Published Dec 01, 2004When Andy Magoffin found a little bungalow in London, Ontario, where he'd landed to study recording at a local college, the miracles he sought were his own: that is, for his band, the Two-Minute Miracles. "It was not so I could open a studio," he explains, "but where I could hit a drum kit late into the night." Magoffin, who was more likely to put disposable income into instruments to play over equipment to record them with, found that he could use his ear and then-primitive recording gear to entice local bands to come by, at least covering some costs for more equipment. Nearly a decade later, the House of Miracles has become the house that's helping build a Canadian indie rock renaissance.
School of Rock
"My circle of friends and acquaintances were people who hit four-piece drum kits and played through Marshall [amps]. Having done live sound at [London rock club Call the Office], that's what I was good at. Most people were more than willing to be talked into doing a recording they weren't planning when I mentioned how little money I was asking."
Having parsed what school knowledge was useful to him sitting up during practical lessons on electronics and the science of sound, drifting off during "how to mic a drum kit" Magoffin applied his club-trained ear to provide realistic-sounding recordings for bands who came to the House. "I never try to make a client sound like something they're not," is how he explains his philosophy as an engineer and producer. "They would know, I would know and everyone who listens to them would know. Realism is the easiest way to be satisfied that I'm doing things right."
The Band Who Knew Too Much
A little success with local acts like the New Grand and the Weekend led to slightly higher rates and a bank loan for some upgraded microphones and cables. As Magoffin gained more experience, his recordings got better, the word of mouth spread, and more bands started to take notice of the recordings that were coming out of the unassuming bungalow. "I don't think anyone was willing to drive from Toronto for the meagre offerings that I had, but now most of my business does come from Toronto and points outside London."
A series of upgrades has resulted in a two-room professional home studio, including a 1975 two-inch tape recorder which would have cost $100,000 when it was manufactured and professional ProTools recording software, something that Magoffin recognises as a necessary evil in the digital age. If only the bands didn't know it too.
"Most people have some experience with home recording systems," Magoffin sighs. "At least someone in the band is aware of the limitations of the recording process. Sadly lacking are bands who are aware of their own limitations as musicians. There are far less able musicians making far better sounding recordings than ever before, because of the power of technology. All they know is that I can fix their timing and their tuning in the computer. They give so little thought and effort to rehearsing and actually being able to articulate what they want to do, so it gets really frustrating. They're happy to do a take and say, You can get that, right? Good take, except for those couple of bum notes.' They're okay with using pitch correction on their voice. It's not the first tool I go for I would rather re-record a take. It's not making them any more lazy than they might already be inclined to be, but musicians now feel like they're capable of making great music on a par with great music of the past when it's simply not true."
The Loudness Wars
The proliferation of technology has resulted in more "professional" sounding recordings than ever before, all competing for limited attention. For many, that means the loudest band wins. "There's a trend to make your recording louder so it will cut through on a jukebox or CD changer. But it's damaging the quality of recordings because people are over-compressing and maximising and brightening, robbing it of all its dynamics. I've had more than a few things leave here, work that I've been really proud of, only to have someone be really heavy-handed at the mastering stage and sabotage all our hard work. And bands generally don't really know the difference. They know their music is now loud, but they don't realise how much more abrasive, grating and tiring it's become. Mastering engineers are in a constant battle: rob it of all its dynamics, or sacrifice the band's zoom' factor."
Not that Magoffin is above taking on a big radio-friendly client when it comes along. "There are certain bands that ask for that, and it's fun to really make a band sound like they're heroes. But a lot of independent stuff is more pure just make them sound like they really sound, but better."