Live from the Mermaid's Tavern Part III: Going Live on Facebook

There is such demand for this post that I am taking the unusual step of publishing it while it's still in development. I expect to finish this section by the end of the day Saturday, March 14.

INTRODUCTION

  • This is Part III of a three-part series. Part I covers real-world example scenarios of why you'd set up a livestream, the roles you will be working with, and considerations for how to get the artist paid without tax headaches.
  • Part II covers the logistics of scheduling and announcing a livestream on Facebook, and the detailed considerations that make it appear seamless to your audience.
  • This post, Part III covers the studio tech you will need to broadcast the livestream. Please don't start here. You'll miss what it's all about. See Part I for what it is all about: an excellent experience for audience and artist, for which the audience happily pays the artist.
If you think that livestreaming is all about hardware and software gear, this is the post for you. However, we recommend you read Part I of this series to learn about the roles you will need (a Game Artist, a Calm Tech, and a Sponsor/Fiscal Receiver) and how to make sure that money from a digital houseconcert gets directly to the artist without creating a tax headache for anyone.

You will also want to read Part II of this series that describes how we created this scheduled livestream post with a friendly link of https://tinyurl.com/FSSGBMatthewByrneMarch12. If you're reading this after March 13, the stream won't be live, since Matthew requested we not keep a recording.

What Gear Do I Need?

  • Check your internet with speedtest.net to make sure you have enough bandwidth for livestreaming. See my post "Is It The App, or My Internet?" for details.
  • Check out this excellent post on Recommended Equipment from DIY Video for Bloggers. Don't be afraid to start with what you have.
  • If you're using a cell phone, use a tripod if you have one.
  • Any external microphone will cut down on machine and keyboard noise. 
  • Good lighting will engage your audience, especially If you're livestreaming from your cell phone. Cellphone cameras don't pick up as much light as laptop/desktop webcams or external webcams, so position your chair so your face gets good natural light or set up some fake three-point lighting.
  • Use the newest and most powerful computer/device you have. All other things being equal, cellphone>tablet>laptop>desktop is ok>good>better>best. An iPad is often better than older desktops that may not have a good camera.
  • Any recent laptop webcam is likely better than an older external webcam. However, an HD external webcam will give you better camera angles and better lighting exposure. If you're on a Mac, be warned that not all USB webcams are plug-and-play.
  • If you have an analog-to-digital audio interface, test it carefully before going live as it can add more complexity to the signal chain. Simpler is better.
  • Remember, it's not about the tech. Anyone can livestream these days.

OUR SCHEDULED LIVESTREAM




So, how do we turn this link on at 7:30 on Thursday evening, and what do we need to send Matthew's voice and face through digital audio and video? Read on.

SET UP THREE-POINT LIGHTING

Yes, this is a concert, and audio is paramount. But dark shadows are really obvious on video, even before the artist starts to sing. The first thing you want your audience to see is the artist's bright and shining face, not some gloomy cave where the tech trolls live.

If you're not familiar with three-point lighting, Google it and watch a YouTube video or two. I had already invested a whopping $30 in a portable photography lighting kit from Amazon. These are tabletop lights, but with a bit of hop twine and gaffers' tape, I attached them to an old tripod and headless mic stand from my TechnoGeek Gear Stash.

What we learned:
  • A ceiling light directly over the artist makes an acceptable backlight, so you really only need a key light and a fill light.
  • In a pinch, if you don't have photo lights, use a couple of desktop lamps with adjustable heads on the tallest barstools you have.
  • Photo lights are nicely bright, but can get in the artist's eyes. Mine came with a set of filters, so I used one amber filter for the key light and left the fill light white since it was off to the side. 
  • Futzing with light height and angle until you minimize shadows is best done with the artist in place. I learned this by using a model (my husband) who is taller than Matthew, so we had to adjust again. You will need time for this. 

CHOOSE YOUR DEVICE (COMPUTER/MOBILE)

The easiest way to livestream is from your mobile device in real-time. I chose not to go the completely easiest route for two reasons:
  1. AUDIENCE EXPERIENCE Scheduling the livestream was a must-have requirement so we could communicate to our audience that the concert was not (exactly) cancelled. This was my first time scheduling a livestream, so I followed these instructions to set up and announce the stream. To be honest, I didn't realize that I might need streaming software until midway into the process, but we needed to get the announcement out. I pressed on, secure in the knowledge that I have both Mac and Windows laptops. I'll circle back on this for those of you that don't. 
  2. ARTIST EXPERIENCE We wanted the best quality audio we could get. No self-respecting artist wants to perform through a tin can. Mobile microphones sound tinny because they have a small dynamic range and a low-fidelity limited frequency response. We want this houseconcert experience to be digital (high-fidelity, close to the original) rather than virtual (simulated, imitated). So, I wanted to use my Blue Yeti USB digital microphone to capture as much of Matthew's full, rich sound as possible. (I also have a two-channel stereo analog-to-digital condenser mic and preamp setup for recording, and a 16-channel digital mixer, but that introduces even more complexity, so Matthew and I chose not to go there for this gig.)
Connecting the USB microphone to an iPhone or iPad was my first plan, before I learned I couldn't start a scheduled post from a mobile device. This requires a Lightning to USB adapter. I ordered one of these from Amazon ASAP on Wednesday, and I wasn't sure it would arrive on time (it did, but we didn't use it). My strong recommendation to all of you Calm Techs out there is not to try this for the first time on 36 hours notice. However, we Keep Calm and Carry On. After all, there's always Plan A to go ahead with the tinny mobile mic (ugh). Truth is, Matthew would rather have canceled then do that, so getting the Blue Yeti working was Priority 1.

CHOOSE YOUR CAMERA

Streaming software on a laptop introduces another challenge--the camera. These days, we take for granted the front and back cameras on the iPhone/iPad that can flip from selfie to live-sharing with a click. Laptops and desktops, on the other hand, have only a front camera. I had three choices, which I decided to walk through with Matthew when he arrived midafternoon. 
  1. Use my desktop iMac with its front camera and a wireless keyboard, with Matthew in shot and me sitting off to the side running the livestream. We eventually discovered that the old desktop iMac was too slow, despite its i7 processor, so we used it as an audience monitor to run comments.
  2. Use my Mac or Windows laptop with an external webcam, so I could run the livestream and keep Matthew in shot. This probably would have worked, but we switched from Mac to Windows when we had audio input problems on the Mac (see below) and found that the laptop webcam worked fine.
  3. Use a laptop with its front camera, and assume everything would go fine from there. This is what worked, since my HP Spectre has an excellent webcam. We placed it on a barstool where Matthew could adjust the camera angle. 
What we learned:
  • Use the most powerful computer you have, even if you have to sacrifice external inputs. 
  • Webcams on newer computers, like my HP Spectre, are just as good if not better than older external webcams. 
  • The lower camera angle of a front-camera laptop on a barstool is quite a good angle for a guitarist seated on a similar-height barstool. This removed the biggest argument for an external webcam.

CHOOSE YOUR SOFTWARE

Remember the gotcha about scheduled livestreams? Watch this video on How to Start a Scheduled Stream on Facebook Live. You have to use third-party software. You have several choices (and probably more):
PRO TIP: Do not go down the rabbit hole of comparing, testing, and evaluating software when you are under the gun. Keep it simple: you want software that WORKS. If it doesn't work, and you don't know why, STOP and download another one and see if you can get that one to work. That's what I did, on two different computers, in the space of two hours. Switching hardware and OS 30 minutes before the concert is not what I'd recommend, but it's what worked, so we did it. 

What we learned:
  • The OBS Quickstart tells us that to use OBS on macOS, you'll need an extra app to capture desktop audio. This is due to limitations in macOS that provide no direct capture methods for desktop audio devices. Configuring this extra app through Mac AudioMidi Setup proved to be our limiting factor with the 2009 i7 iMac, so we switched to Windows 10 on the HP Spectre. 
  • The disadvantage of working on the Spectre laptop was that the tech's face looming into the webcam and keyboard doing last-minute setup, and/or bumping and swooping the laptop around to move it into position, is not an excellent audience experience. This is why we had wanted to use a desktop setup with a stable external camera on a tripod. 
  • Keep Calm and Stay Focused on the artist and audience experience. Futzing with tech makes even the calmest artist nervous, and a worried sponsor is an unhappy sponsor.  Don't Panic. You're a Calm Tech, remember.

ADD YOUR INPUT SOURCES

You want the audio from the USB digital microphone coming through OBS as an audio source. Here's how I added an audio source for the Blue Yeti, which was plugged in to a powered USB hub on the laptop. 

Here's what we learned: 
  • While I don't recommend adding an audio source to a running livestream, I can now tell you that we went live at 7:15 pm and switched the audio from the laptop to the Blue Yeti at 7:25 (5 minutes before go-live). The sponsor and the audience never noticed a thing, and we had achieved an excellent studio experience for the artist. Matthew could now relax and put on a show. 
____________________________________

Comments