Streamlining Your Live Streaming

By Tristan Seume, Learning Technologist, DIME Online

Introduction

Post-lockdown, live streaming has become a lifeline for many artists to stay connected to their fans, earn a little money and, quite frankly, stay positive while the venues are shut.

But live streaming has its challenges. If you’ve yet to give it a go, read our practical guide on getting prepared to deliver the best show you can.

What’s your motivation?

Firstly, ask yourself why you’re doing this, because the answer will likely have a bearing on what platform you should use, how to monetise the show, etc. Consider then, the following options:

  • Is it to raise money for charity?
  • Is it to earn yourself some money?
  • Is it part of a wider event (e.g. online festival)?
  • Is it replacing a cancelled live show?

Platforms

Based on your answer to the above question, consider the following platforms to help decide which platform is right for you:

Facebook Live

  • Quick and easy to use
  • Works well with streaming software such as OBS
  • Allows you to preview before going live
  • Saves your video afterwards

Instagram Live

  • Very easy to set up
  • Best for mobile-only users
  • Only saves your video for 24 hours
  • Good for capturing passing viewers

Stageit

  • Free to use, but works on a revenue-share
  • Lets you sell tickets in advance, and collect in-show tips

YouTube

  • Free to use (it’s part of Google, after all)
  • Supports 4K
  • Lets you preview before going public
  • Saves your video to your channel

Zoom

  • Free, but only for shows with up to 100 viewers and a maximum 40-minute stream before you need to upgrade to a paid plan
  • Gives a more ‘exclusive’ feel than, say, Facebook Live
  • Enables lots of audience interaction

Monetisation

There are various ways of collecting money from leaving a virtual tips jar to selling tickets in advance.

  • Collecting tips: Services such as paypal.me and Stripe let you set up payments links so viewers can pay you directly, mid-show. This works well with platforms like Facebook Live and Instagram.
  • Crowdfunding: set up a page on gofundme.com or JustGiving.com and keep its link pinned to the top of the chat window. Mention it regularly, as viewers might have found your livestream by chance and missed your opening announcement. A service like JustGiving is ideal if your gig is for charity, and you’ll get that bonus warm fuzzy feeling when your chosen charity writes to say, “thank you”.
  • Subscription services: use your livestream to direct viewers to your own subscription page such as on Patreon.com. Take the opportunity to entice them with the promise of rich, subscriber-only content. It can pay to play the long game as regular subscription fees generate repeat business in ways that tips don’t.

Marketing

Take a short run-up

The internet is awash with live streams these days, so there’s probably not a whole lot to be gained by tweeting about yours a month early. People simply won’t remember. Sure, create a buzz with a few mentions in the week or two beforehand, but save your attention-grabbing flyer until 48 hours before the show.

Keep it brief

What platform? What time (and time-zone!)? What’s it in aid of?

Make it visual

Create an attractive flyer you can share easily across platforms like Instagram and Facebook. 

Technical considerations

Firstly, no matter how reliable your internet speed, there’s no substitute for the consistency of wired ethernet (i.e. plugging directly into your router). It’ll give you more stability with the heavier lifting needed for your livestream, no matter what you’ve been promised by your ISP. However, as a general rule, make sure your bandwidth is around 40% greater than the bitrate you’re using to avoid constant buffering and poor-quality video. For live streaming in 1080p HD, an upload speed of 5 Mbps should be a minimum.

What about audio and video? Investing a small amount in an HD webcam will improve your video quality and you’ll benefit enormously from using an external mic combined with an audio interface. Think about lighting too – an inexpensive studio light capable of providing a warm glow will generally improve the visuals and enable you adjust positioning and brightness exactly as you need without having to rig up some random desk lamps and torches until you stumble upon half-decent results. 

Preparing for the show

Space

Consider how best to set up the room. Unless you’re blessed with a huge ornate fireplace or grand staircase to create a stunning backdrop, it’s probably not worth pretending your anywhere other than in your own kitchen. And that’s OK – people are generally warm to the reality vibe anyway so embrace it. Sure, don’t have dirty dishes over your left shoulder but a tidy, well-lit room perhaps decorated with some fairy lights or drapes shows you’ve made an effort and creates a sense of occasion. Just make sure people can see your face when you test the video.

Testing, testing…

Line check your audio and video stream at least two hours ahead. Last-minute technical difficulties can create the sort of panic utterly counterproductive to quality live performance. If you can’t fix it yourself, it at least gives you the time to Google the problem or seek the assistance of a tech-savvy friend.

Consider starting early

If using Facebook Live, for example, you might pick up a few extra viewers by going live a few minutes earlier than advertised. Streaming software such as OBS Studio (free!) lets you set up a holding slate that you can display five minutes early. Just remember to have your microphones muted – people don’t want to tune into the sound of you gargling honey and lemon as you warm your vocal cords!

Showtime!

You’re certain everything works. The clock strikes the hour. You click ‘Go Live’, and after a moment of eerie silence you welcome everyone who’s tuned in. Before launching into the first few bars of your opener, it doesn’t hurt to ask if everyone can see and hear you OK. A few confirmatory ‘thumbs-ups’ in the comments will help break the ice, too.

Red light fever

Performance situations where you’re basically playing alone are nothing new – live radio and session work, for example, can be just as nerve-wracking as facing a large crowd. But, playing to an empty room can be unsettling. You could combat this beforehand by deploying a tiny studio audience of a couple of members of your social bubble, but if not, it’ll just be you and the invisible people of the internet.

If you’ve live streamed before, you’ll have doubtless experienced that awkward silence following the climactic ending to your latest showstopper. That moment you remember you’re the only one in the room, which prompts a hasty scroll through the comments for those reassuring emojis.

But then what? If you usually rely on a bit of stage banter with the crowd, you’ll need to adapt fast to the lack of instant feedback you only really get from seeing the whites of their eyes. So, factor that into your set: After three or four songs, check the comments quickly and give a couple of shout-outs to personally acknowledge some positive words from your viewers. Dopamine works both ways, after all!

Consider also that the lack of breaks for applause can add a good few minutes to the time you’ll actually need to be playing. Don’t get caught short if you’re due to play for an hour but you’re all out of songs with 10 minutes to spare, especially if it’s a pre-ticketed event.

Good timing = good times

Many festivals have shown great determination to keep the music going by running livestreams in the absence of their much-loved live events. If you’ve been invited to perform as part of a wider program, it goes without saying the usual etiquette still applies. Check your gear works well-in advance, go live bang on schedule and Don’t. Run. Over. Time. At the end of the day, these things are made or broken on the good will and professionalism of all of us.

The after-show afterglow

Once you’ve thanked your viewers and ended your stream, you’ll probably be feeling a huge relief so give yourself a pat on the back and relax. Reading back through the comments you might have missed the following day will help you reflect on how it went. And, if you were taking donations through a JustGiving page, don’t forget to log in and check it. Personally replying to each of your donors is a nice touch, and remember that your crowdfunding page will still be live, so get back on your socials and remind everyone they can still chip-in!

A final word…

Every artist has been affected by the pandemic. Even those with household names have had to adapt to the changes, and let’s be honest, some with more success than others. Having a famous name doesn’t instantly qualify someone as a proficient home recording engineer, camera operator or video editor. Many famous players have since set up regular livestreamed gigs or teaching clinics. And in some respects, it’s been a great leveller – watching one of your heroes struggle with their own internet speed or glimpsing a family member’s cameo as they walk right through their shot can be endearingly relatable.

One thing’s for sure – this is going to roll on for a while yet, so let’s stay positive and productive for all our sakes.