For someone like Ben Leggett—an engineer, musician, composer and sound designer—North Bay is a city of opportunity. As a musician, he had no trouble finding a band; as an engineer, he has always had steady bookings in the studio. Now, working in film, Leggett finds the situation remains the same.
“They’ve been filming like crazy here,” muses Leggett. “I mean they’re filming like crazy everywhere – but in Northern Ontario, in North Bay and Sudbury, there’s always a film production.”
The Leggett family, originally from Burk’s Falls, spent some time in New Liskeard before settling into North Bay. Like many kids in the north, grew up a sports enthusiast, occupying himself with hockey, baseball, fishing and snowmobiling. Then, however, he discovered music.
“I spent a lot of my teenage years listening to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, all that classic rock stuff. My dad was a country guy, so I grew up with Merle Haggard on, but I was always searching for a heavier sound.”
After high school, Leggett was lured away from his job at a mining company when his band decided to move to London, Ontario. Leggett wasn’t immediately sold on the idea, but he took the plunge anyhow. The move paid off - while it’s no metropolis, London was big enough to support a thriving music scene. The band gigged regularly and Leggett met and learned from other musicians.
“These guys were working in real studios, putting in real studio time,” he remembers. “I got to see that side of it, the real studio console and all the gear. My mind was kind of like, okay, I love this stuff.”
A studio in North Bay: Fostering connections
For a time the band found success, even securing a mini-school bus for touring purposes. After a few years, however, they found themselves struggling and the bus driven into the ground. When Leggett returned to North Bay, however, it was far from a defeat. Having learned about recording through peers, he’d set up his own makeshift recording rig. In North Bay, he approached a friend with a plan to set up a studio place in the friend’s home. At the time, studios weren’t plentiful in town, so word spread fast.
Despite this initial success, Leggett chose to put the business on hold and, along with his brother, move to Ottawa to attend college. This, too, led Leggett in unexpected directions, as it was during this time he met folk/roots singer and songwriter Craig Cardiff.
“He was looking for somebody to record his stuff and be flexible enough to record at his home,” says Leggett, “and I was into that. I had my recording rig so I went over to his house and set up and the next thing you know I’m living at his house and we’re just recording full time.”
His working relationship with Cardiff lasted many years, and even provided Leggett with an unexpected Juno nomination for the album Floods and Fires. “That was huge for me,” says Leggett. “It's not like I’d been producing albums for 20 years. It gave me the confidence to just keep going.
Leggett has worked steadily since returning home once more. Though he feels that bedroom studios and recording software have taken a bite out of the studio business, he hasn’t been short on work. He continues to do music recording – “the occasional drum session here, a mixing session there” – but the bulk of his labour has gone into film and, once again unexpectedly, a new career as a college professor.
Leggett teaches the Recording Engineering and Music Production course at Canadore College—a course he co-designed and implemented. “It’s a popular program,” says Leggett. “For next year there’s 40 people on the waiting list. We can only handle 30, that’s our capacity.”
Despite this full-time engagement, Leggett continues to work in film—which, after all, is what led him to the college, who originally hired him to be a technician for the school’s state-of-the-art, Dolby Atmos-equipped post-production facility.
A music collab leads to film opportunities
Leggett first dove into film work back in 2012, when he was still working with Cardiff. Cardiff was approached to compose music for a movie project, and Leggett found himself more deeply involved than expected. “I was kind of the in-between, there to record some stuff for Craig that would go in this movie,” he says “I ended up being the composer. I got to write a handful of pieces which was kind of a whole new world. I never thought I would get into film.”
Since that time, Leggett has worked on many film and television projects, including 23 episodes of the locally-shot Hard Rock Medical. Most recently, he is wrapping up work on a horror film, shot in North Bay, entitled Flee the Light.
“That’s different for sure,” he laughs. “I’m the sound designer on a film called Flee the Light, which is filmed in North Bay. There’s a friend of mine that is a composer, he’s been composing for over 30 years, so we’re exploring the best way to deliver music and effects for a full-length movie.”
Award nominations and the benefits of CION
Over the years, Leggett has been recognized by his peers with several NOMFA nominations. His most recent was Best Engineer for David Dino White’s Hair of the Dog in 2017. Leggett is enthusiastic about working in the north, and believes groups like CION and other agencies are extremely valuable to him and others in the field.
“I really like everything [CION] try to do for music and film,” he says. “Connecting the industry peers. I was in a basement for years, just working on recordings, but you don’t know what the guy in the next town’s doing, and how do you find them? It’s cool to hear their work and get to meet them, and maybe collaborate later on. I enjoy that.”