Sesame Street: Elmo disc personalized

One of the most unique projects I’ve been a part of is a series of personalized children’s CD’s. The goal was to release approximately 1600 different versions of the same CD, with a child’s name seamlessly mentioned dozens of times in both song and story through the 30-minute CD. This is an enormous project involving the management of hundreds of thousands of sound files that has to result in an absolutely seamless listening experience, as if each CD was recorded for that child individually.

I’ve done this project several times for different clients, including two Disney projects, one Elmo, two VeggieTales, two Wiggles, and one Barney. Each CD is distributed through JustMeMusic.com and is available for purchase there.

Before I get too deep in the weeds discussing them, here’s an example of clips from the Elmo CD for the name “Madison.” This will give you an idea of what the final result is:

We do get the actual official character voices for each character. In the case of the Elmo project, I traveled to New York City to record Kevin Clash, the puppeteer and the voice behind Elmo.

We work from a custom-written script that’s specifically written to easily accommodate the insertion of personalizations. The script alternates between narrative tracks and songs. The characters typically narrate a storyline that’s then helped along by the songs, complete with spoken invitations like, “Madison, want to sing this with me?”

The recording process for these projects is arduous. First, a “generic” version of each song is recorded (leaving a hole for where the personalization will go), then we’ll enter a special cycle-recording mode that continuously loops over the area where the personalization will go, and the vocal talent has the titanic task of now inserting 1600 names in there, one at a time. Because names range from one to four syllables with emphases in all kinds of different places, it takes a lot of creativity to be able to perform the personalization in a natural and seamless way. The process can take anywhere from two to six hours for a single personalization slot, and many names require multiple takes (attempts) to get it right. The human voice is not designed for nonstop singing for hours at a time, and to compound the difficulty, many of the actors have to contort their voice to achieve the cartoon character’s unique voice.

I’ve developed lots of techniques for making the process as smooth and efficient during the recording process, then as streamlined as possible during the editing and production process. I have a team of people who work with me to meticulously edit and organize the sound files until we can write some custom automated routines to create the final CD’s and reassemble everything exactly where it should go.

The CD’s make great gifts for kids of all ages. It’s been particularly rewarding to hear testimonies of how these CD’s affect kids’ lives, particularly disabled or challenged kids, who are reached by the fact that the characters are talking and singing directly to them, engaging them in the story and the fun. You can audition all 1600 versions of the Madison disc here.

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