Award Winning Voice Over Studio in Edinburgh.
Offbeat started doing major Voice Over projects several years ago when we met Film Producer and Director Mark Cousins at a recording studio music event in which he was taking part with a friend.
Mark, who lives locally, approached us after the session and asked if we wanted to record his commentary for The Story Of Film an Odyssey for Film 4.
Stanley Kubrick Award
15 (x 1 hour) episodes later the film was released and achieved critical acclaim, including The Stanley Kubrick Award for best film in 2012 and a nomination for Best Documentary feature at Palm Springs awards in 2012. The audio was recorded first and the film was later synced to Marks commentary in post production at another studio.
Since then we’ve done several films with Mark, the most recent being Stockholm My Love in which we recorded audio parts with Neneh Cherry for Scandinavian TV in collaboration with BBC 1. He also brought in Ewan Bremner to add voice to Marks film What Is This Film Called Love.
All that opened the door for us to take on more and more projects including Russell Howard’s 2016 series of USA travels with my Mum for Sky 1. This involved Russell recording his voice to picture.
We’ve recorded the voice for several programmes for BBC Radio 4 for Loftus Media including a programme narrated by broadcaster Alan Little reminiscing about his travels to Sarajevo. And this year an educational programme for BBC Bitesize as well as for Edinburgh International Festival for their 2017 audio music section of their forthcoming program.
On a more controversial film, Alan Knights film London Calling on the subject of BBC Bias in the 2014 referendum. Alan also brought famous actor Brian Cox up the stairs to record the voice of cartoon character Duggy The Dug.
Recording an audio book with Scottish author Kirsty Logan, who narrated her debut novel The Gracekeepers, was a different kind of project. All nine hours of audio had to delivered with no bad takes so if a mistake was made by the voice artist, which of course is inevitable with any recording project, each new take had to be dropped in over the faulty take. The resulting audio we delivered to Audio Book Company Bolinda in Australia had to be faultless.
Recording voice over audio for ‘live theatre’ is also an area we have been involved in. Pamela Stevenson-Connolly came to Offbeat to record audio for hers and Arlene Philip’s dance hit show Brazouka with Brazilian dancer Dos Santos in 2015. The recording was used for large sections of the show at the Edinburgh Festival before touring the show.
Sometimes the client wants the audio delivered ‘wild’ which means the audio is left in record mode throughout the session and the client edits the recording themselves.
Recording just a single voice may seem an extremely simple job but it’s deceptively tricky as there can be no extraneous noise or interference at all in the recording. The sound has to be perfect. Even the creak of a chair can spoil the recording. Sometimes we are asked to edit the recording too and with multiple takes of a script, keeping track of the best ones and creating a flowing dialogue demands real concentration and organisation with no room for mistakes.
Using Skype is very common now. The client is more often than not in a different location from the narrator. We then feed Skype from the client through the mixer so that they can conduct the session remotely with the voice artist who is listening to their instructions on headphones. This is very effective and if required we can record the clients Skype conversation too if they need to refer to it when they are editing.
Finally location is also a factor and being bang in the centre of Edinburghs famous Royal Mile is an advantage despite the long climb up the Offbeat stairs.
Are there too many ideas in your production?
The genius of production is in making sure that the range of frequencies that exist in the song are working together to create a focused sonic picture.
“Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. Antoine de Saint-Exubery
A common mistake is the misconception that adding more and more ideas to a song will make it better. But imagine a meal with too many ingredients or a drawing or painting with no space in it. With cluttered recordings no amount of mixing or mastering will help, especially if the midrange of a track is choka.
In the old days of analogue it was harder to over cook a track due to the limitation of the amount of available tracks. With digital recording and unlimited tracks and software instruments it’s just too easy to keep chucking stuff in.
Sometimes the best productions just have a few elements in them and the space around them can create ghost notes and unintended effects. Because there are just a few elements it becomes more important that each one sounds great as there’s nowhere to hide.
A lot of elements can exist together in a production if both the notes in the instruments are voiced well, and the frequencies of the instruments compliment each other. If it’s done right the track can still seem dynamic and spacious, but it requires real skill to juggle a lot of elements, like in orchestral arrangements.
Some experimentation is usually necessary to get to those special nuggets that belong in the track and there is a process of trying things out to hear if they work, but it’s dangerous to get too attached to all your ideas so try and bear this in mind when putting your production together. Keep only the essential parts and let your track breathe!
Music To Lyrics – A Unique Production Service
For several years now we have been providing a music production service for lyricists and singer/songwriters who require musical arrangements for their lyrics and song ideas. Every song is different so a fresh approach has to be taken every time. Below are four excerpts from a wide range of songs produced over the past year with notes on how each arrangement was created.
Evamore is a project by Sir Chris Evans who created an album of songs based on letters sent back from soldiers from WW1. The album was a huge undertaking which involved many session singers and musicians. On this particular song I worked out the arrangement based on a rough demo sent over my Chris. This production was done remotely as Chris is an extremely busy globetrotter and couldn’t attend the studio.
I played Acoustic Guitar, Bass and Percussion. Sir Chris played Electric Guitar. Lead vocals were by Steve Balsamo, Backing vocals by Brian Rice & Kirsty McKinna. The strings were orchestrated by Jon Cohen with Violin by Seonaid Aitken. The Harmonica was by Fraser Speirs.
Once the song was established Chris recorded his Guitar parts at home and drop-boxed them to me to slot into the recording,
Tony B is an amazing Nigerian gospel singer with a great ear for music. Tony has done a great job of tracking up his vocals and creating a huge choral effect for this song.
On the track he sang the melody line to me and from that we worked out the tempo and a beat. Then I added drums and a bass line. Tony has lots of ideas in his head and would occasionally hum parts to me, like the bass line, and even ideas for guitar parts although not being an instrumentalist I had to come up with the chords for the arrangement. We worked through lots of beats together for the production. On this track all instruments are played by me.
Imaginary Creatures is the brainchild of Scottish born lyricist David Scott. We are currently working on the third album.
David comes into the studio with music references which are a great way of establishing a song. We don’t directly copy the music but he will typically suggest ideas from records which are a good starting point. David has strong musical ideas and even the instruments arrangements are close to what he has in his head.
On this example the rhythm track and tempo was referenced from a record and the general guitar sound also. The track was then developed by bringing in session musicians Rich Anderson on keyboards and Keith More on the guitar solo. Drums were eventually replaced by Alex Harvey and Michael Shenker drummer Ted McKenna.
Norine Mindeyes is also from Nigeria but has lived in Scotland for quite some time. We have done three songs together. In this example she came into the studio with all the vocal melody parts sang into her mobile phone. I then recorded all the instrumental parts into our music software starting with the Clavinet and a rough rhythm guide. Over a period of time the song evolved into this fully fledged production.
Gavin Blackie is a talented singer and songwriter who recorded his debut album Laid Bare with me here at Offbeat. Gavin comes into the studio with a strong vocal melody and firm ideas of how he wants the track to go. He will suggest references for drum sounds and records that have inspired him. Although these are good starting points we are careful not to directly lift anything from an existing composition. These ideas are just the spark for musical parts that have to be unique for the composition we are creating. On this track all instruments are played by me with backing vocals by Kirsty McKinna.
I’ve have done many tracks and albums with lyricists and songwriters and have found a niche that not many studios or producers seem to specialise in. Understandable as initially it can be a bit nerve wracking sitting with a writer with lyrics and a blank page with no music. You will hear from the diverse range of styles above that there’s not many types of music we can’t undertake here at Offbeat,
Gavin Blackie Wins Prestigious Music Award
Gavin and Offbeat Producer Iain McKinna co-wrote the track and it features on his recently released album Laid Bare which is available on iTunes.
Gavin performed the track ‘live’ at his launch gig at Edinburgh’s Church Hill Theatre to a packed audience in November 2015.
The track will be released as a single in early 2016 but meanwhile you can hear the entire track here
Ross Munro signs to Greentrax
Well all his hard work has paid off as the hot news is that after an introduction by us at Offbeat he has just signed a recording licensing contract with Greentrax Records, who will be able to distribute the album worldwide to all of Ross’s many fans.
And so Ross came to Offbeat Studios as he had worked with Iain McKinna before on a very successful series of albums called Spirit Of The Glen for Universal Music Group and Decca Records which were historic in the making, combining a whole orchestra with the sound of The Royal Scots Dragoon Pipes & Drums. It became a no1 hit album in the Classical charts and won a coveted Classical Brit Award for best album in 2009. It was produced brilliantly by Classical genius Jon Cohen. Iain at Offbeat recorded the pipes and drums for it while Jon Cohen arranged all the music and following the initial recording went to Prague to record and produce the Czech National Orchestra.
Ross adds “When it came to recording this solo album I did a search on Recording Studios in Edinburgh and Offbeat was the first to come up in my search, When I opened the webpage and was confronted with a picture of Iain, I thought it was too spooky a coincidence to ignore, especially after working with Iain on the Spirit of the Glen Trilogy whilst with the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards”.
“The idea started of as a personal project as I was only looking for a product I could sell at weddings and other small events that I may have been booked on. It was after Iain had listened to the demo tracks that he recommended that I looked at going commercial as he thought I had a very sell-able product”.
Twisted Tradition by Ross Munro will be released on Greentrax on 1st July 2015
Vigilante & Spytec Hip Hop Album Trilogy
My son, Producer Paul McKinna aka Vigilante talks about how he put together his mega trilogy of hip hop albums with producer Spytec based on his favourite movies. To get in touch with Paul about making beats for your tracks Contact Us.
“I started making Hip Hop beats when I teamed up with Profisee to form Great Ezcape, in Edinburgh Scotland, around 2004 with the later additions of Nik (The Manufacturer) PT, Ema J, and Simba. We released a couple of E.P.’s, did some shows, got some radio play, but after a couple of years started going in different directions so we parted ways to work on other projects. But that’s another story…
After Great Ezcape went on hiatus, I wanted to do a solo project I could move forward with at my own pace to keep my chops. So I decided to give myself a challenge, in fact the biggest challenge I could think of; I was going to remix the entire Bullitt soundtrack to Busta Rhymes acapella’s as a free promotional album. The Bullitt soundtrack had always been like Holy Ground to me in the past, being my favorite composer, Lalo Schifrin, my favorite soundtrack of my favorite film, starring no less than my favorite actor, Steve McQueen, and as such I never would sample it because I didn’t feel I was capable of doing it justice, being that I’d placed it on such a high pedestal. But now I felt I had the chops to handle it and was race ready. Going with all Busta Rhymes was not a hard decision, as again it seemed like the biggest challenge and I loved the idea of hearing his flow over my beats. There’s 16 tracks on the Bullitt soundtrack and I only had 3 Busta Rhymes acapella’s so after remixing the Bullitt Theme to Busta’s Woo Ha! to test the waters, I put my good friend & collaborator Brian White aka Spytec on the case, who did online searches, posted threads on hip hop forums, and harassed DJ’s till my “dream of 16” was complete. Meanwhile I had been steadily working on getting all these acapella’s in time & writing beats for them before figuring out how the Bullitt soundtrack was going to fit in to all of this. After many hours of chopping, tweaking, mixing, testing in nightclubs at 4am after hours, I finally finished what I still consider my masterpiece. So Bri knocked up some artwork with a nice nod to the Bullitt original soundtrack artwork.
So at some point during all this Bram at Black Lantern Music offered to release it on they’re site http://www.blacklanternmusic.com, and I did a launch with Spytec in Edinburgh at The Green Room. After that, I got a video guru I know, Ollie Elliott, to edit the car chase from Bullitt to my remix of the chase music and then we had a video. All in, the first release was pretty lackluster, mainly because I was scared to promote it for copyright issues, even though it was only ever intended as a “passion project” and to showcase what I can do.
Meanwhile, I was itching to keep the momentum I had gained and had enjoyed doing it so much I decided to follow it up with a sequel, and figured I’d continue with the Lalo Schifrin theme because really, who else would I sample for an entire album? This time I really wanted a challenge, as I was going to do this next one as a joint effort between Spytec and myself, seeing as he’d proven to be so resourceful with the first one considering I couldn’t have done it without him and because he’d done a couple of remixes himself that blew my mind so this one would be “Spytec & Vigilante Presents” as to the previous “Vigilante Presents”. This is the biggest misconception/confusion created by us, being that some sites (including Discgs and Black Lantern) list the first one as Spytec & Vigilante, in anticipation of the 2nd one, where the artwork only says Vigilante. This time we chose Cool Hand Luke, an 18 track soundtrack , and unlike the Bullitt soundtrack, which is a Hip Hop producers dream, filled with brass, flutes, and strings, Cool Hand Luke was full of banjo’s, acoustic guitars accompanying the brass, flutes, and strings, keeping with the films “Deep South” setting but making finding Hip Hop worthy samples in every track almost impossible in some cases but by filter and by delay, we made it Hip Hop worthy, dammit! In choosing the emcee on this one, I wanted to go with my favorite emcee lyrically, feeling in my mind I’d successfully already conquered the king of flow, even if no one knew about it. I suggested Talib Kweli to Bri (aka Spytec) and he agreed before disappearing for a month to track down 18 plus Talib Kweli acapella’s which proved to be not an easy mission. In the end he was successful although we had to settle for a couple of D.I.Y. aca’s where the instrumental had been layered on top of the original with the phase reversed, cancelling out the track, leaving just the vocal & a bit of hihat, and headphone spill (yes, it works). Meanwhile Bri followed the same theme with the artwork and before we knew it, we were balls deep in banjo’s. This one we dubbed “Cool Hand Luke vs Kweli”.
By this point I had taken suffering for my art to a new level, having just spent the last 3 months on the first remix album, and now working full time on the second unpaid project. Having split the workload between us, I was actually sleeping on Bri’s couch now, with my computer set up in his living room while he had his set up in his bedroom. We’d be working on 2 remixes at a time as we totally vibe’d off each others creative energy. About halfway through it, we were getting banjo fever and knew there was only one cure and it wasn’t more cowbell; we needed a third album to complete the trilogy and give us a fresh burst of creative energy. This time we went with the ever amazing (and unfortunately, ever sampled) Enter The Dragon soundtrack, a great contrast to the cool San Francisco sounds of Bullitt and the Southern Country vibes from Cool Hand Luke. The other key factor in choosing Enter The Dragon was it was only a 10 track soundtrack so we figured we could knock it out in between troubleshooting the 2nd one. Now Bri came up with the plan of writing this one with Nas acapella’s so Enter The Dragon vs Nas was born, and we had work to do.
At around this time, life altering events brought on mainly by me focusing only on the tasks at hand and ignoring the rest of life lead to me deciding to move to Canada so the pressure was on to get the trilogy finished. Finally everything pretty much came together in time for my departure, apart from Bri’s last track on the Cool Hand Luke vs Kweli album. Ollie also did 2 follow up video edits of the other 2 movies.
After that, I moved to Canada, promptly put all things music on hold while I sorted out life in another country and things fell apart from there. I lost contact with Bri, as he’s seemingly vanished into thin air, as I haven’t heard from him in over 2 years. As a result, eventually I put my remixes from the Cool hand Luke vs Kweli & Enter The Dragon vs Nas albums up alongside the Bullitt vs Busta remixes for free download on soundcloud. If/when Bri surfaces, we’ll hopefully add his mixes to the equation too. Anyways, that’s the story of the trilogy that almost killed me”.
Mark Greenock (Mark A.G.) Album – Singer & Songwriter
As a songwriter/lyricist, Brighton based Mark Greenock aka (Mark A.G.) has been involved in several bands and solo projects. He first contacted Offbeat a couple of years ago as he was considering doing some more session singing. He also had some songs that had been written and recorded with others in the past and wanted to have them re-mastered and polished up. The intention was to put them on an album to showcase his lyrics and vocals. He was also going to record a few covers to put on a showreel for his session projects. Although he lived in London at the time, Mark had spoken to several studios both there and in Scotland and was really impressed with the initial service he got here at Offbeat.
Mark says “I visited the Offbeat studio on the High Street in Edinburgh and was immediately impressed by the welcome I got and the very friendly, relaxed atmosphere in the studio. Iain and I got chatting and I noticed straight away that we were on the same wavelength about a lot of things. He told me about some of the recording/production work and other musical projects the studio was involved in and I decided very quickly I would complete the project at Offbeat”.
Over a few sessions in 2012, Mark recorded a few cover versions and included two of them (Snow Patrol –Eyes Open and Roachford – Only To Be With You) on his debut album 3am Sleepwalkers which was later released on iTunes/Amazon/CDBaby and others. Offbeat also re-mastered the other original songs and some of these were also used for the album. Although Mark had by now returned to London we were able to use Dropbox to send tracks to and from each other.
The album was well received and Mark was interviewed by Laura Piper at Scottish Television about it. He decided to send any profits from the album to a children’s hospice charity. Mark had made up his mind, at this point, to record some more tracks at Offbeat in 2013 but due to being ill and requiring surgery he had to postpone this for a while. Once he was better, he contacted me and we had a long chat about recording a brand new album from scratch.
Mark is first and foremost a lyricist and singer. He had already built up a large collection of lyrics over the years but had recently been writing music and lyrics for some new songs. These songs have some really good strong melodies and arrangements and he really wanted to get them all on an album. I explained that Offbeat could provide the full musical service of production, assisting with musical arrangement, instrumentation, recording and mixing. This was an exciting piece of news for Mark as he had been wanting to record more songs in Edinburgh.
Mark says “It’s my home town so it’s a labour of love for me and I really liked the way Iain and I had worked on previous sessions. I booked a series of two day sessions towards the end of 2013 to start recording the tracks for my second album ‘Lighting The Way Home’. I currently live in the South of England but I travel to Edinburgh to record my songs as I have always been very impressed with the service I get at Offbeat. From the very first phone call to the final mix you really feel like a valued customer and leave there as a friend. The atmosphere in the studio is professional yet relaxed and informal and this makes for a fantastic working environment. It’s also in such a unique location and this adds to the attraction of booking time there. Iain and Kirsty are great to work with and nothing is too much trouble. They will work on a track/part of a track until we are all 100 % satisfied with it. They offer constructive production ideas and lots of cups of tea! I have worked in a lot of studios and this is definitely my favourite place to record.”
The album is now well underway and is an exciting mix of eclectic styles and tracks which Mark has been working on for a while now. The songs cover a variety of subject matter including triumph over adversity, the value of friendships and following your goal in life whatever it may be. There is also a wry observation about love and all that comes with it. Due to health issues, which he has now thankfully fully recovered from, Mark had a pretty tough year in 2013 and he initially dreaded that he would end up writing a lot of depressing tracks!
Mark explains “Thankfully I don’t tend to do that and instead I wrote some songs that were a bit more positive. I think it’s important to give people songs that they can identify with. I genuinely think that everyone secretly wants a song they can listen to and say “that could have been written about me”. Even the title track itself ‘Lighting The Way Home’ is not necessarily about going home or even a place you call home, It’s more about the feeling you get when you hear a song, see someone, remember an event or even just dream about it. That feeling you get that makes you feel like you’re at home wherever that may be. I hope the whole album gives people a bit of that”.
Mark’s first step was to complete the songs he had been working on to a demo stage. He used the Garageband app on iPad to record Piano/Keyboard, Vocals, Bass and Drums. Once these demo tracks were recorded he sent them via Dropbox to me with song notes and lyric sheets so that I could have a listen to them prior to the recording sessions.
During the initial sessions, we firstly recorded drums and a guide vocal/initial keyboard tracks then worked on the other instrumentation. During each step of the track we fully discussed ideas and arrangements and tried various things out until we were both happy with the sound. Once the instruments were recorded we recorded the vocals and then mixed each track.
Whilst recording the song ‘Louder’ I asked Mark if he could use the piano track from Garageband but due it not being midi compatible he used another app, Music Studio 2 along with a Line 6 Mobile Midi Piano to record the piano tracks later that day and then sent them as a midi file to me via Dropbox. I was then able to lay his piano tracks straight onto the mix for editing.
During one of the December 2013 sessions Mark asked Offbeat Kirsty to play on one of the songs ‘The Problem With Love’. Kirsty played some haunting and truly beautiful Electric Violin. It added a whole new dimension to the song and he is very pleased with it.
Each track, so far, has been recorded in two days. We have both loved every minute of it. At the time of writing this blog, more sessions have been booked and Mark hope to release the album ‘Lighting The Way Home’ around Spring of 2014.
New Film Project – Here Be Dragons by Mark Cousins
Mark Cousins is back in the studio this week recording commentary for his new film project Here Be Dragons in which Mark explores his thoughts on his fascination with Albania following his recent visit there. The film is being produced by Don Boyd of HiBrow T . Having just heard the commentary of the film and not the footage, I still found it a great introduction to a country I knew nothing about, both pre and post the dictator Enver Hoxha. Watch This Trailer about how Mark both conceived of and made the film.
I’ve now worked with Mark on several of his movie projects. Most recently recording his voice for The Story Of Children & Film which is about to have its UK premiere at The Edinburgh International Film Festival. Having been the only British film screened at this years Cannes Film Festival, it was very well received and has attracted great reviews.
After initially recording Mark with some of his friends at a recording studio birthday party a few years ago, I recorded and edited his commentary on 15 x 1 hour films for the acclaimed More 4 and Film 4 series The Story Of Film. Following its original TV screening. it has toured The Film Festival circuit and been screened on TV and Cinemas all over the World. It’s about to go mainstream on TV in the USA through Turner Classic Movies. Mark will personally introduce each of the 15 episodes. The series is widely acclaimed as the only real history of film on the planet! The film was a labour of love which took Mark and his producer John Archer from Hopscotch Films many years to make.
Following The Story Of Film we also worked on What Is This Film Called Love. Mark’s homage to the film maker Sergei Eisenstein which was filmed in Mexico in 2011 and released in 2012. Mark gets his kit off and roams the Mexican desrt in his quest to follow in the footsteps of his hero.
Normally Mark comes into the studio and reads the script in just one run through the script with very short breaks to save the files. The challenge is to capture his performance as naturally as possible. Knowing how his voice works by now I have the studio setup in advance so we are recording within 5 minutes. The Offbeat studio has now been involved in quite a few film projects.