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Old February 25th, 2008, 02:14 PM   #1
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How do I record a commentary soundtrack?

For a DVD that I'm working on, I will need to record a commentary soundtrack with four to six participants. I am wondering if anyone knows how this is typically done.

My plan is to get a mic for each participant and record multitrack. I would also record the original audio on separate tracks for reference. A headphone amplifier could feed the audio (including the original audio from the feature) into headphones for each participant.

I am pretty sure this will work; what I don't know is if maybe giving each person their own headphones is overkill. Maybe I can just play the audio at a low volume and record the conversation in the room. Any thoughts?

- Martin
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Old March 5th, 2008, 08:25 AM   #2
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What I've done on the past is just put all the participants on the couch in front of a TV with a custom made DVD for that session. The DVD has a countdown (5, 4, 3, 2, BEEP!) and then the rest of the DVD with the actual film is silent. Normally the cast and crew now the film so well they don't need sound. I set up a microphone for each person that goes to a mixer. I ride the mixer during the session. I then just record mono to Pro Tools.

Sure you could record each person separately, but I've found there isn't much point, as it's generally just simple dialogue. If something goes terribly wrong you can always pause, rewind and try again.

If you've got the gear to do multi-track, then sure, go for it! You have a lot more control, but if you don't have the gear, then don't stress too much. You can get away with it!

Again, a headphone amplifier playing the DVD audio is an option and I've also done that in the past. But what I've found is most of the time the participants hate hearing their own voice, and find the original audio from the feature (even if it's very low) distracting, so they take the headphones off.

That said, I've also done what you suggested and had the TV playing the audio back very softly in the background, which also works quite well.

So yeah, you've pretty much answered your own questions! If you've got the time and money, then multi-track with a headphone split for each person would be great! But if it's a no-budget film, and you don't really want to hire anything else in, then don't worry about it.

I hope this is of SOME help...

Chris!
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Old March 5th, 2008, 12:35 PM   #3
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One option might be to play just the music from the film. It's less likely to distract the talent than voices and sfx.

The music would help to remind them of the mood, and might get them to comment on the composer/score.
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Old March 5th, 2008, 02:01 PM   #4
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Chris and Jon,

You gave me some excellent ideas for a regular feature. Unfortunately, this DVD is a 77-minute stand-up comedy performance. Yes, I can already hear it: "Commentary soundtrack for stand-up comedy?" Please believe me, we've thought about it carefully, and there's a good reason we are doing this.

Consequently, there will be no way for the participants to know what's going on in the video without hearing the sound. I guess I could subtitle it, but I'd rather not. Even with subr, I think it'll be important to hear the audience reaction (laughter, applause). I think I'll just play the original sound at a very low volume. Already have the multitrack recording gear, so I'll go ahead and use that.

Thanks a lot!

- Martin
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Old March 5th, 2008, 02:55 PM   #5
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Play the video and feed it's audio to the commenters via HEADPHONES or Earbuds.

Then you can easily record their commentary separate from the program content and mix them together later to taste.

Good luck.
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Old March 5th, 2008, 03:03 PM   #6
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It sounds like you *almost* need to script this. Kind of like a spotting session for a composer: "we want commentary here, play the main audio there, get a reaction from the joke at 1:07:30..."

You don't want them talking over the best jokes, but talking over physical gags and audience reaction would be fine.

I could envision the screen showing the word "TALK" and then a count down "5,4,3,2,1... QUIET", then TALK. It would give the commentators a chance to go "oh, oh, here comes a good one", or "let's listen to this..."
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