rocinante studios

Recording Voice-Overs

This blog gives an overview of voice-over recording, from the engineer’s perspective.

My studio was built with the singer in mind, but I am perfectly equipped to record voice-overs, and have done so on multiple occasions. It helps having a vocal booth and a Neumann U87, which is a popular mic for voice-over recording.

If I’m recording someone who is sitting down, the upside down position of the mic works better, as it’s easier to adjust the height with a standard mic stand, and it looks cool.


First things first, prep! It’s great if you can get any session material from the client beforehand. This could be a video or a script. Here's an example of a recent script:


The script lets you run the session smoothly, pick up quickly on any mistakes, and organize your recordings cleanly.

If you get a video, make sure it can be synced up with your DAW. Logic Pro X is great for this. This means that when you begin recording, the video plays at the same time. This is extremely useful, as it means that the voice-over will also be in sync, and post editing work will be quicker.

One issue though. How to stream the video into the booth? One solution I found is to use an ipad, a USB cable with a long extension, and an App called ‘Duet’. Hooking it up was a breeze, and I was able to sync the display from my second monitor (on the left). The iPad could then go into the booth.


Next part is gain staging. This is a little different than recording a singer but not drastically. There is less of a dynamic range with a voice-over, so the levels are more consistent. With a singer, you want to have them sing the loudest section of the song, so you can set the gain around that. A recent voice-over was recorded with a -25Db average with peaks of around -13Db. There’s a low noise floor with 24 bit recordings, so the volume can be boosted easily afterwards. I also avoid going higher than -10Db in case of any clipping, which won't happen till 0Db, but I like a lot of headroom for safety.

When recording the session, there are a couple of different approaches that people use:

Do everything in a single takes with mistakes included

If you make a mistake, say ‘Again’, and read the phrase again. It’s usual to have about three full single takes. The main problem with this approach is that you will have to manually splice the audio when editing. However, it does let you fix the mistake immediately. It could be the case that on your second take, the same mistake is made, you forget, and don't have a clean take of it.

Do everything in single takes but start again if mistake

This approach goes for a clean take, and attempts to only have a selection of clean takes. The problem here would be if the take was a long one, and it's a complete pain to go back to the start every time. In these cases I would probably just punch the voice actor in to fix any issues, or use a separate take to fix the problems, and create a comp from that.

Everyone I recorded so far had someone already in place to do the editing and mixing for them. All they wanted from me was the raw files. This is easy in Logic. All you have to do is highlight the tracks, right click, and ‘export as audio files’. One issue I thought about, was how to adjust plugin values in multiple tracks at once. It could be the case that you have (like I did recently) 132 tracks, and you want to make the same adjustment to all of them (compressor, de-esser, low cut, etc). If you're in this situation, and using Logic, here's two techniques that will work:

How to add and adjust plugins for multiple tracks

This technique is a little 'hacky', but it works, and won't take too long.

  • Add a plugin to a single Channel.
  • Adjust the values of the plugin accordingly.
  • Save the plugin values as ‘Default’. This means any time you open up this plugin on a track, it will have these new values.
  • Highlight all the channels you want to add the plugin to.
  • Add the plugin to the first channel, and it will appear in all of them, with the values you set as the default.

Here's a voice-over I recorded using the above method. Fortunately I didn't do the editing!


How to apply the same amount of gain to multiple tracks at once

  • Select all tracks
  • Adjust the gain setting in the inspector window (see image below)

If you are doing the mixing yourself, here's a useful article about broadcasting loudness levels. You'll need a brick wall limiter for this! I use Izotope Ozone for this stuff.




How to Play Stairway to Heaven on the Tin Whistle

I spent some time recording promotional material for my studio that I could share on social media. One thought was to record the Stairway to Heaven intro on acoustic guitar, which you can see here:


At the time I thought it would be fun to add some backing instruments, to replicate the original. I added some electric keyboard, and then replicated the part that John Paul Jones plays on the recorder, using a tin whistle. Then I thought I could do a separate video of just the tin whistle, as there's not many examples of this online for Stairway. So here's the version:


A couple of people commented on youtube that they liked it, and someone asked if I had the tab or could do a tutorial. Well, I can do both! Here's a video to accompany the blog:


I can read and write music notation, but nowadays I don't need to do so in most cases. I'm not playing in any classical ensembles where in the past I had to read music for clarinet. Also when I'm writing I usually go directly from the melody in my head to the instrument. Although for the sake of discipline, I'd like to write a bit more using music manuscript.

In the case of Stairway, I had a recording of it inside my favorite DAW, Logic Pro X. There's a useful feature that lets you convert audio to midi. If you have the midi, then you automatically get the score. You can read how to do it here - It actually worked fine with the tin whistle recording, but I hadn't played along with a strict tempo originally. So rather than fix the timing, I just replicated the melody using a keyboard, whilst recording in the desired tempo. Just for reference, I usually work out most melodies by listening to them, so in the original recording I did of Stairway, there was no sheet music used.

Once I had the midi with the correct timing (BPM 63), I had a neat score in Logic. Logic will translate all midi data into a score automatically, that you can then tweak. I also wanted to have the tin whistle fingerings in the music too, which I couldn't see how to do in Logic. Here's an example of my neat midi part with the corresponding score that was generated:

After a bit of research, I found a free music notation tool called, that allegedly had a plugin that would create tin whistle fingerings from the score - This unfortunately doesn't work with the latest Musescore version. The plugin is coded in Javascript with a .JS extension, but the latest Musescore requires a QML plugin instead, which allows Javascript to be embedded. Having worked as a programmer for many years, I would actually be able to convert it. But, I couldn't be fucked in this case, and found another solution.

Someone created a font for tin whistle fingering, which you can download here - It'll install on your system, and function the same way as a normal font. You need to work out what keys map to the tin whistle fingering. Here's a diagram I made up with all the keys. In some cases, pressing shift will give you the octave fingering, which is the same as the default fingering, but has a little '+' below it (but not in all cases). This is what I used to add in the fingerings. Obviously you need to know tin whistle fingering! But if not, use a reference like this

I jumped ahead a little! Going back a step, I exported the score as a PDF from Logic. MuseScore then let me import the PDF, which it then converted into its own PDF format. Then I could edit inside. To add the fingerings, all I had to do was modify 'System Text' so it would use the new tin whistle font, then click on a note, and add system text with the corresponding letter/fingering. Not the quickest way of doing it, but it works! Here's an example of the fingerings added using system text:

Here's where to find system text in the tool:

All in all, MuseScore was easy to use, and with regards to plugins (when they're kept up to date), is very flexible.

Now, onto how to play the damn thing! I'm not going to give a big tin whistle lesson here, but there's some useful techniques that I regularly use:

Tin Whistle Lesson

Tongue your notes

One of first things that'll make you sound less like a beginner, is to 'tongue' the notes instead of 'slurring'. This means that every time you play a new note, make a 't' sound where you tongue touches your front teeth. A lot of tunes have a mix of tonguing and slurring, but if you're starting out, just tonguing everything sounds better. You'll hear a lot of beginners slur all of the notes. I'm sure you've all heard someone playing 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' on the recorder and cringed. I guarantee you'll cringe less if the notes are tongued instead of slurred!

Bend some of the notes

If you want to start sounding like an Irish tin whistle player, then try and bend some of your notes. Also, start drinking more Guinness and Whisky. E to G is one of the easiest bends to do. Tongue a low E, don't stop the sound, tongue the E again, then start slowly lifting you bottom fingers off (index and middle finger of right hand). With a bit of practice you'll be able to bend up to the G. You can also repeat this the octave up with the same fingers, which will sound great. This is just one a good example, but have a mess around with a tune you like playing, and experiment with bending up to different notes. You can also bend between single notes, but it sounds better with an interval.

Try some Vibrato

With singing, you want to control vibrato from your diaphragm/abs more, but with whistle you can get the effect from your throat. In case this sounds blasphemous to teachers of proper technique, you can watch a James Galway video where he explains how to do it on the flute. I tend to find I can get more powerful vibrato on the higher notes, but see what works for you. This is another technique that will get you sounding a lot less like a beginner. I watched this video years ago, and found it incredibly helpful. If you can get a moderate vibrato going, you'll sound great.


Oh, and if you want to hear me play a medley with the James Galway version of 'The Belfast Hornpipe', you can listen to it here. I mashed it up with Indiana Jones and Vaughn Williams, all played on the whistle:


Trills OR 'Hammer ons' and 'pull offs' (Also the C note trick!)

I'm using guitar technique names here, and I guess they sound more like trills on the whistle. It's basically a case of hitting the note above the current one, then going quickly back to the current one using a slur. I often tongue just before the hammer on, like I do with the bend. It sounds extremely impressive if incorporated into a fast melody (See my video example). You can do some simple ones such as trilling from G to A. You can also do a fancy B to C using a bend at the same time. Just gradually raise your index finger off the B note like a bend, but not all the way, which will give you a C, then go back to the B again (see video again!). I use this C trick in Stairway.

Use a different tin whistle type

In the image below, there's a traditional tin whistle with a plastic mouthpiece on the right, and one with a metal and wooden mouthpiece on the left. The one on the right was actually given to me as a kid, by a Scottish folk band after they heard me playing a recorder recital at Burns Night at my school. It originally smelled of cigarettes, but less so now. The one on the left is made by 'Shaw', and gives a breathier sound, similar to a flute. I find it's generally easier to play, and 'squeaks' less. Sometimes it's hard to get all the notes sounding good on the other whistle, so the Shaw style might benefit anyone having this problem. I actually just looked up Shaw whistles, and they are not the cheapest option! There's a similar one from 'Clarke' which also has a breathy flute like sound. Something like this -


Alternative 'C' note

Some tin whistles can sound a little sharp or flat with the C note. Adding the middle and ring finger on your right hand can sometimes help with this. In the diagram below, the fingers can also be left on if playing B to make a transition easier. Also, you can trill between B and C this way:

Reading the Score

You can download the score as a PDF here, or you can see it at the bottom of the blog. The first half or so replicates what the original does, then I improvised the rest. Also, the notation should be in 4/4, but the software wouldn't let me change from 2/4 without messing things up, so I left it. Here are some notes on how to read it:

  • Slurs: When you see the curve symbol between notes, you should slur. All other times, tongue:
  • Bends: When you see the 'glissando' symbol, you should bend between the notes. In some cases, tongue the note first as indicated before starting the bend, else slur the bend:
  • Fingering: There is a finger pattern below every note. In cases where it is the same fingering, but on a higher octave, a '+' sign is used below:

Full Score

Did Kenny Chesney Steal My Song Title?

Kenny Chesney laughing at a sad kitten

Kenny Chesney laughing at a sad kitten

I noticed on Soundcloud recently, that one of my songs started to get a lot of listens, currently sitting at 1,104. It’s titled ‘Bar at the end of the World’, and was posted about three years ago. The reason it seems to be quite popular at the moment, is that Kevin Chesney released a song recently called ‘Bar at the end of the World’, which has probably resulted in click throughs to my version.

The lyrical content and the music are different, but to be honest, the title bothers me.

Sure, there are lots of song titles that have been used over and over. ‘Beautiful Day’ is one that springs to mind. However, even though I was influenced by ‘The Restaurant at the end of the Universe’ by Douglas Adams, I still thought it was kind of an original title. But obviously not.

I’ve written a load of songs over the years, but have never officially copyrighted any. With titles, my guess is that unless it’s EXTREMELY unique, it’s probably pretty difficult to copyright. Do I think that my song title made its way to Kenny Chesney’s songwriting team? Maybe! One of the reasons I think this, is that it is the most popular song I have written. When I say popular, it means that my parents like it, and it’s had the most plays out of all my public songs on Soundcloud. This at at least gives it a bit more exposure in a search.

It’s also one of the few songs I have ever tagged as ‘Country’ on Soundcloud. When writing the song, I conceived it as a duet. When thinking of the female part, I imagined someone like Miranda Lambert singing it, so I could try and channel a female voice. I also deliberately used some country imagery, mainly horses, due to the fact that my wife and I have been horse riding for years, and I was making a conscious effort to write with more of a country style. I also had the crazy thought of sending it to Nashville once I recorded a studio version of it.

A side note, is that there is no use of ‘The’ in Kenny Chesney’s title. I deliberately didn’t use ‘The’, and thought for a while about it. It’s a small but important detail, as I wasn’t writing about a physical place, but a situation that everyone can end up in at some point.

A final point, is that I think ‘Bar at the end of the World’ is a good and reasonably unique title, which would be unusual for a non Douglas Adams fan to think up. From my perspective anyway! That’s all I have.

What may have happened, is that Kenny’s Chesney’s songwriters were looking for inspiration online by searching for country songs about bars. He has been know to sing about bars and drinks. This isn’t so inconceivable, and probably happens quite a lot when writers are working with a deadline. If this did happen, I think it’s a little lazy.

I’m more of a fan of how John Fogerty (Creedence Clearwater Revival) writes songs, by just staring at a blank wall. I also love this quote:

‘Born on the Bayou’—I wrote that title down in my little notebook, and I would sit and meditate, looking at the beige wall in my unadorned apartment. Mostly in the wee hours of the morning or night, not being bothered by the family or anybody else, just kind of being given the time to follow my mind. It’s a form of meditation, I think. It’s certainly some kind of literal place that I was able to go'

My version is based on a bar at the end of the international terminal in San Francisco airport, where I have taken several flights to the UK. I’ve had many a beer and pizza there. I nicknamed it the ‘Bar at the end of the World’ due to it being at the end of the terminal. There was one time when my wife was on a different flight to the same destination, and we said goodbye at the bar. I think that this may have been the point where I came up with the idea of the song, based on a dysfunctional relationship and written in the style of a conversation. I imagined a couple talking at the bar, then one of them leaving for a flight after breaking up. Important note - the relationship idea was imaginary and not based on mine!

Do I even like Kenny Chesney’s song? It’s ok, and reasonably catchy. I also woke up to it on the radio this morning, and I’ll admit to it being stuck in my head. It’s in A major, and follows an A, D, G repetitive progression through most of it. At least it’s not in the same key as mine. There’s a Kenny Chesney song called ‘Pirate Flag’ which I think is much better. He definitely has a thing for nautical elements in his songs, which you’ll find in ‘Bar’.

Do I think it’s better than my song? Of course not! I think I have a better story, and I like the interplay between the male and the female voice. I spent a lot of time writing it, and it went through multiple drafts. The final version is something I’m very proud of. I’ll have a studio version in the near future with an actual female singing the female part.

Here’s the original soundcloud version from nearly four years ago:


Here’s a video of the first time it was recorded as a duet with my friend Jenn:


Here’s the lyrics, also saying who sings what:

Bar at the end of the World

In the bar at the end of the world she's calling to me
I got some bad news for you and me
I don't know how you'll take it but we'll see

I'd have your kids but I need to carry on
There's two lives here and I'm tired of living one
We used to say our lives should just be fun

Where did he go? I'd like to see him again
I can't remember when you lost your way
But maybe for one last night you can stay


Well I'll spend the night and feel ok for a while
But how I'll feel when tomorrow comes we'll see
It's the bar at the end of the world for me

Were we happy, or really just fooling ourselves?
I really love a man who can make me laugh
But most of the time
You're making me feel sad

You need to pick up you clothes and
get the fuck right out of my house
There's a horse saddled up outside, she's ready to go
You can leave her at the bar 10 miles up the road

I should have known it would end like this
I really should have known it would end like this

The neighbours thought it was me that was beating you
You gave me a bloody nose and left me bruised
I'd hold a grudge with anyone else, but not with you

I finish my drink and pick my hat up from the bar
I turn around and she's standing at the door
She says, going so soon, would you like to have one more


In the bar at the end of the world she's calling to me
In the bar at the end of the world she's calling to me