Radio Imaging Talent – Is The Pond Empty?
I’ve always been on the lookout for amazing Radio Imaging talent – but it seems to be fast disappearing… I don’t pretend to know why – but I have a few theories…
There is a natural attrition to all jobs, but in the creative industry it can be sometimes be at a higher rate. Every time I’ve tried to hire good people to work for me as a Radio Imager I have always had a mixed bag of applicants with few talented people amongst a sea of chancers. For example, if I have 40 applications for a job, 10 will understand what the role actually is but only 5 or 6 will really have a chance of an interview. Of that 5 or 6 only 1 or 2 might really have what it takes. When did the pond get so empty of fish?
Theory 1: There are no great training grounds to learn the trade and prove how good you are.
Seems simple enough, and has a degree of merit I’m sure we’d all agree. Many radio stations are now part of larger networks, or receive so much syndicated programming there’s no need for additional production work. So the young up-and-comers don’t get anywhere to practice and learn.
Theory 2: Everyone wants the same sound.
So they use the same tools, and don’t want any variation or experimentation. Some might say that production services are part of the reason for this – but they’re not. Managers and Programme Directors are the reason for this. Everyone’s become so ‘idea insular’ that people have forgotten what it really means to innovate. Production services are only the tools to help you create your sound – not the tools to replace who you have working on your station’s sound. When I was first starting out in New Zealand I used Chase Cuts as a source of inspiration and mine for audio bits that could help improve my work.
Theory 3: Radio Imaging producers aren’t valued anymore.
Costs are being cut everywhere. Often the Breakfast Jock is the Programme Director and the Marketing Guy. The Imaging Guy is the Drive Jock and Music Scheduler. Surely all of these jobs are important and shouldn’t be loaded upon single guys? Unfortunately that’s not the world we live in – but radio suffers as a result. Media suffers as a result – ’cause we’re not just at radio stations anymore, we’re working at media outlets with much larger presence in our listeners lives. They watch stuff online, the listen on their phone, they interaction with us on facebook/twitter/insta-snap-thing. So in my mind, yes Radio Imaging producers aren’t being valued any more for sure – just like everyone else.
Theory 4: The time to be creative has gone.
See above. Does anyone have the time to actually concentrate solely on Imaging? And if you do just do Radio Imaging I’ll bet you’re so slammed with work you don’t get a chance to breathe let alone actually think creatively.
Theory 5: They’ve taken their talent elsewhere.
I know a lot of great producers who are now ‘out of the game’ by virtue of the working style that Radio can bring. Long hours, little reward or thanks for the efforts invested in that 5 second sweeper. I totally understand. These people are now successfully plying their trade as full time composers, sound designers for games or running production houses.
Theory 6: Radio Imagers are taken for granted.
Theory 7: The skill set required is growing faster than the pay grade.
‘Be a crash hot audio whizz, who can organise workloads, have great people skills, tech-support your own problems, help win over clients, write compelling scripts, understand the art of office politics, work to a deadline, make great coffee, understand CSS3, be regulatory compliant, be a Photoshop demon, craft visual awesomeness on Final Cut, bake a cake all while jumping into a glass of water from 50 stories.’ That gets pretty tiring.
What do others think?
I reached out to a bunch of people I respect in the industry, to get their thoughts on what is going on from their perspectives.
Dan Mumford – Ex-Head of Production BBC Radio 1
“I think no one cares about Radio Imaging anymore. More money on social media, less money on imaging, and the money you do have you can get a service to sort you out without having to hire anyone (plus the services have all the good imaging people) – Vicious circle”
Kieran Bell – Imaging Producer at ZM
“From my point of view there is a vast lack of depth in imaging producer talent, especially from what I have seen in New Zealand. In the 8 years I’ve been an imaging producer I’ve had next to no young guns contact me, to express their interest in imaging and passion to grow their knowledge and experience to further a potential career as an imaging producer. I was thinking about this late last year and I can only assume its one of two things. Firstly, that radio training schools aren’t placing enough emphasis around not only imaging but audio production in general. Secondly, and I suppose it links back to the first reason, but perhaps people who have an interest in audio production, be it musical production or sound design etc, don’t know what imaging is or that it’s a career option. I can’t speak for other radio markets in places like the UK or Australia but here in NZ there definitely needs to be more young guys coming through, showing passion and enthusiasm for imaging. Currently if someone leaves or the company needs to find a new imaging producer they are forced to look off shore, which isn’t a bad thing but I feel from a company perspective, growing & supporting talent is a far better route to take than hiring now talent.”
George Taylor – Imaging Director, IMGR
“I think there are fewer avenues into the industry now. The centralised networks have removed a lot of the training ground jobs that once existed. Often the big networks are looking for more experienced staff to come in rather than invest the time in training. I also wonder if there are other more alluring creative opportunities on offer now for aspiring creatives. App development, music, digital media. Is “that was, this is” radio exciting to young people? How can that compete with Spotify, YouTube, Netflix and social networking? The truly creative people will be inspired by what’s around them, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to great content. If I was 14 now and looking to get involved in something creative I’m not sure if radio would entice me like it did.”
What can we do?
Dunno. It’s troubling though right? I think we need to re-examine exactly what it means to be a Radio Imager. What skills are needed, what expectations are being set? How do we train people up and help the learn the right skills? George touches on an interesting idea around whether Radio Imaging is still an alluring creative opportunity… I think he’s right. Radio is not the medium it used to be, and without becoming an anorak about the day’s of yore, I do think we’ve as an industry figured out how to best fill every gap with sound – and it’s boring.
Even so, personally I’ve found the best way to get great talent into Radio Imaging has been to hire people who have a passion – and train them in the technical side as they go. It’s easier to train in the technical stuff, than it is in the passion stuff.
What do you think? Or, are you a budding young talent trying to make it into Radio Imaging? Love to hear from you!