R.A.P. Interview: Mark Driscoll

R.A.P.: You've had the opportunity to closely watch the birth of digital workstations and their growth. What workstations have you played around with?
Mark: The first one was the Synclavier, manufactured by New England Digital. I got to play with that when I was with KIIS in LA. We saw some prototypes of what were going to be called digital workstations, and somehow we managed to bring in this Synclavier, and it had everything. It had the towers, the optical disk, the D-to-D (direct-to-disk) recording and all this stuff. There were all sorts of people crawling all over the place, showing us all the technology that could be programmed into this thing. Luckily, I had some interest in the keyboard. Otherwise, it would have been frightful for me.

I remember watching this thing come in to the station, and it was certainly nothing like the systems of today. It's no different than computers and the other things that have been reduced to miniature sizes with huge capabilities. Then, of course, they brought this other box. In it was what looked like a triple set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. These were the instruction books. I worked with the engineers from New England Digital. Most of them were from M.I.T. and were very accomplished musicians, but they didn't seem to understand that Rick Dees needed a forty-second promo in twenty seconds and that it really needed all the bells and whistles. And that was the bottom line. Just as I left KIIS, I remember someone asking, after a year run with the machine, if it was a good investment to make. My answer was, "No." It was a half a million dollars. All I knew was that I could do in an analog room on a multi-track -- or a two-track with a couple of cart machines for that matter -- anything I wanted to do very, very fast. And since we were broadcasting from that domain anyway, it didn't make any difference whether it was recorded digitally or not.

I remember having a race. The two head guys from Synclavier were in town -- I guess they were in for the kill, to make the sale. I said, "Look, we've gone over this time after time for a year. Here's a forty-second promo. I'll tell you what. You guys do it on the Synclavier. I'll voice it for you and slate everything for you, and give you all the direction you need. But you guys produce it over there on the keyboard, and I'll just do it the old-fashioned way over here." Well, I was done in about half an hour. About two hours later they were still trying to figure out why their computer wouldn't work.

So that was my first experience with a digital workstation. However, I did have the opportunity to work with some pretty great producers for people like Stevie Wonder, George Michael, Michael Jackson, Spielberg, Disney.... A lot of these people were working with the Synclavier and had been working with it for a long time. They would say to me, "The first year on the Synclavier you'll learn a lot of stuff. The second year you'll kind of learn how to use it. And the third year you might get good at it." Today, the manufacturers of the workstations have simplified everything.

R.A.P.: Which of today's models are you familiar with and prefer?
Mark: I'm familiar with a lot of them. For broadcasting, I've always had a tremendous admiration for Jack Williams and Pacific Recorders. There are other companies that make very, very good stuff, but I think that the Pacific Recorders workstation has impressed me the most. It just seems to have a good mind. It's very user friendly, and, for the most part, you really do get the bang for the buck. There are others out there that are good, like the ProTools and the AKG, but the bottom line is that you have to consider the operator and the outboard equipment that you have.

R.A.P.: Tell us a little about your producer.
Mark: Chris Hudspeth has been with me a year and a week. He is the epitome of a producer. He carries a different kind of ego into the room. When I worked on mike for Mark Goodson, there was a sign over the stage in LA that read, "Leave your ego and emotion at home and that way they won't get hurt while you're here." I think that's probably one of the most brilliant walk-in messages I've ever seen besides the walk-out message saying, "Exit" -- unless I had to go to the bathroom and was looking for "Men." Anyway, Chris carries a different kind of ego into the room. It's a very passionate one, but it's not like he wants to be something he's not. He knows what he likes. He loves it, and he's got a great passion for it.

He reminds me a tremendous amount of myself when I was his age. He's half my age, and it's almost embarrassing to say that. One thing I learned a long time ago is that the hearing curve of the average human being starts sloping off around thirty years of age, so I never liked to use the opinion of audio engineers that were older than thirty-ish or so. I'm a very, very big fan of the gut, and I don't mean fat. I mean instinct. If your hearing starts to shoot out like eye sight starts to peter out around that same age, then why do people have audio engineers and consultants come in and set up gizmos and gadgets for an audience that can't hear them the same way? It makes no sense. It's just like programming. Let's say an owner says he wants to do a format search in a market. "Okay, your signal goes over here to this Polish ZIP code, but you say you want to play Italian music? Okay, but I don't think you're going to have very good ratings." I see it all too often. Now, I'm not saying there is nobody who is sixty or a hundred years old that's competent at making the actual adjustments by turning the knobs and locking the audio processing equipment in for the final output of the radio station, but as far as being able to hear it and give it the listenable cut...well, I think that's very important. Chris brings that to the table, and he brings a lot of ideas to the table.

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