Shortly after I graduated from college, I started working with Mike Costanzo at his recording studio in midtown Manhattan, MPC Productions. Mike, a very talented producer, engineer and musician, is a very good friend of mine from high school, and it was great to be working with him at his studio. I learned a lot, especially about house music, which I had never heard of before working at MPC. I thought, “We are in an apartment building in the city and there was no house so why is this called house music?”
Anyway, at the beginning of one session that I was engineering, one of the faders on the mixing console did not seem to be working. I shouted to Mike who was in the office down the hall, “Hey Mike, how come there’s no signal on channel 1?” Mike immediately shouted back, “1 is 7!” Apparently, something happened to the channel earlier and Mike had to switch a wire to go to another channel to get things working on a previous session. It’s a good thing he was there to tell me this otherwise I probably wouldn’t have been able to figure it out. To do this day, “1 is 7” is one of those unforgettable phrases that Mike and I still use with each other. There is something really funny about it to me…
One of the reasons that I like working at commercial recording studios is that they all provide a staff assistant engineer who knows not only how to use all of the equipment, but also knows if anything is broken or if there are any “1 is 7” types of technical things going on that only someone on staff would know about. Some of the studios I’ve worked at in recent years (many have since closed or became another company) with great, very helpful assistants (and/or owners) include:
- Avatar Studios
- The Barber Shop Studios
- Bennett Recording Studios
- BiCoastal Music
- Legacy Studios
- Skyline Recording Studios
- Spin Recording Studios
- Systems Two Recording Studios
Fast forward to Halloween, 2011…
I was doing a live mix for Tom Nazziola and The BQE Project at a theater in Manhattan. BQE was performing Tom’s brilliant score to the classic film, Frankenstein. A few weeks before the event, Tom sent me the list of the equipment that the theater had and said that there will be no one there to assist me. OK, no problem. Doing a live mix is simple and involves much less equipment than recording in a studio. No problem. However, the mixer that was listed was an older Yamaha digital mixer that I never used before. I asked some engineering friends about it. One said not to worry about it and I’ll be able to figure it out and another said that I should definitely download the manual and learn about it… I didn’t have much time to read the 150+ page manual and I figured since there was no assistant, the mixer probably wasn’t too complicated.
I decided to get there really early the day of the event and I brought all of my own mics and mic cables. I remember reading Don Aslett’s book, “How To Have a 48 Hour Day” and he talked a lot about the magic of EARLY. Really good advice, especially for this day!
The first thing I did was look in the very small and very cluttered control room in the back of the theater. Wires and other things were tangled up everywhere and the digital mixing console I was concerned about on the equipment list was not there! There was a very simple, easy to use, small mixer instead. Good. Sigh of relief. But where do I plug in my mics? I looked around for awhile and eventually found an input panel on the wall to the side of the stage in a dark area. But the musicians were set up all the way on the other side. My 30′ cables were not long enough to reach the input panel so I had to go through the tangled pile of miscellaneous cables in the control room in search of more mic cables to extend the length of my mic cables. Eventually, I found enough extra cables. It’s good that I got there really early!
I got there right before the group was about to rehearse and set up my 5 mics and all the cables.
- Audio Technica AT4047/SV over the drums/percussion
- AKG C414B-ULS in front of the double bass
- AKG C414B ULS in front of the cello
- AKG C451B over the violin
- AKG C451B pointing at the back of the upright piano
- The guitar amp didn’t need a mic…
During the rehearsal, while testing my mics, I wasn’t getting any signal from some of them. Uh oh! Once again, good thing I got there early! Did I say that enough yet? Time to troubleshoot the problem! Whenever I do that, I start from the beginning of the signal chain. In this case, the mics. Some of the mics were definitely working, so I plugged the mics that seemed to not be working into the cables of the definitely working mics. All 5 mics were good. The next thing to check was the cables. I plugged the cables that seemed to not be working into the inputs that had cables that were definitely working. All of the cables were good. At this point, a lot of time went by and I still haven’t figured out the problem. There was no way for me to test the input panel or the wires in the wall/ceiling that went up to the control room and into the mixer. So I decided to test the mixer by plugging directly into it, bypassing the input panel. Maybe there were some bad channels. I connected a bunch of cables together making a very long cable and ran it from the stage up to the control room. I tested each channel by plugging the cable into every channel, one at a time. All of the channels on the mixer worked fine. And then, a very clear vision appeared in my mind, I saw and heard Mike Costanzo in his old office at MPC Productions from years ago. And of course, he said:
1 is 7!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I looked behind the mixer and noticed that the wires that were connected to the mixer had tiny, and very faded out stickers with numbers on them, numbers that were apparently corresponding with the mixer channels. I assumed that all of the wires would be plugged into the correct channels. But I was wrong! Wire 1 went to mixer channel 1. Wire 2 went to mixer channel 2. But wire 13 went to mixer channel 3 and wire 14 went to mixer channel 4… Aha! Someone switched the wires and didn’t put them back, or at least leave a note anywhere for the next person (me). Or maybe there was a note somewhere buried in the clutter everywhere. If it was there, I didn’t see it. Luckily, I figured this out. I found the wires with numbers 3 and 4. I plugged wire 3 into mixer channel 3 and wire 4 into mixer channel 4, tested the mics and everything was finally working. I was able to mix both shows that night with no problems.
Thanks Mike! I’m going to put on some house music, in my house…