Why do we not Hear Voice Over Artists Breathe?

I was posed an interesting question last week, and by interesting, I mean ‘odd’. Someone wanted to know how it was that voice artists are able to record such long sentences without breathing.

This took me by surprise because I do breathe when I’m recording. I mean why not? With the exception of swimming under water, I pretty much breathe whatever I’m doing. Heck I enjoy breathing so much that I even do it in my sleep!

Naturally I wanted to know why she thought the voice overs’ lungs work in the same was as free divers, and she explained that it’s because she never hears us draw breath – particularly when listening to radio commercials, and if you think about it, you’ll see (or hear) that she’s right.

Well there is a special skill that we develop, but it’s not some masterful yoga practice, it’s just editing. For some reason, the sound of someone drawing breath can be quite a harsh sound when recorded, so it’s either rounded off or chopped out all together. Many years ago, this meant pain stakingly going through the whole recording and cutting out the breaths one by one. Some engineers were really good at it, sadly, others weren’t, and you were often left wondering if you were listening to a real person or an early working prototype of a Speak and Spell machine.

Bit things have changed. I use a wonderful little plug in from Waves Audio called Debreath. One click and a few tweaks and the biggest breaths are comfortably removed. What’s more, it cleverly leaves the ambient noise of the room in the recording, so you don’t get that ‘stop start’ feel of a manual edit.

To demonstrate, there are two recordings of the same commercial here. They’re the original recordings, so no background music has been included. The first is the original:

And the second, after using Debreath:

So now the engineer at the station has a clean recording which still sounds like a human being, and that’s going to make his mixing job a lot easier.