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Stepping Up the Stream

Steve Savanyu • November 2020Tips & Tricks • November 5, 2020

All the gear for this streaming session fits neatly on a couple cocktail tables. The UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) on the right adds an additional margin of safety. Photo: Steve Savanyu

During the pandemic, nightclubs, performing arts centers and entertainers are turning to live streamed events to connect with their audiences and keep the music alive. What started out as streaming from a Smartphone pointed at performers has grown to include multi-camera, live-switched video and high-quality mixed audio.

A stream signal chain includes video and audio sources with their appropriate mixer/switchers, an encoder to convert mixed audio and video into a digital signal and streaming software to push the stream out to the desired viewing platform (Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, etc.).

This article focuses on a portable streaming rig in a nightclub, but could apply to driveway concerts and performances in houses of worship and other venues.

‡‡         Audio Mixing for the Stream

Mixing for the stream is a live sound mix with one exception: the room.

I mic most everything on stage using standard close-miking techniques. Even in a small venue where you’d only mic solos and vocals, I put mics on all the players, including drums and amplified instruments. In this situation, monitor mixes are more critical, as performers do not hear the usual spill coming back from the mains.

If the venue is empty, I keep the main speaker system off and mix to headphones or small monitors located at FOH. Obviously, if the venue allows a limited socially distant audience, I use the mains, but at a lower level. Additionally, I add a stereo pair “room mic” in the audience area, routed only to the stream.

Although I normally don’t add reverb to the entire mix, a small amount can add a bit of life to the stream audio. I also add some overall compression on stream mixes to minimize overloading the encoder inputs. Remember, most people are listening to the stream on smartphones, tablets or computers.

‡‡         Video Cameras: Keeping It Clean

As streaming evolved, simple webcams were replaced by multiple video cameras connected to vision mixers, also known as switchers. A wide range of cameras, including prosumer camcorders, DSLR’s and POV action cams, can work for the stream, provided they have the appropriate video output.

The HDMI video standard sends uncompressed video with embedded audio to devices that can display or encode the signal. Commonly found in consumer or prosumer equipment, HDMI signals can run about 50 feet without signal degradation when using quality cable. I find this adequate for most of my setups. Serial Digital Interface (SDI), a video standard found in pro video gear, allows cable runs of up to 300 feet using standard 75-ohm coax, which I feel is more durable than HDMI cable. Two of my cameras offer SDI, and I use compact interface boxes to convert the SDI to HDMI at the video switcher.

Many video cameras have external outputs that mimic the viewfinder screen. If so, make certain the camera display data can be turned off for a “clean” signal, or it will appear in the stream. Older tape-based pro HD video cameras are affordable and work well for streaming. Along with HDMI outputs, they offer XLR audio inputs, SDI, better lenses and longer battery life.

DSLR cameras can be used for video streaming, provided they have a clean HDMI output. Their large sensors provide superb image quality and low-light performance. However, some DSLR’s limit their operating time to 20 minutes and shut down when it is reached.

For interesting angles, nothing beats POV action cams like the ubiquitous GoPro Hero. These tiny cameras offer high-quality HD video, clean HDMI output, and can be powered by external USB battery packs for extended run times.

Video cameras feature several automatic settings to make life easier for the operator. Although auto-focus sounds convenient, I normally turn it off and focus each camera manually. However, I choose to set the White-Balance to auto or AWB, allowing the camera to adjust automatically to lighting changes. Many cameras offer 4K resolution, yet I keep everything in the HD realm, and because so many people are streaming, social media platforms are limiting stream bandwidth to 720P or lower.

‡‡         Audio and Video — Bringing it Together

Early on, streaming musicians found they could improve stream audio by using an external mixer, good mics and a USB interface. However, they noticed latency issues between their video and audio. The solution is to transport sound and picture together over a common path. For a single camera stream, I connect the analog outputs from my audio mixer to the XLR line inputs on the camera. This way, sound and picture are in sync on the HDMI output feeding the encoder. If the camera’s audio inputs offer AGC (automatic gain control), make certain it’s turned off and set your audio levels manually.

Cameras send picture and sound over HDMI, so video switchers are designed to switch both. A function known as AFV, or Audio Follows Video, means that when a camera is selected, its picture and audio are sent to the program output. For streaming, I defeat this function and designate a specific input on the switcher for audio. The switcher sends in-sync sound and picture over HDMI to the encoder.

‡‡         It’s All About the Bandwidth

Like traffic on a highway, Wi-Fi speed is based on how many people are connected. As patrons and staff jump on the Wi-Fi for personal use, the upload speed deteriorates. Nothing is more frustrating than to see bandwidth fade as some punter is asking me for Wi-Fi access so they can check e-mail… I always verify the Internet connection speed on site using a speed test app and like to see at least 5 MBs upload speed. I prefer a hardwired network connection, so I carry a 100-foot Cat-5e cable and ask permission from the facility before plugging it in.

‡‡         Camera, Action… Lights!

Many venues I stream in have LED stage lighting that looks fine for a live audience, but downright awful on TV. (Nothing is more attractive than band members glowing like little blue cartoon characters due to the venue’s low-cost RGB LED PAR cans.) I always carry a set of LED video lights for front lighting the band. In a pinch, daylight LED spots in reflector sockets purchased from the local hardware store can work. I also have the house lighting tech configure LED’s as accent lights rather than specific color washes.

Event streaming is going to be with us for a while. Utilizing these tips to step up your stream can improve your production and viewer count. Happy streaming!

Steve Savanyu operates Buford T. Hedgehog Productions in Hudson/Macedonia, OH.

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