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The Use Of Silence In Audio Recordings

By Stephanie Ciccarelli

January 9, 2012

Comments (10)

Gold colored Chihuahua puppy sitting on a woven chair.Is silence always golden?

What about an awkward silence, for instance?

Those of you on-air have certain opinions (and fears!) to be sure of what silence means and I'm curious to learn about how this translates to audio in general.

If you've found a way to use silence to your advantage, I'd love to hear from you!

Join the conversation in today's VOX Daily!


TIME Magazine published an article in December 2010 entitled Awkward Silences: 4 Seconds Is All It Takes To Feel Rejected. The piece came to my attention a few weeks ago during a talk I heard and got me thinking about how this concept may apply to the audio community in a special way.

The gist of the article was that a period of silence 4 seconds or longer creates major discomfort in someone awaiting a response or reaction. This can even result in a sense of rejection should an answer not be given right away or an uncomfortable silence not be broken.

While this observation pertains to in-person conversations, might prolonged silences create negative reactions in an audience where audio is concerned?

Turning Silence On Its Head

There are a few ways to look at this. Silence can be perceived as either friend or foe depending on its application and use of timing. In comedy, silence can actually be very effective.

If there is silence on the air waves in a live radio broadcast however, silence can be costly in terms of lost listeners, dead air time and so on. Many radio pros have reoccurring dreams (or nightmares) about dead air time...even after they've retired!

All of this said, silence can also be used strategically and work to your advantage.

What Do You Think?

Do you use silence in audio recordings, and if so, how do you apply silence strategically? On the flip side, how tightly does one need to edit a recording to avoid the listener feeling uneasy?

Best wishes,


©iStockphoto.com/Rui Xin

Related Topics: comedy, radio


    Judging an appropriate length for a silent pause while recording is tricky. Your voice is what pulls the listener in. Leaving them in silence too long will mean you lose them. As a voice coach, I've seen this happen.
    One idea to consider is that the listener is always thinking many times faster than you can talk so an appropriately timed pause for you may be way to long for them. My advice is not to use pausing for dramatic effect unless you're sure your listener will stay with you.

    Posted by:

      Pauses are only as effective as their set-up. When narrating a story, I seldom even think about pausing -- the pauses come as naturally as the words. They are just as important; they amplify, clarify, give time for the listener to reflect and react, take their own mental breaths. Planning to pause is more often than not as artificial as it is self-conscious. Being totally immersed in the text, in telling the story, will make your pauses speak effectively.

      Posted by:

        I use pauses and full stops (not so much in radio commercials unless the script is particularly light). On my radio program, it's pretty much a seamless mix but I'll chuck in a full stop for just a couple of seconds on the quarter hours just to draw the listener's attention to the next set up or segment. It helps give definition and structure to the show. I love the comment about the reoccurring radio nightmare of dead air. I get those from time to time. I'm in the air chair and nothing is going right. Too funny!

        Posted by:

          Good article ... and yes it's true 'hearing' nothing for 4 seconds in radio is an announcer's worst nightmare - you want everything to go smooth, flow for a better word.

          I personally have used some 'pauses' of silence while reading a narration - usually as a 'cliff-hanger' to grab the listeners attention with a question.

          Enjoying receiving and reading your emails


          Posted by:
          • Gary McDonald
          • January 10, 2012 12:33 PM

            I've used silence in two ways. As you mentioned, in comedy it can be pretty funny, and in voice recording, a pause of a beat or two can convey misunderstanding ("I'm trying to figure this out"), or shock ("Did this person really say that?"). Also if I'm reading an editorial (I record stuff for the blind), a pause can convey a tone of sarcasm or disbelief by the writer whom you are reading.

            Posted by:
            • Nancy Foss
            • January 10, 2012 12:41 PM

              Well, it used to be, when I worked in radio, that prolonged silences meant panic, because the record (remember those?) or cart had played out while I was in the restroom! I like to think about this question in terms of an audiobook I'm currently working on a certain amount of silence is like the judicious use of negative space in a painting (my art teacher background here.) When used properly, it serves nicely as an aural contrast to provide emphasis to the spoken word, or to frame a phrase in suspense! I feel, used creatively, silence can be another "hue" on your palette!

              Posted by:

                Different wrinkle on silence: As a news reporter who knows some serious piece of info...but must get another confirmation of it...many reporters will seek out some authority, whom we KNOW can confirm it, but likely won't, due to imperiling themself we'd offer the question in this form:
                "I know this about that, but I need it confirmed. And I know you don't want to go on the record with it...so, if you don't say anything within 5-seconds, I'll assume it's true." When silence ensues, it is truly GOLDEN!

                Posted by:
                • JAY LLOYD
                • January 10, 2012 8:22 PM

                  The right kind of pause is OK, but like the poster above said, too long and for me, at least, it generally just indicates panic. Ironically, like the article says, there's a talent for silence in audio.

                  Posted by:

                    I agraever with the person who mentioned not planning the pauses; I kind of let the text flow naturally, and the pauses come from that naturally.

                    Posted by:

                      When you want to use silence, you need to have something seriously important to say, or it's a pregnant pause for a punchline.

                      Posted by:
                      • Daniel Millen
                      • January 14, 2012 10:50 AM

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