In this article I want to tell you about something I do at every session we have at Cinema Sound, but never talk about: the best way to do talkback to talent in-studio. It’s revolutionized how I do sessions, and is about the cheapest way I know to rival how the big studios do this all-important process.
It doesn’t happen that often to most of us, but sometimes we need to record talent in-studio. The best way to
insure we hear the true nature of the recording is to have the talent in a room sonically isolated from our recording room or control room. Being able to communicate with them becomes an issue unless there is a “talkback” situation. Talkback is the ability to speak to the talent in the studio while being isolated from them in the control room.
In the old days, a talkback mic took the form of any cheap mic which wasn’t being used: usually a dynamic mic. It was mounted at the console so the engineer or producer could easily see and talk to the talent (who was usually positioned in-studio and in front of the mixer). The mic was routed in such a way that it wasn’t heard in the control room or routed to tape and could only be heard in the headphones of the talent. The control room heard the talent, obviously, because they were being recorded.
The trouble came because there was no easy way to turn the mic off except for pulling patch cables – which was too cumbersome. As a result, more than one talent member heard the unadulterated rantings of the producer who forgot the microphone was on. Not to mention every time playback occurred the horrible sound of control-room-speakers-in-talkback-mic made performance for the talent impossible.
Later iterations of this concept had the microphone embedded into the console and a “talkback” momentary switch added so the mic was only routed to talent when a button was pressed. The mic system also doubled as a slate for naming takes to tape.
In a project studio, however, most of us don’t have one of these fine $100,000+ consoles which have this functionality, and doing talkback can otherwise be cumbersome. But there is an easy solution using something you probably already own from your production work…
The Wireless Transmitter and Lavalier.
Patching a lavalier into your system via wireless transmitter/receiver is fantastic. Why? Because it solves all the issues of a talkback mic and adds some amazing advantages.
- You already own it – or if you don’t there’s never going to come a day when you’re not at an advantage for owning a wireless mic. That said, please consult this article IMMEDIATELY before buying one.
- It easily plugs into your system via XLR. You don’t need any fancy plugins or mountings. It mounts to YOU so…
- It Mounts to YOU! You can go anywhere with this! Near the console, into the studio, to the bathroom where everyone can hear you. So easy!
- You can easily hand it or mount it to the client for their use if they really want a hands on role with the talent.
- It’s omnidirectional, so even if you have only one, it’ll likely pick up everyone who needs to speak with the talent in the soundproof control room.
- It has a mute selection, so during takes (or when the producer starts saying something the talent shouldn’t hear), you easily turn off the transmitting function.
- With the exception of Adobe Audition, nearly every DAW supports intelligent talkback and input monitoring, so you only have to assign an input track in your session, turn on input monitoring, route the track to the headphone mix going to your talent, and your done. For Adobe Audition, read this article.
So amazing! What are the Khans?
- Every few hours you have to change the batteries.
- The mute button can be cumbersome since transmitter mute buttons are rarely momentary, and they require toggling.
- Until you’re used to them, you’ll be regularly embarrassed, because you left it on when you went to the loo…
- You’ll get a wonderful feedback loop if you don’t mute the transmitter when you approach the talent’s headphones.
This is our de-facto talkback standard, our clients appreciate it too. It’s not too often that client gets handed a lavalier to speak with their talent, and anything which has clients go “Oh, that’s cool!” is the primary reason for doing anything in a studio.
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