Dear Radio: Creating award-winning radio [interview]
by Paulo Dias (@therealptp) I first met Louis Enslin from Produce Sound when he burst into my colleague’s meeting room and hurled abuse at him about his gluten-free pizza. My next encounter came at the launch of one of his many ventures, 3D Radio. These two events told me everything I needed to know about him: here is a person who is at the forefront of audio production in South Africa and who is quietly driving innovation in an industry that can be formulaic.
I also learnt that all lunches need to be met with his approval.
In keeping with the Cannes Lions theme, I decided to talk to Enslin about radio production in general. Of South Africa’s 33 winning entries for Radio this year, 27 of them were spots Produce Sound finished so, yeah, he’s someone who knows what he’s talking about.
Paulo Dias: Radio is a cheap medium to produce for, compared to TV, and therefore gets little attention in preparation. Do you find that the award-winning teams put TV levels of thought into pre-prod?
Louis Enslin: It’s very seldom that we do great spots in one session. For most of these campaigns, we do a fair bit of work upfront. Planning sessions, voice selection, and music composition. And that’s just the work I’m involved in, let alone what happens before they come to studio. We worked on one of the Cannes Lions winners on and off for more than a year to finalise a preferred direction.
PD: And you’ve obviously worked with the top creative teams, the guys doing really hot radio at the moment. Traditionally, the copywriter takes the lead in radio spots; do you find the same when working on the award-winning spots?
LE: It’s usually the copywriter who leads. They’ve lived and crafted the script for quite a while before it comes to studio. But, as I said before, these are never one-hit wonders; the planning and consultation make this a real team effort. Often we do pilots, which is an interpretation of what the writer has in his or her head, but the pilot may change that thought. At Produce, we’re lucky enough to be involved from the beginning and offer input and treatments where we can. So most of them are a “team effort”. But the brilliance starts with the copy and idea. Without that, we can’t do much.
PD: So as the audio producers, you’re allowed a fair amount of input?
LE: You read the creative team and see if they are open to input. With all the campaigns that won this year, I was privileged enough to have been involved from the start and could offer some treatments. I’ve been working with most of the creative teams for a while so we have a relationship that allows me to contribute.
PD: And how do you find their clients, the advertisers? Do they let creativity flow? Or do they try cram in one minute’s worth of disclaimers?
LE: With most award-entry spots, they [are] mainly driven from the agency, whom the clients trust. The agency has a great idea, a great script and, most importantly, it works for the client. Most of the time, though, these are not necessarily briefed in by the client, so because of this we, agency and studio, have a lot more “free rein”. But, ultimately, it still needs to make the client happy.
PD: And what’s the common denominator in all of the award winners you worked on? Is there a secret formula?
LE: It’s a feel-good factor. They don’t need to be funny, but they’re entertaining. You smile when you hear them, and you only get that from good writing, a good concept, good humour and lots of planning.
PD: The reality, though, is that the majority of radio scripts are ‘OK’ — and there are valid reasons for that: you can’t win an award when you’re selling washing powder, can you? — but can production and planning make an OK script better?
LE: I compare it to music. If you can ‘strip’ a song down and play it on a piano or guitar with just one vocalist, and it still sounds good, then it’s most likely a good song. If you need all the fluff to make the song sound good, then it’s most likely just an average song.
Same with radio spots: if it’s well-written and thought-out — and you have the perfect voice — you don’t need much to make it cut through. Production can bring the spot to life but it can’t mask bad writing or bad voice selection — so most spots need to start there before they think of anything else.
Louis Enslin is the owner of Produce Sound, the no.1 Ranked Recording Studio 2014-2015, no.1 Ranked Composer/Engineer 2014–2015 and 2014 & 2016 Cannes Lions Radio Grands Prix, as well as a 2016 SAMA Nominee for Best Produced Album.
He approved of my lunch choice.
Paulo Dias (@therealptp) is the head of creative integration at Ultimate Media. He works closely with the programming teams at leading radio stations to help implement commercial messaging into their existing formats. He contributes the regular column, “Dear Radio”, looking at the changing radio landscape in South Africa, to MarkLives.com