Streaming concerts: a technical how-to, courtesy of Folk Alliance International
At its first webinar on streaming concerts back in mid-April, Folk Alliance International promised a follow-up event focused expressly on the technical side of online shows. It delivered on April 28 with an event featuring artist Stephen Kellog, Lee Totten of the digital sales/marketing agency BubbleUp, producer-engineer Corey Martin, engineer Sam Potter, and Canadian musician, video editor and digital media guy Graham Lindsey.
There were a couple of things that all of the participants seemed to agree on. The first was that the content of a stream is the single most important part of it. Audience-members will tolerate the imperfect audio and video quality that’s pretty well synonymous with live streams in exchange for a positive experience with a favourite artist. So nobody should feel pressured into spending tons of money on gear in search of an elusive perfection.
The second thing that everyone seemed to agree on was that nobody should rely on wifi to stream a concert. An ethernet cable running from your computer to your router provides a much faster connection to the internet than wifi, reducing the risk of buffering and dropped signals. Wifi is also vulnerable to interference, which can contribute to those annoyances as well.
If your laptop doesn’t have an ethernet port, you can get an adapter that will plug it in through a USB port, Graham said.
Best of all, streaming through your computer doesn’t mean giving up on using your smartphone as your camera, Sam said. The most commonly-used free encoding software for streaming via computer, Open Broadcast Software (OBS), allows you to use your phone as your camera, she explained.
Streaming via a computer, rather than directly from a smartphone, typically requires some kind of encoder, such as OBS, that serves as an interface between your devices and your streaming platform (ie: YouTube). While OBS is popular, participants mentioned other options such as the free solutions designed by Logitech to work specifically with its cameras, and a program called Wirecast, which costs money, but which allows users to switch between multiple cameras.
Additional software, such as Stream Monkey, will allow you to stream on multiple platforms such as Facebook and Instagram simultaneously, Sam said, but they also cost money.
Your ideal audio bit rate
Ideally, you want to stream your audio at 128 kbs, she added, noting that OBS allows you to set the bit rate for your stream. That said, you will seldom stream at that rate, she continued. Facebook averages around 96 kbs, though YouTube is higher.
Setting up your room for streaming
Setting up for a live stream is a bit like setting up for a recording session, Sam said. You want lots of isolation, you want to choose the right mics and keep the gain as low as possible to avoid picking up reverberations from the room, and you want to deaden the room as much as possible with rugs and things. You also want to have the right number of mics for the number of performers. This is not the time to try and gather everyone around one microphone. Pay attention to your mix, she said, just like you would if you were playing a live show.
Asked to recommend gear for live streaming, Corey listed off some inexpensive options for those just starting out – as well as some more expensive upgrades for people wanting to invest in their online presence. The less expensive mic options include the Røde VideoMic ME and the Takstar SGC598. Aputure, he said, makes great lights for $50 or $60, and Shoulderpod makes an X1 ProRig that allows you to put your iPhone, light and microphone onto a single tripod mount. More expensive upgrades, he said, might include a Canon M50 camera that could be used to create other video content beyond live streams.
Though the general consensus of the webinar panel was that people needn’t spend a lot of money on their live streaming set-up, Corey urged artists to free up around $150, even if it meant selling old clothes online, in order to make sure they had a good, basic kit.
More on gear
The webinar closed with each panelist sharing information about their own, personal set-up. Here’s what people said they were using:
Corey: An SM7B microphone running into a Cloudlifter for gain, then into an Apollo Twin or Behringer U-Phoria computer interface; a Panasonic Lumix GH5 as a main camera and a GH4 as an overhead camera, both of which run into a Blackmagic ATEM mini that goes into OBS.
Graham: An Apple Cinema display with its built-in cameras, two microphones, and an IKEA three-light stand.
Stephen: An SM58, a Bose S1 two-channel pa/speaker, which is mic’d and run through a two-channel mixer.
Lee: A Macbook Pro with a Logitech webcam, a couple of lightboxes, and a Yeti Blue microphone.
Sam: Her phone as a camera, an MXL V67G microphone, a Scarlett interface and a Mac Book Pro.