Are you afflicted with heavy breathing?

Breath removal in recorded voiceover

During a recent remotely directed voice session a representative of the client suddenly chipped in with the concern: “I wonder if we could do another take without that loud breathing?” She was referring to the noise I occasionally have to make in order to draw in oxygen, not only to enable me to continue speaking, but also, somewhat importantly, to continue living.

In modern voiceover it has become axiomatic for many that the final audio product will contain absolutely no evidence that it was produced by a human being, which would be revealed in all its horror if the sound of breathing was to be left in. I believe this phenomenon to be an artefact purely of the digital age, since there are both automated and manual processes that can now be easily employed to rid any spoken piece of the dreaded breath noise. Back in the days of magnetic tape recording this would have been much more difficult to realise. Cutting and splicing the tape would have been far too time consuming for such a relatively needless task, and even with an automated mixing desk it would have been fairly arduous plotting out where all the breaths were and then trying to perform and save every fader dip correctly. But now it can be done, and so, it seems, it must be done.

Not everybody wants the breaths gone of course. In dialogue for films, TV and games the breaths are often essential since realism is what is required. And some producers like some breaths and not others. A light sprinkling of breaths, if you will. It is all VERY confusing if you are faced with delivering recorded spoken words and trying to decide how much breath should be evident. And slightly weird that it is even an issue given that thirty years ago it was barely dealt with.

There are only three scenarios these days in which I would not run my standard audio processing with a lightly set automatic debreather, followed by manual excisement of any offensively loud gasps missed by the automatic process:

– acted dialogue,

– sending raw audio of an entire directed session to a studio engineer for post-production and editing

– anything for a client with a known aversion to debreathing, such clients also often having an aversion to any form of processing at all.

Some voice artists are just noisier breathers than others, which may, I can hear the professionally trained luvvies shout, be a result of their inadequate vocal practise whereby one can develop shallower and therefore quieter breathing when recording a script. It can also simply be a result of different physiogonomy – some people make loud s sounds, some produce a strange click on specific consonants, it’s all perfectly human.

It seems as if the issue of breathing sounds has got wrapped up in the entirely separate issue of extraneous noise on voice recordings. Nobody wants to hear the turning of pages, the rustling of clothing, the clanking of jewellery, the creaky chair or your whisky glass being set back down on the table. Although if you do want to hear all those things then I can heartily recommend listening to the audiobook of Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi’s autobiography, as read by ex-Move and ELO drummer Bev Bevan in a state of apparent extreme relaxation.

So, if you want some words recorded, I will include whatever odd noises you personally like, including sharp intakes of breath. Or I will produce just the words, only the words, and not a scintilla of any other sound. You decide.

Tim Bick - British male voiceover