The Best Workstation

By Dave Foxx

A favorite recurring topic among broadcast producers concerns digital workstations. Which one is the fastest, easiest to use, allows the greatest flexibility, makes the best sounding production? I’ve heard SAW owners say they envy the Pro Tools users and Pro Tools users say they envy Audicy users. Of course those were far fewer than the SAW users who say SAW is tops and Audicy users who claim their system is best. The simple fact is, they’re all the best.

Now, before you English majors get on my case to explain how superlatives work, let me tell a little story. It might seem a bit off topic, but the payoff makes it work.

A friend of mine’s father had a career in the Park Service as a Forest Ranger in Monument Valley in Southern Utah. This is where so many Hollywood Westerns were shot, with stark towers of rock, eaten away by wind and water over the centuries, leaving high plateaus and massive arches over the desert floor.

One summer, National Geographic held a contest, the grand prize for which was the cover of their magazine. The winner had to capture on film the single best shot in a one-month period. Well, the park was soon crawling with shutterbugs, snapping away miles of film on their Hasselblad, Leica and Speed-Graphex cameras. (This was before the Japanese made such outstanding equipment.) My friend’s father was tasked with assuring the safety of both the contestants and the park.

One day near the end of the contest period, an older man showed up at the Ranger Station and asked if he could just ride along as the Ranger made his rounds. After agreeing, the Ranger was surprised to see the man had no camera. All he carried was a small milk carton with a tiny hole punched in the bottom.

As they made the rounds, the gentleman would simply hold the milk carton bottom up to his eye and peer through the hole at the surrounding countryside. At dusk, they returned and the man asked if he might go out to one particular place with the ranger the next day.

Sure as pop, he showed up the next day with a simple Kodak box camera. They went out, he took three or four shots of the same formation and afterward thanked the Ranger and disappeared.

I’m sure you’ve guessed that he won the contest. The Ranger received a signed copy of the magazine a few weeks later saying thank you. The signature, according to my friend, read, Ansel Adams.

Honestly, I don’t know if it’s a true story or not, although I suspect it is. The point here is that the magic didn’t come from the camera; it came from the photographer. There were many, far more expensive cameras, being used in the park, but the man with a simple box camera took top honors.

The magic you create every day, regardless of which workstation you’re using, doesn’t come from digidesign (Pro Tools), Innovative Quality Software (SAW 32+), Orban (Audicy) or even Syntrillium Software (Cool Edit Pro). It comes from you.

Your ears, your fingers and your heart is where this magic dwells, and being really good at what you do depends more on these things than the tools you use to bring them out.

So, I say again that they’re all the best. Oh sure, some might have more bells and whistles. Others might be simpler to use. What it all comes down to is how you use it. How much time are you willing to invest in experimenting? How much time do you spend listening to the RAP CD every month? Is one time through enough? How often do you spend time watching television or movies, wondering how you can do aurally what those producers are doing visually? How much time do you spend studying someone else’s style, particularly the guy/gal across the street?

Production is a mental process. The workstation is just a tool you use to dig an idea out of your head and blow it through your listener’s ears. The real work in production happens long before you sit down to produce that little bit of magic.

So, enough of the “which is best” argument. Let’s make our favorite topic, “How do I become the best I can be?” “How do I dig out the magic that’s inside me?” “How do I kick my competition’s butt?” Now THERE’S a worthy topic, and one I’ll pursue in future columns.

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