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LATELY I FEEL AS THOUGH I'M STUCK IN THAT SCI-FI shlocker "Invaders From Mars," and, my luck, it's not even the original-it's the terrible remake. Or, is it? Yes, look there! It's me! Just like that poor kid, I'm being led down into the honeycombs surrounded by big scary monsters, where I meet that thing! You remember, the big creepy head in a dome?

But wait. Something's very different in this movie. The creepy head has a body-it's just not attached, although it is very stylishly dressed. And there are little certificates tacked up on the honeycombed wall of the cave, and tiny statues on the floor. And look, there's a BMW! And a little sign on the door that says Chief Creative Poo-bah!

Seems the head is about to speak. We quickly cut to the hero for the reaction shot. Uh-oh. I don't look too good. My eyes are rolling. My head is shaking. I'm sighing deep sighs as if I'm very concerned. And here they are! The words we've all been brought forth to hear. Listen! It's saying:

I'll know it when I hear it.

Scary nightmare, or frightening reality? Considering the following dialogue, which represents the gist of a half-dozen phone conversations I've had in the past few weeks, these words seem to be more than just a passing fad.

Agency Type: Hi! How's everything?

Music Type: Well, things are-

AT: -Great. Listen, would you guys be interested in doing some music?

MT: Sure, why not?

AT: Fantastic. Now, the first thing I have to say is that the deadline is real tight.

MT: Why should you be any different?

AT: Well, we don't normally work this way. This project certainly didn't start out that way. It's just that it's been kicking around for some time now, and we've heard several different music tracks, but, well, it's the 2-minute drill, see, and we're still not satisfied.

MT: I see.

AT: Anyway, we'll need to hear some ideas in two hours.

MT: Well, I guess-

AT: -And, of course, because the deadline is so short and the account is so big and the project is so important, we have to make this competitive between you and at least 10 other music houses.

MT: I, uh-

AT: -And we're hoping that you'll be able to give us at least five different executions.

MT: Well, yeah, I guess-

AT: -Now, I can tell you one thing we don't want.

MT: Uh-huh?

AT: A jingle. We definitely don't want a jingle. It's got to be a song. Something very songlike.

MT: A song?

AT: By that, I mean very, very memorable.

MT: Do you have lyrics?

AT: Oh, no, there isn't any room-you know, wall-to-wall copy. And, see, here's the thing: when we originally sold this idea to the client-we never thought they'd actually buy it-we'd wanted to license that really great hit from the '60s that everyone knows the words and melody to by heart, although we were only interested in an instrumental version. Unfortunately, once the client gave us the go-ahead we found out that the group concerned really wasn't interested in licensing their song to us.

MT: Oh.

AT: So we don't want you to plagiarize.

MT: No, of course not.

AT: We don't want any lawsuits.

MT: Certainly not.

AT: But I will tell you, even though you never heard it here, that if you can come as close as you can without getting sued, they'll love ya for it.

MT: Got it. Songlike, really memorable, like a famous hit from the '60s to fit under wall-to-wall copy. Can you tell me some more?

AT: Well, it doesn't have to be like a '60s hit, because we're going to rearrange it.

MT: How?

AT: We don't know.

MT: I see.

AT: OK? Great. Now I don't mean to rush, but I've really got to get all of the other music houses brought in on this, so crank up those computers of yours that really do the work and just send it to me in a couple of hours?

MT: Wait! Aren't we all gonna get together and have a little meeting and talk direction?

AT: Oh, we really don't have the time for that. The CD and the creative team aren't available, and even if they were I don't think they'd feel it necessary to sit down for a meeting on this one.

MT: Well, what about a conference call?

AT: I really can't see getting them all to a phone at the same time. You know how they are.

MT: Yes, I think I do. Could I get a storyboard?

AT: It doesn't exist-we want the director to improvise this one.

MT: How about a script?

AT: Well, a draft was written, but you know how these things work-it'll change entirely by the time we're done, so why bother?

MT: But what about style? What age group is this for? What's the pacing? What type of tempo should it have? Should there be any breaks for particular copy blocks or visual stingers? Is there a theme line?

AT: You know, Ric, and I hate to say this because I, for one, never say this, but it's really one of those situations where the best I can say is we'll know it when we hear it. OK? And, oh yes, could you also make individual dubs of everything you do and ship them to the director and the editor as well? They really want to be involved with this and they'll certainly have their opinions. And did I tell you that we only have $750, and please don't forget it's a standard music rights agreement, i.e. a work-for-hire situation? Got all that? Great. It's been great catching up-we'll have to go to lunch when this is all over. CLICK

This isn't how every job goes, but clearly, if the age of instant communication is now, there seems to be only one slight problem: while we've refined our interfaces for communicating more information in less time, it seems we've sacrificed some of the personal exchange these means of communication are supposed to help facilitate. Turning on didn't work-is logging on and tuning out any better? Have we forgotten the dynamics of collaboration and the value of brainstorming, and how trusting others' expertise often enhances the creative process while it helps realize common goals?

If so, then you may ask just what I want the big creepy head in the dome to say when he calls me up for a job. Well, I'm not about to write a script for him, but one thing is for sure: I'll know it when I hear it.

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