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(Voice Overs): DOESN’T ANYBODY BREATHE ANYMORE?

editing breaths from commercials

John Leader — former major market PD, former Managing Editor of Radio & Records (who gets the blame for my column appearing there for 9 years), and for a long time one of the top movie trailer voice over artists, writes:

Forgive me if this is something you’ve discussed and I’ve missed, but…

I’ve noticed that no one ever breathes in commercials anymore. All breaths are removed (pulled up, I assume), which I’m sure saves precious time, but also gives copy-heavy reads an unnatural sense in my opinion.

It’s disconcerting listening to someone run through 60-seconds of copy without ever taking a single breath. But, most spots are doing it, so apparently it’s the norm.

Your thoughts? Or, am I just getting cranky (wouldn’t be the first time)?

We all know the reason this happens: Advertisers foolishly try to cram as much “stuff” into their commercials as possible.

Quite a few production people, meanwhile, take great pride in their ability to excise every breath from a piece — even with copy that could be shortened to enable the announcer to speak conversationally.

And that’s what is lost by this practice: Conversation. We do pause when we converse. We pause to breathe; we pause to think; we pause for emphasis.

Meanwhile, producers are forced to sacrifice communication for more words. Many words spoken quickly, with no pause for breath. Voila! The perfect commercial.

Those advertisers, copywriters and producers would profit by taking to heeding the words of Antoine de Saint-Exuper, best known for his novella, THE LITTLE PRINCE:

“Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

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  • Pete November 17, 2010, 1:26 am

    Bloody oath , which is austrlain talk , thats right , was going to write Dan a email on this very thing , read a spot the other day bit longer then the 30secs ,m producer goes its ok i’ll de breath it , should be ok , so ,so much for pauses , etc , all gone , BAD , VERY BAD

  • Pete November 17, 2010, 1:29 am

    me again , in my haste to write a reply , i stuffed up the spelling . Bloody oath , is Australian, for spot on …… ok , much better

  • Skipper November 17, 2010, 2:04 am

    It depends on the producer though. You can still take a breath out an it still sounds (fairly) natural. There’s nothing worse than an ugly breath half way through a spot, even Dan himself has said this. It’s those ones that are de-breathed and not enough space is between each word that are sounding bad. De-breathing when done properly doesn’t hurry the read up much at all, sometimes by only half a second (give or take)

  • Sean November 17, 2010, 7:15 am

    As a producer and an on-air type, I think the problem occured when even the smallest market stations got ahold of digital editing/processing suites and began to equalize and ‘over compress’ their prod to give it a bigger sound. ‘Over compressed’ reads make you sound as though you are trying to inhale the room, so lets just cut that out and ‘de-breath’ it…

  • Lance Blair November 17, 2010, 7:17 am

    Liked this post a lot, Dan. Removing breaths can be done in a more tasteful, natural manner than it often is done; and it can also be used as a desired effect. However, I do wonder if text heavy copy really drives any point home with the deepest impact. The mind needs space to reflect upon what it is absorbing. Bob Dylan said earlier in this decade that he hated contemporary music because it had sound all over it with no space. Notice also how so many of the award winning spots featuring voice-over have a very measured and deliberate pace with plenty of space. Maybe not audible breaths, but certainly space. I’ve never thought that advertisements should be informative, they should be creating desires and the need to know and consume more. Text heavy spots (especially those that artificially cram in words) seem counter-intuitive to me.

  • Barry November 17, 2010, 7:24 am

    Let’s not confuse de-breathing and awkward sounding copy with a poorly voiced or edited / produced spot !

  • John Peace November 17, 2010, 9:48 am

    Most debreathing we do is to remove a wheeze from a vo talent that smokes (not too smart a habit but….) or any mouth noises. Normally if we pull out the breath, it’s not an edit to pull the words closer together, we just drop the breath area to non audible so the natural gaps are there but the huff and puff of breathing is muted. It does sound better especially if the audio processing chain is set up correctly.

  • Russ Jankovitz November 17, 2010, 11:27 am

    Lots of breath editing going on!

  • Arlene Tanni November 17, 2010, 11:28 am

    guilty sometimes……. depending on who wrote the copy. If I write it, I shorten the script because I want it to sound natural. If client-written, I still try to shorten the script with their permission. If agency written, well, you know agencies write perfect scripts, right?

  • Brian Hanson November 17, 2010, 11:29 am

    OK I’m guilty. But when I do cut out the breath, I leave a pause so it doesn’t sound too unnatural.

  • Scott Snailham November 17, 2010, 11:29 am

    Come on, cutting breathing shouldn’t be an absolute no no, just like leaving them in is not perfect for every situation. It depends on the spot, the effect your trying to achieve and the message you want to convey. Shadoe Stevens used to be driven nuts when engineers cut his breathing pauses out of his voice tracks when he was Hosting American Top 40, and he was right. He was trying to go for an intimate connection with the listener, the natural breathing pauses are part of the connection. It’s a normal conversation style but do you want to do that with a hard sell in your face style car ad because the client says they work and “time is running out” is conveyed over and over in the copy? NO. Cut the breaths adds to that thought nicely and keeps the spot flowing the way the clients wants it to. urgent and immediate. Cutting breaths is a creative tool that the producer is should be used with discretion and with the appropriate reading style and delivery.

  • Glen Pavlovich November 17, 2010, 11:31 am

    if the script allows, I will mute the breaths. Leaving in the pauses where the breaths used to be. My theory is…that we should eliminate anything from the commercial that might distract the listener from the message. Speaking of AT40, can anyone remember Casey Kasems breaths? Sometimes they were so loud, they were almost comical.

  • Jeff Augustine November 17, 2010, 11:31 am

    Brian…..we know you’re guilty…geez Brian…tell us something we didn’t know already

  • Chuck Boozer November 17, 2010, 11:32 am

    right on dan !

  • Dezley Scott Davidson November 17, 2010, 11:37 am

    on a client written script I often leave the breaths in and edit the words out, seems to be more effective in achieving a result , and really stands out on air too!

  • Adam Garey November 17, 2010, 1:26 pm

    “Legalese in spots that sound normal aint happening or natural either..

  • Brian Hanson November 17, 2010, 2:22 pm

    A client written script? Ya mean one with clichés like: IT’S THE BIGGEST SALE OF THE YEAR!!!! THERE’S NEVER BEEN A BETTER TIME TO BUY!!!! THESE PRICES WILL NOT LAST!!! HURRY IN FOR BEST SELECTION!!! THESE ARE DEFINATELY THE LOWEST PRICES OF THE YEAR!!! IF YOU’VE EVEN BEEN THINKING ABOUT BUYING A NEW VEHICLE!!! IT ONLY HAPPENS ONCE A YEAR!!! EVERYTHING HAS BEEN DRASTICALLY REDUCED!!! YOU WON’T BELIEVE THESE SALE PRICES!!! TIME IS RUNNING OUT!!! IT’S THE FINAL DAYS!!! DRASTICALLY REDUCED PRICES!!! THE LOWEST PRICES EVER OFFERED!!! QUALIFIED BUYERS RECEIVE SPECIAL DISCOUNTS!!! THEY WILL NOT BE UNDERSOLD!!! FROM NOW UNTIL THE END OF THE MONTH!!! RIGHT NOW YOU’LL SAVE LIKE NEVER BEFORE!!! ONCE THIS SALE IS OVER, IT’S OVER!!! THIS IS THE MODEL YEAR END BLOW OUT SALE!!!! EVERY SINGLE VEHICLE ON THE LOT IS SPECIALLY PRICED!!! like those?

  • Adam Garey November 17, 2010, 2:22 pm

    Brian-That is Real connection with the listener isn’t it? And it kind of slams the format of the radio station because if the sale ends soon ..you really have no time to enjoy EZListenings of Perry ,Bing, or Barry

  • Brian Hanson November 17, 2010, 2:23 pm

    Yeah, and we see it every single day. The advertiser writes the spot. Of course it’s horrible and it breaks every rule in the book regarding how to write effective, memorable radio commercials. Yet we take the money because we don’t have the testicular fortitude to tell the client “you shouldn’t advertise that way” I always use this analogy: I would never think of standing behind a mechanic and tell him how to fix my car, but for some reason in this business, advertisers always know better than we do how on to write the best radio commercials. How did it ever get that way?

  • Ed Loga November 17, 2010, 6:18 pm

    We used to call spots with all the cliches BS spots.

  • Adam Garey November 17, 2010, 6:18 pm

    @ Brian Is n’t there some kind of approach where a Client can pay nothing …nothing for a “test” spot nota spec spot..that test spot has maybe 5 different looks yet all with that same theme..The Spot is played norrmally to the client? Why? He or she cannot see clearly enough to know..but the client in advance would select a mediator judge. the 5 different spots would be heard by The Judge and the sales rep/exec (who wrote no spot) Is it about Impressing ourselves or impressing the mind of the listener to action. We can get full of ourselves. Thanks Brian

  • Dain Schult November 17, 2010, 7:21 pm

    Garrison Keillor…. it’s really noticeable….

  • Brian Hanson November 17, 2010, 7:22 pm

    “Results are the only thing that matters to advertisers. If they don’t see an immediate impact from their poorly written spot, they conclude that radio doesn’t work. When in reality, people make buying decisions from what they remember. For example, I don’t need a plumber at the moment, but when I DO, which one comes to mind? If advertisers ran consistent schedules with the correct message, the customers will be there when the need arises.

  • Scott Snailham November 17, 2010, 7:23 pm

    I would agree with that brian, consistency and frequency is the key, the real question is what is the correct message? That is often a matter of personal opinion. Sure, dan tears cliche’s apart and badly written copy apart, like no doubt many people in the industry. you shrug when the client wants this and you think you know better. But the question is….do you REALLY know better? Cliche’s have existed for decades in advertising. To us close to ,have worked in or are still in the industry, it’s old tired hat that we should know better to write, yet guess what, it still gets used consistently at all levels from small in the backwoods radio stations to national radio buys. One could conclude that the radio industry doesn’t have a lot of smart people because of it. You don’t continually hit your head against the wall because you know it hurts. Or maybe, despite the loathing of some of those directly involved in it, cliche’s actually DO work, because it’s often the fastest most simple and direct way to get your point across. Could you write a spot that is without one cliche and make the client happy and get the message across? That could be very challenging depending on the product and what the client wants. There are other factors besides thinking your writing spots that get results. frequency and consistancy as mentioned already, production being the other. The choosing of the talent, the read, specifically the delivery and tone, also take a major factor in the success of a radio spot. It can also be hard to measure true results, unless the client hears rave reviews about the spot from the floor traffic customers coming into their door. Let’s face it, you’re not trying to sell to rocket scientists most of the time. It’s the masses, you have to find common ground for intellect. That all too often limits your creativity options, in fact there’s very little in radio that’s actually creative on a regular basis. It’s all been done before. Still, what’s old is new again is often a good way to go. sure, you have the Herb Tarlek wannabe’s with $$$ in their mind, that’s an excuse, but that’s what drives the industry and because oif that, it’s a very good excuse. Thoughts?

  • Wade Millar November 17, 2010, 9:43 pm

    Because I breathe through my ears….when I voice an ad there are no breath gaps anyway! Maybe I should start asking for Breathe to be edited artificially into the voice over? Oh and By the way….no one ever watches TV, Reads a Newspaper or Listens to the Radio with for the purpose of seeing, reading or hearing ads…..breath or no breath is the least of our worries!

  • Mark Feiock November 18, 2010, 11:11 am

    shades of wkrp in cincinati or was that east cow flop?? LOL

  • Nikki Lynn Devitt November 18, 2010, 6:38 pm

    Gotta say I am a heavy breather (watch it!) so I tend to quiet most of mine if the script allows enough time to keep it natural. Like everyone I think it all depends on who writes the copy!

  • Mike Holmes January 10, 2011, 6:01 am

    I now hear station announcers read as if they’re in a race to see how fast they can get to the end; some record spots phrase by phrase, where the next phrase begins before the previous one has ended. They repeat phrases in telephone-filter-mode to emphasize points. How more unnatural can a thing be? Why don’t the jocks realize this? They have no idea how to communicate ideas; they know only how to read words. The human voice is capable of such nuance; one of its masters was Paul Harvey. I know, everyone does an impression of him; all you have to do is use pregnant pauses. But his delivery was a continual feast. As formulaic as he could often sound, he knew his audience and what pushed their buttons. I hear no subtlety in most of today’s commercials. Radio has never sounded more artificial. All of it is the absolute enemy of one human being speaking meaningfully to another. The only outlet I know of that still does it real is National Public Radio. There they still use pauses, giving you time to consider what you’ve just heard. Everywhere else, people are reading slammed-level nonsense with no variations in pitch or pacing — it’s as if the goal is to just get through the copy with no thought to the ideas being expressed. It’s awful.

  • Anonymous January 10, 2011, 6:19 am

    Addendum to last post: I should have put this caveat: most local radio is to blame. I hear many national spots that are wonderful. Many humble me with their ideas and brilliant delivery. They make me want what they’re advertising. I guess talented writers and producers use local as a steppingstone to the big time, where they’re truly rewarded for their abilities.

  • Keep the Breaths January 10, 2011, 11:57 am

    After all the compression and processing breaths get crazy loud, I find if you just normalize them to 1-5% they’ll sound natural and not be annoying or distracting. As far as deleting breaths to ad space… sounds aweful 99% of the time

  • Robin Solis January 10, 2011, 1:47 pm

    All the above is true, it’s just ten years late. I’m not being mean-spirited – It’s just that this issue started really heating up with the conversion to digital production (when it became easier to cut out a quarter-breath) and that was 21 years ago! Still, the industry is slow to change as I know. Does anyone here know why I know this so well?

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