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The Creative Process

Tuesday, October 23rd, 2012

***This blog entry was written by Ann Reed, an exclusive NUTS VO talent and an accomplished singer/songwriter who has appeared on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion, ABC’s Good Morning America, and NPR’s Morning Edition, not to mention countless radio stations across the U.S.  Read more of Ann’s writing on her blog: ***

I am sitting here not writing. Well, I was not writing until I started tap-tapping on the computer.

Most mornings, my routine goes like this: Following breakfast, I write in my journal. This I do every day without fail. Most entries are a page at least, but I also have the rare entry that consists of: “More later” or “Nothing to say.” These still count. Following the journal entry, I write one haiku. Every day. Here is an example of a haiku I wrote this summer:

days of steamy heat
I begged for you to visit
in January

After writing the haiku, I head for my office space downstairs, take my beloved guitar from its case and start noodling around, usually playing a surprisingly upbeat bunch of chords. I stop because I realize I have not checked my email. I log in to my account and see that no one has written to me. I wonder why. I start to feel that perhaps I have no friends. I don’t understand this. I log out. Now I am friendless and lonely. I pick up my guitar and play only minor chords. Wait a second! Maybe everyone is communicating via Facebook. I set the guitar down and log on to Facebook.

Forty minutes later, I pick up my guitar again. I have shut the computer off and decided that I do have friends but they are all very busy posting things on Facebook. I now give my best effort to create a song.

The chord structure is first. I never know what will be appealing. The rhythm? The patterns? Who knows? When I connect with whatever chords I am playing, I am relieved because I know that the person inside my head lounging around my brain wearing an old stained T-shirt who casually remarks “maybe you won’t ever write another song …” is wrong.

Might be wrong.
There is a limited amount of time a person can focus on creating a song, a script, a painting or what we lovingly call “works of art.” I don’t have the data in front of me but I need this to be true. My limit is about two hours of truly focused time.

The afternoon is given over to the business of the art — tending to bookkeeping, emails and whatever else has accumulated on my desk. But I do try to force myself to sit for another 30 minutes to an hour to work on what I call “other writing.” This blog falls into that category. Short stories and plays also are known as “other writing.” I have seven short stories and five plays all in various stages of not being finished.

Back to the song. If I keep bonding with it, if it resonates, the next day will find me tinkering with the chord structure, defining the melody and maybe, just maybe some lyrics will form. One of the most important components of a song for me is that the words need to be the perfect fit for the music. Peas in a pod. Corn in the husk. Now I am hungry and must have lunch.

Oh, the hours I spend on lyrics. There is nothing so rewarding as having words join together in poetry and perfect expression. They are alphabet letters who decided to organize. Every word, every phrase we utter has rhythm and pitch. Their sound can be funny, harsh or gentle.  I do not believe I have met anyone who speaks in monotone. We have natural inflections; our voices go up and down. Unfortunately, this does not mean that everyone can sing beautifully.

Words can also not get along and make me so frustrated I wonder out loud why I did not get a degree or learn a trade instead of sitting at my desk believing that Mr. Roget, that mischievous scamp, did NOT put all of the words in the thesaurus. There are words missing and I need help!

I do have days — okay, weeks — when I think that meaningful work is overrated, and I envy the person who goes to work, comes home and isn’t thinking about things like “oh, maybe I need to use ‘the’ instead of ‘a’ there in the second line … did I mean ‘and’ or is it ‘but’ …?” I mean, really? Does anyone even notice stuff like that?

At my last stint as a juror for Hennepin County, during the voir dire, the judge, the prosecutor, and the defense attorney asked the jury things like where do you live, what do you do for a living, what does your spouse/partner do for a living. One can learn a great deal about people this way. The defendant can also learn about everyone on the jury, and this bothered me a little because it was a criminal drug case — but that’s a whole different story.

Most of my fellow possible-jurors seemed to enjoy what they were doing in their lives. I listened to them and tried to picture myself doing what they do and came to the conclusion that I have a great job. I like what I do and I’m a very fortunate human being. Of course, when the prosecutor heard I was a musician, he asked if I knew a lot of people who took drugs. I told him that maybe 25 or 30 years ago that may have been true but it’s folk music after all and right now we’re all busy trying to stay healthy and get used to our new knees.

Songwriting is both art and craft. I do believe there is some kind of divine intervention/inspiration that is a part of the creative process. One writer friend of mine said it was like you become temporarily insane. You lose touch with time and there’s all this stuff coming out and suddenly you’re jerked back to real time and you look down at the page and think, how did THAT happen?

And that’s where the craft starts.

I sit with melody, words and phrases that come from I don’t know where, start to move them around, get to know them and get a sense of where they belong, rearrange the furniture and give that T-shirted critic a place to sit down.

And change the “the” to “a” because it does make a difference.


The Giveaway

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

 ***This blog entry was written by Carr Hagerman, an exclusive NUTS VO talent, accomplished public speaker, author, and performer.*** 

Last night, I had an engaging conversation with the young daughter of some friends of mine.  She’s an energetic, articulate 21 year old with stunning good looks and a sparkling jewel of a personality; and she wants to get into talent work. She definitely has the right physical and mental attributes, but lacks the requisite experience and confidence needed to pursue it much further. It is also apparent that her parents believe a college degree is critical, and pursuing a creative career is nothing short of a nice part-time fantasy.

Her parents may, of course, be correct. The work of the professional talent is not the wise career choice if you seek stability and predictability.  As we age and the options narrow for working talent, we might regret that we didn’t follow a more traditional career path- particularly as we ponder the small black print of our savings account statement.

Regardless of its challenges, we’re happily here in this business, following the dance steps we know so well. The auditions, the callbacks, the gigs, the phone calls and more phone calls.  Most of us can’t imagine a life doing anything else, and while we kind-of-sort-of remember the rough road we took to get started; we may feel this is all we’ve ever done.

So then, it is all the more remarkable when we have finally earned professional respect and we’ve paid our dues to become a talent, that we don’t do more to promote this agency and this industry to others, or to encourage the new comers who have arrived and are building their resume.  We know how hard it was to get started in this work.  Yet, there is a surprising lack of an apprentice system or a career development path to help new faces become successful.   We may even view new talent as something of a compound threat: as they become more competitive they stand to take away the limited dollars that are floating around.  But we shouldn’t covet our experience or hoard our insights. I believe we’re better off paying it forward and discovering the amazing benefits that arrive when we share of ourselves and our experiences in this industry.

It seems to me that we’d all benefit if part of our tacit contract for being in this industry was to help one another more, including guiding those new players who want to learn and become successful. Sure, they could hire a coach and attend classes, but they’d be shortchanged from the kind of insights that come from casual conversations with other members of this NUTS team.  It’s like the old saying, “If you raise the water level in the lake, all the boats float higher.”

Let’s help others by engaging in encouraging conversations about how great this business is and what we’ve learned.  It will strengthen not only this agency and this industry, but also ourselves.  After all, it’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be.  When we help perfect the growth of those around us, it’s the giveaway that gives back.

Being a Big, Small Business

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

 ***This blog entry was written by Carr Hagerman, an exclusive NUTS VO talent, accomplished public speaker, author, and performer.*** 

I wish I had a dollar for every business idea I ever had.  Ideas are cheap and easy for me to drum up.  Just think- a buck for each idea…I’d be stupid rich.  To take this train of thought a bit further down the tracks; just imagine how filthy wealthy I’d be if I actually acted on all those thoughts in some way!

 Unfortunately, I (along with many of my creative friends), suffer from what Stanford professor Robert Sutton calls the “Knowing-Doing Gap.” It’s the gap that exists between actually having a good idea, knowing something might work, and taking action on it. It is easy to think that having the idea is, in some ways, the same as doing something with it. It’s the “taking action” part that is problematic.  How many times have those of us in the creative professions listened to some shiny new idea from one of our friends or associates and thought to ourselves that the seed will never make it into the ground, and nothing new will grow?  But ideas, and a plan of action to develop them, should constantly be part and parcel of our work.

The work of a professional talent is really a micro-business, a small enterprise that is focused on selling our various talents to producers, writers and directors. We sell our time, for sure, but we also sell our experience, our know-how, and we also sell ourselves to our clients in how we show up. The theory is, the longer we’re in this industry, the better we are at what we are doing. Sometimes that’s true, but we should not lean too heavily into the armrests of certainty in our ability to read and interpret a script.

There is an incredible amount of creative apathy inside creative communities. Once we figure out how to make a living we often give up trying to expand our talents. We know what worked.  We tried it, we succeeded…just repeat!  But there is a body of evidence that suggests that over time, all businesses flounder and fail for lack of engaging new ideas, and the creeping shortfall of presenting the same thing over and over again. This is why when a new talent shows up, if they’re any good, everyone wants to hire them…and the seasoned veteran can start seeing their business disappear.  Clients want a voice that is fresh, new, and ENGAGED.

I’ve heard some voice talent complain that they’re not getting the work they used to.  One talent said “The (agency) really must be pushing the fresh new people…because I’m still doing what I’ve always done, and my bookings are way down.”  Well. Okay. There is an old cliché about the definition of insanity, but turned around it reads, “If you never do what you’ve always done, you can expect different results…” In other words, the reason your bookings may be down, or why you’ve become shelf-dated, might be because you’ve not changed up your game, tried new things, re-branded yourself.

“My voice is my voice…can’t change my sound.” I heard at a recent party. That may be true, but if you see your talent as your business, why on earth don’t you consider every aspect of that business as affecting your own bottom line? Any successful CEO will tell you, innovation and new product development are critical to growing their product and their bottom line. Why not apply the same reasoning to your work as a professional talent? What are some ways you can change it up? 

To begin with, while you may not be able to change your voice, you can expand your range, change your demo, work to present a different sound, and offer new alternatives for producers to choose from. Do you explore your voice any more?  Also, how do you look? I can’t tell you how often I see talent show up at voice gigs looking like they don’t have anything better to do!  The crappy jeans, the turtle neck.  Completely unmemorable, over time. Try changing glasses, the way you wear your hair, and your clothing choice. Lately, I’ve taken to wearing a kilt, and will soon add the kilt to my professional speaking wardrobe…among other things.  Do you work out, keep yourself looking relevant, or do you subscribe to the idea that one of the reasons you love this line of work is that you don’t have to dress up for it?  Rubbish. Going to the studio IS your work; at the rate you’re being compensated and for the impressions it can create, you should have a talent wardrobe.

What about your materials?  I believe every talent should have a business card that includes all of their agency contact information.  Leave a card behind with every producer, write on the back what spot you recorded, a quote, or some other interesting tidbit.

There are a million ideas you can pursue that will keep you front-of-mind and relevant, not only to the clients, but most importantly to yourself. But ideas are a dime for 6 dozen, and their worth will only be determined when you engage them with action.

Here is a quick list of a few other things you might do to keep yourself current:

1.) Update your demo often.

2.) Read the ad industry rags, so you know the current landscape. I get Ad Age every week; if I see that a local agency or production house has won an award, and if I happen to be working with someone from one of those places, I make sure to congratulate them when I walk in, or send them a note.

3.) Hire a style consultant. I work with a consultant in Edina, who has helped me with my wardrobe, my shoes, even how I wear my hair and my glasses. Old jeans and crappy tennis shoes…nope.

4.) Spend 15 minutes a week listening to every demo you can find. Practice with a voice recorder.  Read copy you don’t think you’re good at.  Read copy you’d like to be good at. Listen and Learn! Your competitors are a great source for learning.

I’ll be sharing more ideas in the future, but for now, remember that relevance can disappear as quickly as it came. If you’re not fine tuning and growing your talent with new energy, new offerings and an occasional new look, it won’t be long before you’ll join the ranks of the highly talented, under-employed professional talent…and that my friends, is a cliché!

Work/Life Balance

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

On a recent morning, I arrived at work to a flurry of panicked emails and voicemail messages from a client who needed to book a talent for a last minute revision.  Before I had the chance to fully listen to even one of her voicemail messages, she called in breathlessly asking, “did you get my emails?!?!”  I took a deep breath and explained to her that I had just arrived at work and had not received her messages because they were all sent outside of business hours (her first email was time stamped 11:30pm).  I explained that we work 9am-5pm and unless we have a reason to be “on-call”, we do not check our emails or voicemails outside of business hours.  Her response?  “That’s ridiculous.” 

Hmmm….  Ridiculous…  for whom?  While it may be ridiculous by her life balance standards, it’s not so very ridiculous for mine.

Now, never fear, we booked the talent necessary to complete the client’s job.  All’s well that ends well.  But it prompted a discussion here at the NUTS office.

In an era where mobile devices and computers make around-the-clock communication possible, isn’t there still a need to establish some kind of separation between our work lives and the rest of our lives?  Is that really so ridiculous? 

A recent study by the Pew research center showed that 90% of 18-29 year olds sleep with their cell phones. Is that ridiculous? 

I guess it depends upon the individual.  We truly believe that in order to be good agents and co-workers, we need to be good human beings with lives that are in balance. 

Don’t get me wrong — we often work into the evening and take work home on the weekend.  Sometimes it just has to be done.  However, we try to limit that whenever possible! Time is a critical and non-renewable resource.  It is a precious commodity.  As such, it needs to be managed wisely.  It would make no sense if I allowed one client’s project to occupy all of my time on any given work day. In the same way, it would not benefit those I work with if my entire life was committed to work.  We all need to do things that nourish the social, physical, emotional, and spiritual facets of life as well.  As for me, making sure these other parts of my life are in balance, I’m able to commit more fully to the tasks at hand when I’m at work.  

I know that some of you right now are thinking, “But I LOVE my job.  I LOVE to work.”  To those of you who feel that way, terrific.  I love my job too.  However, to borrow the words of Bruce Weinstein from his article on, “It’s a blessing to be able to say (you love to work), but all passions should have limits.  A fully human life is a life in balance, and that means giving due time to all of the things that enrich us, fulfill us, and make our lives worth living.”

May we all find our own balance.  Here’s to a healthy and balanced New Year!


Thursday, December 23rd, 2010

Whether it’s a great idea for an ad campaign, a moving monologue in a stage performance, or the ability to play an agitated auntie in a holiday commercial; creativity is what fuels our industry.  And yet, with countless shopping excursions, holiday parties, family obligations, and fewer hours of daylight, this season can leave us mentally exhausted and less than inspired.

 Need a bit of creative resuscitation?  Here are some ideas:

 -Try doing nothing.  Literally.  Sit completely still and allow your thoughts to wander.  Sometimes our best ideas come to us when we aren’t trying to “produce” creativity.

 -Visit and spend some time gazing at images that inspire you.  Just type a key word or two into the search field and embark on a vacation of the mind!  Some recent keywords I’ve searched to find inspiration are: grassy meadow, beach, Paris.

 -Practice creativity in another discipline.  Jog your brain into embarking upon a “new” creative process.  Are you an actor?  Try writing a short story.  It only needs to be a couple paragraphs long.  Are you a copy writer?  Try memorizing a monologue or sonnet and perform it…even if only to yourself in a mirror. 

 -Step away from your work.  You can do it.  You REALLY can.  Tomorrow is Christmas Eve.  VERY few people are working, very few shows have performances.  Don’t log onto your work account.  Don’t run through your lines.  Don’t practice that monologue for your upcoming audition.  Give yourself a break so that when it’s time to step back into work, you can do so refreshed and ready to let the creativity flow!

 Warm wishes for a Happy Holidays and a creative New Year!


Friday, December 10th, 2010

Lots of excitement around here! A new website, a new logo, a new social media existence! Hooray! We hope that you are as excited as we are! We are so pumped up that we cannot help but speak in exclamation points!

I encourage you to explore our new website, connect with us via Facebook and Twitter, and keep your eyes peeled for upcoming blog posts. We hope that you find our posts informative, insightful, and entertaining.

We welcome your feedback on our new website! Do not hesitate to email us with your thoughts.