How to Befriend Sibilance

So sassy. Am I right? The nerve of sibilance, drowning out an otherwise perfect read. It can be really frustrating, I know. Been there. Done that. Got the T-shirt, “Sibilance Sucks!” from the local tourist shop. When I first started noticing it, talking to people about it in my voice-over world, people would recommend plugins to run in my DAW that would soften it, take that sassy edge off it. And those plugins help. But I also feel, at times, and have heard from an audio engineer or two, that when applied too heartily, it can actually change/affect my audio quality. It also made me question what else alters my audio…that’s another blog post. I decided, I don’t want to fall into depending too heavily on plugins.

sit. stay… good, Sibilance!

Then recently, I started training on a new program for an Audio Description company. For those that don’t know what Audio Description is, it is for blind or visually impaired viewers. It is the voice you hear telling you everything that is happening on the screen that is not obvious through dialogue or sound effects. I am so happy it exists. So, in this recording program, I can’t do any processing. I will repeat that, NO PROCESSING. So, it’s me, my room, my mic, my audio interface, and that’s it. I speak into the mic and it captures my voice to picture, and then I mix it down, voice and picture. Sounds complicated, but the main point here is: I had to learn, more than ever, to fix mouth noises, plosives, and YES, SIBILANCE in pre-production, meaning before my voice even hits the mic. So of course, I googled and googled and googled, “Sibilance” and I came across a great little video by Gabrielle Nistico, “The Voice-Over Vixen’,’ a voice-over actor that creates some really fun content to boot. You can check that out here: What is Vocal Sibilance and How To Get Rid of It! She also shares advice on choosing microphones for those that struggle with a lot of sibilance. 

Just listening to her talk about tongue placement gave me such a lovely “aha!” moment. I actually floated on it for a good twenty minutes. Going forward, to play with tongue placement I gave myself a very simple little exercise: I start hissing like a snake and then slowly start to shush someone. It helps me really identify when I place my tongue too close to my teeth, creating lots of sibilance, to where my s’s become too soft if I place my tongue too far back. I will say a sibilant “So Sally!”, with my tongue hitting my teeth and then slowly saying it again while shifting to further back on my tongue, almost hitting the roof of my mouth. Just be careful of going too far away from sibilance to where it starts to sound breathy and muddy. These are my attempts to make what often feels like a harrowing nuisance into a mildly entertaining endeavor. 

Then of course are all of the fun word salad exercises, old and new. My favorite is and will always be, “Sally sells seashells by the seahorse.” It helps me work on sibilance and makes me think of ice cream fueled beach adventures. Or barbeque smells wafting on an ocean breeze, or….I may need a vacation. Or why not make up something on your own? Okay, I’ll go first. “Simone, seriously, sibilance sucks. Stand still staring starstruck at stars, softly singing sad songs to turtles. That last bit got off track, but you get the point. Befriend sibilance by making it fun to soften her sassy edges, and doggone it, share those s sounds with the world!

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