Breath is life.
New narrators — and particularly new rights holders — who haven’t listened to many (or any) audiobooks often think that breaths should be removed from the recording. Breaths are routinely removed in other voice work such as animation and commercial voiceover. Commercials must run within a pre-set, rigid time of 15, 30, or 60 seconds.
However, we don’t have time constraints in audiobooks. Breaths are the foundation of spoken language and become part of the artistic performance. They affect the musicality and pacing of the story and help convey the emotion and mood of the text.
Hearing an audiobook without breaths feels unnatural and even robotic to the listener. People may feel anxious when they can’t hear the narrator take a breath.
The audiobook industry standard approach is to leave breaths in the audiobook but make adjustments to some breaths in post-production. For instance, loud, gaspy breaths may be minimized or eliminated, especially if they start a paragraph. Breaths should sound natural and subtle throughout the audiobook, with plosives and extraneous mouth noises removed.
While recording, the audiobook narrator must do her part to breathe using good technique. You may need to adjust your microphone position and/or learn to breathe from your diaphragm.
When punching in, you want to ensure you don’t cut the breath as it would stand out to a listener if left in the audio. Your editor would need to cover cut breaths with room tone.
As you prep the book, give thought to places where you want to breathe or slightly pause to enhance the story you are telling.
Other resources on this topic:
- Coach and narrator Pat Fraley’s short video An Audiobook Narrator’s Breathing Lesson is a must-watch.
- Also watch narrator Travis Baldree’s video Audiobook Breathing Techniques.
- Audio engineer Don Baarns and voice talent Donny Baarns discuss editing breaths in audiobook recordings and offer some breath improvement exercises in this video.
- Narrator and author C. C. Hogan wrote an expansive article on the topic of audiobook breaths.
- NPR’s excellent article The ear training guide for audio producers contains a section that discusses how to avoid several types of problems with breaths in the recording.