Some time ago we had a pleasure and privilege to speak to Gavin Monaghan, the founder of legendary West Midlands` studios – Magic Garden. The interview proved so popular that we were asked to go back and write some more about the studio and its personnel. And we are happy to oblige. Part of what we do at Indieterria is to highlight the assets that young and up and coming bands have at their disposal. And nothing is more essential than a good recording studio and talented producers/engineers. Bands, artists and those of you who one day plan to produce albums professionally – please meet Joe Murray. He is one of the best engineers in the country and he has a lot of incredible things to say about working with musicians, mixing and making the magic happen.
If that is not the best interview we did this year then we don`t know how to do interviews.
You are second in command at the iconic Magic Garden Recording Studios. Please introduce yourself to readers of Indieterria.
Joseph Murray: Hey everyone. My name is Joseph (Joe) Murray and I’m here to try to answer these wonderful questions and hopefully not bore y’all to deathhh!
Gavin Monaghan – the owner of Magic Garden described you as a man of many talents. You act as engineer, producer and mixer. You and Gavin work very closely with each other. How do you divide the workload on a regular day in the office?
Joseph Murray: That is very kind of him as always. One of my favourite things about music is that there is no such thing as a regular day, which keeps things exciting and creative! I think due to how long and how closely we’ve worked together on mountains of records, we’re able to share the workload in various different ways to get the best out of the track and the band. So here’s a rough example of working with a random 3-4 piece band:
Step one: The Band shows up and before anything we have a look around and a general chat. The main thing is putting the band at ease and trying to make sure everyone`s comfortable and “vibing”. The band`s music is massively important and the recording will live forever, so of course there can be a few nerves here and there. I try to make sure the band knows I’m on their side and their music means as much to me as to them!
Step two: After all the gear is loaded in and coffees have been made, we’ll all gather in the control room and have a talk about the song and the vision for the track. It`s crucial to get an idea of where we’re heading.
Step three: Once we’ve discussed the in’s and out`s and any ideas on how we should track the record, there’ll be a little bit of mind reading between Gavin and myself and I will head next door to the live room with the drummer to get a better idea of what kit they are using. Whether they can use studio`s various shells or maybe they’ve brought their own or perhaps they just got their prize snare. I’ll then give all the drums a tune which is HUGELY important and often overlooked! The drummer and myself will have a nice in-depth chat about what they like and we will find two, maybe three snares to narrow it all down.
Step four: When we’re hearing everything back through the mics, we’ll then move on to start tracking against the vibey guide track Gavin and the rest of the band have put together. We’ll do this till we’ve got the “magic” and then I’ll spend a little while putting together the best of each take whilst the band get some sustenance or a nap.
Step five: Then it’s time for the big bad BASS, which 9 times out of 10 we will capture through a high quality direct signal and an amp for vibe. Having the direct signal means that when we’ve wandered into guitar land, we can re-amp the direct bass through various oddities and balance the mid-range against the real guitars.
Step six: And speaking of guitars – another bit of mind reading takes place and Gavin dons the chef`s hat and starts crafting the bands melodic elements. At this point, I`ll take what we’ve got so far into my mix room and start doing some session file housekeeping so that once Gavin has tracked the rest of the musical components it`s a matter of bringing it all together. From here I’ll start working on my Mix! Every day is completely different: some days I’m producing an electronic artist in one room and Gavin is recording an acoustic songwriter next door and on other occasions I’m mixing an album whilst Gavin’s producing vocals for another project. Every sessions is different so I’m open and ready for most anything (animal attacks included).
About two months ago we interviewed Gavin himself and he mentioned that the studio was being refurbished. Can you update us on the progress of the works? How does Magic Garden grow?
Joseph Murray: The studio is always changing and growing, which again keeps things fresh we’re always on the hunt for the next big thing or a mysterious hidden gem.
At the moment, we’re putting focus on the benefits of a hybrid approach so far as getting the most out of the computer whilst also squeezing out the analog goodness of the hardware units. The main room is centred around two different analog consoles from two different eras to give us options and choices, when it comes to different genres or bands or even song by song.
One of the desks is a vintage 70’s German broadcast, which gives us great clarity, punch and in general just makes most things sound a little more lively. Then to the side, we’ve got a fantastic gem of a 60’s British desk which again gives us vibe, colour and some nice, rich saturation.
We’ve also got a stock of various preamps – for even more flavours. I find that if you can get the recording chain working WITH the sound from the start, life is just easier later. They’re all tools, like paintbrushes – some are great for huge broad tonal strokes and others are better for fine movements and just a little bit of highlighting.
Meanwhile in the “B” Room, we’ve focused on the finishing side of projects and put the emphasis again on a hybrid approach focusing on the summing side and making sure that the hardware used is as flavourful as possible. In both rooms we’ve got matched monitors to make it easier to transition projects and maintain the same vibe and vision. There’s also a vast microphone collection ranging from the standards to the weird and wonderful and that floats between the rooms
What we are trying to do via this blog is to highlight options available for people who want to break into the music business. And we not only mean artists or bands, but also future technical experts: producers and sound engineers. Judging from your experience – if somebody wants to find themselves on the other side of the mixing desk – where should they do?
Joseph Murray: I can obviously only speak for myself and my own experiences, so my advice would be… you should be prepared to work hard (and long) and make sure you love music. Luckily music is so multifaceted and there are so many moving parts that I guarantee there are jobs you’ve never even heard of.
I’ve always thought that the technical side of the recording process can come second and will be worked on for years and years and years… So as long as you’ve got the attitude and decent taste you’re onto a winner. I would also say to remain open minded, you could walk in wanting to be the producer but find that you actually enjoy the engineering side more or even the sound design aspect. Be fearless-ish.
What are the do`s and don’ts of your profession. If you were to pen a list of helpful and unhelpful habits of studio personnel, what would you include?
Joseph Murray: I think that attitude is probably one of the most important aspects to studio life. It’s long days, usually all in the same room. You’re dealing with people and it`s important that they know you’re on the same team and you only want what`s best for the song at the end of the day. Being able to write a good clear track sheet is always helpful, making (good or bad) coffee is always appreciated, in fact make lots of coffee. Take notes, ask questions, listen to e v e r y t h i n g .
For don’ts – each studio or professional will have a different view on what not to do but my main one is don’t make mine or anyone else in the rooms life harder and that`s about it.
You have been instrumental in creating one of our favourites albums of last year – “Columbia” by The Blinders. Tell us more about the recording process behind this record? Was it easy to work on it? Or maybe it was a truly dystopian experience?
Joseph Murray: That`s great to hear and thank you very much! It was a brilliant album to be a part of for many reasons. Firstly, I lurvve the guys and they’re great to just hang out. Secondly the songs were top notch and they’re performers through and through, which makes creating an exciting record a joy. The process for the album wasn’t too out of the ordinary and just felt organic. They’re a band with a collective vision and unwavering commitment to get to it. They each know what they like and what they want whilst also being collaborative and open to suggestions and guidance. We were able to develop the songs in such a way that I reckon got the best out of everyone!
A parent shouldn’t have favourites but we need to ask – which album you worked on so far is your pride and joy?
Joseph Murray: (laughs) Well I try to make whatever I’m working on at the moment be my favourite. I like the idea that for the time the band are in the studio with me I join them as an auxiliary member and in doing so it’s not about a personal ego or a personal preference, it`s about collaboration and doing your best for the band. We’re Family!
There are records I’m proud to been part of because of their musical or emotional significance, there are records I’m proud of because of my input and contribution and records that I’m proud to be part of because of the experience, so I wouldn’t say I have a favourite. It`s like being part of all of these different little tribes!
Besides working in the studio, we have seen you delivering am impressive stand up comedy sets at Musicians Against Homelessness gig in Birmingham in April. Was it one off or have you been doing it for a while now?
Joseph Murray: Ah, well thank you very much! That was actually my first set. I’ve never considered myself a stand up comedian, just a guy who spouts various amounts of nonsense and likes to hear people laugh. It was for a very good cause and as I’m a musician who is most definitely against homelessness how could I say no! If you’re also a musician who is against homelessness, I suggest having a look into what Musicians Against Homelessness do!
Every sound engineer have their favourite tools to use. What piece of equipment you just have to have at hand?
Joseph Murray: I often will rant about how you can make a record anywhere using anything because it’s the songs that matter and a good song will always be a good song. That being said, it’s nice to have the luxury of your favourite tools and it`s more often a question of what you’re comfortable using. The most important thing for me is my ears and monitors. Everything else is a bonus. My desert island bag would probably have in it a particular snare we’ve acquired that I don’t know much about other than it sounds incredible and seems to just balance the rest of the kit really nicely! Not to compare myself to Van Gogh but if he didn’t have his favourite brush I reckon he’d still paint a masterpiece.
We know that working with Gavin is a dream come true – he is the Wizard of Wolverhampton after all. However, let’s pretend you can work with any other producer (alive or dead) on any album in existence. Who do you choose to collaborate with and what’s the title of the record?
Joseph Murray: I feel that music is always changing and evolving and growing, so I struggle to pick a favourite album or producer. There are thousands of records that I would love to be part of. Some albums that come to mind straight away are the Berlin era recordings by David Bowie, especially “Heroes” produced by Tony Visconti whilst Brian Eno and Iggy Pop were hanging around too. That would of been an experience, especially seeing Tony recording Robert Fripp creating melodic feedback just by walking around the room.
I also think being with Nigel Godrich recording “OK Computer” would of been amazing, to be at the genesis of this new turn in modern music.
There are so many more – Bob Marley`s “Exodus” (not just for the weather), The Beach Boys` “Pet Sounds”, Marvin Gaye`s “What`s Going On”, Wu-Tang Clan`s ”36 Chambers”, Beastie Boys` “Ill Communication” and of course Fleetwood Mac`s “Rumours”.
Thank you very much for talking to us!
Joseph Murray: Thank you so much for your brilliant questions and I hope my answers made some sort of sense! Keep It Loud and One Love.
You can follow Joseph Murray on the socials:
And Magic Garden Recording Studios can be found here:
There is an awesome playlist that showcases all the recordings made at Magic Garden on Spotify:
Yeah we know, we are so lucky to have such incredible studio in West Midlands and people like Joe and Gavin to take care of all the local (and not so local) artists. If you look for a place to bring your art to life – please get in touch with Magic Garden.