How Many Ways Can You Take to Get Where You're Going?

by Craig Jackman

It started innocently enough a couple of years ago. A group of students from a local college were going through the station on a tour when they came into my production studio. I took a couple of moments out of my day to do my little song and dance explaining the setup, when someone in the back asked, “… where’s your editor?” This was before my then little company had sprung for a DAW, so I was multi-tracking on an ADAT and editing the old fashioned way with tape and razor blades. My response was that I didn’t have one yet, but that it has been in discussion for a while and I expected one soon. “I could never work here without an editor,” Joe College said. “Well then, you can’t work here,” I said. End of tour. They all shuffled out quietly onto the next stop.

I was thinking back about this recently. Some friends were complaining that they had so much work to do at a new job, but were having a hard time with it because their office was recovering from a computer virus attack. They couldn’t use their computers, and there was no typewriter in the office. They had no way of getting things done except for writing notes longhand. The accounting person was totaling up some bills with a solar powered calculator the normally resides in the bottom of her briefcase.

Now keep in mind that I love technology. I love email and the Internet for swapping MP3 files and to find bulletin boards and software forums for tips and advice on how to use my software better. I love my DAW software rather than getting paper cuts from tape and nicks from the razor blades—let alone all the tape that winds up in the landfill. Placing elements in multi-track on a DAW vs. tape? Saves me hours a day. I could go on about every piece of technology I use everyday and why it’s better than the old way, but you get my point.

What would you do without technology though? It seems every week there is another catastrophic computer virus threatening to blow up the Internet. If you’ve been unaffected by them, so far, consider yourself lucky. You have installed anti-virus protection on all your important computers, and you get the most recent updates, don’t you? If you don’t, you are living on borrowed computer time! What if your computer crapped out with the Engineer out of town or busy. Last week the server on our LAN was full and was within minutes of crashing before we intervened in time. If we had lost it, I have a backup plan so that at least I can keep working. Everyone else and how they keep working is not my problem.

If the LAN goes down, I can work on my system off-line so DAW editing can continue normally. The problem is that my Internet access to the T-1 line goes through the server. If I needed to, the old POTS modem is still in the back of my computer, or our web master has a POTS modem in one of his laptops, so I could get to my email and retrieve MP3’s that way. While I have storage space on the network, I don’t tend to use much of it. Anything that’s on there isn’t critical to finishing a day out.

If my computer itself went down, I’m covered there too. I’ve kept my ADATs (they’re paid for after all) and use them for multi-track backups. If I had to go back and get a spot, it’s all there. If I had to create a new one, it’s back to the old way with 8-tracks on the ADAT. I can switch between my DAW and the ADAT right now if I want, as they are both connected to the console (the ADATs are the “B” inputs on the 8 channels that the DAW comes up on). I still have a reel-to-reel deck. All I use it for right now is to monitor on the cue speaker, but there is still an editing block, and I still have splicing tape and a grease pencil (which is great for marking multiple cassette dubs until I get labels done). The only razor blade I have has been used to open boxes for the past 4 years, so it’s dull and rusty, but the arts supply store is a short drive away. I have reams of virgin tape left over as we still use reel to record long form material off satellite. I sometimes wonder what my friends and competitors across town would do if they went down, as they don’t have a single reel-to-reel in their spiffy new location.

If the automation system (DCS) crapped out, we’d have 5 stations off the air with engineers running around like Chicken Little screaming THE SKY IS FALLING!! I don’t think that we have enough jocks on staff to run 5 stations live 24/7 anyway. While we should have backups of everything that’s in DCS on hand somewhere, the problem would be delivery on-air. There are enough reel machines in storage in the basement to put one in each on-air studio, which would help. I still have a couple of old Fidelipac DCS-1000 floppy disc players (I still use them to fire off long strings of sfx in succession to a read) plus the beautiful custom hardwood racks we made for the discs. Smartly (or luckily I suppose), all the control rooms still have all their CDs ready to go.

Of course if we lost power to the building, we’d be totally screwed, as we don’t have a backup generator installed yet. Even I don’t have a plan for that! Thank goodness we’ve had a mild winter and a summer drought with hardly any thunderstorms in the year we’ve been in the new building.

My point is a simple one. If you are locked into only one way of doing things, you will be in trouble when you can’t work that way anymore—for any reason. If you have an alternate way of getting things done, things will get done, and you can move on. It’s even a helpful creative tool to do things differently than what you are used to. If you move to a new job, everything isn’t going to be the way you are used to. There’s a phrase that my creative partner Renaud Timson came up with: Everybody goes into the house through the front door. Sometimes it’s a lot more interesting to go in through the basement window or the drainpipe.

I’m lucky in that I get to work out of a studio that I designed and specified. If anything went down in that room, I know that there are ways around it. Due to scheduling and shifting, I also spend part of my day working out of another room that really isn’t anywhere as nice. Considering what we spent on it and the reasoning for its existence, it’s great, but it’s makeshift at best for some of the things I want to do. However, it forces me to do everything differently. It doesn’t have a multi-channel sound card, so I can’t mix on faders like I have for the past 15 years, I have to mix with a mouse, and the entire mix is stored in the computer. The monitors are different, so I don’t have the same trust in my mix, so I have to listen differently. The chair is different (don’t laugh), as is the lighting. It’s a totally different atmosphere that forces me to work differently from the start of a project.

You know what? After going in there with some trepidation thinking that I’d do my “basic” work in the second room, and anything “fancy” would have to be done out of the first, it turns out the I can do anything in either. The difference is that the “fancy” work takes a little longer in the second room. Sure, I may be able to hear the difference between different ways of doing things, but unless I told you, you wouldn’t, the PD wouldn’t, the client wouldn’t, and the listener wouldn’t. And that my friends is what we are trying to achieve.