There is a great deal of advice out there to minimise mouth noise as picked up by a microphone. Yet since this advice is as varied as ‘drink tea’, ‘avoid tea’; ‘eat a green apple’, ‘avoid all sugar’; ‘chew sugar-free gum to promote salivation’ and ‘keep a cup near to you spit out excess saliva’, I didn’t find it much help.
Everyone’s different, of course; and that affects not only what works for their mouth and what doesn’t, but also their standard for ‘too clicky’. There are also the unknown variables of equipment, room treatment, and gain settings.
I struggle particularly with mouth noise; I have a large tongue that treats any transition from ‘S’ or ‘D’ to ‘L’ like that moment in the flamenco when the dancer stamps and cracks out the castanets. For better or worse, I also have a large diaphragm condenser mic, whose positioning is a roughly middle course between the Scylla of gaining noise floor and the Charibdys of plosives and all the SeaWorld sounds of human speech.
I mostly produce audiobooks, too, so I’m often on a bit of timeline, and both unnecessary editing and inefficient warm-ups eat into my profits. I had, therefore, to find those few elements of diet and warmup that offered at least an 80% solution. Through a series of natural experiments and misfortune, I have arrived at a provisional solution.
Before I impart this wisdom, I will set out the baseline conditions that one would just do anyway as part of studio set-up and basic preparation, without which mouth noise is bound to be a problem. First, the mic should be 6-8 inches away from your speaking mouth. Second, you should stretch your mouth and tongue for two minutes before starting. Three, make sure you’re hydrated. This is the usual fatuous response when I ask for advice avoiding mouth clicks, ‘yeah man, just try drinking water, that’ll clear it up’. Thanks, mate. Believe it or not, I do actually make quite a habit of drinking water. To survive. So yes, it’s true you need to be well-hydrated; just drink as much water as you possibly can. Four, relax, man. Another piece of stupid advice. Yes, if you’re tense, frightened, nervous, your mouth dries out and it’ll be click city up in your recording. Good luck doing anything about it in the moment. Admittedly meditation, yogic breathing, therapy might help long term. It really just comes down to practice.
I’m also not talking about technical solutions; I use Izotope RX7 de-clicker, and would have bought Sonnox’ Oxford De-Clicker out of patriotic solidarity, if it wasn’t so much more expensive, and if someone in the known internet had ever used it and could report on its effectiveness. Also, I’ve heard shotgun mics like the Sennheiser MKH-46 are much kinder on clicks. I can’t currently afford one. This article is to deal with those clicks that, despite everything, still make it through the mic and past the plugins (which, even with RX 7, they do). Prevention, as they say, is better than cure.
The following, however, are positive things that I’ve found actually make a difference to the extent that, if I’ve done them, I don’t need to do anything else before starting recording.
- You literally can’t drink/have drunk any alcohol within 24 hours of recording.
- I know. Not even one beer the evening before recording at 1400 the next day. I hate that this is true, and would have tried any kind of self-deception to avoid arriving at this conclusion.
- How do I know? I measure something I call ‘editing intensity’ which just counts the number of cuts I have to make in editing, the majority of which is to remove mouth noises and mistakes, and divides it by the length in hours of the raw recording. The average is 500. I had a small whisky one night, recorded the next afternoon, and the figure on that file increased to 997. It took me two hours to edit 23 minutes (yes, I should just have re-recorded, but it was in pursuit of data). It’s not a flawless measure, and this doesn’t establish causation by scientific standards, but I’m convinced.
- Breathe steam.
- What? Yes. Head over boiling water with tea-towel headdress, or little personal steamer. I’m sure a walk-in steam room would do too, if you’ve got that. Inhale deeply through mouth and nose for at least 10 mins (which is longer than you think). Less time doesn’t work. Also don’t put anything in the water.
- I was told this by my sister-in-law, a real life actor. I tried it for a while to no effect, then I realised I wasn’t doing it for long enough. As well as thinning your saliva and moistening the mouth and throat, it also has the benefit of making your voice deeper and more resonant.
- Drink or eat butter.
- WHAT?!! Yah. Someone induced me to try swirling olive oil around my mouth to reduce clicks, but it absolutely didn’t work; it seemed to make it worse. The principle seemed sound, though—oral lubrication—so I tried a few different things (coconut, sunflower, vegetable, sesame….). For a separate reason, I also tried ‘bulletproof coffee’, or coffee churned with butter. Seemed to make a real difference to clicks. Unlike with oils, the mouth continued to feel ‘slippery’ with the fat, which prevented most smacking sounds. Effect did wear off after about half an hour.
- I can’t find any reason why butter should do this. It is an interesting research question. Also the only consistent internet advice to lower clicks is to completely avoid tea or coffee. I haven’t found that it makes any difference. In this case, the coffee is only the delivery mechanism, but if you believe the claims about caffeine drying your mouth out, by all means drink or eat butter on its own.
I should probably also list the things I tried that seemed to make no difference, though just because they did nothing for me, doesn’t mean they won’t work for you.
- Slippery elm tablets (though good if you overdo it shouting)
- Sucking sugar-free chewing gum prior to recording (not chewing).
- Green apples (makes worse for me)
- Oil in mouth (makes worse for me)
- Avoiding caffeine (no difference)
- Fake saliva mouthwash (I know, right…)
- Swigging water in between recording (if you’re already clickin’ bad, it makes no difference).
In summary, if you’ve drunk alcohol in the last 24 hours, give it up. If you’re dehydrated, drink all the water you can hold and wait about three hours. Otherwise get steamy, down a fistful of butter, and you’ll be fine.
Picture credits, from left to right: Ben David, Luis Prado, Anniken and Andres, all via Noun Project.