Tips On Recording Production Sound For Comedy Specials
Recording the production sound for a comedy special can pose a number of challenges not seen on typical video shoots. Not only do you need to capture the comedian’s dialog cleanly but the audience in the room as well. This becomes much more difficult when the venue’s PA system is exciting the room the audience is in. I’ve now done several comedy specials & albums, and learned a few tricks along the way to help improve the quality of recorded sound sound. Here is my approach to recording the sound for a comedy special!
Comedian’s Mic – Handheld Dynamic for Dialog
The primary source of sound for all of the comedian’s dialog is going to be a handheld mic; the same microphone that is feeding the venue PA system. Whether hardwired or wireless will depend on the production, but wireless tends to be preferred for its visual form factor and the comedians comfort. Either way, you’ll want an isolated feed of that microphone prior to ever touching the venues sound system. If it’s hardwired, a transformer isolated splitter is best practice, and if it’s wireless you’ll want a separate receiver giving you an independent feed.
Dynamic microphones tend to perform especially well in this instance, for their ability to reject unwanted bleed from the audience. This also makes them far less prone to potential feedback issues from the PA system in the venue then you’d get from their condenser mic counterparts.
Crowd Mics for Audience Reactions
One of the most important parts of any comedy performance is the reactions from the audience, but also one of the most challenging parts of recording comedy. There is a surprising lack of information on recording audiences, but this is what’s worked well for me. The challenge is recording clean audience sounds while rejecting as much PA bleed to prevent the dialog quality from being destroyed. Audiences tend to be very dynamic in their volume levels, so riding their levels helps considerably. I typically use a zoned audience micing approach and do a minimum of 2 stereo pairs, with different goals in mind for their sound.
Primary Audience Mics- Front Pair
For my primary stereo pair I am after a placement as close to the venue’s main speakers with the mics null rejecting as much as possible from the PA. This keeps the PA bleed very dry, while still allowing for great audience capture. I love the versatility of the AKG C414 EBs for their incredibly transparent sound, and multipattern flexibility. I’ve found putting the speakers in the null of a bi-directional mic yields a great signal to noise ratio between the audience and PA bleed.
Secondary Crowd Mics – Rear Pair
My secondary stereo pair is typically placed a bit further into the audience. As a result there is more of a reverb tail from the PA, but the direct sound is much quieter. For this pair my pickup pattern choice changes depending on the venue size & shape, but will generally lean towards a cardioid or hyper/supercardioid. My ultimate goal again is to reject the PA bleed as much as possible, so that will determine whether I use a spaced pair or XY and how their null points sit in each configuration.
Even though this likely won’t be used as the primary source for the performance, it’s still very relevant for any time the comedian might be off mic, such as their entrance and exit. This ensures you don’t miss any off the cuff interactions with audience members or before they pick up the mic on stage. It also gives me peace of mind having a backup source on the performer. I suggest getting the lav as close as possible since they will be in a high noise environment. I love the DPA 4061 for this application.
Sync for Multi-Camera Shoots
With comedy specials typically having high camera counts, making sure they all stay in sync is of the utmost priority. Since each take is typically an hour or more and there are multiple cameras as well as independent audio recording, the use of genlock alongside timecode is needed. Genlock prevents the cameras from drifting apart from one another by clocking the sensors to match the timecode perfectly. If you aren’t familiar with genlock in a modern video production workflow you can read more. I use Timecode Systems Ultrasync Ones and a Wave master clock for this since they are capable of providing cameras with both timecode and genlock. If there is a reference edit being done with a video switcher, I additionally provide timecode to the video recorder on the output from the switcher to ensure it’s timecode matches the rest of the cameras. This helps streamline post, allowing for timecode paper edit of the multiple performances into one. I still recommend manually slatting as backup sync mark, never hurts to have redundancy.
Reference Mix & IFBs
Providing a reference mix is helpful for the editor & anyone who might need to listen in on an IFB. It allows them to edit with just the reference audio and sync the multitrack files after the edit is picture locked. I try and feed this mix to as many cameras as possible, and to the video switcher if that’s part of the production workflow.
RF Distribution & Shark Fins
Every venue is different, and where gear staging & video village may end up could put you a good distance from the stage. To ensure you maintain strong and reliable RF, I recommend the use of RF distribution & remote active shark fin antennas.