Saturday, February 28, 2009

Voice Talent Advice #9 - Editing Breaths

As voice talent with our own home studios we engineer our own sessions; however, many of us do not consider ourselves to be true audio engineers. We have learned enough and purchased the right equipment to produce a high quality sounding recording, and some of us can even mix in a little music, but personally, I would not really call myself an engineer. I know my audio engineer friends would heartily agree with me.

There are, of course, voice talent out there who have as many years engineering as they do voicing. By that, I mean they have many years of both! What I'm about to share is not for them, but for those of us who have many more years voicing than engineering for ourselves. This seems so simple, but I hadn't really thought of it before. One thing that often bothers us in playback is that a breath may seem too loud or there is some other extraneous noise between words. Although some audio software (Pro Tools, I believe), does allow you to "soften" all the breaths in one fell swoop, others of us using different software have to manually deal with each offending instance.

There are a number of ways we try to do this. The breath can simply be cut, the area can be "silenced", the breath can be normalized to a much lower level, or you can record ambient sound and cut and paste it in place of the breath, noise, or gap between the words. Cutting works if there is enough space to allow for a normal pause between words, but if there is not enough space, the result will be a choppy, disjointed reading that will affect your normal timing. To highlight the offending area and replace it with silence can work, especially if music will be mixed with the voice eventually. However, if music is not going to be added, there might be a noticeable difference between the noise floor of your read and the space between the words. This will sound too abrupt - like a drop out - and draw attention to the fact that editing has been done. It could also possibly highlight the general noise floor of your recording - which, hopefully, isn't the case since you've learned to keep that noise floor low.

Lately, I've found what works best for me in the situation where I don't want to leave the breath at all or there is some other noise is to highlight that area and simply hit record. The space is automatically filled with the ambient noise floor of the entire recording. I'm sure some of you are having a "well duh" reaction, but I can honestly say this just occurred to me recently. It's so much simpler than cutting and pasting ambient sound into that space.

As I said, I'm sure many of you are way beyond this information, but I thought there might be a few other "non-engineers" out there who could benefit from my little "discovery". It's made a world of difference to me.


stevef said...

I do voice work from my home studio on a part-time basis. Mostly on-hold stuff and some local TV, although I occasionally get beyond Ohio. If you hear a TV spot for, that's me.

I worked in radio for about 20 years before moving to television engineering full-time, so, yeah, I'm an engineer. But your solution to the breathing problem is one of the better ways to deal with it. A lot of guys just cut out the breaths, and that just doesn't sound right to me.

I rarely edit my breaths, as mine aren't that bad and I feel it actually sounds better to leave them in. I feel on a subconscious level the listener expects you to breathe.

The times in radio when I found my breathing to be annoying was when I discovered some jackalope had cranked up the mic preamp compressor/limiter in order to get a hyper DJ sound. (This also brings out the room noise.) This engineer feels that the best cure for breathing noise is to turn back the compressor and let your natural voice shine through.

Phillip said...

Funny my first visit to this site brings me to this post.

I've worked for years as an on-camera/voice acting talent, and I've learned to tailor my performances for editing. One thing that is always a constant in every shoot is... room tone.

The sound engineer gets 30 seconds of room tone. Everyone stands still while he records the ambient nature of the studio we're in. Once I see playback with room tone, I understand the need to do that. Same may be said for VO from home.

For a workshop: Record 30 seconds and loop it behind the VO. Read copy that you'll know will have moments of breath sounds. Now engineer them out. This will not only help you as an actor but also as a sound engineer. The more you learn, the more control you'll have of both your voice and your engineering skills.