Guest Contribution by Victor Zottmann
Marcelo Goedert is an audio producer specialized in radio and advertisement productions, who is now working as an executive producer for motion pictures. Recently, he has produced the Brazilian feature film, Uma Loucura de Mulher. In addition, Marcelo has studied both Communication and Business Management at a Masters level at Universidade Católica de Brasília.
In this interview, Marcelo Goedert shares with us his thoughts on technology’s impact on radio; the role of sound effects on both radio and advertisement, as well as experiences from his transition from audio to executive producer.
VZ: Let’s being with you background. How did you get into sound?
MG: When I was five years old, my mother and father moved to the United States to get their Masters and PhD degrees, respectively, and I went along. At that time, in the 1970’s, the modular sound equipment — in the old days everything was mounted into one rack — was debuted, that is, the sound speaker was one piece, the amplifier was another one and so on. My dad bought one of these and it was then when I first came in contact with sound gear.
Some years later, back in Brazil and when I was around 14-15 years old, I began disc jockeying in small parties in the streets of Brasilia. I’ve always enjoyed reading manuals and since I already new English due to my time abroad, it was easy to learn about the equipment. As time went by, I found myself playing in clubs, then in nightclubs and when I turned 18 years old I decided to study economics, as it was something that I really liked too.
I graduated in economics in 1986 and realized that I wanted to build my own business. And then there was the big question: “What do you know how to do?” And I knew how to work with audio. At the time I had this friend — we’re still friends — who worked with advertisement and he proposed that we start an audio production studio. “Alright, let’s do it but… what is that?” — I asked. “It’s a recording studio, but to record advertising material, radio commercials and audio for television.” — he replied.
Back in the day, recording was a business. Nowadays, in 2016, recording is not a business. If you were to record with high quality you had to have an appropriate room, a good tape recorder, the tape head of the recorder had to be aligned and you had to have a noiseless recording console. Above all else you needed US$ 50,000 and a friend in Miami to ship the equipment to you. [laughs]
So we created a small recording studio where he would deal with the creativity part and I would deal with the technical and administrative parts, where the latter derived from what I had learned at university, such as business and finances management.
VZ: How was your track between the several areas that you have worked until getting into film?
MG: Well, the first thing you have got to understand is what does your client want. There are different demands, such as a better price, a better service or even that you surprise them. As we ran our business, I learned that we were working for both radio and television, though in radio we stood out more than we did in advertisement. Within advertisement there is the client, who is the advertiser, the agency, the video producer and then you. You are fourth. You provide services to the video producer, who works for the agency, which works for the client. However, on radio the video producer does not exist, and therefore it provides a wider space for audio, as well as improves the condition for us to work on bigger projects.
As a result, I invested more on radio. I participated in conferences, wrote articles for magazines, knocked on radio stations doors asking for some opportunities, and in doing so I was led into producing shows about entrepreneurship, motorcycling and humor. As time went by I managed to sign plenty of contracts with big companies and governmental institutions, often to work on educational and informative campaigns and public utility material, as these are fields in which radio excels.
Another aspect you must understand is the territory you are working at. If I’m working with radio, then I must know how radio gets to people; what are the messages they are looking for? These inquires are valid for every field. When you work with audio for television, movies or games, you have got to understand what does your audience want from sound. Film sound is much more intense than it is for television. In a movie theater, unless you keep chatting during the entire session, you are by yourself; whereas for television that is hardly the case. And that’s what’s sought on radio.
However, due to technology’s advancement and the rise of the internet, the demand for audio production plummeted. The market has globalized and the standards for advertisement have been completely modified. Back in the day, I would produce spots that would remain at least a year on air. Nowadays agencies tend to leave it live for only two or three weeks. As I was having a hard time adapting to these technological changes, I decided to leave the audio universe and explore something else.
Coincidentally at that time, in 2013, a friend of mine, who’s a director, was about to shoot a feature film here in Brasilia and was looking for a place to rent for the time being. I offered him a studio apartment that I was barely using and he accepted and invited me to be the executive producer for his film. I analyzed the offer and said that it would be the first time that I would ever do it, but as I had a background in Economics, I was quickly convinced. In order for me to prepare for the role, I applied for a short course on executive production, and shortly afterwards an opportunity to teach at a university, as well as invitations from video production studios came out. Nowadays I’m working as an executive producer – which includes production, post production, team and finances management – for two studios that deal with film and TV series and institutional videos, respectively.
VZ: The evolution of technology has provided us with lots of conveniences. How do you interpret its impact on the transformation of radio in terms of content development?
MG: Technology is like a tsunami: it strikes ferociously fast and there is nothing we can do to fight it. I lived in an era of blazing fast technological changes. Back in the day we would produce five radio spots per day, then make ten copies of it, resulting in 50 CDs and had an assistant deliver 5 CDs to each station. Six months later these deliveries were made via e-mail. E-mail has led me into having a stockpile of 3000 CDs.
Before CD, we would deliver spots on tapes. The transition from tape to CD was also pretty fast – around a year. When it comes to computers, however, it took more time – around two years – due to processors, sound cards, etc. For you to digitize in 22,000 Khz and 8 bits you needed cutting-edge equipment and the sound card itself would cost around US$ 2000. A couple of years later, in spite of having a computer with Sound Forge, I would record shows which transitions would be aired live and I had to play them through the MiniDisc; as the computer had a latency of one second between pressing the space bar and telling Sound Forge to play it.
Despite all of this, the evolution of technology is fantastic, for sure. A spot that we would take three hours to make, now we can do it in under 20 minutes. So the reward that we get nowadays is the most precious one: time. On the one hand, technology has provided the possibility for anyone to work in the business. On the other hand, it awakened a problem: crappy content dissemination. There was a phase in which a lot of poor content emerged in radio. The way I see it, we are living in a time in which what matters most is not the technology. Rather, it’s who does it, and how competent and knowledgeable one is.
VZ: Is this approach valid not only for radio, but also for all other communication fields?
MG: Yes, I believe it is. The area I know the most is radio, but when I look around I see a decline in the amount of professionals…and who is surviving is who works well, who studies, who knows what they’re doing. I’ve got colleagues who left the analogue era of radio and transitioned to the digital era and remained up on their feet as they were able to adapt to the new requirements. I’ve also got colleagues who have failed to do so. They had the infrastructure, but since this factor isn’t as contributing as it once was, they were left behind.
Radio is suffering a lot from technology’s impact. I would say that it is even being extinguished. Because it is bad? No. Simply because new technologies are doing what it does in faster and more efficient ways. Radio cannot be modified. What would you do, add image to it? Then it becomes television. Even broadcasting services are declining. Now, if you were to ask me about the technological science of radio, I’d bet it will never end. The fact that you can build a shortwave radio transmitter here in Brazil and have someone in Japan listen to it is incredible. But wouldn’t it be the same as if one just sent an e-mail? Yes. So why is radio advantageous? The advantage is that there is no mediator. There’s no one to get in the way and take it down. When it comes to e-mail, however, it does — there is the probability of a server or internet crash.
In terms of entertainment, I believe the experience is becoming poor. The other day I heard at a conference that nowadays the content is the king and the experience is the queen. The content is what you are always seeking. The experience that comes with it is the second most valuable aspect. A good example is video games. When you’re playing a game, you are immersed in a different world and living the character’s life — that’s an experience. The radio experience is poor as it lacks visuals; as it is limited to cars or whenever there’s a device plugged into the wall, and as it possesses low audio quality. On radio you can’t jump to the next song. Our experience is rich when we have control of what we’re doing. Take video games as an example once more; you have the autonomy to go wherever you want and choose which missions you want to tackle. On radio you have no control.
VZ: Do you think it is still important to invest in radio productions?
MG: That is a tricky question. What is the definition of radio to you? For instance, listening to Spotify is radio? Listening to a web radio is radio? If you tell me that all of this is radio, then there is definitely a lot of space to invest. Mind you, though, that there’s a difference between radio and audio.
Radio is an audio-exclusive tool that you access in a tuning form; it’s a content that you have no control of — someone is providing you with that content. If you access Spotify and look for Bruno Mars and decide to listen to one of his albums, you’re not listening to radio, you’re listening to a CD. If I search for a playlist that Victor Zottmann created, I am listening to a mix tape that you recorded for me. Back in the day you would come up to a friend of yours and say “Hey, I made a mix tape for you!” then your friend would go, say, on a flight and listen to that tape with your playlist. That’s the same thing you do on the internet today; all that’s changed is the technology.
VZ: What is the key element that you take into account when elaborating an efficient communication towards the public?
MG: Who is this public? To whom do you want to talk to? Each and every person is different from the other and so is the public. So it’s pointless to speak to the wrong public with the wrong words about the wrong thing; it would be like selling a fridge on the north pole. You have got to know where are you stepping in and to who are you selling your product, be it culture, education, etc.
When I worked with radio I would produce 10 minute shows and establish beforehand what we wanted the listener to learn, and for this example we wanted them to learn how to create a spreadsheet to manage their expenditures. We would begin talking about it, then give examples of different cases, then come back to the main idea.
VZ: When it comes to interviews or advertisement on radio, is it important to situate the listener with ambience sound effects or is the main focus what is spoken?
MG: When you choose to listen to radio, you assume a voluntary blindness. “I want to hear this means that will provide me with information.” — you think. “I won’t see anything.” There is a person speaking over there with you and you are blind to the content. When you take on such blindness, everything that arrives at you is information. That said, the sound effect should be placed only if it’s relevant to the content. If you were to make a film about a man walking on the street and you wanted the audience to see him walking, why would you put a lot of people walking in the same perspective as the main character? That would divert the audience’s attention, wouldn’t it? The same is applied on radio. If you have content where the importance is what you’re saying, do not distract the listener with sound effects.
I’ve always tried to leave my messages as clean as possible. “Oh, there are two guys walking and talking in a city; let’s put a city ambience in the background and maybe a car horn?” — the client would ask. “Sure!” — I’d reply. “Although the car horn will take the audience out of the experience.” If the listener understood from the message that the environment was that of a city, you could even get rid of the entire ambience. [Laughs]
VZ: Let’s switch to publicity. The two main formats of audio advertisement are the spot and the jingle, correct? Which are the similarities and differences between both?
MG: Yes, they are the traditional ones. Keep in mind, though, that in the USA spot means “commercial” for both television AND radio. In Brasil, spot is strictly tied to radio.
The spot is a musical track with a spoken phrase. The jingle is a song. That’s the basic difference. In terms of communication, the jingle is much more efficient as it makes it easier for the audience to remember an advertisement. You certainly remember a song you’ve heard ten years ago, don’t you? If it was a text do you think you would easily remember it? Probably not. I recall of all the jingles I’d created over 20 years ago and I can sing them all, but I can’t tell you of a single spot that I recorded 20 years ago.
Now, the disadvantage of the jingle is that it is much harder to produce as both the song and the message must be catchy. Can you tell me of a bad song you’ve heard 20 years ago? [laughs] Furthermore, for you to remember a jingle, it has got to remain live for a long time, whereas the spot saves you from these requirements.
VZ: As audio professionals, we tell stories — or at least help storytellers to send a message; to involve the audience with what is being transmitted. How is the challenge of telling a story in seconds?
MG: It’s difficult indeed. Your message must be clear and objective. Sound is always responsible for adding emotion to picture and that explains why people connect to radio broadcasters without even having met them in person.
VZ: You have recently worked on a feature film. How was it like to jump from seconds to more than one hour of storytelling?
MG: Well, it’s very similar to be honest. Despite the dramatic arc between both being similar, the advantage of telling a story in film is that you are allowed depth. Whereas in a TV commercial you would quickly show someone crying, in film you’re able to tell people about his life, what made him cry and what would happen next.
VZ: After a long period working with audio for radio and television, what was it like to work as an executive producer for movies?
MG: Also very similar. Production is production. You have to be well organized as there are always problems to solve. In artistic terms, there is not much of a difference because in both fields you deal with artistic and technical professionals; so you need to understand and respect the role of each department, as well as manage them. What is essentially different between advertisement and film is the amount of information and they way it is delivered.
VZ: Were you able to keep yourself focused on your role and not comment on sound both artistically and technically?
MG: No, I wasn’t. I commented both artistically and technically on the sound of the entire movie.
VZ: Did anyone complain about it?
MG: The director knew all along that my background was in audio, and when I signed the contract I made myself available to assist him. I participated alongside the location sound recording, sound editing, foley; had several meetings with the composers and gave them directions on how the music should drive the movie and, unfortunately, I couldn’t be a part of the mixing stage as I was working on another project at the time. So my contribution was very welcome.
VZ: Not rarely does the audio post production team complain about the lack of care in relation to the quality of the location sound. Except under supervision of big studios, the phrase “let’s fix it in post” is commonly said. From the perspective of an executive producer, why do you think that occur? Is it directly linked to the production’s budget or would it be imprudence from the team?
MG: I’d say imprudence added to the lack of carefulness and consideration for the movie’s result. Not only in regards to the team, but also to the director. On our movie, “Uma Loucura de Mulher”, for example, the director payed a lot of attention to not only the visuals, but also to sound. Loads of takes were interrupted due to issues with sound and such inconveniences were respected by the crew.
In spite of the director being the one to bestow the tone of the film, I believe that collaboration with the sound team plays a huge part. When the director recognizes the importance of sound, s/he gives the team responsibility over it. If the team knows their stuff, the location sound recording will turn out to be excellent; otherwise it won’t.
VZ: Do you think it is important for different departments to exchange suggestions, or is it better not to?
MG: By all means, provided that one is qualified to do so. It’s one thing to comment with the means of assisting the crew, another thing to criticize just to create trouble. I’m in favor of the sound mixer notifying the director if there’s a problem on the set; then it’s up to him consider the suggestion or not. That’s why the sound mixer was hired, wasn’t he? The same is valid for other departments.
VZ: Striking are the differences in sound from foreign audiovisual productions. For instance, when we travel to the USA or to France and turn on the TV in the hotel, we find ourselves thinking “wow, what a different style!” – both visually and sonically. Of course, for us sound is much more noticeable. Each and every country has its unique culture and in Brasil that is no different. That said, how would you describe the Brazilian approach to audio post production?
MG: Within the last five years the Brazilian film industry has been recognizing the importance of sound way more than it did 10 years ago. Sound has once been relegated as the second or even third plan. Until a few years ago there were films with music you could barely hear, and foley was virtually nonexistent…picture, above all else, was predominant. The Brazilian film sound is criticized for years for not owning a high quality standard. However, with the growth of national productions in recent years, I think we’re approaching the quality of the American film sound; that we are finally comprehending the importance of its role.
In addition, qualified foley artists are emerging, as well as good sound editors, and rerecording mixers; although only a few are recognized in the country. Around 10 years ago there was this case in which an acquaintance of mine went to mix his film in the US, because there were no professionals with the standards that he was looking for. I believe that the audio in Brazilian cinema is evolving. It has yet much to grow in terms of orchestral score, but this is more of an economical issue.
For our movie, we emphasized how much sound also had to be a protagonist in the right spots. If the actress were to slam a car door, then the impact had to be huge. It had to make the theatre vibrate. [laughs] Nevertheless, sound isn’t the most important thing in film. Rather, it’s the combination of picture and sound. In meetings with the rerecording mixers, I argued that music had to be loud at speechless times, as in american movies. And the staff who worked with us was in favor of it, but this is a new approach in Brazilian cinema.
VZ: Would you say that the Brazilian film industry will manage to stand on its own or it will always have the American model as a reference?
MG: That’s a tricky question. I think Brazil has its own unique aesthetic, and it will increasingly build its own audio approach, but the model that we have as a reference is the American one.
VZ: To wrap up, if you were given a chance to start fresh, as if you just got out of university, which path would you follow?
MG: Well, I won’t say I would follow the same, because we’re living in a different technological era. When I left university smartphones didn’t exist, not to mention the internet and cable television. While I’m not sure if I would start with radio or film, I would definitely debut within the audiovisual industry.
A big thank you to Marcelo Goedert for taking his time to share his experiences with us. You can find him on his Linkedin profile. The interview’s author, Victor Zottmann, can be found on twitter at @zottmann_victor.