Having crafted sound for a number of the industry’s favourite award-winning ads in recent years, independent sound design and music production facility String and Tins has quietly earned itself a reputation as one of adland’s best kept secrets. From humble beginnings operating in a cramped start-up office, to now residing in plush studios on Gresse Street, how do three friends go from dreaming big, to crafting original work for multi award-winning ads with some of the world’s biggest brands?
Following their experiences of traditional ways of working in the industry, String and Tins’ Co-Founders Mike Bamford, Sam Brock and Will Cohen wanted to set up an independent sound company. “The soundtrack as a whole is the most important thing. It’s how the story is delivered. Whilst not all projects require the lines to be blurred between music and sound design, I feel that sound designers should play a more active role in the music conversation – rather than just how loud the sound effects are. We set up String and Tins to build a team that can offer the most creatively rounded skill set to deliver whatever each piece of film deserves” says Will, Co-Founder and Sound Designer at String and Tins.
The trio decided to establish a more collaborative way of working. After weeks of working on business plans and projections, they pooled their savings and opened a small facility on Lexington Street in 2013. This came with challenges, explains Sam Co-Founder and Managing Director at String and Tins: “It wasn’t ideal. We could only afford to install cardboard walls and one sofa to begin with. We had to whisper when clients came in to review work! Not to mention the head hunters on the floor below us who would play the O'Jays "For The Love Of Money" at full volume every time they pulled in a business win.” He continues: “I remember the three of us heaving the sofa between studios while our client walked up the stairs. It was hairy. We were incredibly lucky to have some really brave, decent clients who were willing to look beyond that for a while.”
Maintaining their independent status has allowed them the control and freedom to make creative decisions without financial and time restraints. “We wanted to create a facility that had the support and resources to tackle the big juicy jobs but was also small enough to enable collaboration and experimentation” says Mike, Co-Founder and Sound Designer at String and Tins.
“Establishing the company between the three of us, without anyone involved financially that has less interest in the quality of the work, has allowed us to focus more on making the good stuff.” adds Will.
This approach was key to crafting the sound for Audi’s multi award-winning ad ‘Birth’. “That project is a classic example” says Sam. “It was originally a speculative project driven by BBH and The Mill. Audi hadn’t put any budget behind it yet and Creative Director Ian Heartfield and Producer David Karbassioun were good enough to trust us with their baby. When we saw the animatic, our approach was ‘let’s worry about the money later’”.
After researching genres and instrumentation with BBH, Will wrote the music over just one weekend. He explains: “It was one of those dream jobs where the people you work with trust what you’re doing and give you the creative freedom to deliver what you think best. Dav and Ian listened to the track on the Monday morning and, after a little hesitation, turned to each other and said they loved it.”
“To be fair to Audi UK, they didn’t hang around in financing the production.” adds Sam. The campaign ran worldwide, winning D&AD, Cannes Lion, One Show Gold and LIA awards amongst others.
2015: Audi Birth
From promoting the freedom to explore both sound design and music composition, String and Tins’ craft-led ethos has organically evolved into a model where the creation of sound is fundamental and their route there can be different each time. Will says: “We’ve shaped our business on helping create stories. The way we get to the final product is always flexible. It helps that our sound engineers are all composers in their own right.”
Mike adds: “As a sound engineer, you need to understand all of the elements that go into a soundtrack. If you have a musical ear, you can start to weave the layers of sound design and music together more closely. Even a basic understanding of rhythm and harmonies allows you to create more well-rounded and effective sound.”
String and Tins’ way of working means that sound engineers hot-desk at the studios. “Traditionally, studio engineers tend to have ownership of rooms. We’ve got very comfortable mix rooms, but our team aren’t wedded to a particular space.” says Sam, “You’ll often find two engineers in a room together collaborating and someone else music directing on a shoot or supervising an orchestra record in another studio.”
This approach has allowed Strings and Tins’ collaborative nature to extend outside the studio too. Whilst they’ve bolstered a team of six talented composer-cum-sound designers with broad-reaching skills - working with the likes of Audi, BBC, Adidas and Nike - they recognise that they don’t need to be experts of every instrument to craft award-winning work. “We want to partner with people who could do a better job than us – people who are experts in their field, be it a sound recordist who’s worked on Top Gear, to independent foley artists or the best violinist in the country” says Mike.
This goes hand-in-hand with a mobile way of working that they have developed, explains Sam: “We were very lucky to make a jump into the industry when the technology became affordable. We’re not so much limited to our space because we haven’t shaped our business around hugely expensive bespoke software and hardware.” Mike adds: “It could be going to a theatre to record a performance in situ or attending a shoot to make sure the stuff is recorded properly in the first place rather than having to fix it in post.”
Looking to the future, Will considers the changes of sound tech in the industry and says String and Tins’ focus remains on the craft: “We have every plugin under the sun, but ultimately the people involved make the difference. The single best thing that has happened to the business is the people we now work with.”
Mike says: “We always aspire to hire people who are better than us or have hidden talents and skills that add something to the team. Seeing those people arrive and develop so quickly has been amazing.”
2013: Doctor Who 50th Anniversary
2017: Audi Clowns