Well the general consensus is that breathing is good for you, so lets keep doing that, but should you hear breaths in a voiceover? That is the question that many editors grapple with, and there are differing opinions.
I have a somewhat fence-sitting policy of removing some, reducing others, and leaving the remainder.
The first thing to consider as a voice artist is how you breath when voicing. There are various techniques for breathing quietly as opposed to taking huge noisy gulps, I won't get into these here as this post is more to do with post production and a philosophical debate on what to do with a breathy recording. Mic technique, placement and windshields/pop filters can also reduce the breath sounds, but will also affect the sound of your recording. As by their very nature they are isolated between words, I would prefer to get a better sound and remove/reduce any overly accentuated breaths further down the road as they are not affecting/crossing over into the copy itself.
I am of the opinion that listening to a voiceover with all the breaths removed is an awkward and tense experience. We are just hardwired to hear and then disregard breath sounds in conversation. However, having a conversation with someone sat opposite you is going to sound very different to hearing a voice close mic'ed with a large diaphragm condenser microphone, and then subsequently compressed.
Most of the time when we talk we breath practically silently, we are calm, not too concerned about diction, intonation and projection, and it's easy. When a voice artist records they have a plethora of things to consider, and being clear, maintaining energy, and reading as opposed to just speaking are just a few of these. All of these things can make for more audible breaths, and the recording and mixing process only enhances these (in particular compression, this brings the relative volume of breaths up).
So my policy is to reduce these breaths down to something that resembles normal conversation, by which I mean, not hearing the majority of breaths. Almost all of the breaths that I do leave in are reduced in intensity which compensates for the recording process. There are also the occasional breaths that are quiet enough that they can be left entirely untouched.
The process of reducing the intensity of the breath in post is the next thing I would like to discuss…
I am a Pro Tools guy, and one tool, 'Clip Gain', has been a really useful feature post PT10 (http://youtu.be/B9VEK3LcDZg). Clip gain allows you to separate the breath into its own clip and reduce the gain of that clip with a fader, this way you are not mousing away or using delicate fader rides with automation, it is quick and very effective.
However my preference is to use fades. All audio editing software programs have fade capabilities so this applies whatever you are using.
Now the crucial element here is which side you fade, by which I mean, do you fade out from the end of the previous word, effectively creating a descending volume drop over the breath, or the opposite, an ascending fade from the start of the breath, increasing the volume leading into the following word? My suggestion is to use the former: to fade out from the end of the previous word. *
If you think about the sound of a natural breath, it is a tapering kind of sound, it's strong at the top of the breath and naturally fades as you finish consuming all that lovely oxygen. And as with all things technical, copying the natural world will yield a more natural end product.
Once I have faded out the breath, I then apply a small fade at the start of the next word to avoid any jarring sound when the audio re-enters at full gain. And that's it! In Pro Tools you can use the smart tool to apply these without having to change any settings or using any fancy keyboard shortcuts.
I would love to know your opinion on the great breath debate, and how you apply your treatment.
Thanks for reading!
British voiceover artist privileged to be working in New York City.