So I don’t know if you noticed, but there’s a global pandemic going on right now.
The bad news for all kinds of musicians and performers is that there’s not likely to be any in-person concerts and events happening any time soon.
But the good news is that there’s probably never been a better time to start livestreaming the things you normally do in person. The good news is that there’s an ideal captive audience of people craving quality content that gives them, more or less, what they’d get from an in-person event.
And even if you’re reading this long after the coronavirus pandemic is over, it’ll still be true – doing live online events is a great way of reaching people all over the world.
Here at The Song Foundry, I recently hosted a series of live classes called #TheLockdownSessions and started figuring out myself how to livestream quality content to your audience around the world.
I’ve worked on video projects before, I coach songwriting regularly on Skype and Zoom, and I’m a heavy social media user. But livestreaming comes with a very specific learning curve, so if you’re thinking of doing your own livestreamed events any time soon, here’s a quick guide to what equipment you’ll need and how to get yourself set up.
First, Get a Good Camera
It goes without saying that if you want to share what you do online, you’ll want to share it in the best way you can. So making sure you have a high-quality livestreaming camera is a great place to start.
Luckily, a lot of the in-built cameras on your computer, laptop, phone or tablet are decent, and not a bad way of getting started if you’re just testing the water or working on a budget.
Still, for as little as $100 you can get setup with a pro-level webcam that’ll vastly improve both the image and sound quality of your livestreams and make your live events look and sound really professional.
For my live events – as well as my one-to-one coaching work – I use the longtime favorite the Logitech C920 webcam. It sits neatly on top of any laptop or desktop computer – or a tripod – connected by USB, and it’s surprisingly compact and portable for such a high-quality webcam. It has dual microphones to pick up decent stereo sound, but probably its best feature is its autofocus, meaning you can concentrate on delivering a great live event while the camera makes sure the image it produces is always sharp.
Online pricing seems to vary, but if you shop around you can usually pick up a C920 for less than $100.
There’s also a newer webcam from Logitech called the C930e that’s similar to the C920 with a few upgrades – such as a better image in low light, an automatic background removal feature and a wider view angle – but it often retails at a much higher price so you could stick with the C920 depending on your budget.
If you want to invest a bit more in a quality webcam, you could try the new Logitech StreamCam, which comes with an even higher picture quality and bonus features like an option to stream vertical video. (Which is ideal if you’re broadcasting solo, or for the vertical format on Periscope or Instagram.)
All of these webcams come with decent dual microphones, as I said. But if you really want to turn your sound quality up to eleven – which feels like a weird metaphor, but whatever – you can always pick up a separate microphone. Decent options for around $100–200 include the Blue Yeti, Razer Seiren X, Rode NT-USB and (my personal choice) the HyperX QuadCast. They’re all high-quality microphones for that price range and all connect simply via USB to keep your streaming setup super simple.
Second, Make Sure You’re Well Lit
Having a quality camera for livestreaming is a great start, but won’t help if no one can see you because you’re poorly lit. Lighting is at least half the battle in getting a decent-looking picture – and natural lighting often isn’t enough for the best image, and ordinary household lighting tends to throw shadows and/or brightspots all over the place. And since good cameras rely on decent lighting to create a good picture, there’s no point splashing on a high-quality webcam then keeping yourself half-lit.
If your livestreamed events only include one, two or three people – or you’re interested in a career as a beauty blogger – one of the best and most-affordable lighting solutions is a ring light.
They do pretty much what they say on the tin – they’re a light, that’s uh, ring-shaped that you can often mount your camera or device in the middle of to make sure you get a great image quality. Most of them also are dimmable and let you change the warmth (how white to yellow the light is) so you can get exactly the kind of brightness and color you want in your livestreams.
There are tons of great ring lights available. I use a small portable one that works great on a desk or on the floor, but there are also more substantial ring lights like this one. You can pick up an OK ring light from as little as $30/40 and a high-quality one for up to about $100. Some need plugging into the mains, but a lot of them also run off USB, again keeping your setup really simple. (Though you might need to invest in a USB Hub.)
Ringlights work best at close- to medium-range. So if you’re livestreaming a ton of people – like an entire band – you’ll want to think about picking up either a few ring lights, or better either a softbox lighting kit or a couple of LED lighting panels.
But whatever you choose, you definitely don’t want to skimp on lighting. Even if you sound great, you won’t be much fun to watch if nobody can see you properly.
Third, Get Your Studio Set Up
To broadcast live you basically have two options.
The simplest, but most limited, is just to stream directly from your webcam (or phone or device), sharing whatever image and sound it picks up.
For musical events, you’re probably mostly likely going to be livestreaming via YouTube or Facebook Live. Setting up a direct livestream on either of those platforms is pretty straightforward. On Facebook you just click on ‘Live’ via your personal profile or artist page, select ‘Use Camera’, choose your media source and get streaming:
Similarly, on YouTube, you just click the ‘Live’ option via Creator Studio to get your direct livestream set up:
A slightly more complicated option – but one that’ll let you do much more in your live events – is to stream via broadcasting software. That’ll let you do all kinds of neat things like add text, branding and images to your livestreams, combine images from more than one camera at once, switch between different cameras, add pre- and post-event titles and tons more.
There are a few decent options for livestreaming, and I use one of the simplest: OBS Studio. It’s a totally free, open-source program that allows you to broadcast via a series of ‘scenes’ that include different graphics and live camera feeds.
OBS is really simple to set up, and you can even set up a handful of hotkeys that’ll let you switch between scenes during your broadcast, making switching from one view to another as simple as pressing a key on your laptop. (For serious streamers, there’s also the Elgato Stream Deck, which is a really great hardware addition – again, connected by USB – that lets you control OBS with a dedicated and fully customizable console. The Stream Deck isn’t cheap, but its seamless integration with OBS makes streaming with it much easier.)
Livestreaming to YouTube or Facebook via OBS or another broadcasting program is slightly more complicated than direct streaming, but not much. In OBS you pull up the ‘Settings’ window and enter a Stream Key which you’ll get from YouTube or Facebook when you set up your live event, and that makes sure your streaming service receives the live feed from your computer. (OBS also works with other streaming platforms including Twitch, Twitter and a few others.)
Once you have your equipment set up, you’re definitely going to want to test everything out before you do a livestream for real. I created a private group only for me and a couple of friends on Facebook to practice with – or you can create an unlisted livestream for YouTube.
You’ll want to have someone watch it to check your sound is working OK and that the scenes (and any transitions between them) are doing what you want them to – while you also get a dry run at setting up and starting a livestream, managing the technical side while it’s happening, then closing everything down after.
This might take some time – and similarly, I spent a lot of time playing around in OBS to come up with a series of scenes that I liked the look of – but it’s definitely worth doing before you go live in front of a real audience.
Oh, and finally, even whenever you go live for real it’s worth having someone check everything is streaming OK via whatever platform you’re using. Maybe it sounds obvious, but the last thing you want is some kind of technical problem that leaves you performing to your webcam only and your audience sitting around confused about why you didn’t show.
Fourth, Enjoy It
Honestly, the first livestreamed event I ever did was most stressful because I was figuring out how to make the technology do what I needed it to. So it’s worth getting everything set up well in advance so you’re not rushing around just before your live event is about to start. And once you’ve done a few events, like most things, getting set up in future gets much easier.
A lot of people don’t really like being on camera – me included – but the more time you spend on camera the easier that’ll get too. And once all your equipment is set up, in theory all that’s left for you to do is approach the livestream like it’s a live in-person concert, event or talk, and enjoy it as much as you would any other live performance.
A few livestreams in, here are the four most important things I’ve learned:
People love authenticity – You probably want to deliver a high-quality event, but it doesn’t have to be perfectly polished. People enjoy seeing other people in chilled but intimate surroundings, and people will forgive slip ups, screw ups or even technical problems because that’s what comes with broadcasting something live.
Similarly, even if you’re nervous it’s great to include something more personal – like a few words about your music, or a quick chat with your band – to help you feel like a person not just a performing monkey, and to let your audience get to know you a bit better.
Keep your livestreams visually simple – Something else you’ll want to think about is the set, or environment, you’ll broadcast from. A simple background is great to make sure we’re focusing on you, not what’s on your bookshelf behind. You’ll probably want to play around with your camera set up to find something that looks simple but visually appealing to you.
One of the best things about video is that if it’s off-camera, it doesn’t exist – so if you have tons of messy cables, amps and other technical gear, or you’re just broadcasting from a messy environment, moving as much of that off-camera as you can can really help improve how your livestream looks.
People love interaction – With most streaming services, you can choose to active a live chat while you’re streaming. Sometimes it helps to break the ice when you start by asking people to say hi or mention where they’re watching from. And it’s a really nice touch when you can respond to at least a few of the comments or questions that come in to keep your audience engaged.
Go for it – Honestly, the weirdest thing for me doing livestreams is that I’m used to doing live events in-person, in concert spaces or teaching venues, so it’s really weird not having the kind of visual feedback I’m used to from my audience. (Even if that’s just sitting there looking kind of engaged.)
So with livestreams you really have to go for it – you have to be your best and biggest self and trust that it’ll land the way you want it to, or better. In any performance it usually helps to be a bigger and bolder person than you are in real life, but on a livestream that’s twice as important. So don’t be shy. Even if you’re nervous. (I was the first time.) Bring your best self and your best content to your livestream is all you can do – and it’s what you have to do.
And that’s pretty much all there is to it.
Again, it’s always worth spending some time getting your kit set up – and making sure you know how to use it – before you schedule or announce your first live event. Virtually none of this is really complicated – but it takes some getting used to so you can concentrate on the actual event you’re trying to deliver and not spend most of it worrying whether you even hit the ‘Go live’ button properly or not. (Fun story: I spent the first 30 minutes of one livestream unsure if we were even streaming because Facebook wasn’t feeding the video back for some reason.)
Then beyond that, you can really focus on enjoying it and delivering the best live events you can.
As I said before, livestreams are a really fun way of engaging with the audience you already have as well as growing that audience. So if you’re interested in finding a new platform for yourself and the things you create, for a couple hundred dollars and a few hours figuring out how everything works, making the time to do a livestream or two will probably be a really valuable step forward.
All information was accurate as of June 2020. At The Song Foundry we only ever recommend products that we think our community will benefit from – this article isn’t sponsored or influenced by any third party. But if you do purchase anything via the links on this page, The Song Foundry may receive a commission, as per the site terms and conditions. This helps support The Song Foundry site at no cost to you.