Lesson Number 1 – Breathing
Yes, we have to do it…in life that is!
When we’re in conversation with someone, we breathe…well…completely naturally.
It’s so automatic, that we don’t know we’re doing it.
We certainly never analyse it…
…but in voice over, breathing is a whole different matter.
Have you ever noticed when you’re listening to ads, that you seldom hear a breath?
That’s right! They’ve all been removed.
Yep! Unless the read is for a character or character-driven script, where breaths and breathing are part of the character and personality of the work, you will rarely hear a breath.
Of course, when the voice artist is recording the script, they do breathe. They have to. But they’ve learned the simple technique of when and how to breath, in order that those breaths are able to be easily cut out.
Let’s talk about why breaths are removed and then I’ll give you some of the techniques that we all use, to make sure that when those breaths are edited out, your reads are seamless…and how to make sure that when they’re left in, for character and character-driven scripts, they’re really working to add a great dynamic to the character.
There are two reasons why breaths are removed. Firstly, they need the space for words…advertising words that is; the message. In retail ads, especially price-and-product ads, which are almost always wall-to-wall words, it’s simply more efficient to have them removed.
Secondly, in announcer and naturalistic style scripts, breath just gets in the way of a smooth delivery of a message. In these ad styles, breath is just not important…and if you do ever hear someone breathing in an ad of this style, it sounds very unnatural.
So, what are the techniques?
The first thing you need to do when you get into the studio with the script is begin to get those words off the page. You must read it at the volume level that you’re going to be using for the actual read. No whispering. The sooner you can get the words off the page and begin to hear them yourself, and understand the ‘story’ of the script, the quicker you’ll understand how to achieve the right read.
As you read, notice, at which points you’re running out of breath. If it’s in a long, complicated sentence, (does happen) or towards the end of a sentence, then you need to choose a point, either somewhere in that sentence or before you get to it, to take a breath. There’ll always be a place in a sentence where it feels right to pause. Perhaps it’s when you’re moving from one thought or idea to the next. This is often a good place for a breath can be taken. Make a mark on the script that reminds you to take a breath. Work through the script doing this, deciding where you need to breathe.
The next thing you need to know is that, because they are going to be removed, you can breathe any way you like…and you needn’t worry about it. It’s a normal part of a read. The engineer will close up those gaps, so that the read is seamless. You can tell the engineer where you’ve decided to take a breath if you like.
In retail commercials, when you’re ‘going like the clappers’, it’s even more important to take in enough breath to get you through. What you do there is literally stop, take in a lot of air and then continue. The only thing that might take some practice is the art of continuing ‘energetically’ and ‘rhythmically’, so that when the breath is gone, the read does knit together seamlessly.
The only time breaths can be of great value, to add personality and dimension to a script, is when you’re working with a character or a character-driven script. Let me explain those styles first.
Character scripts usually begin by introducing the character, closely followed by the product, such as ‘Hi. I’m Fluffy the house cat and I love Natural Gas Central Heating’…or…’G’day I’m Luke, self-employed electrician…when I tell me mates to go to the bank, they tell me they can never get an appointment, so I tell ‘em to go to ANZ’…etc, etc.
In these ads, which are almost always written in forms that mimic the way we speak naturally, what you are trying to create is, not only, a believable character but a believable environment, one where there’s movement, physical movement I mean..from your character.
Voice acting for radio is all about creating a great visual. We need to see a visual of the cat. Perhaps you decide he/she is loving the warmth of the heating. What does that sound like? What would happen if the cat was stretching through the words it was saying? If it’s stretching, it’s breathing. Try to stretch without breathing. It’s impossible. If it’s satisfied, then it may be signing. Whatever you’re doing won’t be believable unless it’s accompanied by a supporting physical response.
What about the electrician? You may need to create a strong visual of Luke, the electrician, working on a building site. What happens if you imagine he’s putting effort into lifting things into his truck? For that to be real, he’ll need to breathe. These ‘breaths’ won’t be scripted. What you’ll get is words on the page, the words that the client wants you to read. What you need to do it interpret these words, to make the performance ‘real’ and in character scripts, breath is a big part of that.
Character-driven scripts differ in this way. They’re the ads we hear that aren’t about a product. They don’t even mention a product…because they’re loaded with ‘concept’ rather than advertising messages. We usually only know what the product is towards, or at the end of the ad, when a (usually) Announcer style voice comes in and tells us the name of the product, service or event and where and how to get our hands on it.
In these commercials, you’re literally ‘telling a story’ as though it’s your own story…and that story is driven by the character you’re playing.
So, I hope this has helped you understand more about breath technique for voice over.
If you’d like to learn more about the techniques of voice over in one of my Saturday ‘One Dayer’s’ in Melbourne or Sydney, or work with me privately in my home studio, just send me a message and I’ll be in touch
Find Your Voice As a Voice Over Actor And Artist With The Voice Over Coach. For over 30 years I've had a successful voiceover career. I work in mainstream voice over for radio and television, narration for the corporate sector, website content and documentaries, as well as characters for animation, IVR, ADR, on-hold and foreign film dubbing.