Creating virtual events through live streaming

Live streaming for music has been around for a while, but the lockdown and closure of festivals and venues, because of Corona virus, means that to reach an audience people must learn new skills and get equipment to make this possible.

“According to International Music Managers Forum’s (IMMF) Jake Beaumont-Nesbitt, the coronavirus crisis has not instigated anything completely new here, but rather has “accelerated and diverted” what was already happening in this online live event space.”

IQ magazine – Together in Electric Streams

Streaming media is a multimedia delivered across telecommunication systems to an end user as content – before an entire file has been transmitted, as opposed to downloading – where the end user receives an entire file prior to watching or listening.

Though it may seem to be a relatively new type of media distribution, examples have been around since the 1930’s when elevator music was transmitted directly to a local environment using electrical lines. All media delivery systems are either inherently streaming, like TV or Radio, or inherently non-streaming, like books and records.

In this instance, we are looking using telecommunication networks to enable an end-user access to content as it is played or made, specifically Live Streaming; sending the information straight to the device without saving the file to the hard drive. Usually the stream itself is not available after the broadcast as video on demand, though some live streaming platforms do allow for playback after the event.

Streaming over the internet requires a form of source media; such as a camera, an encoder to digitize the content in a way it can be transmitted and a content delivery network to distribute the content, ultimately via a platform such as Youtube or similar.

Cameras

Ideally a broadcast is done on a 3-camera format, this is not necessary if the resources do not stretch to 3 cameras, or the nature of the broadcast means more that 1 is redundant. It is worth noting that 3 webcams can still produce a very professional looking outcome, and anyway since there is an inherent limit caused by bandwidth in the resolution quality of the output source it may be of no benefit to use the highest resolution options. The multi camera set up allows for close-up positions and wide angles, and can include roving camera with a wifi connection to the point of mix.

The camera must be capable of capturing at least 720p at 24 fps (frames per second), but really you must aim for 1080p which is full HD.

A webcam will plug directly into a usb slot on the computer, allowing the transmission of the video feed to a streaming platform, if you are using a DSLR, it will require additional hardware – at minimum a capture card.

The best cameras for filming live streaming

Wireless Video Transmission

Where the camera is a roving unit, or cabling is not possible, it will be necessary to use Wireless Video Transmission Systems; these aim to send a no-delay no latency using the HDMI input from a transmitter on the camera to a receiver where the content can be streamed to the end user.

The Best Wireless Video Transmission systems

Vision Encoders and Mixers

The setup requires a live vision mix prior to distribution, this can be done with hardware or software. There are a number of software options available for both Mac and PC. Livestreaming via the computer will require minimum technical specifications which are the lowest requirements at which the software will run, and will affect the performance of – or be affected by, any other applications operating. Streaming software is an application that is installed and runs on the computer. The software intakes video/audio content and converts it into streaming data.

Software solutions include:

Ideally hardware should be used to encode the stream, especially on larger productions. Specialist hardware is dedicated to encoding audio and video, this uses a Graphics Processing Unit rather than the computer’s CPU, for a glitch free high resolution stream all but the most powerful computers can find this difficult.

Any camera device more advanced than a USB connected web cam, will require a Capture Card at the very least, these are connected to a camera output source (e.g. HDMI), and then from the card into the computer that is streaming using one of the above software solutions.

Hardware solutions include:

  • AV.io Capture Cards include a 4K option which captures up to 4K (4096×2160), with the ability to stream at 30FPS and 60FPS when in 1080p. For slightly more than half the price the HD version is sufficient for most needs.
  • BlackMagic Design produces a number of products, including some of the best cameras on the market, they also offer a range of solutions – from basic capture card/encoders like the UltraStudio Mini Recorder through the Web Presenter, to higher specification encoders switchers like the ATEM Mini, which allows professional multi camera switching for up to 4 cameras. Beyond this it starts getting very expensive.
  • Panasonic has long been associated with mixing – mainly because of their Technics brand of turntables, when it comes to cameras and vision mixing they are also market leaders. The AV-HLC100 is the base model for professional live broadcast, but at around £10,000 excluding VAT is out of reach of most.
  • Roland have long been pioneers in the world of electronic music, with iconic designs that has literally changed the direction of music production. They now have a large range of vision switchers, from the basic but just what you need V-1HD at under £1000 and specifically designed-for-streaming VR-1HD at just over. At the top end of the scale the VR-50HD will set you back over £5000..

Cabling

Efficient transmission of power and data relies on cables; the type and length depends on the equipment set up, location of camera to computer hardware, and the type of music being streamed and the sound source, regardless of the variety, these will need to be high quality and safe.

Power Extension Cables – Everything needs power, either dedicted or for charging.

Data Cables – you can never have enough types. While protocols exist for some kinds of appliances, manufacturers often use proprietary connections to retain revenue streams. Ideally use nothing longer than you need, and don’t skimp on quality. The most common cables you are likely to need are:

Visible Gaffer tape – it’s advisable to always secure cables to ensure against trip hazards, people mend by themselves but equipment doesn’t.

Audio Capture

Depending on the set-up and the type of event, various types of microphone might be used to capture sound sources, scenarios may require only one type or a combination might be suitable.

There are different types of microphones that might be in use, these are usually some form of cardioid mic whether mounted on a boom or mic-stand, and may be cabled or wireless, lavalier radio mics might be used where interview or presentation type activity occurs within the event.

Some of the activity, or elements of it, such as DJ equipment or electronic instruments and sequencers use direct feeds to the mix position.

The Best Microphones for Live Streaming

Multicasting

Live streaming involves multicasting – sending the source content to numerous devices, that could be located anywhere around the world. The distribution is usually handled by social media platforms due to the reach, though it could be hosted on a artists or promotors website. A cloud multistreaming service can also be used to broadcast simultaineously on several key websites or social media platforms.

  • Restream.oi is a cloud multistreaming service that allows for streaming to multiple platforms at the same time.
  • Vimeo offers livestream which broadcasts on upto 5 channels simultaneously, they also provide Studio 6 streaming software for video mixing.

Protocols

Audio streams and video streams are encoded to compress file streams for efficient delivery over networks with inherent size limitations. Essentially these are a ‘container’ (e.g. MP4) assembled in a bitstream which is delivered from a streaming server to a client using a transport protocol (e.g. RTMP or RTP). The configurations will depend on the output from the camera and the software and hardware used in the streaming process.

Most file types are designed for small file size and universal playback, not for live streaming where the source is coming straight from the camera, these ‘container’ file types are usually refered to as the ‘format’ and are usually created for play-on-demand video.

In video editing the ‘codec‘ is what compresses the video sound/image data into the ‘container’. Common codec include H.264 the most widely used, and the streaming software will require such a setting for live encoding.

The various streaming protocol are complex – some are dependent on flash plug-ins, or are not compatible with certain browsers such as Safari (because Apple). Platforms publish the preferred settings, these will vary, Youtube for example, uses RTMP streaming, but HLS and MPEG-DASH are newer and more robust options, recommended where possible.

The precise codec, format and streaming protocol will be dependent on the mix of hardware components, software settings and the distribution platform requirments.

Platforms

Lighting

Lighting is crucial to a high quality experience for the viewer, through a balance of needs a good aesthetic is possible but will probably require some trial and error. Generally speaking, the more light the better the image, and usually a couple of light sources on a subject are required to provide illumination, but also depth. In addition to this – particularly with a music show – moving or coloured lights are going to provide some sense of drama.

3-point lighting is exactly what it sounds like. 3 lights are positioned around a subject at angles to ensure an even distribution of light while maintaining interesting areas of brightness and relative shadow.

Imagine looking down on a clock face, with the subject at the centre and a camera at 6 o’clock.

A Key Light provides the brightest illumination and is set around 4 O’clock facing the subject.

A Fill Light around 8 o’clock eliminates harsh shadows from the Key Light, but is not so bright that it creates a flat looking subject.

A Back Light at around 2 o’clock separates the subject from the background.

The white balance of the camera should be set according to these and will depend on the type of lights used but generally sits in a range of Kelvins, the image should be able to be altered either on basic general settings or using a custom setting taken from putting a white piece of paper in front of the camera, where the subject would be and defining it as the base measure for whiteness.

The Best Lighting Setups for Streaming

Visuals

Given that a DJ in an empty room might be mildly dull to watch it may be an idea to add visual interest using VJing elements. In a full venue this would normally involve projections on a screen operated via mixing software – this is still viable but the refresh rate of a projector sychronising (or not) with the frame rate of a video camera can cause issues with flicker or banding.

Filming the artists against a green screen and adding the visual at the point of the outgoing stream can be a solution to this – as well as an external light source not affecting the quality of the appearance of the subjects in the frame.

Monetisation

The big question is how to make this pay, or at least wash it’s face. Audiences have previously been resistant to purchasing or subscription models, but this attitude has shifted in the current global situation.

Pay as you feel may be the simplest option since you can direct customers to payment methods already existing on Bandcamp or your own website, but this does mean extra steps outside the place where the stream is hosted. This kind of trust based option may be good for the audience, who themselves may be struggling financially.

Having viewers pay for content will otherwise require a paywall; there is likely to be a cost to the streaming distributor who may offer this facility as one of a tiered system of payment plans.

The two main options are Pay-per-view, an entry based system, familiar to those used to running physical events, buy a ticket and come on in.. The other a Subscription Model which is based on access over a time period, with the expectation of entry to a number of performances in that timeframe.

Third party companies like cleeng offer turnkey solutions to paywall or subscription, as well as crucial analytics to help understand the market and your audience.

Advertising can be an income stream, Youtube will trigger ads on content if the channel is enabled for monetisation and is eligible. One of the major problems with youtube is the initial requirement for 1000 subscribers to be able to livestream at all.

Some streaming services, like dacast provide options for ad-based revenue, using a built in paywall virtual attendees can be charged on a pay-per-view or subscription basis.

Instagram has recently allowed for monetization with a badge system, and revenue sharing for ads on live streams.