Each year, New York Festivals Radio Awards recruits the world’s most awe-inspiring, award-winning radio talent from around the globe. The 2016 NYF International Radio Program Awards Grand Jury is comprised of some of the most recognizable voices and captivating programming producers in the radio industry who are dedicated to judging and selecting the 2016 World’s Best Radio Programs℠.
In this edition of Grand Jury Confidential, NYF catches up with 2016 Grand Jury member and 2012 NYF Gold award-winner for Best Music Special, Natalie Oram, composer/performer for Rockbarn Media and Rockbarn Voices UK.
Natalie runs her award-winning music production company, Rockbarn Media, with her partner Jon Dennis. The multi-talented Ms. Oram, creates original, bespoke music for commercials, trailers, films, documentaries etc. plus post-production editing and sound design. Rockbarn Voices, a sister company of Rockbarn Media, allows Ms. Oram to use her talents to create stand-out voice overs, narration, voice-acting and broadcast material for radio, television and new media. You can hear Natalie’s smooth voice-over work for such prominent clients as: Wayfair, Nestle’s KitKat, BBC, HCBC, The National Trust, Global Radio, Magnum, and much more.
Keep reading to find out more about Natalie Oram including the defining moment in her career, her philosophy on how to encourage creativity, insights on running her own business, and the radio programs she most admires.
New York Festivals: What was a defining moment in your career?
Natalie Oram: Well, I hate to be obvious, but winning Gold for Best Music Special at the New York Festivals’ World’s Best Radio Programmes! It proved to me that with sufficient dedication, hard work and belief, it really is amazing what can you do on your own!
It’s a bit of a long story, I do apologise! Essentially, I single-handedly produced my documentary especially for the BBC. The whole documentary was about a big, never-before-attempted global music project for which I had been selected in a world-wide competition to be involved…which was a bit of a punt in the first place to say the least! The over-year-long music project basically involved me and nine other young composer/performers hand-selected from across the world to collaboratively write, produce and create a concert-length piece to ultimately perform at the REDCAT Theatre in Los Angeles. Simultaneously to working extensively and intensively on the music project, I was collating everything for my programme to document the ‘life-story’, as it were, of the project. Just as an aside, I also at this point, before the music project started, had been head-hunted for my first job as a Broadcast Journalist for Global Radio in the UK during the latter part of my Masters Degree, so was also holding down a full-time broadcasting job as well…oh and finishing my Masters! Sleep didn’t happen often!!
Anyway, once I had produced and finished the documentary, it was broadcast twice on the BBC and I decided to enter it into the New York Festivals Radio Awards. It wasn’t because I thought it was award-winning, but because I thought that this incredible music project that I had had the honour of being part of was worth placing on this stage and deserved the opportunity. The fact that it was my presentation of it was nothing in my mind! I just thought, “Why not?!” (you’ll see this phrase and me a lot!). And then I had the notification that I was a Finalist. I nearly fell in a nearby pond whilst rushing round to tell my mother the news! …And then I found out I had won Gold. Thankfully, no ponds were involved this time! Finalist was amazing enough and I never expected anything else – I never expected Finalist! So, Gold was utterly incredible. It takes a lot to make me speechless (as you may have gathered already!), well, this did.
If I hadn’t have gone for the music project in the first place, not applied to the world-wide assessed competition and then been fortunate enough to have been chosen to be a part of it, then continued through the long-winding journey of the project and my documentary and pushed it in the direction that I believed it capable of, culminating in entering it into the New York Festivals, well, what a wasted opportunity everything would have been! I don’t like wasting opportunities, I never have. I like to get absolutely everything possible out of every opportunity that I am fortunate enough to have come my way. Basically, winning Gold at the New York Festivals proved to me that I was right to do all of this, to follow my gut, be gutsy (!) and go for it, “Why not?!”. I never have changed and I never will in this respect – I may ask for, “Why not?!” to be engraved on my headstone! It’s a great theory, that yes, has the potential to hurt when you fail, it opens you up to circumstances that could make you grieved or gratified, be disappointed or delighted but, this moment in my career helped me to continue to grab opportunities with both hands, throw my all in and most importantly, proved my personal ‘Why Not Theory’s’ worth to me beyond measure.
New York Festivals: Will you share how the culture of your company encourages creativity?
Natalie Oram: I have a little line which I like to think about often; “Find something fascinating every day makes the dullness stay away!” (Yes, I make silly rhymes!) Dullness can cover a multitude of things though, boredom (!), rigmarole…writers’ block, stultified creativity…the list is endless. Now, it doesn’t have to be that project you are working on, although if you can some form of fascination with it, it really does help! No, it could be a case of just stepping away and taking a moment to look out of the window or to think of somebody, something, a feeling, a memory, a dream or aspiration. It’s a great little mantra, you have to be a little careful not to get too distracted by something fascinating if you have deadlines (!), but essentially it means be world-aware; aware of your surroundings, other people, your life, the lives of others, of animals, countries, musicians, cultures, artists, novels, films…origins, or the sharing of, or the taste of the food you eat, the wine you drink…(other alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages are available)! You have five recognized senses – use them!
Running my own independent music, voiceover and documentary production company means that every day, virtually 24/7 (especially when voiceover work and music briefs come in simultaneously!), creativity is surrounding my life and fuels it. It’s tough, you have to be very tough-skinned and accept that your product, your creation will not always be the favoured one. Equally, you might have to do a huge amount of work and dig incredibly deep into that quarry of creativity to find out and be involved in a project that feels more like a mire than amazing! But, honestly, doing the job that I do, running my business and being a commercial composer, freelance documentary-maker and voiceover artist is utterly fantastic at the same time – you couldn’t do it if you did not love it. And that is really the essence of encouraging creativity in my opinion – love what you are doing, even when it spurns you.
It is easy in this business to get trampled down and momentarily want to give up, but I simply cannot allow myself to do that. While good things are not always around that corner, I cannot allow myself to not at the very least try to get myself around that corner to find out! It really is a question of ‘you must be in it to win it!’…or in my way of thinking, “Why not?!”. That self-motivation, self-belief and sometimes, sheer belligerence and doggedness genuinely inspires creativity for me. You have to believe that you always stand a chance as long as you try your best and deliver your best, even against the biggest of competitors. No one can beat you at being you! When unsuccessful and I lose out and don’t get the brief, I suck it up and move on. It’s not personal and as long as I can safely say that I tried and I did my best, then I just did something that the client wasn’t looking for, and that’s subjectivity – you cannot argue or rile against subjectivity!
Through all your acquired and honed skills, personal development, dedication, talent to do your job and equally as importantly, the love you have for your work however, you always have that chance of success. Creativity is encouraged in my company by the belief that I/we can succeed and exceed our own expectations. We are our biggest critics, so if I can astound myself, I’m in a great place to attract others to my creation – so it’s like sitting across from myself in that metaphorical board room as big cheese, scary CEO (!) and say to little ol’ me across the table, “Go on, this is your chance, astound me!”
New York Festivals: What’s your favorite radio program?
Natalie Oram: This is a tough question, but when I read it, I thought, right, what’s the first one that comes in to your head. So, I have to say that I thought that BBC Radio 2’s
coverage of the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of D-Day was impeccable. There’s too much to list from Benedict Cumberbatch reading the original D-Day radio reports for instance plus original recordings from 1944 by John Snagge, to the utterly outstanding concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall. That was just spectacular and will stay with me forever. For just under two hours, a beautifully woven production took us through key moments and portraits of D-Day with appearances from veterans, sons, daughters, grandchildren all wonderfully presented in a profound, clean, sophisticated and sensitive manner. Sir Patrick Stuart among many others performed monologues as Sir Winston Churchill for instance, Katherine Jenkins OBE performed an incredible ‘virtual-duet’ with Dame Vera Lynn DBE through some incredible digital and technological magic and it was all stunningly accompanied and orchestrated by the BBC Concert Orchestra and musicians gathered from the three UK Armed Forces. It was the largest commemorative concert ever put on, with it being broadcast on the radio, online and on television, whilst also being synchronized out across hundreds cinemas nationwide. The overall production, the sound, the composition and compilation, the scale and synchronicity, the non-sensationalised emotion, but most of all the respect that ran through the programme was truly a thing of beauty. So many generations have been and still are affected by the World Wars, so the subject-matter is always going to hit home without much effort. So therefore, there’s almost this compulsion it seems in cases like this to ‘try to do something different’ or ‘mix it up a little’, but this programme didn’t do this at all, it was simple story-telling of true stories and it was epitomised by honesty.
This programme was part of a series of commemorations created by the BBC and everything was brilliant in my opinion. It is very much worth mentioning as well about the BBC’s commemorations of the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain which also was just stunning. Live from Biggin Hill, live outside broadcasts filled the day across BBC Radio 2 and then the evening saw a very ambitious and utterly fantastic, profound concert accompanied by outstanding narrative and presentation by presenters and a cast of actors, archival footage and many other brilliantly compiled elements. The concert was held at the airfield in a hangar, which purely from an acoustic perspective was an incredible achievement, but overall the entire programme was another piece of stunning production. I hasten to add, it won seven Golds and the Grand Award for Best Special Event at the New York Festivals World’s Best Radio Programs 2015.
New York Festivals: What are the hallmarks of award-winning radio programs?
Natalie Oram: Honesty is definitely a hallmark – an award-winning programme should be able to tell the story or present the piece on its own merits and not need to embellish the truth or sensationalise. We can see through it when it happens and I personally find it disingenuous and it turns me off.
Another hallmark is something that is genuine. To listen to a programme where the producers have found real people to talk to in order to propel the story through the voices of someone other than the journalist or producer. Obviously, there are moments where the narrative has to be steered by the presenter as part of the composition of a piece, but it should never influence. Plus generally speaking, interviewees are much more interesting whether you agree with them or not! You can tell when a producer has had a plan, a hypothesis or an overall idea about the composition of the programme, but don’t have an agenda. This goes back to creativity and making a programme that is genuine and not sensationalised. You cannot force-feed a story! A great programme allows it to grow organically and if it ends up going in a different direction than perhaps originally envisaged, another hallmark is that the producer has realised this, and perhaps even admitted that maybe there is a reason for this. You can hear that original intentions or ideas have been kept in mind but they have followed where the story is going, collecting everything on the way and then presented it all in a measured, balanced and accurate manner. When this happens, the vibrancy of a piece is undeniable and even a subject that may have originally seemed rather monochrome can become a kaleidoscopic plexus of interest.
Finally, for me, I like to hear programmes that have been produce it like a piece of fine art. Production values are a massive part of producing a stunning award-winning programme. It doesn’t mean that you have to have excessively expensive equipment, I singlehandedly produced my NYF Gold award-winning documentary on one digital field recorder and two unidirectional microphones and produced it all in my studio on my own.
Actuality is king in my opinion. Not only is it the best quality audio (and it should be grabbed whenever possible!), but it also shows a sense of dedication on the producers’ part, showing that you have made efforts to go and see people, go to a place – you can’t record it if you are not actually there! Oh and absolutely finally, music, SFX, colours, voices, I love to hear something that has been produced away from the thought that this is all ‘just audio’. I love sound worlds and I like to dive into them. An award-winning programme to me, no matter what the subject matter, is one where the world that has been created by the audio is almost tangible and someone has been really attentive to that idea. It doesn’t have to be massively innovative or technically clever, but it does have to be creative, polished and ideally have the capability of enthralling an interested audience through to the most disinterested or uninitiated.