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Sure, You Breathe When Reading
Copy - The Trick Is Knowing How
By Juan Carlos Bagnell
aka "Some Audio Guy"
I had the pleasure of directing auditions on a wall-to-wall 60-second radio spot a couple days ago. Standard spec: sincere, non-announcery, authority but friendly.

The spot was a tad over-written, not horribly so, but came in comfy around 70 seconds.

But no prepping or warning on my part helped any of the actors auditioning:
  • "Take your time."
  • "It's a touch over-written."
  • "I DON'T CARE if it's under 60."
  • "Leave yourself room for air."
Most of the actors looked at me like I was trying to explain how water was wet. OF COURSE they'd breathe, DUH ...

Like clockwork, they came in around the 35-40 second mark. A trainwreck.

The two or three actors that did make it through without error sounded so rushed I couldn't have sent the audition off anyway.

Now these are voice-over pros, but even they seem to run into a fairly common problem. I just now clued in that the problem isn't "running out of air" - it's having TOO MUCH USED AIR.
Throughout longer copy, you start taking really shallow breaths to replenish. After about 30 seconds of this you're pretty much full, but since you've been speaking at a consistent rate, with no room to exhale, you're  full of CO2.
The body starts to send distress signals. You surge to try and finish the copy. In surging you start stumbling. This adds more stress, and the end of the audition is tanked.

I started making my actors do breathing prep, a trick I learned in musical theater to calm stage nerves (singing on stage terrified me).

"I'm going to push record. I want you to inhale for five seconds and exhale for ten seconds before you start speaking."

Now, don't even get me started on the number of actors who said, "Yeah cool, ok" and then went right into the copy IGNORING what I had just asked them to do.
But forcing them to do this trick resulted in something just a little fantastic. I got calm, engaged, personal reads. Almost everybody was able to come in under 70 seconds. Almost no stumbles were made.

People who read legal copy often tell me that the fastest legal is usually the most relaxed legal, and I totally buy it.

Those same techniques are working like gang-busters on my commercial recording sessions.

Juan Carlos Bagnell, aka “Some Audio Guy,” is a veteran audio engineer who writes a highly entertaining and informative blog: Ramblings of Some Audio Guy.
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