Your Local Music Scene

A Musicians Guide to Live Streaming

Sterling Salzberg & Olive Twombly
9 min read

Now is an unprecedented time for us. As musicians, we are a persistent and resilient group, already accustomed to wearing a lot of hats! One of our strategies to adapt and stay relevant right now is live streaming. From our weekly Happy Hour's to hosting live streaming record releases, we've done many live streaming events since the quarantine and below we'll go through what has worked and what hasn't.

Lots of articles are available that dig into the technical specs and ways of streaming sets professionally, so we're sharing some more straightforward and accessible tips for a fun and successful live stream. This article focuses on three major networks, namely Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, and most of the suggestions we share here are broadly applicable across platforms. While there are other streaming platforms, this is where you'll find most listeners, and we recommend sticking with one of them.

Table of Contents

Basic Requirements

  • Video
  • Audio/Audio Interface/Mixer
  • Internet

To get started with live streaming, you're going to first need a camera and microphone. If you're planning on using Instagram Live, then your smartphone is all you need. But if you'd like to take advantage of Facebook or YouTube Live, there are a few other options you can use to up your game. For many, your smartphone is a great camera. Laptops have not improved their camera quality in almost a decade, so if you've purchased your smartphone in the last couple of years, you probably already have an excellent video machine. Audio, however, is another story.

If you're playing music, your audio is the most essential part of your live stream. Even live streaming services think so. When your Internet is weak, your sound is prioritized over video. If you're using a smartphone within the last year, the microphones have been improving and will most likely suffice. If you're using your laptop, you'll want to set up a room microphone instead of a unidirectional microphone, which will only focus on the direct source — i.e., vocals, guitar, etc. In our experience, merely attempting to increase your instrument volume via an amp to be picked up by your direct vocal microphone produces poor results. That is unless you have an audio interface and multiple microphones.

If you have an audio interface, it is essential that you not only individually mic everything needed for the live streaming performance but the room as well. Without micing the room, your live stream will sound dead and unnatural, especially when addressing your audience between songs. When exporting the audio from your interface, it is better to have the master volume on the lower end, as most live streaming services amplify your sound and frequently cause clipping and distort your otherwise pristine input. We recommend testing the stream with a friend before going live or take a short video of yourself performing one of your songs. For example, if you are on a Mac, you can use the Photo Booth app to record a quick video. Note the distance between you & the mic so you can get it right for your performance. For a more in-depth look at external audio options and setup, check out this article.

Last but certainly not least, make sure you have a robust, steady internet connection. While 5mbps is typically recommended, I would strive for 6-10mbps if you can find it. We recommend using SpeedTest.net to check your internet speed for free. They've even got a great mobile app.

Choose Your Platform

There are pros and cons to each. YouTube is great if you have a high-quality setup, but won't work so well if you're working off your phone or just a computer using the built-in hardware. However, if you've got the proper equipment and want to use it to it's best capabilities, YouTube streams in higher quality than either of the other two. If you're tech-savvy and have solid external hardware and a reliable, fast internet connection, then you should go for YouTube and cross-promote on other platforms.

Facebook and Instagram are more similar, both being Facebook-owned social networks. Instagram is better in terms of random people surfing Instagram Live, stumbling across your video, and staying to watch it. Additionally, any of your followers who are currently online will see a notification that you're live — this goes for both Instagram and Facebook. A big pro for Instagram Live is that you can add your personal page, band page, and the pages of anyone you're playing with, and it will stream simultaneously from all those pages. It is also the most straightforward network to use for live broadcasting. The cons are that you can only stream from your phone or tablet, and you will be cut-off at the one hour mark.

Software Options

Now, while you can live stream directly within your social media platform of choice, several tools can add a touch of professionalism by incorporating real-time graphics and visuals. If you have lots of time and little money, OBS is one of the most-powerful live streaming tools out there, but it's free and with reason. It's by far one of the more challenging tools to use. It requires lots of customization and can be buggy when using some of the more advanced features. If your budget is $0 and you want to have a more professional stream, just make sure you test out this software ahead of time. There's a decent size community, so you can easily find plenty of resources.

If you've got some money and less time, Ecamm is our personal favorite. It actually makes live streaming enjoyable. It's mighty, and most features are drag-and-drop or can set themselves up automatically. It supports overlays, camera switching, green screen, prerecorded clips,  and so much more. It's free for 14 days and then just $12/month. So if you plan on doing a bunch of streaming, you can certainly do a lot worse.

If you're planning on live streaming an event with multiple performers, then StreamYard is by far our favorite service. The entire service is web-based, so none of the guests need to download any software, and unlike the previous tools, the speed of the host's internet connection is irrelevant as each guest connects to the platform via their setup. StreamYard supports white-labeling, overlays, green screen, camera switching, and even lets you stream to multiple social media accounts while enabling you to respond to comments within the application. While you can get started for free, the professional features do come at a price starting at $20/month annually.

Happy Hour backstage via StreamYard

Simulcasting

Simulcasting is the act of live streaming to multiple platforms simultaneously. You have your setup, but audiences are finicky and want to watch on their favorite platforms. There are a few services that can help you stream to multiple services, but our favorites are Restream.io and Castr.io. To be honest, there is very little difference between these services as far as use. The interfaces almost look identical. So, I would first figure out which streaming tool you want to use, and then use whichever Simulcasting platform they integrate best with. ie. Ecamm prefers Restream.io. If you're using StreamYard, simulcasting is already built into the platform. A draw to simulcasting is that the stream counts are typically less since your audience is now split between multiple services. If your audience is sensitive to FOMO, this could look worse than it is for your viewers.

Plan Time to Set Up

As the next couple of items on our list indicate, you must be prepared before going live. After all, you wouldn't show up to a venue to load in and soundcheck 2 minutes before your set starts. Treat your live stream with the same level of professionalism. Note that there may be steps you will need to take to set your Facebook account, Instagram, or your YouTube channel if you've never run a live stream from them before. YouTube, in particular, takes up to 24 hours if it's your first time going live on the platform.

Lighting and Background

We're used to just showing up at a venue with its own ambiance and just worrying about cranking out our tunes, but with live streaming, we create our own set and setting. It's important to check your camera angle, lighting, and backdrop beforehand. You don't have to go overboard to make your stream visually appealing! Basics like making sure you're set up someplace where the light is coming from the side or from behind the camera go a long way. If you're bold enough to try backlighting, more power to you but do your viewers a favor and take a video for yourself beforehand to make sure you're actually getting the desired effect.

Good Lighting vs Bad Lighting

Schedule and Promote

Are we noticing a pattern here? People are more likely to tune in if they have time and notice to get excited to see you play, just like a regular show. Since people don't have to buy tickets ahead or plan to go out for it you don't have to announce weeks in advance, but giving people 2 to 4 days to catch on to the fact that you'll be doing it will be enough to increase viewership dramatically. Have fun with it! Make a digital flyer. We recommend making two flyers with the 1000px x 524px dimensions for YouTube and Facebook event & page cover photos, as well as a graphic at least 1024px x 1024px for Instagram. Add your event to any digital event listing platforms such as Rad Plaid, Launchpad, or any others that share events in your area. Share the event with genre-related groups on Facebook. Do a 30-second sneak preview for your fans. Post about it in the days leading up to your event. We could honestly do an entire article on event promotion alone, so we won't bog you down with it here, but you get the point.

Pick the Right Time

Here's one thing that's different about live streams — they're not restricted to the regular hours that we're used to seeing shows! You can set up and play whenever, and it turns out that 8:30 PM is not the most popular time for people to be using social media. Typically, peak hours are in the morning or late afternoon. People who live stream things before this have shared that 3-5 PM was the best time for their events. With many peoples' schedules being drastically different from the norm, this may not be the case.

Most importantly, know your audience. If your fans are early risers, a morning performance could be excellent! If they don't get up till noon, not so much. If you're unsure, it doesn't hurt to ask.

Getting Paid

If you're collecting donations, set the description to give that information. Times are tough for those of us that depend on shows for part or all of our income. There's no shame in asking for contributions to ensure that we can stay afloat, but people won't give if they don't know how to. In the description box for your stream, let people know the best way to throw a couple of bucks into your bank account. We recommend Venmo because it's free to use and, when synced with a bank account or debit card, charges no fees. Venmo now asks users not yet connected to type the last four digits of the recipient's phone number to complete the payment for security reasons. So be sure to include that information if you feel comfortable doing so. PayPal is another popular method for collecting donations as most people are familiar with the service, and making people comfortable when asking for money leads to better chances of giving. If you want to get more professional with it, we recommend using Donorbox.org. It's similar to a GoFundMe while being less strict about fundraising. Donorbox gives you all the features you'd expect, a unique donation link, preset donation amounts, social share features, and so much more.

Determine Your Set Length

People will tune in and out as you're playing, so a 45 minute to one hour set time is ideal. If you usually play a more extended set, play a more extended set. As close as you can, play what you typically play. If you're doing a live stream with multiple performers, you can do multiple shorter sets. So if there are two of you, try alternating two 30 minutes sets.

Buddy Up

If you know other artists you enjoy performing with, shoot them a message and see about doing a virtual concert. If you're bored, they're bored. Hit them up. Come up with a lineup and schedule set times. Tag the other bands in the description of your stream, and at the end of your set, tell your viewers to head over to the next band's page.

Virtual connection is vital to people right now, and music has always held a special place in the human heart as a way of bringing people together. I know that right now, we're all dealing with this change in our own ways. We are collectively trying to get our bearings in a setting so different from our regular day-to-day. There's no reason we can't face this challenge with curiosity and make it fun. As musicians, we are creative by nature and have a gift to give to our world, which is doubly important in times like these. Go forth and have a great live stream! And don't forget to add your events to our live streaming calender. If you're still uncomfortable, reach out to us, and we can host your live streaming performance.

How are you live streaming? What is working or not working for you? Let us know in the comments.

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