Quarantunes: Live Streaming Tips

Alright, so! Obviously, we know the score here. Coronavirus has pretty much everything shut down and everybody staying home, and while it’s for a very valid and public-health-conscious reason it still sucks big time for a lot of folks. Sucks especially for the folks who rely on being out and about in the world in order to make an income, and in the world of streaming you can sure as shoot count musicians (and performing artists in general) in that cohort. No venues open = No shows to play = No revenue = Sad Times™ central for lots of artists. 

BUT, there are options out there. In times like these people can get super creative, and we’re already seeing a lot of that with the livestreams, #quarantunes, and Couchellas cropping up in social feeds - which, honestly, is GREAT. If you can’t go out to play a show and make some cash, coming up with a clever solution to make some money while everybody is stuck at home is critical. Now granted, there’s going to be a lot of livestream noise going on out there in the upcoming weeks, so what can you do to cut through it all? And how does one even livestream in the first place?

Well believe it or not, live streaming is actually super dang accessible and really doesn’t take much at all to get started. There are plenty of different ideas and approaches one can utilize, and really in the end there isn’t technically a wrong answer to the question of “How do I live stream?!” There are however, a few pointers and tips to getting off the ground and standing out, which I’m here to tell you about. Read on my friend, and I will do my darndest to unpack live streaming in the era of the coronavirus. (And FYI - I have literally been a live stream consultant in the past so I do have an approximate idea of what I’m writing about, but also full disclosure it’s been a couple years and I only touched upon a portion of the live stream landscape in my ‘pro’ days so keep that in mind.)

What do I need to get started with live streaming?

Good question. Technically, a camera and an internet connection. For lots of folks those cameras are on their phones, but depending on your situation you may also want to consider using your laptop camera or, if you own one, a proper digital camera or DSLR. If you’re planning on doing something very visual-heavy (like live streaming yourself painting your nails or dancing in low light) you’ll probably want to rock the highest-quality camera you’re comfortable with, which will require more bandwidth and equipment (more on that in a second). But if you’re doing a basic live stream, really any camera already at your fingertips will likely do. 

You’ll also need an internet connection to reach the masses of course, and the better your connection the better your stream will look and sound. Long story short, your internet connection is basically a funnel - the higher the quality of your stream, the more data you will be using, and therefore the harder your internet connection will have to work. If you’re using a super high-quality camera for example, the file size of the image you’re broadcasting will be significantly higher than a regular phone camera, which could potentially make your stream laggy/choppy or lead to compression (minimizing files) which ends up pushing a lower-quality output to your viewers anyways. It’s worth noting that most streaming services of all kinds do this automatically, but is still something worth considering. 

Generally the best benchmark is to have a moderately fast, but more importantly reliable internet connection when live streaming. Google’s got a great and simple Internet speed test that you can run at any time to check out how your connection is holding up. In most cases 20 mbps download / 10 mbps upload is reliable enough for live streaming - if you’re not hitting those numbers in your speed test, you may want to consider closing other internet-sucking applications on your devices (i.e. Netflix, Youtube, FaceTime), making sure you’re the only person connected, choose a different time of day to broadcast (Internet peak hours are a thing, especially with everybody now indoors and cloggin’ up the pipes), or find a different broadcast connection entirely (e.g. plugging in directly to your router’s ethernet port, or using your phone’s data which may be faster than your Wi-fi). 

Do I need any other equipment to livestream?

Heck yes. I would always always always recommend an external microphone if you’re planning to live stream. The built-in microphones on cell phones and laptops are intended for general everyday use, but really in my opinion aren’t up to snuff for broadcasting. If you’re going to have sound be the focus of your stream, you’re definitely going to want to mic yourself up as if you were performing at a venue. Of course, that would also require having access to a soundboard for another more than a single-mic setup, but really makes a world of difference to the listener. For those of you that are technically inclined, many soundboards have a mono output option that is perfect for XLR-to-aux conversion, which you’ll need a separate dongle/cable for and can be plugged right into your phone or computer’s headphone jack. 

If you don’t have a soundboard, multiple mics, or the technical know-how to get it all set up, even a single directional mic or USB mic plugged into your phone or computer can go a long way - and are typically much higher quality than what you’ve already got built into your machine. Just the simple effort of bringing your microphone closer to your source of sound can help a lot. It’s important to remember that if you are live streaming from your phone or computer, the microphone will be picking up sound at the same location that your camera will be filming you - the distance that you set up for the shot may not sound great, and vice-versa! It’s always best to record a couple test videos and play with some setup options in order to find your sweet spot. 

I also don’t want to neglect lighting, either! While the focus of your live stream may not be visual, it’s always ideal for your audience to be able to see what you’re doing. While natural lighting is always pretty, it can sometimes appear darker on camera than to the naked eye - especially if the light is coming in through your window and your setup is a distance away from it. A single lighting source in front of you is often enough to illuminate your face and what you’re doing. As long as you’re not blinding yourself or backlighting yourself accidentally (creating a neat but hard-to-see silhouette) your camera should automatically focus on your beautiful subject. 

How do I actually get myself live on-air?

OK so if you’re still with me, at this point you should have your equipment all set and ready to go. Next you need to find a way to actually get online! There are plenty of live streaming services, and the one you choose will largely depend on your particular situation. Different services have different advantages and disadvantages - your content, type of audience, desire for accessibility, audience size, geographic location, and much more may influence which live stream service you decide on. Here are just a few:

Facebook - The social media giant’s Facebook Live feature is pretty ubiquitous, and a good place to start if you’re looking for an immediate public or private stream. Everything’s basically set up and ready to go if you’ve already got a Facebook account or Page - all you really need to do is login and hit the big red button. You’re able to set a description for your stream when you go live, which can be helpful for describing what you’re doing / dropping in donation links / keeping any static messages at the viewer’s fingertips. Chances are a lot of your audience will already have a Facebook account as well, making it an accessible option too. There’s even an option to save your live stream to your profile as a video, in case you want to give your audience the option to play it back later. However, it’s important to keep in mind that your audience will pretty much only be able to participate through a chat text box, so user engagement is somewhat limited. Private links can also be finicky on Facebook depending on your account’s/Page’s privacy settings - if you’re looking to do a limited stream with only some audience members, you’ll want to make sure that your settings (and theirs!) are compatible with private streams ahead of time. 

Twitch - Twitch has largely been associated with gaming streams, but as of late has started opening up to all kinds of genres. Getting started is a little bit more complicated than other options (I’ve never actually used it myself), but once you’re rolling Twitch is actually far more customizable than most other services out there. Twitch has built-in donation options, customizable video templates, extensive audience participation mechanics, dedicated playback saving, and more...you just need to get used to them first (and maybe download a stream management software to help!) Your audience will also require a Twitch account in order to participate in your stream, but any viewer is able to access and watch without an account of their own. Twitch is generally the steepest learning curve for the streamer, but is the most accessible and engaging option for the audience. An important thing to note for performers, though: Twitch’s Community Guidelines on music content and performance are quite strict, so you may want to brush up on them if you’re considering presenting a show of any sort. 

Instagram - Another social media giant with another super-easy live stream service, Instagram is a lot less involved and a lot more barebones than the previous options. It’s another big-red-button-and-your-live kind of set-up, with a few pretty important distinctions: there’s no static description available for your stream (so you may need to reiterate what you’re up to for new joiners), its private streams are far more work to set up (requiring you to follow any participating accounts and adding them as ‘close friends’ in your account), and viewers must have Instagram accounts on their mobile devices. But, Instagram also allows you to bring another account into your stream, so you could have some pretty interesting duets with an audience member. Inviting another person to join you and then moving on to another user or returning to solo broadcasting is super seamless, which can make for an engaging dynamic with your viewers. If you’re looking for something quick and dirty, Instagram is even more plug-and-play than Facebook. 

Zoom - Technically a conference calling service, Zoom actually has some pretty robust offerings that could be used for a very different one-to-few live stream experience. I would generally only recommend Zoom for smaller (or more trustworthy) audiences as every other participant has the potential to unmute their microphone and inadvertently interrupt your live stream, but that also paves the way for some unique experiences. Audience engagement in a Zoom conference call would be through the roof, and the service has some solid offerings - even for free account holders. ‘Meetings’ (because that’s what you’ll be hosting, right?) are capped at 100 participants for free users, can be called into via telephone if users would rather not download an app/set up an account, and can even be recorded by users for subsequent playback and/or posting (another reason for a trustworthy audience). 

I’ve chosen a service - what should I do for the stream itself?

Literally whatever you want! Whether it’s a performance, a Q&A, a live cooking segment, a makeup tutorial, or something else entirely, what you do for your live stream is entirely up to you. There is some basic live stream etiquette that can help elevate your stream once you’ve landed on an idea, but the idea itself can be whatever your creative mind desires! Some things to consider once you’re ready to go live:

  • If your stream is going to be public, don’t forget to let folks know ahead of time so they can plan to join you!

  • If you’re going to be responding to comments/questions that pop up in chat, don’t be afraid to read the prompt you’re responding to out loud - chats can sometimes move quickly!

  • Even if it’s glaringly obvious what the point of your stream is (i.e. you sitting in front of a microphone and singing doesn’t necessarily need extensive explanation), it’s always a good idea to periodically remind folks what you’re doing and why. Don’t be afraid to use it as an opportunity to welcome new viewers to your live stream: “If you’re just joining us, welcome to my living room quarantunes show!”

  • Don’t be afraid to plug your stuff - if you’ve got merch to sell, a Paypal/Patreon link to donate to, an album to stream, etc - don’t be afraid to mention it to audience members! Dropping those links in your description (if your stream has one) is always helpful, but piping up and reminding folks who have been watching can also be super effective!

  • Be careful of mic handling noise - if you’re streaming from a handheld device like a phone, be careful not to move it around in your hands too much. Internal microphones on devices pick up those handling noises really loudly, which can be super jarring to your audience. 

  • Be prepared to be spontaneous! If you start to get a lot of requests in your chat, or if conversation seems to sway a certain way, or if you’re losing interest in what you’re doing, there’s no harm in thinking on your feet and switching things up. Just because your crowd is behind your screen doesn’t mean you shouldn’t adjust based on their energy. 

And most importantly of all - BE YOURSELF! Your audience is coming to your live stream because they care about you and what you are doing, and in times like these they are likely joining with the intention of lending you a helping hand (or a dollar or two). Live streaming is definitely a different beast than a live performance, but also opens up all kinds of opportunities to try new things in a radically different environment than you’re used to. Ultimately just being passionate, engaging, and genuine is what live stream audiences react to best, and you’ve already got an audience wanting to hear more from you so the talent and content aspect is covered ;)

About Side Door

Side Door is a platform that matches artists with hosts, builds direct connections, and simplifies the show-booking process with easy and transparent digital tools.