This profile is part of IEEE Spectrum's Special Report on Dream Jobs 2009.
Recording in Progress
Marco Migliari, an IEEE member, helps the Moonfish prepare their upcoming CD at Real World Studios, in Box, England.
Dream Jobs 2009
Marco Migliari steps into the vast recording studio and shuts a heavy metal door behind him. Silence fills the cavernous space where Peter Gabriel, Van Morrison, Coldplay, and Robert Plant have all taken their turns behind the microphone. ”I like this sort of steadiness, the quietness of the studio,” Migliari says. ”It’s kind of waiting for something to happen.”
And a lot does happen here at Real World Studios, a recording facility founded by Gabriel and best known for its vibrantly eclectic world-music productions. Tucked amid farms and stone houses in the village of Box, a 2-hour drive west of London, it’s regarded as one of the most high-tech and innovative places for making music. Migliari has worked here as a sound engineer for 12 years. In that time, he’s kept pace with a sea change in recording technology, as digital systems and software have gradually supplanted vacuum tubes and analog electronics. And he’s worked with top recording artists from all over the world. It’s Migliari’s job to make them sound good.
His introduction to audio technology came in the early 1980s, when he was still a schoolboy in Osimo, a small town in central eastern Italy. Hanging out at a local radio station, he learned to patch cables, work the reel-to-reel recorder, and sequence music in cassettes. That experience eventually led him to enroll in electronic engineering at Università Politecnica delle Marche, in nearby Ancona, in 1988.
He found the courses dull but didn’t give up. On the side, he worked as a freelance sound technician, setting up sound systems for theater and dance performances and ”lots of scruffy rock bands,” he recalls. Five years later, he was still struggling in engineering school and beginning to tire of the sound gigs. At the age of 24, Migliari had a ”bit of an existential crisis.”
That summer, in 1993, while operating the sound system at an academic conference, he got to talking with a sound engineer from Rome. He told Migliari about a two-year music-technology course at Newcastle College in England. ”That was a major turning point,” Migliari says. ”I realized I could just get out and start again.”
He wrote to Newcastle—”with the really terrible English I had at the time”—and the college asked him to come for an interview. The interview went well, and he was accepted. He still remembers touring the school’s facilities and feeling like he’d landed ”in a gold mine.” Life in northeast England, though, took some getting used to. ”It was bloody cold,” he says. ”I had, like, three flus in a month, one after the other.”
At Newcastle Migliari learned about technologies like MIDI (musical instrument digital interface), recording and mixing techniques, and all aspects of record production. As part of the program, he got an internship at Real World. The work wasn’t glamorous; he spent most of his time hauling gear, fixing equipment, and stringing cables. But his boss let him fiddle around in the studios that weren’t in use. ”I’d stay up until 4 o’clock in the morning studying the console, trying things out,” he says.
One day, a manager asked him to help out on a studio session. ”I said, ’Yeah! No problem!’ ” Migliari says. The session turned out to be with Peter Gabriel himself and members of his former band, Genesis, who were remixing some archival material. Working with such famous musicians was a surreal experience, Migliari says, but he kept a low profile: ”You watch, you learn.”
After he graduated in 1996, Real World offered him a job. It was a great opportunity, but he’d been planning to return to Italy, and he wrestled with the decision. Then Barbara, his girlfriend back home, agreed to join him in England. He took the job, they got married soon after, and he’s been a fixture at Real World ever since. The tales he collected—all-nighters hunkering down in the studio, flames coming out of a mixing console, raucous fights among musicians—are ”too many to remember, and some I cannot tell,” he says with a grin.