Maybe you’ve heard the sound when you played back your voice over recordings… sharp, slurpy, distracting—S’s that sound like SH.

A hissing S or sibilance is a common  problem that plagues many voice actors.

But if you’re sibilant there’s no reason to hang your head in shame and avoid the microphone. There are things you can do to minimize or even eliminate the problem.

Minimizing sibilance requires a three-step approach:

Microphone placement, articulation and diction exercises and a trip to the dentist

First lets look at microphone placement

Be sure to leave some space between your mouth and the microphone.

Twelve to eighteen inches is ideal. Unfortunately, a pop filter won’t do anything to help with sibilance.

Angle the microphone downward
Try angling the microphone downward 10 to 15 degrees to aim the 0-degree axis (recording sweet spot) toward the throat instead of your mouth

Shape up your speech muscles

An imperfectly shaped mouth or tongue will affect the sound of your “S” – and because few of us are perfectly shaped anyway, it’s likely you will have to learn to make some adjustments to compensate for the shape of your particular mouth.

Just as you need a work-out program to keep your body in shape, you’ll also need a work-out program for the muscles in your mouth.


Tongue Tips

While proper tongue position for a clean “S” sound is difficult to explain in writing, here are some things to keep in mind when pronouncing the letter “S” …

Be sure that the tip of the tongue does not touch the back of the upper front teeth.

Ideally, the tip of the tongue should be placed about ¼ inch behind the upper front teeth, almost in position for a “t”.

Raise the tongue so the sides press firmly against the inner surfaces of the upper molars.


Exercises to Minimize Sibilence

Keeping the proper tongue position in mind, say the following sentences aloud s-l-o-w-l-y to practice the initial, medial and final “S” sound:

Stan seasoned the salad with salt.

Put the best biscuit in the basket.

In this race, bets on pets are off limits.


Get a Dental Check Up

Sibilence is often the result of spaces between teeth where air escapes while speaking.  Gum disease and receding gums can make the problem worse as can missing teeth or poorly fitting dentures or bridges.

Maintain your dental health by improving your daily hygiene. In addition to flossing I use a sonicare toothbrush and water pick and the improvement in the health of my mouth has been noticeable.

Get regular dental check ups and  attend to problems immediately. If you have spaces between teeth ask your dentist about bonding or veneers.

As voice over artists, we need to be even more careful about our teeth, mouth and dental hygiene than the average person. If you develop a problem it can really make a big impact on diction and your ability to perform so best to prevent problems before they begin.


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You may absolutely share this article with people you think may enjoy it. When doing so, please forward it in its entirety and include the following: Susan Berkley is a top voice over artist and founder of The Great Voice Company, a company devoted to teaching great voices around the world how to become successful voice over actors. Is a “hissing S” (sibilance) affecting your voice over work?