Live Streaming at The Forum – Behind The Scenes
With the restrictions that have been in place for some time now in England we haven’t been able to put on any events with an audience here at The Forum but that hasn’t stopped us putting on live music but we’ve just had to deliver it in a slightly different way. Live streaming gigs and events was rising in popularity even before COVID-19 and it’s use my bands and artists has exploded over the last year as the one of the very few ways to engage with an audience. Sites such as YouTube and Facebook have made live streaming so accessible where all you need is a smart phone and you can be live to the world.
Here at The Forum we’ve been experimenting with live streaming and have to date put on 5 shows with various degrees of success so we thought we’d share a little behind the scenes look at just what goes into live streaming and how we’ve been doing it.
We’ll first look at some of the equipment we’ve been using for our live streaming.
PTZOptics 20x Broadcast Camera – This is our main camera and it’s quite a specialist bit of kit. As the name suggests its a PTZ camera (Pan, Tilt, Zoom) so its position and optical zoom can be controlled remotely and also programmed in our broadcasting software. The camera can also broadcast video and audio independently without software which we use a backup stream. The Camera is connected to our Media PC via its USB3 port but the camera also has a clean HDMI out and IP streaming too.
Sony A6100 – Our second camera is the Sony A6100, which we used for side shots of the stage or close up shots depending on the setup. We used the clean HDMI out feature on the camera together with an Elgato CamLink 4k to connect up to our Media PC.
We use OBS for our broadcasting software. OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) is open source and free to use and highly customisable. Within the software you can create custom scenes to add sound and video feeds to, overlay logos and text and just about anything you can think of. OBS lets you stream the output to pretty much any streaming service and also lets you record the output too. We’ve been using YouTube.
To handle the feeds from the cameras and run the broadcasting software we have a high end dedicated Media PC to run everything with the following specs;
– AMD Ryzen 9 12core CPU
– AMD RX580 GPU
– 32GB Ram
– 500gb NVMe SSD
– 3TB Storage Drive
Our main FOH console is what we use to mix the bands/artists but we take a stereo mix from the console and send it into a USB Sound Card that’s connected to our Media PC, we use a PreSonus 24c for this which has 2 inputs to give us a stereo mix into OBS.
The Setting Up Process
Before we can get to live streaming there’s a lot of setting up and configuring that needs to be done.|
First we just start by setting up like we would for any gig with the band or artists setting up their equipment and then we run cables and mic everything up. Then this is where things start to get a little different, when sound checking the bands or artists we need to spend a little more time trying to get the dynamics under control especially on instruments such as vocals and lead guitars, i’ll explain why a little later. We’ve found that we need to almost mix it the bands for more of a studio feel then a live gig feel and as such need to compress instruments harder then we would normally.
Once we’ve got the band mixed we then create a separate stereo mix that’s fed into the Media PC and into OBS, we use headphones to monitor the mix and go through a few sound checks recording the audio and then listening back and making any adjustments. We’ve found that it’s important not to 100% rely on the headphone mix while the band is playing as it can misrepresent the broadcast sound.
During all this we’ve also setting up the camera’s for the angles we want and programming the PTZ camera’s positions. We generally have ‘full stage’ position then close up positions of each band member as well as starting points for panning shots.
And then when all this is set up, checked, programmed and everyone is happy we’re ready to start broadcasting.
During The Show
When we’re ready to start the show we hit the ‘Start Streaming’ and ‘Start Recording’ buttons which sends the output to YouTube and also records the stream locally too. Using OBS we can select scenes that we want to output and using the camera control software we can move our PTZ camera around to create a visually interesting show. We’re also trying to keep an eye on the the health of the stream to YouTube and the audio mix too.
When this is all working well the shows looks and sound fantastic but it’s taken us a lot of trial and error and we’re still learning. We’ve ran into a few issues with the shows we’ve done so far, some of them we know what to do better next time, but some of the other have been out of our control.
Some of The Issues We’ve Experienced
The one thing that can completely ruin a show is how stable the internet is. For streaming the upload speed is more important than the download speed. At The Forum we have an average upload speed of about 20/25. Mbps which is perfectly adequate for streaming to YouTube. If we wanted to do multiple streams to multiple platforms that we may need to look into upgrading. On our 2nd live stream event that we had, our ISP was having issues and we were only getting uploads of 0.5Mbps so our stream was dropping frames and not a great experience.
Using different cameras and audio devices can result in audio being out of sync with the video and even the 2 video cameras being out of sync with each other. We’ve spent some time using a sync test then using delays within OBS to get everything lined.
On some of the live stream events we’ve had some issues with jerky audio whenever we switched to the Sony camera. At first we had no clue what was causing it as the audio feeds from the camera’s were switched off. However we worked out that the Sony camera mic was being added as an audio device in windows and was causing a conflict. Removing the audio device solved the issue however every time we plug it in it adds itself again so a more permanent fix is needed.
As I mentions earlier getting the sound level right is the biggest challenge as we need to mix it more for a studio sound rather than a live sound and it’s difficult to monitor the output with the band playing live. This why we need to spend more time in sound check reducing the dynamics of the instruments to the sound levels are as flat as possible. There’s about a 20 second delay between the stream being sent out and it arriving on YouTube so when we monitor it on YouTube 20 seconds has passed then if we make an adjustment another 20 seconds has passed and so on. Every show we’ve done we’ve leaned more what works on YouTube and what doesn’t and as a result we’re using more compression. Also on another note viewers can be listening to the show on any number of devices such as phone speakers, headphones, through a TV or on a Laptop so trying to mix a live show that will be going to all of these devices can be quite a challenge.
Another thing we have very limited control over and can impact the show is if any of the hardware fails during the show. PC’s can crash and if that happens the stream stops, we’ve had this happen once during a show but we’re able to get the PC back up and running fairly quickly. One thing we have been looking into is having a Backup feed to YouTube direct from our PTZ camera so in theory if the PC crashes it should switch automatically to the direct camera feed until we can get the PC back up and running.
Overall it’s been a fun new challenge getting some live streamed events up and running and it’s been a huge learning curve figuring out how to do all these things.
Our live streamed shows can be found over on our 🔗 YouTube Channel and we have more planned for the new year so head over and subscribe to see the shows when they happen.
The Forum Music Studios