Should You Edit Breaths Out of Your Audition Reads?

There are many different opinions and creative processes when it comes to interpretation and performance, but what do people think about audibly breathing in an audition submission?

The trend is to remove the breaths which begs the question:
Is editing breaths out really necessary, and if so, what impact does it have?
To breathe or not to breathe? That is the question in today’s VOX Daily.

Is Audible Inhalation in Audition Reads a No-No?

This morning I received a question from a voice over talent who said, “I’ve run into vo artists locally who tell me that all auditions should be “debreathed,” not just lowering the volume of breath noises, but cutting them out completely. What do you recommend?”
What an interesting question to be asked! My thoughts are as follows:

Editing breaths out of auditions might be a reasonable thing to do, especially if a talent is having some respiratory issues or has a cold. You could remove the breaths to make the audio sound cleaner but the end result could be that the voice over loses an aspect of its humanity and may sound unnatural.

If the breath “sounds” right or feels like it should be there given the context of the copy and character, you could leave it in. This would be a matter of preference and discernment.

While there might be some extra work involved, removing a breath that doesn’t align well with the read or character might be what makes the difference between a polished presentation and one that did not fall in line with their character or the context of the script and read.

What Do You Think?

Do you edit out your breaths in auditions? Does this even matter to people hiring talent? Let me know your thoughts!
Looking forward to hearing from you.
Best wishes,
© Pippel

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  • Avatar for Jodi Krangle
    Jodi Krangle
    November 25, 2010, 1:59 pm

    Great question, Stephanie. I think it depends on the context. For narrations, I never leave breaths in at all. And when I remove breaths, I also remove the *space*- but not too much – so that it does sound more natural. You can imagine a breath might be there, but you don’t need to *hear* it. The breaths don’t take away from the content that way – there’s less in the way of distractions.
    When it comes to commercials, they can sometimes be left in – but I find that they’re mostly removed then too. Time is at a premium with most commercials and breaths take up space. If I’m recording a commercial in a different studio though, I’ve noticed that sometimes they leave them in for a truly “conversational” read. So it’s really a subjective kind of decision on the part of the producers.
    As for character voices? WHOLE other ballgame from what I understand. I don’t do a lot of that work, but it’s all about the acting. If the character breathes in a certain way or in a certain place, it’s part of the acting. If it’s not part of the acting, it probably shouldn’t be there.
    This is, of course, just my opinion.
    All the best, — Jodi

  • Avatar for Seth Adam Sher
    Seth Adam Sher
    November 25, 2010, 2:51 pm

    I’d rather have unedited auditions than edited. If I want the breaths out I’ll do that work myself. Just push record and talk, please and thank you. Want the full voice, breaths and all. IMHO of course.

  • Avatar for Morgan Barnhart
    Morgan Barnhart
    November 25, 2010, 2:52 pm

    In my experience, the people who hire me, don’t have a clue what to do about editing. So I’ll always edit the breaths out.

  • Avatar for Wendy Brown
    Wendy Brown
    November 25, 2010, 2:53 pm

    There is never a breath in any of my recordings.. audition or job.

  • Avatar for Carole Richards
    Carole Richards
    November 25, 2010, 2:53 pm

    I agree with Morgan, most of my clients don’t have the facilities for editing out breath sounds. So unless I’m asked to specifically keep them in, I always edit out (or reduce to very quiet) for jobs and auditions.

  • Avatar for Andi Arndt
    Andi Arndt
    November 26, 2010, 8:45 am

    For me, it’s a happy medium. After I remove room noise and normalize my file, I go through and de-amplify the breaths (in Audacity, the amplify function, set at -15ish) and sometimes use “truncate silence” as well. I agree with the advice I once got that zero breaths sounds too robotic, but loud breaths are distracting. So I split the diff.

  • Avatar for Paul Strikwerda
    Paul Strikwerda
    November 26, 2010, 9:18 am

    A winning audition should take your client’s breath away, not yours!
    I’m with Jodi on this one: the “all or nothing approach” completely disregards the context, purpose and personality of the read.
    The way people breathe is directly linked to their emotional and physical state. As a professional actor, it is our job to recreate these states as naturally and convincingly as possible. Should we decide to get rid of these breaths across the board, we take away an important tool. But there’s another reason for leaving some breaths untouched.
    Even though text-to-speech software can get close to imitating the human voice, we’re still able to hear the difference. Why? Robotic voices don’t breathe and can’t genuinely emote.
    If we chose to edit out every single breath no matter what, we’re creating and cultivating a more artificial, unnatural sound. Now, if we’re okay with losing voice-over jobs to text-to-speech software, that’s the way to go.
    On the other hand, I do edit breaths out if they’re distracting from the message or in the essence of time.

  • Avatar for Dan Lenard
    Dan Lenard
    November 26, 2010, 9:46 am

    I think it a matter of when and where. I’ve trained myself to be able to read long sections of material, 1- 2 sentences to short paragraphs on one breath. Keeping in good physical shape is part of that.
    If a script calls for a “breathy” voice, that s what you give. In commercial copy, time is of the essence, a breath takes up to a 1/2 second. 5 breaths in 30 seconds is the difference between getting it in at :30 and 32.5.
    In long format narration, pauses and timing are essential. You can take a long deep breath in that situation and insert the proper length of a pause with silence or a light breath at reduced volume.

  • Avatar for Chris Thornton
    Chris Thornton
    November 26, 2010, 9:47 am

    For a 30 sec ad, they all come out. For a narration, I tend to leave breaths in, at least for the start of a sentence. I read somewhere that for a long narration, cutting out all ALL the breaths can make the listener (client?) breathless!!

  • Avatar for Eric Smith
    Eric Smith
    November 26, 2010, 10:00 am

    I reduce the breath’s volume, then edit out a large section of it from the middle of the breath. It sounds more natural this way and makes it sound like I know how to breathe “correctly” (faster).

  • Avatar for Daniel Goldman
    Daniel Goldman
    November 26, 2010, 10:02 am

    Hi Stephanie,
    I hope you and yours are doing well.
    My view is that breaths should be edited-out within auditions just as with any other extraneous / spurious background sounds. True, there are instances where it might be appropriate to leave-in breaths but those are exceptions rather than the rule. Thanks for the blog question!

  • Avatar for Jeany Snider
    Jeany Snider
    November 26, 2010, 10:43 am

    Basically, if I hear it, and it sticks out, I take it out, and I don’t usually miss it.
    Often I must edit breaths when working on a :30 spot because I find it a challenge to get all the text in, and it’s one way to cut it down before compression, especially when I’m speaking so fast my breaths are usually gasps! I get used to hearing fast talking spots on the radio without breaths. In audio books, I often leave them in.

  • Avatar for Zurek
    November 26, 2010, 10:44 am

    For natural reads I believe that breaths shouldn’t be edited out, because it is the natural breathing that brings life to story telling.
    If you’re doing a promo, then editing breaths makes sense, because it’s all about brevity.

  • Avatar for Howard Ellison
    Howard Ellison
    November 26, 2010, 10:44 am

    Yes, I manually drop breaths to about half level for auditions and a bit more than that for Jobs, because I know they’ll come up again when the client applies compression. I haven’t landed a book yet, but when I do I hope I have learned not to breathe…. or can by then afford the $600 software plug-in that adjusts breaths post-prod. One thing I won’t ever resort to (old-fashioned BBC training!) is a noise gate. Take a deep breath and say after me – Never! And then… Never say never…

  • Avatar for Tom Knight
    Tom Knight
    November 26, 2010, 10:51 am

    I do. Mostly because my agent asks for submissions this way–I don’t really mind either way, though.

  • Avatar for Randye Kaye
    Randye Kaye
    November 26, 2010, 11:22 am

    Well, guys, I think we’ve covered most of the possibilities here, so I vote for the “breathing is natural but shouldn’t distract from the read” school of thought. Amount of breath depends on the read’s needs. Favorite time-saver, like Eric – reduce the breath, chop out the middle!

  • Avatar for Cal Koat
    Cal Koat
    November 26, 2010, 11:45 am

    Thanks so much for bringing up this topic, Stephanie. I was wondering whether it was just my OCD about production kicking in or if others go through the editing process I do for any audition. Naturally, for a characterization, you would leave the breaths in to add emotion, but I’ve never heard a TV commercial with breathing in it, so why should my audition (which is cold voice) display that distraction?

  • Avatar for Dana Detrick from Serious Vanity Music
    Dana Detrick from Serious Vanity Music
    November 26, 2010, 12:14 pm

    Another vote here for context. It really depends on the nature of the project for me, especially if I’m portraying a character of any sort (and this includes within narrations or commercials, where more and more I’m getting requests to “see myself as…” a specific characterizations). Either way, I’ll do the exact same thing for my custom audition as I would for the finished product, so my client or prospect would know exactly what to expect.

  • Avatar for Paul Plack
    Paul Plack
    November 26, 2010, 12:41 pm

    I’ve done a 180 on this in recent years. I can remember the first time I ever edited a breath out of a read. It was more than 30 years ago in a radio station, and was done with a razor blade on analog tape, because I couldn’t make the copy fit in :30. The effect, like identical twins taking turns reading every other line, was novel to me at the time, but it doesn’t sound natural. Most :30 radio copy is written poorly, and making the time limit is more important than selling the product, so maybe the damage is limited, but communication suffers when the breaths are removed.
    These days, most of what I record reaches end users without music backgrounds, and to my ear, it sounds more natural with the breaths left in. Those who produce recodings of great singers usually leave the breaths in, and it can be important to conveying emotion. I think the compulsion to remove breaths comes from a combination of OCD and wearing headphones!
    I’ll always submit what’s requested, but if it’s left up to me, the breaths are usually left in. I may drop them 10-15dB, and I may shorten them by editing the middle third out of the “stretched football” shape of the breath’s waveform, (which shortens them and also drops the level,) but rarely remove them completely.
    If you must remove them, try substituting a silent segment about 2/3 the length of the breath being replaced. It helps a lot with preserving a natural cadence.

  • Avatar for Dave Courvoisier
    Dave Courvoisier
    November 26, 2010, 2:34 pm

    Love the give ‘n’ take on this question here (intake)! I agree with the majority (intake) that the breath sounds have to go.
    Paul Strikwerda, though (intake) always has a unique perspective, and I agree to a point, but I think my other human qualities (intake) come through in my interpretation enough to trump the need for the breath sounds.
    (intake) Randye Kaye, and others are right on the money, too with leaving in occasional breath sounds (intake) for naturalness, or cutting our the obtrusive part of the sound, and leaving in its essence.
    (intake) There is one glaring exception where I always leave in the breath during dialogue of characters in audiobooks. There, (intake)…it’s absolutely needed for the reality of the moment.
    Dave Courvoisier
    (aka CourVO)

  • Avatar for Dan Nims
    Dan Nims
    November 26, 2010, 2:56 pm

    A good range of comments on this subject. Attenuating the sound of breathing (say -10 db) leaves a more natural rhythum to the read while taking away a distraction.
    To cut out the breath completely should be considered an ‘effect’ Nobody talks like that, even though it may work on a hard sell commercial. If an ‘audition’ is for that style, perhaps this would be appropriate. Unless otherwise directed, the audition is a showcase of your performance and not a demonstration of your engineering skills.
    If one feels like ‘needing more air’ to go into the next sentence, I would say, go ahead, gasp if you must, because it’s only a few keystrokes to ‘fix it’ later.
    Now if the real question is “should I go to the extra work of making this audition perfect or just throw it together and hit send,” then I would vote for the more polished performance.

  • Avatar for Andy Bowyer
    Andy Bowyer
    November 26, 2010, 3:21 pm

    I’m with Dave 100% where audiobook narration is concerned. Although I will spend time cutting extraneous breath noise even during an audiobook project, when characters are speaking, it can make *all* the difference in the interpretation of what they’re saying–and *how* they’re saying it.
    As for general narrations, I typically err on the side of “breathlessness.” For eLearning, I eliminate all breaths as well. Anything that distracts from the content of a course can be a killer, in my opinion. That being said, however, whenever I take away a breath (for an eLearning gig, anyway) I always try to compensate with an appropriate “gap” so the flow isn’t adversely affected. Too much gap leaves the learning hanging, and is disruptive. Too little gap and the narration will become choppy and seem rushed.
    As to the stereotypical forty-seconds-worth-of-copy-that-needs-to-fit-into-twenty-nine, well…if you have to throw pace out the window in the interest of time then who cares about breathing anyway? Although personally, I like to give even that copy the appropriate inflections whenever possible–which, sadly, isn’t often enough.

  • Avatar for Earl McLean
    Earl McLean
    November 26, 2010, 6:17 pm

    To edit or not to edit is the question and has more to do with the overall signal chain and recording environment. Breaths sound alot like noise…loop a section n listen… if your signal chain n recording environment is pro quality you will have the choice to do away with or keep them in, as the high grade mic. at a 6 in or greater distance in a dead room will not be prominent. if however ur room isn’t pro grade and ur gear i.e. mic is consumer quality you’ll be forced into creative recording and editing… which will tend to lead to creatively editing out anything that remotely sounds like, or reminds you of noise, in an attempt to keep listening focus on the program material!

  • Avatar for Robb Dee
    Robb Dee
    November 26, 2010, 6:22 pm

    I must say that in the middle of my demo reel I have two sections that does have the breath sound in.
    I have done this purposely to give the clients the option of leaving out or in when they hire me.
    On a personal level I like the recordings completed with the breath sounds edited out as it sounds a lot more polished and professional.
    There are some clients who like to hear a more natural sounding recording with breaths in as well so it really is down to the client….they are paying for your recording, they get what they want.
    Regards from Snowy South Wales UK

  • Avatar for Jamie Muffett
    Jamie Muffett
    November 26, 2010, 7:18 pm

    As a rule I take out almost all the breaths in my reads. The majority of my work is technical/e-learning/Powerpoint etc… As such the content of the text I am reading is all important, the emotional aspect of the delivery being less so.
    Having said that I tend to remove most of the breaths in all reads unless (as stated above) it is an integral part of the delivery of the line. I find that sighs/other oral sounds that impart a specific emotion tend to stand out more when most other extraneous sounds are removed.
    Also some sharp intakes of breath can be quite loud and can compromise the dynamics (volume-wise).
    I use a gate to achieve this and I achieve a natural effect that doesn’t sound choppy. It takes a lot of trial and error to find the perfect gate settings to get it correct for your voice and mic technique. You must record in a dead room so that it isn’t obvious when the gate is open or closed. I always go through and tidy any loose ends after.

  • Avatar for Mike Harrison
    Mike Harrison
    November 26, 2010, 11:19 pm

    If we are all in agreement that the objective in verbal communications is to have the audience focus on the subject matter and not on the voice-over, breaths should be left alone except when they have become accentuated by being too close to the microphone and/or using too much compression. We don’t hear the breathing of a speaker at a podium, do we? There is a natural rhythm to speech, and not only does breathing create that rhythm, but it’s just a natural part of speech. Of being human. Removing breaths makes the track sound unnaturally sterile and can thereby become distractive.
    Breaths are every bit as important to a character’s performance as the words they speak. Find your favorite audio book with some emotional/dramatic exchanges between two or more characters. Feel how the dialogue is punctuated by the natural breathing.
    I don’t know anyone who goes out of their way to avoid hearing the breathing of those they are conversing with. If we’re too close to the mic and/or there’s too much compression, we wind up hearing unnatural (disgusting) things like lips fluttering against the windscreen, sinus pops and saliva snaps. Compression also increases any extraneous noise in your room and or signal path, too. Back off the mic and reduce the compression ratio and we sound completely natural. In my opinion, time spent fiddling with breaths is better spent doing other things. I think we’re overdoing it, gang. Unnecessarily so.

  • Avatar for Paul Christy
    Paul Christy
    November 27, 2010, 9:37 am

    Let’s face it, breathing is for amateurs. Breathing is for the weak. When I hear a voice actor suck in air, I think “sissy”. I’ve trained myself not to breath during entire chapters of audiobooks, except for during intimation of characters during other activities where breaths are edited IN. Oh, and for the rare in-studio audition? I have trained myself not to sweat.

  • Avatar for Wayne Edwards
    Wayne Edwards
    November 27, 2010, 1:55 pm

    Wow! A lot of good opinions. Let me breathe a sigh of relief. I’m pretty much in line with Jodi’s comments. Ditto on Paul Strikwerda’s comments.
    Since my breaths have a tendency to be quite noticeable, I’ve usually taken time to edit them out, or, for the natural aspect, at least make them somewhat subdued.
    Because of the time spent in getting the piece ready for submission by editing out the breaths, recently I’ve taken a step back, and rethink my audition editing process. Because my breaths are overly noticeable, I try to turn away from the mic just enough to subdue the breathing as much as possible, yet let the read come out in full splendor. Ha!
    Makes for less editing time for me, though I still edit as needed to get the breaths out, and I believe, this has made a difference in whether I’m awarded the job, because it preserves the integrity of the natural read. Bottom line in my opinion, The less breaths, the cleaner, the better! Edit Away!

  • Avatar for Greg Downey
    Greg Downey
    November 27, 2010, 9:01 pm

    The only time I care to hear breaths when someone is speaking is during close and intimate conversation. Otherwise, when else do you hear breaths when someone is speaking? If a friend is telling you about a great deal he or she got on a particular item, or is telling you about the benefits of making a donation to a particular charity, you don’t normally hear their breaths between phrases or words. If the dialog is meant to be close and intimate, then please leave the breaths in as long as they are measured and calculated.

  • Avatar for Dave Maciver
    Dave Maciver
    November 29, 2010, 9:11 am

    I didn’t take out breaths in the past but started some time this year. Not sure if its hand any impact as i haven’t landed anything so far (only been a month though). I don’t bother when it comes to character acting if its mid line, but in a lot of longer form stuff it can get pretty tedious hearing someone breath over and over. I also tweak the gaps between lines if needed. That’s one of the great things about voice acting, you can edit your performance without it being noticeable! There would be people jerking about TV all over the place if you did that with video…

  • Avatar for Donna Shepherd
    Donna Shepherd
    November 29, 2010, 9:32 am

    This brings to mind a conversation I had with my daughter. Every time a certain talk show host began to speak, she said, “I feel like I’m going to suffocate!” When I asked why, she pointed out the raspy breathing and almost gasps between phrases. I had never noticed. Now I couldn’t listen to her without noticing.
    Thank you for all the tips on editing. Great question.

  • Avatar for Jay Lloyd
    Jay Lloyd
    November 29, 2010, 11:21 am

    In my very first “Introduction To Radio Broadcasting” class, the instructor provided each of us commercial copy and, one-by-one, we entered the adjacent studio to record it. They were all on a single master tape. Then they were played back to ascertain each pupil’s level of proficiency. Before my read, I took several deep breaths…then finally a big one and recorded the copy WITHOUT taking a breath! As the instructor…and my classmates…all listened to my effort, the instructor kept cocking his head as if to be listening for a breath. When he couldn’t discern one, he asked me to raise my hand. I did and he asked, “How did you do that?”
    “I didn’t hear you take a breath!” When I told him I didn’t breathe, he just went off on a rant about the necessity of proper breathing during a spot and told us that “breathing” was normal when talking and reading scripts! From that time on, I breathed. It just doesn’t sound “normal” if you don’t. I tighten reads for time constraints, but never specifically remove “breathing”.
    It just ain’t normal!
    Jay Lloyd
    Benicia, CA

  • Avatar for Jonathan Kidd
    Jonathan Kidd
    November 29, 2010, 11:25 am

    It’s necessary when the read is a few frames over. For an audition though to ‘rasp ‘ or ‘wheeze’ might lose you the job. It’s evidence of lack of breath control I think proper breathing clearly helps the phrasing.

  • Avatar for Julie Streifel
    Julie Streifel
    November 29, 2010, 11:25 am

    Yes, I think editing breaths out is a must! Who wants to hear them?? The read is still very “real” without them. 🙂 Just my humble opinion.

  • Avatar for Terry Daniel
    Terry Daniel
    November 29, 2010, 11:26 am

    Only the large breaths. Clients still need to know that we are human. 🙂

  • Avatar for Jack Hamlett
    Jack Hamlett
    November 29, 2010, 11:26 am

    Leave it natural it sounds real.

  • Avatar for Peggy Tisone
    Peggy Tisone
    November 29, 2010, 11:27 am

    I think the listener expects to hear some breaks where the natural breaths should be….I try to remember that the listener will follow easier when they hear something a bit more natural. Your message will be better received.

  • Avatar for Stephen James Smith
    Stephen James Smith
    November 29, 2010, 11:29 am

    It’s all about quality – and that is what the client wants and needs. Breathing for voice-acting is not the same as the kind of breathing we do in everyday speech. In fact, it is the inhalation of air that we hear as “breathing” sounds in our (unedited) work, rather than breathing sounds as such. We are controlling the amount of expelled air to operate our vocal chords, so you there should not be any “breathing” sounds produced from exhaling.
    As for editing, we need to produce the best possible quality – therefore, the inhalation sounds should be edited out.
    Timing and rhythm are also important, and a skillful editor will be able to ensure that the gaps between phrases are just the right length according to the style and interpretation of the piece as a whole.
    Hope that helps,
    Stephen James, voice actor and coach.

  • Avatar for Steve Hammill
    Steve Hammill
    November 29, 2010, 11:32 am

    If you are a VO pro, your breathing is rarely audible – unless it is a necessary part of the read – because you use good microphone technique to minimize or even eliminate it.
    This is considerably more difficult to achieve when using a 416 or a large diaphragm condenser, but it’s a piece ‘o cake when using something like a 421, an SM7B or RE20.
    While I love my 416 & U87, I’m drifting back to the dynamic microphone because, in many cases, they are superior tools for VO. …but that won’t stop me from buying that AEA A440 I’ve got my eyes on. 😉

  • Avatar for Paul Payton
    Paul Payton
    November 29, 2010, 11:33 am

    Steve, with 23 years in this business – 21 full-time – I am a VO pro, but I also breathe. There are things we can do to minimize breathing, of course, but sometimes the old e-razor blade has just got to put in an appearance or few.
    I’m afraid I’m not well-versed in the tech of microphones; I use a Snowball and Audacity for in-house auditions and for the occasional down-and-dirty quick job, but I’m blessed with several good and not-expensive pro studios locally where I go for the “real” gigs. Each of us – the talent and the engineer – do what be each do best. Thus far, it’s been working for me just fine.
    Peace and success to all,

  • Avatar for Debbie Irwin
    Debbie Irwin
    November 29, 2010, 11:35 am

    True confessions…I’m a heavy breather! (and a VO Pro.)
    So Steve, can you expand on your comment, “because you use good microphone technique to minimize or even eliminate it.”?
    I need to work on that skill and I’m open to any and all suggestions. I heard about a person who waves her hand in front of her mouth with every breath.

  • Avatar for Steve Hammill
    Steve Hammill
    November 29, 2010, 11:36 am

    That might be just a bit too much information, Debbie . On the other hand, it might be a product differential for a new market 😉
    There are many techniques to mitigate problems with plosives, sibilant sounds and pronounced breathing. We all know about the metal blast screen & nylon pop apparatus, some may be familiar with placing a pencil close to your lips to split/deflect defects and of the benefits of moving in and backing off for various effects; but dodging/averting has quite a bit of history; the part I know best is the broadcast history. Back in the early days of compression/expansion/limiting for rock ‘n roll radio stations, compression pumping would take a small breath and make it GIANT SIZED. Over time, we learned to back away and turn far off mic to take a breath and get back on mic for the next word. This was an essential skill in the late 60s and early 70s when PDs wanted their station to be the loudest on the dial. It sounds terribly awkward, but it became a normal/natural part of our microphone technique; of course, we had our headphones cranked up loud enough to make our ears bleed so if we failed in our execution of the move there was no mistaking it. While you probably do not use that sort of compression/expansion/limiting on your studio mic, the condenser (103, correct?) makes up for it in sensitivity. The technique still works, but it must be executed with far more finesse than in the rock ‘n roll radio daze.
    Placement of a large-diaphragm, condenser mic is essential. In a quiet studio with quality acoustics, 12 to as much as 18 inches away and slightly higher than the talent’s nose usually works well (Nasality? YMMV). While large-diaphragm, condenser mics are not “workable” like the old dynamics (and ribbons) the “dodging-averting” technique is still useful for people with pronounced breathing, plosives and sibilance.
    One of the benefits of working an air shift every day was OJT with regards to microphone technique. I’m not sure I could teach these techniques to someone, even though I like to think of myself as a pretty good teacher. It would probably be difficult to learn these methods effectively without hundreds or thousands of hours of practice.
    When I stopped producing my own work and became a studio talent, it was difficult to abandon my desire to work the mic; eventually I learned that it was NOT MY JOB anymore. Of course, now that everyone is self-producing just like radio people did after their air shifts, awareness of these old techniques may have reacquired worth.
    There is one other factor involved in mic technique; a good ear for when it is right. Many people never acquire a good ear for mic technique. One of my mentors told me, “If I can hear you working the mic, you’re not doing it right.”

  • Avatar for Debbie Irwin
    Debbie Irwin
    November 29, 2010, 11:36 am

    And that, my friend, is a fabulous reply!

  • Avatar for Stephen Patrick
    Stephen Patrick
    November 29, 2010, 11:37 am

    Darth Vader would have to edit.

  • Avatar for Matthew Weller
    Matthew Weller
    November 29, 2010, 11:37 am

    Steve pretty much nailed it. I would only supplement it with one encouragement and one suggestion.
    The encouragement: It’s not hard to train yourself to breathe away from the mic, just like even a trucker can learn to not swear on the air. You have to think about it consciously for a while, but you’ll be doing it automatically before you know it.
    The suggestion: The two best things you can do to tune your ear for these things are to practice a lot and to listen to everything you do. “Practice,” as in getting mic time in when it’s not for money. Olympic athletes spend the majority of their days honing their skills. If one is serious about making a go at this, (s)he can give an hour an evening to read a kid’s book or advertising circular into the mic and then playing it back to hear how it went. “Listening,” as in not while you’re editing, not while playing Freecell ™, but actual eyes-closed-focused-attention listening. Listen to your pauses, your breathing, your inflection, the accent that you don’t think you have. If it’s a script you’re reading, make sure the tone of your lines match up with the ones that precede and follow.
    If someone is really into VO and wants to be good at it professionally or just for fun, they should practice at it. If this stuff is a chore, they should give me their equipment and move on to something else.

  • Avatar for Lauren Holladay
    Lauren Holladay
    November 29, 2010, 12:24 pm

    Hi everyone! It depends on what I am reading for. If it sounds un-natural, I leave the breaths in, but I like to give the potential client the cleanest sound I can, without sounding robotic…………
    I don’t always know if my potential client has the ability to do the editing so I like to show them that I can deliver on the read but at the same time, take out any “annoying and obvious” breaths……….that includes mouth noices from a good mic as well.
    Thanks, great question!

  • Avatar for Mike Harrison
    Mike Harrison
    November 29, 2010, 12:26 pm

    If I am submitting an audition, it is an audition for that of voice-over talent, not editor. Whether my audition wins me the role will hopefully be based on my abilities as voice talent and nothing else. I would hope that a producer wouldn’t say, “Well, he has exactly the sound I’m looking for but, damn… he didn’t edit out his breaths. I guess I’ll keep looking.” Spending my valuable time editing breaths from auditions keeps me from doing other things… like submitting additional auditions, and doing other – more important – work, like marketing.

  • Avatar for Sean Sullivan
    Sean Sullivan
    November 29, 2010, 1:00 pm

    It all depends…use your best judgment. If I’m going for a job that requires a shotgun hard sell – the breaths are out, but if I’m going for a job that requires more of a conversational delivery I’ll leave them in. However, I hesitate to edit breaths to squeeze copy into a commercial – the presentation will always sound like it has too much in it – in that case I’d go back to the original source looking for a re-write to make it work better.

  • Avatar for Elaine Kvernum
    Elaine Kvernum
    November 29, 2010, 3:18 pm

    I usually edit out my breaths, but if a pause is necessary, I add in some dead space to take the place of the breath.

  • Avatar for Paul Payton
    Paul Payton
    November 29, 2010, 11:30 am

    It depends – which is why there’s room for discussion. For my auditions, I try to make it sound as natural as possible. The choices are leaving in whole breaths, partial breaths or no breaths. A good friend, a music and VO pro and engineer, has a rule of thumb: take out the lenth of the breath and then put back half that length as silence. I find this often works – but then again, it depends on what the piece we’re auditioning is. I usually edit out “catch breaths” if the flow sounds right without them, and if I’m “sweing together” long phrases, then the breaths go along with the long lauses.
    For my edited demos, I’m lucky to be able to have enough material to include only “real” (bought and paid-for) jobs, so whatever is there is what goes on the final version. (If it’s good enough to pass both the client’s muster and my own, then it’s good as is.)
    Happy holidays to all!
    Paul Payton

  • Avatar for John Weeks
    John Weeks
    November 29, 2010, 11:32 am

    What Paul said. It really depends on the job. For more natural types of reads, I leave in most and only take out those that improve the flow. On uptempo “hard sell” spots, I take most if not all out. I go by feeling, if it “feels” right I go with it. If not, I don’t.
    Also, sometimes it’s the whole breath, part of it or a volume reduction on it.
    Good luck!

  • Avatar for Howard Ellison
    Howard Ellison
    November 30, 2010, 12:27 pm

    This all shows the fabulous commitment VOs bring to the art. Skill, effort and (maybe) unpaid time to get things just right, with little expectation of applause from the audience. Breathtaking!

  • Avatar for Tom Conklin
    Tom Conklin
    December 4, 2010, 8:53 pm

    I look at it simply. You put an effort forth to read a script in the way that you feel it should be read. When you then remove breaths completely, you are shortening the space (albeit slightly) between phrases. The resulting recording is no longer how you originally intended it to be. So, unless it is a gasp for air, I tend to leave breaths in. I do sometimes decrease the level… but you have to be careful you don’t clip the end of words, which can leave you with an obviously edited read.

  • Avatar for Fergus McClelland
    Fergus McClelland
    December 14, 2010, 5:12 am

    Great question, lots of great answers. If doing a hard sell piece, no breathing. When recording a book, plenty of breathing. As others have said, sometimes the breathing inserts the right pause. Silencing will sound unnatural, so will shortening. Solution? Record a wildtrack of your studio background sound at the start before you speak. You can then replace a breath with the same length section of background and keep it natural. Otherwise, listeners will be popping their ears!

  • Avatar for Mike Cooper
    Mike Cooper
    December 15, 2010, 7:40 am

    Wow! What a controversial thread!
    My two cents’ worth…
    Breathing is natural, so if it sounds natural on playback then leave it in. If you have good breathing technique *and* good microphone technique then your breathing shouldn’t be too intrusive in the first place.
    My UK agent always edits out every breath on recordings they do down the ISDN. When I listen back (for pickups, say) it sounds oddly unnatural to me – and the “silence” where the room ambience should be just heightens the sense of artificiality.
    So, for the most part, I leave well alone. If, when I listen back in the edit, the odd breath offends me then I highlight it, apply a fade in and out (which effectively “softens” it) and move on.

  • Avatar for Brian Page
    Brian Page
    February 7, 2011, 8:17 pm

    I’m in the “leave the breaths in” camp. However, reducing them to the mere subliminal level of natural speech is best. And no Darth Vader shouldn’t edit because his breaths are at least half his character!

  • Avatar for dweller31
    May 20, 2012, 3:32 am

    I’ve been working in a radio station for almost 15 years, and I’ve been studying the “paraverbal” radiophonic discourse issues during doctoral school. As you know the act of communicating involves verbal, nonverbal (mimics, gestures, body language), and paraverbal components (intonation, rythm, pauses and stress plus timbre, pitch and loudness).
    Mehrabrian discovered that the relative importance of each in the equation is as follows: words: 7 percent, para-verbal: 38 percent, and nonverbal: 55 percent. This is when all the three components are present.
    But in radio there is no nonverbal component so the importance of paraverbal (prosodic) component is increased (as listeners tend to create images in their minds about the one who speaks, only from his voice characteristics).
    So this is the argument for NOT cutting off those breaths or pauses that give meaning to the phrase (“.” “,” “…” “;”) as in writing.
    O course, you can cut off those defectuos breaths when they make no sense (like between subject and predicate). You can also reduce the volume or timing of a meaningful breath (exception is so called intelectual break when the speaker give the audience a longer break to let them think).
    Sorry for the English. I’m not native.

  • Avatar for Frank C
    Frank C
    June 16, 2012, 1:59 pm

    People speak about lowering breath volume. What are the techniques used for that?