Audio producer and director, voice caster and Cannes juror, Pam Myers set up Rorschach Radio Production c.30 years ago and is a legend in her field.
CG: How did your career start?
PM: I started as a creative secretary at Saatchi’s and saw an ad in Campaign one day for The Radio Operators, so wrote a letter in the form of a radio script to Tony Hertz there. He was looking for someone to take their showreel to agencies, so that’s what I did and then I got to sit in sessions. It was rather like a practical skills apprenticeship.
I’m approached all the time now by fabulous young people in their early 20s with good degrees begging to come and make tea. Unfortunately the opportunity to learn like I did is simply not available anymore, which is sad.
CG: In my junior days, editors had to splice tape: how has radio advertising changed since you started?
PM: Yes, I was quite proficient with a razor blade myself! I think everything has changed, and yet nothing has changed. There’s a tremendous proliferation of new platforms, alongside which traditional linear radio sits beautifully, but the reason I use ‘audio’ in my title is because what used to be radio now also comes under the umbrella of general content.
The way we produce has changed: the notion of remote collaboration really didn’t exist for me before COVID. It was almost a house rule that your butt was on the seat in the studio. I still prefer the studio as the central place from which to operate but now possibilities have opened up to reach artists remotely.
Radio isn’t a selection of cut-and-paste text or pushable digital assets: radio is a performance.
And yet, absolutely nothing has changed. I still see scripts that say the most remarkable things with the English language in a form that you wouldn’t recognise written down let alone spoken out loud, and with characters just referred to as ‘VO’ without any context.
CG: Radio used to be an underrated medium for ads. Is that still the case?
PM: Yes, it used to be seen as a dying medium; creatives just wanted to make TV. The mobile phone changed all of that. For starters, it created an entirely different relationship between broadcast radio and its listeners – you could now text a radio station and get a dialogue going with it and the listeners, which was interesting for advertisers, plus radio and social media go together beautifully. Radiocentre also came along, which was a great initiative, and produces brilliant planning tools with an excellent creative archive.
I haven’t heard anyone turn up their nose at writing radio ads in a very long time. The level of investment has changed and clients are often making radio for TV budgets these days.
CG: What makes a great radio ad?
PM: I don’t think there’s a formula to that answer because a great radio ad could either be the most exquisitely researched, silky-smooth production with a brilliantly planned, heavy-spend campaign, or an off-the-cuff, opportunistic right thing at the right time. Guinness is a great example where the creative work on TV flowed so beautifully into the creative for radio, with fabulous casting and beautiful acting and storytelling.
CG: What makes a great voiceover?
PM: A voiceover is always about performance. The artist needs to deliver a scene which has to be said but work in a way that’s believable. Sometimes a voiceover might need to deliver some very complicated copy such as price points, which a mega Hollywood star might not be able to do.
CG: And what about a great sound designer?
PM: It’s important not to get so carried away with the technology that a sound designer forgets about the human element. A good engineer always has their eye on what you want to achieve. There’s a sensitivity that producers and engineers need to have, which is to remember that this is a piece of work we’re collaborating on but it’s not actually our piece of work.
My real role is to facilitate the outcome that the creator was hoping for in the best way possible.
CG: What’s your favourite radio ad or campaign to have worked on?
PM: In the late Eighties, my moment of fame was being taken over to LA to work with Rutger Hauer on the Guinness ads. It was absolutely wonderful. I’ve also had the good fortune of working on campaigns with comedians when up-and-coming, such as Mark Gatiss, Reece Shearsmith, Jason Isaacs and Steve Tompkinson.
CG: What’s the strangest sound effect request you’ve ever had?
PM: We did a campaign for an insurance company about things that happen that you don’t know how to deal with, and I had Lucy Montgomery and Tom Rosenthal in the studio. The sound effect was of Adam’s mother-in-law’s dog humping his leg as he arrived to meet her for the first time for a formal family lunch. It was a wonderful opportunity to act out a piece of radio that had no dialogue. I think that was the best sound effect I’ve ever been asked to make.
CG: Define what creativity means to you.
PM: It means remaining 100% curious about every single thing that comes in the door. It’s about always leaving yourself open to a surprise, and always trying to come at something in a different way.
My 15 Top Tips On How To Create A Good Radio Ad blog looks at this from the audio producer side (with tips from Pam) and the sound designer side (with advice from Tim Lofts, sound designer at On Air Sound Design) plus a few teeny pearls from me.
Meanwhile, do check out my previous interviews with people leading the way in their fields about what creativity means to them – see my blog page.
Written by Caroline Gibson, freelance copywriter, London.
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