and found that most of the brands are suffering from a lack of talent and commitment to coaching and content. It’s clearly obvious which stations are voicedtracked simply from the lack of locality, low energy, boring content and sloppy board work. For most programmers, sloppy board work is a huge pet peeve, especially in a world where automation software can be edited to the point of perfection. People are listening to the radio for entertainment and energy.
This challenge presents an “opportunity” for talent to master the craft, and turn voicetracking into a legitimate business. It’s extremely difficult to walk into a situation, especially with a new brand or format and feel the music without actually executing a few live shifts first. It’s very much like programmers who attempt to coach talent, without having ever actually been on the air. You must know what’s going on inside the box in real time, before you can translate it to a pre-recorded shift.
If you’re going to attempt to win with voicetracking, there are a few steps needed to ensure that your brand is still differentiating itself from all of the others and providing content that no one else in the market (or online) can. This requires coaching and listening over and over again to your shifts. I always tell talent, “The best thing that you can do to get better, is to aircheck yourself. You will always be your biggest critic.”
The first thing that you need to do is to make sure that you master the basics, making sure that every element in the shift is previewed and/or edited from song to song, element to element and track to track. It doesn’t take that long to do it. Let’s face it, a lot of different people on staff are adding audio to your system. The sec tones aren’t tight or in the right place, the fade doesn’t work, the intros and endings are not properly identified. Dry vs. produced elements aren’t properly identified. There’s a lot of room for human error. It can be a train wreck if it’s not previewed. A voicetracked shift is just as much a reflection of talent as a live shift. If you want to get the calls for the extra opportunity, make it count. There is nothing worse than a dry sweeper rolling slowly in between two songs instead of over the intro of the next song or having the wrong track air in to or out of the wrong song. “Hey that’s the latest from Panic! At The Disco,” and it’s a Katy Perry song. The average listener may not know exactly what is happening, but they can certainly feel the vibe (or lack thereof).
The next thing you need to do is your homework. You need to prep for a voicetracked shift as much as you prep for a live shift. I can’t tell you the number of times I hear jocks just say the call letters and back sell or front sell a song. A really old song. That’s just lazy. We can run sweepers to handle that and they work for free. Find compelling content to relate to the audience, good artist info and bank lots of calls to utilize during the shift so it sounds like you are live. If you are tracking out of market, make sure you study your market and brand. Utilize as much local prep as you can during the shift and make sure someone in the market helps you stay on top of things there. You can miss a lot if you don’t actually live in the market and you’ve got to find a way to connect with the audience so you are talking with them and not at them.
And finally, back up the shift with updated blogs and social media posts. You can schedule them ahead of time if you are not actually in the building. Make sure they reflect the current shift and refer to them during the shift on a regular basis. Also keep an eye on comments and posts from listeners. If you don’t respond, it’s clear you don’t care, or you are not actually in-house. The ultimate goal is to never have it sound like the lights are on, but nobody’s home on your station. If you can master these basic tasks, you can become the go-to talent when companies are looking to voicetrack more stations. Like anything else, you have to strive to be the best on the job to get the next one, and all that really matters is how it sounds on the air in real time (whether it is or not).