With concerns about COVID-19 canceling gatherings of all sizes, from SXSW to the Pearl Jam tour, musicians might be finding their own gigs also canceled or suddenly playing to an empty house. In this new and temporary era of social distance, live streaming your band’s performances might be the solution.
Live streaming is a great way to gain new fans, continue to entertain your loyal fanbase, and sell more content when you can’t play at the local summer festival or proceed with your tour as planned—but getting started can be a little daunting. Whether you’re an established band with a devoted following or an emerging artist looking to building your fanbase; live streaming is perhaps the best way to share your talent and music with a limitless audience.
PreSonus has put together this guide to help provide some tips and tricks to get started live streaming and keep the music going.
If you’re like most musicians, the quality of your performance improves when you’re in front of an audience that is participating in your performance, applauding and cheering you on. This is perhaps the biggest challenge when beginning live streaming: you must find a way to bring that same energy to a camera in an otherwise empty room.
One way to get started is to create brief excerpts of a rehearsal to use as a story in your band’s Facebook or Instagram feed. This takes off some of the pressure because the video can’t be very long. Another method is to bring the audience to you. If you’re self-isolating with your family or roommates, put them to use and use them as your audience. This lets you merge your physical and virtual audiences, giving you some comfort with the medium before the camera becomes the only member of the crowd.
When you’re first beginning to create live streams for your band, controlling the cost to your band’s budget is critical. And while there are paid services that will allow you to create a private live stream that is ad-free and customizable, until you have an established audience, the cost for these services may not be justifiable. Services like YouTube Live, Facebook Live, and You Now will let you broadcast your performances for free and are designed to help you create a relatively stress-free live stream. Some free services will even let you preview your live stream before it goes live so you can make sure the quality is exactly what you want to broadcast. The trade-off is that these free services will interrupt your broadcast with ads, but this is a relatively small price to pay. Additionally, these free services already have millions of users who may stumble on your live stream, providing greater access for more impressions.
Making your live stream look and sound as professional as possible is the best way to attract attention. After all, nobody likes to watch a video that looks bad and sounds worse. To live stream your band’s performances, you’ll need some basic video production equipment to represent yourself well. There are several options based on your budget, but here are the essentials:
The way you record the audio for your live stream is the difference between standing out and turning off your audience. If the sound quality on your live stream is professional, your band will be presented at its best. After all, your music is what will attract your audience!
The easiest way to record your band for a live stream is to use a mixer with stereo recording capability. This will allow you to create a live mix (much in the same way you create a mix for a live performance). If your band is already gigging and rehearsing, chances are you’re already looking for a good mixer. The great news is that many modern mixers offer some level of audio recording ability. Whether analog or digital, a mixer with onboard recording can provide a cost-effective solution to create an amazing live stream sound. Let’s take a look at both approaches:
At their core, most analog mixers share many of the same features and functions. The biggest advantage of analog mixers is that they’re generally less complicated and less expensive than digital mixers of the same frame size. The disadvantage is that analog mixers usually have fewer onboard features than digital mixers, and their sound quality depends entirely on the quality of the analog circuitry.
Some analog mixers, use great-sounding analog circuitry, provide EQ on every channel, offer monitor mixing options, and include an onboard effects processor for reverb and delay effects with an integrated audio interface. Depending on the mixer model, this audio interface might be a simple stereo output so you can record the main mix or provide you with a full 24-bit, 96 kHz multitrack recording interface that lets you capture every input channel, plus the main mix. These hybrid analog mixer/audio interfaces are give you all the tools you need to create your live streams and high-quality studio tracks.
Digital mixers include the basic functions provided by their analog cousins and add many tools that save you money by eliminating the need for expensive outboard equalizers, compressors, noise gates, multi-effects processors, and the like. While you don’t need these processors just to mix audio, they are essential for producing better-sounding, more polished mixes. All these tools are done courtesy of an onboard digital signal processor (DSP). This processor is responsible for routing, level control, and so on. Full-featured digital mixers provide plenty of graphic and parametric EQ, dynamics processing, and more.
Some digital mixers combine the simplicity of an analog mixer with the processing power of a digital mixer and include an onboard audio interface. Because the parametric EQ, compression, noise gate, and limiter are available on every input and output, you save the cost of outboard gear and mountains of cables, as well as the hassle of connecting it all so your live stream will sound great.
Digital mixers also provide simple ways to manage a large mix, making it even easier to manage high channel count mixes in a live recording situation by providing DCA groups. Each group is given a master level control so you can control the overall level of the group while maintaining each channel’s relative balance in the mix. In this way, for example, you can create a single fader to control every mic on the drum kit, making it easier to control the overall level in the main mix.
Many digital mixers also provide an onboard audio interface, so all you need to do is connect your gear and your computer and you’re ready to record.
If you have a studio production background and are comfortable mixing in a DAW, a traditional audio interface may be an excellent solution for you. When using an audio interface, you must route the main output from your DAW to a set of inputs on your audio interface. These inputs will be the stereo audio source for your live stream.
At this point, you will need to create a loopback for your live stream. An easy way to do this is to use the S/PDIF input and output that many interfaces. S/PDIF is a stereo digital audio standard that is ideally suited for this workaround; this is what we will be using for the loopback in this example:
When using an audio interface for live streaming, you will want to select one that also allows you to monitor your performance. Some audio interfaces offer an onboard DSP that provides low-latency monitor mixes. Other audio interfaces provide a fast enough transport speed that you can monitor your performance through the plugins and mix engine in your DAW.
To learn more about creating a monitor mix with your favorite audio interface, please see this article.
Audio and video production require a powerful CPU to ensure the best performance. The computer you use can be a Mac® or Windows® PC, so you can continue to use whichever operating system with which you’re most comfortable. The first thing you’ll need to check is the system requirements for the streaming application you’d like to use. Keep in mind that the “minimum system requirements” published by any accessory hardware or software manufacturer are just that: The bare minimum computer specs that you need to get the bare minimum level of performance.
The better your computer specs are, the more smoothly your live streaming will go.
After some practice runs and careful preparation, it’s time to launch your live stream. Unlike a live performance at a local venue, the audience will be as close to you as your camera. When filming the band together, being camera-conscious means that band members should select coordinating outfits that will not distract or detract from your musical performance. It’s always a good idea to simply film a few performances and critique your camera presence before launching your live stream. Great visuals to go with your polished music production will go a long way to attract new followers and grow your audience.
One of the biggest challenges when creating your live stream might be the fear that your audio will not sound its best. Now is a great time to team up with a local live sound engineer in your area. With so many gigs being canceled, many audio engineers have lost their steady source of income. So, why not reach out and hire an audio engineer to run your live stream show for you? Even better, get a few mixing lessons so you can continue to live stream when life returns to normal. And it will go back to normal.
From your friends at PreSonus—be safe, be inspired, and keep creating.