So you want to be a commentator…

Currently, YouTube and similar sites are commentator crazy. The cost of recording gameplay and then yabbering over the top has come down so much over the past year or so means that gameplay commentary has become feasible for many more people. If you’re thinking of getting in to commentating then this article should give you some idea of how to go about it and the best way to get the most out of it. What this article is not about is how to become “YouTube famous” or gain oodles of subscribers.

What you’ll need:

1 – a mic
2 – recording software
3 – something to talk about

That’s simple right? Sure it is. Go for it!…….. Was it a breeze? Are you an instant success? If so then you’ll probably not need to read on. But if it wasn’t quite as simple as you thought it would be then read on.

Let’s have a look at each of the items we need and then we’ll work on putting it all together. Firstly, the mic – how can you get your commentary done if no one can hear you!? You can use literally any microphone available, from one built in to your computer (if necessary), to some really expensive bit of kit that you purchase especially for the job. But let’s be honest here – for the majority of people out there, you’re not likely to make much, if any, money out of doing commentaries so to begin with that in mind to ensure you keep your costs down.

I’ve personally tried a variety of different microphone setups with varying levels of complexity and success, but what do I use to do my commentaries? An £8 ($10) mic with a £5 ($7) pop filter. Some people use their gaming headsets to record their commentaries and others use more professional equipment – but if you work out the limitations of your equipment you can produce excellent audio results for a fraction of the price. Obviously the acceptable tonal or volume range of a cheap mic will not be as large as that of an expensive mic so you’ll notice distortion quicker from plosive speech sounds (‘T’, ‘S’ and ‘P’ sounds “Test Pop”) and if YOU YELL IN TO THEM. Chances are, you’ve already got a mic suitable for the job, you just don’t know it yet.

Next you’ll need some recording software. Again, you can pay hundreds, or even thousands of your favourite currency on some swanky piece of software, but in reality the majority of commentators are currently using a free audio program called Audacity (Download Link for Audacity). It’s simple to use and that’s basically all you need – but obviously software choice is a personal thing so if you’ve already got something you’re comfortable with, use that.

And lastly…. something to talk about. Okay, I’ve played fast and loose here because there’s more to it than just having something to talk about. I’m sure everyone has come across a commentary and have clicked off it because the commentator’s voice does not work for us. They could be talking about the most important subject on earth, but still we mute them, or watch something else. Why is that?……

This is why: Most people are familiar with the saying: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” and this is very important to remember when you’re communicating with others without them being able to see you, your expressions or body language.

One study at UCLA indicated that up to 93 percent of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues. Another study indicated that the impact of a performance was determined 7 percent by the words used, 38 percent by voice quality, and 55 percent by the nonverbal communication.

So, what you’re looking at is that when doing a commentary you’re already missing 55-93% of your effective communication skills. And how people interpret what you’re saying is broken down to a sort of 80/20 mix of how you say the words you’re saying. Before a word comes out of your mouth the odds are not in your favour to be received well if you don’t get your personality across straight away. Which means that if you talk in a way that is not interesting to other people, chances are they’re not going to listen.

What to do? Don’t be shy. Don’t mumble. Be positive and upbeat. Avoid ‘ums’, ‘ahs’ and awkward pauses, and for the love of the baby Jeebus and his little cotton socks never ever say “So…. um….. yeah” (that’s a pet hate of mine, say it if you like, but it is incredibly annoying). Let’s get something straight here: You can make your commentary in as many takes as necessary so if you screw it up, or become a stuttering bumbling fool hit STOP and do that bit again. You don’t have to restart the whole thing – record in sections if you have to, no one will mind, and chances are most people won’t notice either (a ten minute commentary of mine can be made up of up to thirty separate audio files).

Positivity is really the key. An important tip that will help you come across more positively in your commentaries is a really simple one: Smile. You don’t have to be a grinning fool, forcing your words out through gritted teeth but smiling, especially when you’re relating something that is supposed to be funny or amusing will lift your vocal tone and put some emotion in to what you’re saying.

Even if you’re talking about a seemingly negative subject you don’t have to sound like a miserable old sour puss. The most popular commentators have an upbeat and positive vocal commentary style – even when they’re being negative about something. No one wants to listen to someone who sounds bored or uninterested. If you are actually bored and/or uninterested when doing a commentary then either you need to take a break, or do something else. Putting out negative commentaries will not serve you well (and I can promise you that).

You’ve got the technologies, you’ve got the attitude, now what to talk about? That’s the million dollar question. The best advice – talk about what you know. Talk about what your listeners don’t know. If you’ve got a gameplay up then in most cases you won’t need to give a play by play description of everything that’s going on as people will most likely be watching it. So you telling them what they’re seeing will be redundant. It’s better to mention specific points in the footage without discussing the entire game like a sportscaster.

You may want to discuss other things that are going on other than the gameplay. Many people do that with great success. However, you’ll do well to remember “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”. People will misinterpret what you say, and others will completely miss the point, so be careful, especially when sailing the seas near the rocky shores of contentious subjects (don’t know what a contentious subject is?…… best stick to the gameplay then).

Don’t talk about something just because everyone else is – YOUR commentary should be YOUR commentary, not a rehash of what someone else has said (especially if it’s complaining about something). If you’re starting out, chances are you’re really low down on the priority list for people to watch/listen to so you could be the tenth person whining about whatever it’s cool to whine about – and by that time people will be bored of hearing it. Why complain anyway? Complaining doesn’t solve anything, it just makes you in to a moaner.

For best results – be yourself, and be positive. Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Do your own thing. Do what you want, not what you think people want you to do and you’ll be fine. The most successful commentators out there got there by being themselves, not by emulating someone else.

And that, my little satsumas of joy, is that. I’ve been David, and I hope you’ve found that useful, interesting or somewhere in between.

Peas and loaves.

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Find me on PSN – evaDlivE

David Nicol is Articles Editor for, YouTube gaming commentator and blogger based in the UK.

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