Techniques for Voice Actors
The Ins and Outs of Breath in Commercial Voiceover
Pardon the pun but breath is a crucial part of voiceover
Well, part of life. I mean, breathe or die right? 🤷🏻♀️
But many entering the world of voiceover grapple with understanding breath and how breath and breathing works in different ways, in our VO world.
A deep understanding of how breath can both take away from and conversely add to the quality of your voiceover reads is a crucial component of voice technique.
First, I want to give you a list of different script styles and a quick description of when or not audible breath is needed and how it can add ‘character’ to your character or characterful reads.
This script type, where you are speaking on behalf of the company or advertiser, is usually written in a very stylised way. That is, it rarely if ever sounds like a conversation, or flows in the way we that we use language naturally.
Breaths are almost always removed.
The reason is because often these scripts are written using long sentences and are full of information.
Breaths tend to sound clunky if left in and can be a distraction to the message.
So, when you’re analysing the language in your script – finding key words and phrases and working out what it’s about – you also need to be reading the script aloud, in order to find where the best place is to pause and take a breath.
You’re always best to do that between one thought or idea and another.
Another clue to where you could pause to take a breath, is whenever you run out of breath. Usually you will need to work out the best place before you ran out of breath to add the pause.
I’ll give you a short example.
‘Over 60% of fire fatalities and countless injuries happen where smoke alarms are installed but fail to work.’
Read through that and see if you can get through it without needing to take an in breath.
Now, the thing is, there are three ‘different’ thoughts or ideas in this sentence, which is long. It’s your job to find out what they are and work out how to deliver the messages in that sentence.
I would break it up like this:
‘Over 60% of fire fatalities and countless injuries happen/ where smoke alarms are installed /but fail to work.’
Every forward slash indicates a pause, because you’re about to deliver different information. Look at the language in that sentence for what I mean by different information
This / is also the spot where you may take in a breath, so you have enough ‘air’ to get you through the next part of the sentence or possibly to the end, while still taking a pause after the word ‘installed’.
The most important piece of information in that sentence is ‘but fail to work’.
It’s the reason for the ad.
You don’t have to hurry or gasp. Stop. Take your time. It matters not what your breath sounds like. Breaths for this script style are removed in the edit and the editor will take care of the length of the gaps between thoughts or ideas.
As I said before, this is part of voice technique.
It can take some practice. So, practice😉
This script type is just as it indicates. The language sounds as though you’re talking to a friend, so pauses occur because you’re endeavoring to make this script sound as though you are just making it up as you go along.
When we truly are in conversation with someone, we are making it up as we go along.
We pause because we’re either having a new thought, recalling something, or changing our attitude or emotional state to assist the meaning in the conversation.
So, when you read this type of script, try to make it sound as natural as you can by breathing when you need to. However, these scripts do sometimes have long sentences, that contain more than one thought or idea as well, so you need to be mindful of that. As above, endeavor to take the breaths when you’re moving from one thought or idea to the next.
You’ll need to practice this by reading the script off the page, because this is neither ‘your language’ or your message.
As in all voiceover work, you are simply the messenger.
Make all breaths as natural as you can.
In the editing, breaths will either be removed or left in, depending on the rhythm of the script.
You may have noticed that in retail scripts, that is ‘price and product’ or ‘event-based’ retail scripts, or ‘energized, fast-paced’ reads, you never hear the breaths.
If you haven’t noticed that, have a listen next time you hear one.
When you work in this, the most stylised of all script styles, breaths are always removed.
Not only do you not hear any breaths, often in the editing, the gaps between words and sentences are reduced, so that the client or advertiser can get more information into the scripts.
Love it or hate it, retail voiceover is among the most lucrative area of all the styles, because if you happen to become the ‘brand’ voice, the work just keeps coming.
Part of the technique for successful energised or retail voice acting, is that you read a portion, then you take a good-sized breath and pick up where you left off.
So that when the edit is done and it’s ‘clamped’ together with few gaps at all, it sounds seamless.
Making it ‘sound’ seamless does take some practice but it is something you can learn to do with practice.
When recording your practice script, mark where you’re going to take a breath.
Stop. Take in air. And pick up the read from there. Then edit out the breaths yourself and see if it does sound seamless.
You’ll need to remember the rhythm of the sentence, or part of a sentence and the last word you said before your stopped to take that breath.
Developing a good ear for what you just did and how it sounded, is a key voiceover technique. Once again, practice, practice, practice.
Character scripts are those scripts where the character introduces themselves first up. It may say, “Hi I’m Fluffy, the house cat” or “G’day I’m Luke, Qualified Electrician” …and then the ad will follow, delivered by that character.
Breaths, in this style of script, are almost always a valued and valuable part of building a real character persona.
*Breath, in these cases, is not necessarily a breath taken when you run out of air, it one taken to indicate something. It could be an intake of air before a new though or idea. It could be a breath that sounds like a ‘scoff’, or an out breath that indicates frustration. It could be a sigh, or whatever natural, human sounds you can make. that fit with the tone and attitude you need to portray in the read.
It’s rarely, if ever, indicated in the script that you take an audible breath.
Doing it and doing it well is part of voiceover technique and you need to know when to use it to enhance your performance.
And of course, the editing will refine what you’ve given in a variety of ‘takes’ and the engineer/producer/editor can then choose which of those additional breaths are left where they are…or sometimes moved to a completely different section.
Character driven scripts are those you hear on air and think, “what is this ad about?” In the main read, you won’t hear any product or company mentioned. This is definitely more of a voice acting script, where you need to create a solid persona for the character who’s basically telling their story.
*Read the information in the Character section above from the word *Breath.
The information and techniques for making this a success is all there.
It’s always a good thing when you are in the studio with either a character or character driven script, that every time you have a go at it, you vary the character breath work. That way, when the producer/engineer begin the edit, they have multiple ‘breath acting’ choices.
Dialogue scripts are like little slices of conversation. So, because they are designed to represent a conversation, you’re able to use breath in much the same way as described in character and character driven. That is, use breaths to enhance your performance.
The main thing to remember and be conscious of when you’re doing these reads is that you’re creating a visual. The characters are usually in a location or landscape and where they are will determine how you’ll act out the conversation (or scene).
An important technical thing to remember and include is this.
You’ll be standing at a microphone.
The other character will deliver their line, you’ll deliver yours and so on.
But you need to be mindful of not breathing audibly while the other character is delivering their line. Either pull back from the mic or be incredibly conscious of what your breath or breathing is doing.
Of course, you’ll need to take in some air while the other character is speaking to help you get through your line without needing to take one. I do this by opening my mouth and sucking in air silently. It works.
So, I’m guessing that after all that, you’re beginning to get the picture.
Breath and breathing is crucial to get right, no matter what voiceover style script you’re reading.
You’ll need to practice. Trust me, it’s one of those things that you need to be conscious of when you’re working, among the myriad other things you need to focus on.
Yep, voiceover is a skill. It’s a craft. It’s never just about reading a bunch of words. Have fun!