Voice over recording session

It was a great pleasure to host Paul Butterworth (OCA painting student and actor) for headshots in exchange for a voice recording of my Leeds and Liverpool narrative. He’s pictured above in the cellar under my house – used as a sound insulated space for making loud music and sound recording.


While not directly relevant to my body of work, working on the actor headshots was an interesting experience with some specific formal requirements needed to serve up an actor’s face in a small box to get the attention of casting directors. In many ways counter to the type of portrait work I prefer but at the same time hugely enjoyable. The environmental context became the face around the eyes, rather than the place around the person. We talked about what Paul was wanting to convey in his image and worked at shaping that through iterations of shooting, viewing and discussion. At the time of writing we’re working on the final select of 9 images from some 120 images and I’ll then shape those in post-production for viewing by Paul’s agent, who will ultimately decide on whether he wants to use the images.

For my own photography practice, I asked Paul to pose ‘the many faces of Paul Butterworth’. I enjoyed suggesting a range of emotions to convey – the difference between drunkenness and being high were interesting! There are some great images and I’ll work these into a series / possibly a small photo book once I’m clear of this course module.

Voice recording and mixing

I’d set the recording up with a condenser microphone going through an Focusrite recording interface into a MacBook Pro. I used GarageBand as a DAW (digital audio workstation) – it’s impossible to beat for simple and even slightly more complex recording. My plan was to use a separate track for each take and then work on the edit later.

I was perhaps a little in awe of Paul’s vocal performance – whereas my earlier recording had been a painfully slow process, with many retakes of each verse, Paul made it seem effortless (though I know there is always a lot of work over years to make it seem so). I didn’t feel in a position to direct Paul’s performance beyond saying that it needed to have a melancholic feel; the expert use of the spoken word is beyond my experience.

We did three takes – once all the way through, once verse by verse (with a pause in between each) as Paul suggested the rhythm would have a different feel like that, and finally with Paul watching a muted version of my Leeds and Liverpool video – jamming to the feel of images rather than trying to match the original placement of words to images. The first two takes will be useful for promoting the video (eg clips on social media). However, the take with the images really hit the spot with the melancholy. Paul commented afterwards that the images made him feel sad – a space that was once a thriving work place now empty.

Paul’s vocal interpretation is much different to mine and draws out the narrative, making my writing sound poetic. The delivery is also much clearer, which will address the comments on my earlier version that not all the words could be understood clearly.

After Paul left, I spent several hours on post production. This involved applying appropriate compression, EQ and ambience to the voice and then splicing and arranging it to fit to the video. Breaths between verses were edited out and fades in and out were applied to avoid clipping at the cuts. I extended the time for the last shot in the video to fit Paul’s rallentando as the narrative concluded. I think this works really well!

I also made other adjustments to the sound balance in the video and think it is as goods as it can be now. I’ll let it sit for a few days and listen again with fresh ears before putting it out for feedback. I’m feeling excited to find out what people think to the work, with a professional Yorkshire voicing.


I intend to make sound recording an ongoing part of my photographic practice and I won’t always have a pro actor to bail me out when it comes to voice overs! Though we did wonder if there might be a commercial application to our collaboration. One simple lesson I learn was that Paul was very familiar with the words (he didn’t need to read them) – while I’ll never have Paul’s vocal prowess, practicing before sitting down to record would help. I would rarely think of doing that for a musical piece and the voice is just another instrument that I am complacent about because of frequent and everyday use.

I also think listening to more expertly spoken word (without visuals) would help me improve, as well as practicing speaking written words out loud.

I feel that I’m nearly done.