We all do it.

On average, 23,040 times per day.

But do you ever stop to think WHEN you should breathe? Or HOW?

One of the most hotly debated topics in voiceover is about just that — when to breathe, how to breathe, and whether that breath should actually be PART of the voiceover itself.

So, let’s clear the air, here. (Ha…get it? Clear…”air”…)

The Purpose Of Breaths In Voiceovers

Aside from the quite obvious function of keeping you alive, breaths serve a purpose while you’re recording a voiceover.

By leaving your breaths in the recording, you’re:

  • Inserting a functional pause, which can help segue into a new section of your script
  • “Humanizing” your read. This goes back to the notion that you’re essentially having a conversation with your listener, and the more “human” you sound, the more the listener will relate to what she is hearing

Now that we now “why”, let’s learn the “when” and “how”.

WHEN To Breathe In Your Voiceovers

Keeping with the notion that you want your reads to sound as real and often as conversational as possible, think about how you have a normal conversation with people. When do you breathe? In the middle of a sentence? At the end? The beginning?

Most people breathe right before they are going to say something. Otherwise, it might sound a little weird.

Compare these two, even reading them out loud with the breath included:

READ #1:

[BREATH] “Hi, Louise. Isn’t today a beautiful day?”

READ #2:

“Hi, Louise. Isn’t today [BREATH] a beautiful day?”

Which one seems more normal? Most would say Read #1 is, where the breath comes at the beginning of the sentence.

However, those are short sentences. What if we make things a little more complicated here…

SAMPLE:

“Hi, Louise. Isn’t today a beautiful day? I told Jimmy I would go have a picnic with him and that I would bring sandwiches, pickles, and four raspberry tarts. But he sounded like he would rather just order a pizza and take it with us.”

You probably could get through all that without taking a breath, but by the time you hit “order a pizza”, you’re likely going to run out of breath…which will inevitably come through in your read.

Instead, think about where the most logical spot is to insert a breath — where you would normally breathe if you were saying this passage during a conversation. Well, if we know that a breath is a subconscious bridge from one thought to another, where does the sentence transition?

Yep — when the speaker goes from what she’s taking on the picnic to the fact that Jimmy would rather have pizza. So if it were me, I would choose to put the breath in between “four raspberry tarts” and “But he sounded…”

There’s no right answer here…but know that where and when you breathe WILL have an effect on what it is you’re trying to convey.

HOW To Breathe In Your Voiceovers

Uh…HOW to breathe? Don’t you just open your mouth and suck air?

Well again, think about it. If you’re having a long conversation, what sounds more natural?

READ #1:

“I just heard about Crest Whitening toothpaste and I’m beside myself with excitement! [QUICK BREATH] You see, when I think about having to leave the house with yellow teeth…”

READ #2:

“I just heard about Crest Whitening toothpaste and I’m beside myself with excitement! [3-SECOND BREATH] You see, when I think about having to leave the house with yellow teeth…”

It would sound a little silly to be gulping air in the middle of a sentence. Doing so would distract your listener from the content of the message, and thereby lower the overall effectiveness of the read.

When you’re just needing to refill your lungs, shoot for quick breaths (from your abdomen — not your chest) at the beginning of a sentence.

With that said, if you need to breathe, do it. But listen back, and if the placement or length of that breath is distracting from the read, I would edit it out of the recording.

BONUS: Using Breath To Convey Different Emotions

Okay…one more for fun. Let’s say you have two people who just crawled through a long tunnel and are debating their next move.

READ #1:

“No way, man…I’m NOT going back in that tunnel.  [PAUSE…SMALL, QUICK BREATH] I think it’s time we start heading home.”

READ #2:

“No way, man…I’m NOT going back in that tunnel.  [PAUSE…FULL 2-SECOND BREATH] I think it’s time we start heading home.”

This time, it actually depends. Are you trying to convey anxiety, or are you concerned that you’re giving someone bad news? A quick breath infers that you’re probably talking fast, nervous and frantic. The longer breath, however, is more likely expressing thoughtful and contemplative concern. Although they’re similar feelings, one is based more on a feeling of panic, and the other is more thought-out.

Subtle differences, yes. But proof that small changes can have BIG impacts.

Questions? Thoughts? Hot air? Leave a comment below!

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