MTV Mastermix (1990)
A missing MTV show from the archives with a taste of Double Dee and Steinski!
MTV Mastermix was a show produced by Craig Coffman and myself in the Spring of 1990. Though not part of the Double Dee and Steinski resume there was a definite influence and mind set so by extension it is part of the family tree. Steinski did contribute some wonderful spoken word, thanks Steve!
I had the idea to make a show using the hooks of songs in music videos mixed well and interspersed with non sequitur spoken word based clips culled from previously produced spots or in house pieces. It was like a Top 40 Radio version of MTV. To supplant the material pulled from the MTV library we would create new transitions with whatever found audio that sounded cool: lots of Pop Will Eat Itself, R.Stevie Moore and classic hip hop with contributions from the Steinski spoken word collection among the many sources. I wanted a non-stop dance mix video show but there was no way to make it commercial free. At least now it can be viewed as a long piece: here I have a compilation of a few episodes with no breaks.
We chose voice actor Hank Stohl to perform the role of announcer. I had done many commercials with Hank as well as some wonderful but lost comedy recordings. A really talented and funny guy he was known for his TV kid's puppet show and later as an actor and voice work.
The opening of the show was taken from a piece Craig and I made called “The Mind Of MTV”. It was created for something called “The MTV Museum” which was a traveling show that moved among selected malls around the country, with different kinds of MTV items on display. It was displayed on a very cool video wall with 16 CRT monitors each controlled by a screw drive so that the monitors moved in and out and the wall "breathed". This mix was created in audio first in one mad free form session. Much of it was used in some of the sections of the Mastermix show and it really set the tone. The playlist was a mix of my favorites (because of the song or a cool video) and current videos that fit the profile. Of course there were many that were "suggested".
Above is a promo for the MTV Museum Of UnNatural History, I may have even mixed this spot but I'm sure I would have saved a copy if I did.
It’s all about making do with what you’ve got. The majority of promo work I’ve done is a prime example of that. The client walks in a with an assortment of material and I have to assemble it into a coherent fashion that tells some kind of story. Here I had a collection of a fixed number of music videos preselected to “hopefully” work together. Add to that the transition pieces that we created and collected: and that’s all I had to make an audio track that would “hopefully” look good when video was matched to it. Denise Stabenau was responsible for finding ways to cut this stuff together - pulling shots from another part of the video or using our home made interstitial material. Often I painted myself into a corner and was left with a song that was too long or too short so I could hit the target length and keep a good pacing overall.
First airing 3/9/90 only 8 episodes were made with the show being cancelled sometime after Memorial Day. The numbers were low but we didn't have great expectations. Essentially it was a clip show, an excuse to play videos which is an excuse to sell airtime, and ran on a Friday Night Party Block. We actually had big time sponsors but low ratings (like in the .5-.6 range if I remember correctly). But it was exciting to make and just as frustrating. Audio was done first and then the video was matched in a final session. The restrictions were a) we couldn’t alter the tempo, there was not time or money. and b) the videos had to come from the MTV library with the ok from the Programming department.
I tried hard to include anything that I personally enjoyed and a some of the videos are classics with a few of them made by the same people I worked with on a daily basis. Mark Pellington directed the video for De La Soul's "Say No Go" and Information Society's "What's On Your Mind?". And Glenn Lazzaro, my colleague at National Video Center did the oh so perfect edit.
I chose many of my own favorites like the electro hits - "Pump Up The Volume" is a personal biggie, Bomb The Bass "Beat Dis" sampled Double Dee and Steinski in their tour de force and Janet Jackson's epic extended version of "All Right With Me" is just fantastic. The Devo video for "Disco Dancer" was an alternate version that was tossed off the channel after viewers watched and voted on MTV's "Smash or Trash?". The video was "trashed" and MTV refused to air it after that. Not a worthy fate in my opinion. Man Parrish's classic "Hip Hop Be Bop" is one of the lowest budget videos ever made but it's perfect for the electro anthem. The videos for Digital Underground "Doowatchalike" and "Humpty Hump" were directed by Tommy Boy employee and friend Rodd Huston who later became one of the premier and most heard voice overs in the country.
It was the wrap arounds that gave it it's look and feel. I tried to keep the music as funky as I could but Programming had definite ideas about certain songs being played, so it was a pull and tug. If I had the final say I wouldn't have used any of the rock stuff but the show was kept as a mix. It is difficult creating a good product when there are so many interests involved which is why Double Dee and Steinski exist: in our own world where there are no limitations and it was just the two of us.
In this article you can check out a little collection of some of the spot I worked on in those early years and you’ll recognize some of them from the Mastermix linking clips. The people involved in what you see go beyond Craig and I. Glenn Lazzarro was the genius on line video editor I worked with. Glenn and I were respsonsible for a large body of MTV promo work during it's peak years. And there were amazing producer/directors : Richard Schenkman, Mark Pellington, Pam Thomas, John Payson and Peter Dougherty among those represented here. We all were responsible for creating the look of MTV both visually and aurally.
Technically it was my short lived period at the now defunct East Side Film and Video (the same ownership as my previous gig at Superdupe). I had a tight slickly designed room equipped with the NED Synclavier PostPro Tapeless system, SSL 6000 console, Otari MTR 90, Lexicon 224 reverb, UREI big fucking speakers, a big fucking 34” Mitsubishi tube tv monitor (which was the biggest at the time). I made great use of the famous bus compressors and an Aphex Dominator for final limiting. Everything was top notch and world class.
This was the early days of using a non linear audio system in post work, it was so ridiculously expensive. That system I used cost around $200k and only gave me a total of 8 hours total among 8 tracks. So it was a stretch to make an approximately 60 minute show. In some cases I would lower the sampling rate to fit all the audio. That was one of the many unique properties of the Synclavier, a totally variable sample rate. And it sounded absolutely gorgeous with it's Apogee A/D and D/A converters. Combined with the SSL console and mixing to 30 ips Dolby SR masters was a dream.
After my brief stint at East Side I moved to National Video Center on W.42nd st. in NYC and upgraded to an even bigger more expensive system and a slightly less capable SSL 4000E. When NED went bankrupt around 1992 National Video Center bought most of the remaining spare parts and hired one of the NED engineers who was able to further modify and maintain the systems. I think we eventually had 5 Synclavier systems going all together at National Video Center.
Every week during production I would receive a list of videos recommended by Production and add it to the master list. I couldn't obtain every video I wanted to use and in the end I felt hampered by the short list.
Each session took a day, first inputting the audio with matching time code from 30-40 videos in a pre production session. The sources were either 1" analog video, D2 digital or even 3/4" video cassette in a pinch.Then on the following day the show master was made without any other plan except for which connecting clips would be used. Often the beginning of the session involved recording new experimental vo with Hank Stohl, sometimes flopping big time. Next I would decide what songs were good and the tempos so a running order could be decided. This in itself was a limiting factor in what could be used but like I said earlier there wasn’t time or money. In all it was a short list of a hundred or less videos to choose from so there was repetition between the episodes.
Top to bottom it took about 12 hours to build and mix in audio, with the mix from the Synclavier output to 1/2" 4 track at 30 ips Dolby SR (time code on track 4). At the end of the session I would export an edit list to use in the next step, sending an audio master to editor Denise Stabenau (the post production pit-bull) to do the offline edit on a 3/4” tape system. I do not envy the painstaking work she did and she did it well. After that was approved the production moved to National Video Industries (they had a nice cafeteria with hot meals every day.)in downtime NYC for the final 5-6 hour build to 1" video master with Dolby A noise reduction.
Master mix could be made so much better and easier today but the main problem is the simple obstacle of the legal rights. In the early days in the MTV promo sessions we were able to use any music as a source which then through the years got whittled down to ‘fuck you pay me!’. Really it was a loose interpretation of the rule that it had to be in the library. After the lawyers saw what was happening they got involved and ruined the party. OK, everyone should get paid but this is all really promotion. We weren’t replacing the desire to hear your favorite songs, that was what the channel itself was doing.
Another problem was the audio on the library tapes were all over the place. Some sounded excellent others included distortion, phase issues, tape hits or mistakenly mixed to mono audio. Today I would just replace all the songs with cd or digital files.
And I don’t think anyone cares anymore about this as an entertainment form. It’s old hat and all been done. Unless you’re a captive audience in a theater or theme park. I would love to do a longform video of some kind and it’s already been started with the Double Dee and Steinski “The Insanity Mix”. But I need lots of help. If you’re interested please let me know!
In retrospect it was fun to make and watch especially when it ‘worked’. So as an entertainment it does work as a music video as well as audio sans picture. Which was refreshing for me as I was an audio guy in a video world much of the time and now I was able to make a big influence on a tv program. The rule was "picture comes first"- oftentimes to the detriment of the audio quality. And in this show the music and sound was more important then normal. Thankfully Denise Stabenau was so good finding ways to make the videos work together: I was essentially working blind only hearing the music but not seeing the picture. So I had no way of knowing if it would look good.
Out of the 8 produced shows there were a few episodes that really worked so that’s what you’ll see here. In my opinion shows 1 and 2 were not up to my expectations. Missing shows 7 and 8, I have a vague memory they were not worth keeping. Shows 3 and 4 probably being the best. I combined the best segments from both shows to make the composite episode you see here (and hear). The videos were transferred from VHS tape and I’m glad to have them - there’s no record or mention of Mastermix anywhere I searched.
In my opinion shows 1 and 2 were not up to my expectations. Shows 3 and 4 probably being the best. I combined the best segments from both shows to make the composite episode you see here (and hear).
Stereo (vs mono) as well as audio quality is paramount to my enjoyment of music. I can put up with mono when it’s all you've got but I’m a child of stereo demonstration records of the 60’ when bongos would bounce around the room. I've often wondered if I was born too early or late, but now I realize I was born at just the right time or I may not have had such incredible experiences and memories.
So play it! Play it loud and watch it or don’t. I think you’ll find it fun either way.
- C'mon and Get My Love - Cathy Dennis with D-Mob
- Bass - Simon Harris
- Alright With Me - Janet Jackson
- Can You Dig It? - Pop Will Eat Itself
- Buffalo Gals - Supreme Team with Malcom McClaren
- B-52's Medley (Love Shack, Channel Z, Roam)
- She Drives Me Crazy - Fine Young Cannibals
- Monkey - George Michael
- Hip Hop Be Bop - Man Parrish
- Pump Up The Jam - Technotronic
- Disco Dancer - Devo