Pops and Clicks

I’m getting toward the end of the audiobook work for Iris of the Shadows and, if there’s one thing that is sapping out the most time, it’s the popping and the clicking noises rising out of the audio.

From what I can tell, it’s a common problem. The microphone is quite sensitive and picks up on very subtle vibrations, including nose-whistles, lip-smacks and beard scratches. Normally you can’t really hear these ‘anomalies’ in the raw audio. Then, by applying a compressor to the audio, these pesky little quirks jump out and crawl around like clicking, popping, hissing critters, all through the audio.

It makes cleaning up the audio a chore because, at the start of a phrase, at the end, anything with a lot of l’s in there, or even just randomly, there will be an erroneous pop or click hiding among the sound waves.

Some aren’t so hard to remove – they’re sitting out in the open, top and tail, and it’s a matter of pausing, zooming in and deleting the offending noise. Job done, move on. Others aren’t so easy. It requires listening to the audio, spotting when the pop comes in, then zooming in to find the little beggar:

I’ve used the use audacity pop-remover before but, if used incorrectly, it can make the audio sound scrappy and remove genuine plosives, like a rapid p, b or t.

In the interest of sanity, I’ve found that whatever method is used to remove the pops, it takes time post-recording and jolts the whole review process. Better than this, why not just prevent the pops and clicks manifesting in the first place? Great idea, Jez, but how?

How, indeed. A lot of trial and error and I’ve come up with some dos and don’ts to go by.

  1. Don’t drink milk beforehand. Not in tea or coffee. No butter. Nothing that can make your mouth gummy. If you want a coffee, have it black. On that note:
  2. Avoid carbonated drinks – that just makes burps, and the sugary ones make your mouth gummy.
  3. Drink plenty of water before and during recording. I’ve noticed that if I’m well hydrated, I don’t get anywhere near the infestation of pop-roaches than after I’ve been exercising or been working at my desk and not drinking.
  4. Warm up before you speak. Do mouth exercises, recite some poetry, clear your throat (not too aggressively, mind), say ‘Betty bough a bit of butter…’, etc.
  5. Use your headphones to actively listen to your voice while you’re speaking. If you have a clicky-mouth, stop, have a drink of water.
  6. For a word with annoying l’s in it, (lullaby, bellicose, laconically), open your mouth a little wider at the start of the word to get rid of any pops pops toward the start, so they don’t manifest in the middle.
  7. Repeat the word if you hear clicks. It’s easier to delete the previous word and slip the next one in than to have to go back to the sound booth, re-record it, compress, amplify and punch it back in again.
  8. Regularly take a break, rinse your mouth (water, water, more water), breathe and clear your throat.
  9. Avoid recording when you’ve got a cold. That presents more problems, like nose-whistles, nose-pops, throat-pops and crackling. Not to mention your voice ends up sounding like dragging a pot-plant on gravel. Trust me, you go into the recording booth with a Gronk and you might as well get ready to scrap it all and re-record it.

In one of the worst instances, an hour of raw audio took me more than double that time just to go through it since there were pops and clicks in practically every phrase. In another, I ended up re-recording everything because the infestation was just so horrendous. In some of the best instances, I can go five solid minutes without even having to pause and it’s in those instances that I know I’ve been well hydrated, drinking water throughout, taking breaks and concentrating on my enunciation around difficult sentences.

On that note, I’m off to finish the rest of this audio for Iris. With a bit more grunt-work, I’ll have this thing licked and up on Findaway before the month is out. Nothing like finishing a project ahead of time.

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