Ep.52 — A 15-year old develops a passion for making music mixtapes and revolutionizes the way you listen to music, and now he’s doing it for podcasts / Don MacKinnon, CEO & Founder, Hark.
Don MacKinnon will never forget how he first began experimenting with music mixtapes back when he was a high school student.
“I remember sitting on the floor of my room with the records spread out, organizing them, and making notes about the order I wanted to have the songs appear in. As you recorded it, you dropped the needle on the song and it's recording it in real-time on to the tape,” McKinnon reminisces. “While you're doing that, you're writing liner notes because the beauty of a mixtape is you end up with an artifact. A physical thing you can give to someone.”
His passion for mixtapes led MacKinnon on a lifelong journey to help people around the world serendipitously discover, listen to, share, curate, and build a community around music, videos, and other content.
MacKinnon’s goal has always been to free up music — and any inspiring content for that matter — from the confines of their origins, format, and surroundings, so that the world can appreciate them in all their wonders.
And that idea has led to music curation platforms that we take so much for granted today, such as Spotify.
“What is Spotify, but some giant mixtape?” says MacKinnon. “But there was a time when we walked to school in the snow. There was a time when songs were trapped on vinyl. There were albums were on vinyl. That's where the songs lived. There were radio DJs who mixed it up and play different songs from different albums on shows. But the ability to sit down, and liberate those songs from their albums, and create something new was fascinating to me.”
Since his early discovery of mixtapes, McKinnon has pretty much used that formula over and over again with huge wins as a music producer including the Triple Platinum Grammy Award-winning Ray Charles compilation, Genius Loves Company, Rolling Stones Rarities 1971 to 2003, and Bob Dylan's iconic first recordings of Live at the Gaslight.
Now, MacKinnon is about to transform how you discover, curate, and build community through podcasts using the same concept he pioneered in music — with what else, but mixtapes? Tomorrow, he's unveiling his new stealth podcast curation platform called Hark.
“The idea for Hark at its simplest is to go and find those great moments within podcast episodes. You talking to Nina Totenberg about how as a young girl, she loves Nancy Drew, and how that inspired her to become Nina Totenberg,” says MacKinnon. “There are tons of examples of like, when we find ourselves telling people, all of you podcast listeners, ‘I have that moment where I want you to listen to the whole episode. But you got to hear this one moment.’ That one moment is the genius thing that will be their way in. The idea of Hark is, what if we could create an entire immersive listening experience out of the best moments from great podcast episodes, where we organize those moments into, yes, mixtapes, because what else would it be after listening to me for an hour?”
This is an episode filled with great storytelling. You definitely don’t want to miss MacKinnon’s memories of how, on his 35th birthday, he got to interview every single member of the Rolling Stones. What it was like to interview his idol, Tom Waits, and the irascible Lou Reed. What was his first conversation with Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz? What it was like to work with U2’s Bono on Product Red. And what it was like to listen to Ray Charles and Elton John recording their hit duet, Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word for Charles’s triple-platinum, Grammy award-winning album, Genius Loves Company, the last album Charles recorded before he died, and it was produced by none other than MacKinnon.