Setting Up a Livestream
The spatial audio piece I am working on for this project will be played at a virtual event on  June. It will be organized by the experimental event series Das Schalllabor, which was initiated last year by myself, Sid Talukdar and Hannah Fisher (two fellow students at dBs Berlin). All information about this and future events will be announced on our Facebook page, so feel free to give us a thumbs up if you wish to stay up to date. We are five students in total involved in this particular event, each of us preparing to exhibit a roughly 20 minute long piece.
Since the outbreak of the Corona virus there has been a boom in online live streaming and in virtual events and parties. Although for this event there will no live performances, all audio and video material will be pre-produced, we will most likely broadcast the event and the pieces for the first time through a live broadcast to give the feel for a continuous 'event' where we can control the flow and tempo. This would also give us a chance to connect with the listeners in between pieces with some talks where each artist can say something about their work.
Having the experience from one prior streamed event with Das Schalllabor, I will cover some streaming basics in this post and go through which tools and platforms we found most satisfying to use for our purpose, while also mentioning some alternatives. I will assume that you who are reading this are somewhat familiar with basic audio equipment and signal flow.
In a nutshell, you will connect your audio master outputs, for example a stereo signal from the main outputs of your mixer, to an audio interface / external soundcard, which is connected to your computer. An analog signal from the mixer is here being converted to the digital domain in order to be streamed. If the music is being performed or played using the computer, then the sound is already existing digitally and can be streamed directly.
I recommend using the free open source broadcasting software OBS Studio. This acts as your control hub, where you decide what is being broadcast; you can transition between for example a played video and a live camera, switch between different audio inputs, control audio levels, add effects and so on. It is also easy to record the broadcast. The software integrates seamlessly with major streaming platforms such as Twitch, Facebook and Youtube. This means that you enter a streaming key provided from the platform of your choice in the settings of OBS, and once your account is connected you just hit 'Start Streaming' in OBS.
There are plenty of other alternatives such as Wirecast, Twitch Studio, XSplit, Light Stream etc. in case your would find that OBS is not for you.
Screenshot from OBS Studio.
The audio mixer feature noise reduction alternatives, limiter, compressor and has VST plugin support.
The next step is to choose your streaming platform. There are many options our there, including Youtube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitch. Instagram works a little differently, as you need to use your smartphone rather than laptop to perform the stream. To start a live stream on Instagram, you click on 'your story' icon in the app and then swipe to the option at the far left called 'Live'. While it is straight forward to use your smartphone camera for live streaming on Instagram, one thing to consider is the audio input. If you want to offer line quality audio and not use your smartphone microphone to pick up the sound, then you need an audio interface for your smartphone to which you can connect your mixer or other audio source. There are several options out on the market. One popular make are the iRig devices, for example the iRig Stream, to which you can connect a stereo signal. It works for iOS, Android and also for Mac OSX and Windows. If you do not already have an audio interface for your computer and you want one which you can use both for streaming using your smartphone and computer, this might be a good option.
So how to select platform? We first tried streaming using Facebook and then Twitch. We found both audio and video quality more satisfying with Twitch. Having originally been a streaming platform mainly for gamers, it seems as if Twitch has picked up in popularity also among non-gamer streamers in recent months. I encourage you to try different platforms to see what works best for you. Regardless of the choice of platform, it is important to find the right settings in relation to the speed of your internet connection. For video, the bitrate, framerate and resolution are the main variables. Higher values means higher quality, but also increased risk that your video will start buffering, because your internet connection or computer processor becomes a bottle neck. A good middle way for many users might be a standard HD resolution (720p), a standard framerate of 30 fps and a bitrate ranging between 2,500 - 4,000 kbps. With Twitch, the link to be shared for people to view your stream is simply that of your twitch account. https://twitch.tv/username
I hope this post can serve as an introduction and give a sense on where to start if you are unfamiliar with live streaming. Once you wrap your head around a few basics and find your preferred tools it is fairly straight forward, although the speed and reliability (or lack thereof) of your internet connection will always be a threat to providing a good stream. If your phone's 4G connection is more reliable than your wi-fi this may be an alternative. There is also software such as Speedify, which lets you combine your phone's internet and your wifi, for faster and more reliable streaming. I hope you find a setup which works well enough for your needs!