The Art of the (Unofficial) Audio Commentary

I appologize in advance for the inside baseball nature of this post, but what can I say, this has been on my mind lately.


As regular readers will know I do a weekly podcast with my special friend Mr. Dennis Rosenfeld (no, not "special" like that). Recently we recorded our third unofficial audio commentary (in English obviously).

(Don't know what an audio commentary is? Check this out)

There's a whole subculture of geeks recording similar tracks and I've begun to listen to them, to get a better idea about what's out there. I quickly discovered that it's quite a mixed bag.

I've listened to official audio commentaries since I got my first LaserDisc player in the early 90's, so I know what constitutes a good commentary track. I also know that an audio commentary is a perfect delivery system for information about a film.

Having listened to other unofficial commentary tracks, it dawned on me that most of the commentators don't realize what an awesome medium they're dealing with.

To help those unfortunate soul, and to guide myself in my upcoming adventures into the world of commentaries, I've compiled this list of guidelines, when recording an unofficial audio commentary.



1) Is a commentary the right thing for you?

Be sure that the information you want to share is even suited for a commentary.

If you plan to talk for hours about the nature of humankind, only occasionally referring to the characters on the screen, then perhaps you should record a podcast with your thoughts instead.

2) Know why you're doing THIS commentary.

Don't just record a commentary for the hell of it. Don't just do it because it's your favorite film, or the film you hate the most. Make sure you actually have something to say. I have favorite films I wouldn't dream of recording a commentary for, because I wouldn't know what to say.

Also, check out what's already our there. Perhaps the world doesn't need yet another audio commentary where a few geeks trash The Phantom Menace? I'm just saying.

3) Do your research.

A commentary track is about delivering information. Whether you're focused on technical details, trivia, personal observations, analysis, or a little bit of everything, research is the key. It's okay to speculate about themes and characters. It's not okay to speculate about facts.

Also, avoid simply describing what happens on the screen (but keep in mind that it's okay to set up certain details, because people will often hear the track separately from the film).

4) Have fun with your friends.

... Just don't record it and call it an audio commentary.

There's nothing worse than those tracks where a few friends sit down with beers and watch a movie. They share inside jokes, talk about what happened last week, a YouTube video they saw, and perhaps they do funny voices or mock the dialogue.

Ask yourself, who would listen to this and why? Even if - by some miracle - you actually find an audience who likes to listen to your nonsense, why limit yourself to the commentary format? Hit record, open the floodgates, publish as a podcast, and be done with it. Don't crowd the unofficial commentary scene.

5) Know your audience and make sure they know you.

Start by introducing yourself properly (give your full name). You can't assume the listener has heard anything you've done before, or know who you are, so tell them. Quickly and efficiently in a way that won't bother those who already know you.

Your audience is here because they want to hear you talk about a certain film. "Film" is the keyword in that sentence. They don't care what you think, unless you explain yourself with decent arguments, and they certainly won't care what you had for breakfast, or what color of socks you're wearing.

6) Sound is important.

An audio commentary is an audio medium. After all, it's right there in the phrase. Be sure you have a good sound quality. Make sure all the commentators speak into the mike, and don't compress the audio file so much that the audio quality suffers.

Commentators in different locations can use Skype to connect with each other, but then they must each record their own voice, to avoid that inferior Skype call quality. Unless Spielberg calls you up to participate avoid Skype quality calls at ALL cost.

Also, regarding the number of hosts... Go for two, or three at the most. One commentator is boring and a larger group is confusing. Your goal is clarity, both regarding the sound quality and content.

7) Don't try to be funny.

Know that you're not funny.

If you were really funny you would be a comedian and you would have no time for this commentary nonsense. If you want to be a comedian, go to an open mike night and practice. Don't record an audio commentary.

I'm not saying you shouldn't have fun and try to entertain your audience, but we're here to listen to you talk about a movie. Period. And as I mentioned earlier, remember that you're not funny anyway.

8) Respect the film.

This is even more important if you hate it.

Anybody can sit down and make fun of a film. Simply recording such a conversation is pathetic and stupid. It's okay to do a commentary for a film you don't like, but then your job is to explain WHY you don't like it, and possibly offer suggestions that could improve the film.



Well, these are my personal recommendations, based on my personal preferences. As I begin my preparation for the fourth audio commentary from Double D's Definitive DVD Podcast I leave you with this thought:

If a listener is ready to spend 2 hours in your company, have the common decency to make sure they don't waste their time.


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