Victim of a Fantasy- a Throwback Thursday story from the control room
In 1990, I was just out of college. I had my first gig as an engineer in the big city. Along came a young producer with a vision: to churn out some of the cheesiest dance music he could before the days of everyone trying to be Taylor Dane were over. And that’s where ASHA came in.
I honestly can’t remember her real name. She was very sweet, and had been a finalist on Star Search at some point. She was a pretty good singer! So here we were- trying to produce her and turn her into some sort of dance star. Mind you- I was just hired to engineer this project… but, as has always been the case, I had a lot of input creatively.
This was recored and mixed at Home Base Studios in NYC. Home Base had previously been inside Todd Rundgren's old ‘Secret Sound’ studios on 24th Street. It was a cool space! At this point, however, they were housed inside The Music Building at 251 West 30th Street. It was a rat trap. Nevertheless, here we were- and I was grateful to be just out of college and already tracking and mixing projects.
We had a Studer 2” 24track machine to work with- which proved to not be enough tracks for what we were trying to accomplish. We ended up stacking vocal tracks early on and sampling them into an Akai S900 and layering them to give us thick background vocaols 'virtually'. This was before Pro Tools- so shut up. We were working on a cool little Sony console with not enough inputs. So- timecode drove a little Mac SE30 (if I am remembering correctly) running Performer (not even Digital Performer yet) and firing off the vocals as the song went on.
Mixing was an all-nighter. There was a lot to sort out, and pretty limited outboard gear to do it. But we made the most of it. Suddenly, as the mix was coming together, the power went out! The board shut down. Automation was lost. The samples (which of course had been saved) were blown out of the sampler. Panic set in! But another engineer who was with us knew enough about electrical work to find the fuse box. It was housed a floor away from us in a dingy stairwell. He opened it up, shut the breaker, pulled a fuse from a different floor and popped it into ours. We were back in business! He truly saved the day... and mix.
We went back at it- remembering the last rounds of moves we had made with the automation prior to the outage. We reloaded the samples and got everything synced up again. The mix was almost done. It was nearly sunrise!
The owner, a rather uptight guy (and rightfully so- it was a tough business and he was a much better engineer than he was a manger. I know this all too well having subsequently lived it) came in to start the new day. We explained to him how we had down-time during the night because of the blown fuse and that’s why we were still mixing… but we were almost done. He wanted to know how it was fixed. An intern took him to the fuse box while I went back to finish the mix. We were just about to print it to DAT and 1/2”.
So- here we are… proud of our little dance music number and about to commit it to tape and off to become an international hit (not really)! Half way through printing the track- POP!!!
Everything went dark.
The board was powered down. The samplers- down. The mac- down. Lights off. WHAT. THE. HELL!????
It turns out that when the owner was asking about how we were able to fix the fuse, the intern showing him said “First we pulled the lever on the the breaker like this…..”
And down we went.
These are the stories that made this industry fun. We never saw that intern/assistant again. 25 years later, I can smile and laugh while telling this story.
Many more to come- with my Throwback Thursday stories from the control room!