Have you noticed a breath noise in one of your vocal recordings that just sounds too obvious? Maybe now you’re wondering if every breath needs to be removed from the entire song.
In this quick guide, we’ll talk about breath sounds in songs, when to consider removing them, and how to go about that.
Should You Edit Out Breath in Vocals?
Leaving or removing vocalist breaths is primarily a subjective preference: most producers will leave some breaths in for realism but cut excessively loud ones. If a breath sounds more like a gasp and jumps out too much, then feel free to cut it. But cutting all the breath from a vocal take can leave it sounding a bit lifeless.
Breathing is pretty natural for singers (and humans in general). Furthermore, most listeners are so used to hearing people breath between sentences that they tune it out. This is a neural adaption similar to “noseblindness”.
So most people won’t mind a few light breaths in the mix. In fact, breathiness can make a vocalist sound more emotional or authentic.
But overly-long or excessively loud breaths may distract the listener. For that reason, producers may selectively cut some (but not all) breaths from a take. Then again, some really loud breaths get left in a song for dramatic effect. Like I said, a really exasperated breathing noise in a very emotive song can make the singer sound tortured and, therefore, more immersed in the song’s lyrics.
Breaths in Lead vs Background Vocals
But what about background vocals? If we moderate the number of breaths in a lead part, then should we go the same route with background parts and extra dubs? In general, producers will cut more breath noises from background vocal takes. This prevents multiple inhales layering together and getting too loud (as it’s likely that you’ll stop to breath around the same time in each recording).
When I’m editing vocal tracks in my own songs, I usually cut more breaths from my dubs based purely on playback. I’ll listen through the mix after my initial breath cuts, looking for any spots where a breathing sound becomes too noticeable.
Like any part of mixing, you should make decisions using your ears and not the visuals in your DAW. There’s no need to cut every single breath waveform you see in a vocal take if it’s not hurting the sound of the song. Go with your ears first.
How Do You Remove Breaths from Vocals?
There are multiple ways to remove breath from vocals. Some are easier than others. The most common methods include:
- Apply a noise gate to the vocal track; set it to reduce volume when the signal level drops below your singing volume (assuming your breaths are quieter than your singing)
- Using a breath removal plugin like Waves DeBreath or Izotope Breath Control
- Split/trim your vocal audio track wherever you head an offending breath, cut the breath out manually, and fade the ends of the clips
- Add volume automation to your vocal take and duck the volume level during breathing sound.
I personally prefer the manual trimming method, as it gives me the greatest control over which breaths to cut.
Overall, breath removal is a matter of personal preference. Most people are used to hearing breath noises so the bulk of producers will only cut a portion of them out. It’s up to you, and depends on each song you produce, to determine which inhales to cut.
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