As much of the world continues to be locked down due to COVID-19, professional educators and performers of all ranks are having to quickly adopt new ways to deliver their instruction and art in high-quality digital form. Here we outline how to build a professional-grade audio/video setup for broadcasting top-notch performances and online lessons.
In-person concerts are on hold for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t mean our favorite artists are just waiting it out—they’re taking to the internet to broadcast high-quality live performances. But for independent artists and educators, impromptu live streams are often plagued with issues that can take away from the experience. Many times, streams are broadcasting from smartphones or laptops with limited lighting and poor audio, which inevitably leave us wanting more.
There are a ton of options available to make sure your videos look and sound as good as possible. This article focuses on how I built a live-stream rig for BorrowLenses.com that’s fairly simple, powerful, and capable of producing audio and video quality that’s on a par with what you’re seeing online from many top artists. Our goal was to transform my dining room into a stage with great lighting, multiple camera angles, and clean, crisp audio. I’m a guitarist, but this setup can be easily adapted for drums and percussion.
Equipment for a Live Stream
If you’re new to making videos, there are a lot of moving parts involved in a professional-grade live stream. I’m not a professional videographer, but I was shocked by how easy it was to set up this rig. Here’s a list of the gear we used.
• SlingStudio live-streaming hub
• Sound Devices MixPre-6 portable mixer
• RØDE NT5 condenser microphones (two)
• Sony a7 III cameras and 24–70 mm lenses (three)
• Canon 5D Mark IV camera and 24–70 mm lens
• Syrp Genie II MoCo head and Magic Carpet slider
• Quasar Science Q25R Rainbow LEDs
• Aputure 120d II LED and Lantern softbox
• Macbook Pro (an iPad or iPhone will work as well)
• C-Stand, Manfrotto light stands, tripods, and fluid heads
Setting the Scene
First I framed my main camera and found the best place for me to be positioned during the event. Then I used gaffer’s tape to mark where everything was placed on the floor. (Be sure to use a quality brand that won’t ruin your floor or rug.) This allowed me to keep a consistent scene and to reset anything that might get accidentally moved before we started the broadcast.
I placed two Quasar lights on either side of where I was going to stand. Then we added the Aputure 120d II, with a lantern modifier, to fill in the light in the room a bit, so I wouldn’t need to crank the ISO in the cameras.
Once I had my main camera and the lights in place, I positioned the microphones. I did that before setting up the other three cameras so I could avoid obstructing the video with the mic stands or cables.
The other three cameras were placed to enhance the video with close-ups and details. We planned on having one tight shot to the right of our main camera that focused on my hands and the fretboard of my guitar. My wife (and impromptu production assistant) helped me refine the shot. We also wanted to add a perpetual sliding shot to the left of the main camera. That’s where the Syrp Genie II and Magic Carpet came into play. The Syrp has an intuitive app that allows you to establish key frames for the slider motion.
For the fourth camera angle, I thought it would be cool to include a behind-the-scenes viewpoint, so we decided to showcase Amanda as she operated the Sling console app to change camera angles during the live stream. We put a 5D Mark IV on a tripod and placed it to capture an over-the-shoulder view of her MacBook. This angle was going to show my feet, so I begrudgingly wore dress shoes for the stream. (Sometimes sacrifice is necessary.) Also, make a point to clear out any unnecessary objects in your performance space. They’ll distract your viewers and detract from the overall experience of your stream.
Setting Up the SlingStudio for a Live Stream
With the four camera angles established and lights and mics in place, it was time to get the streaming machinery up and running. In our case, we used a SlingStudio. While the Sling is an easy on-the-go streaming solution, it’s also perfect for situations where you’re using multiple stationary camera angles and external sound. And it allows you to record your entire performance on an SD card.
Connecting cameras to the Sling requires devices called CameraLinks. These mount to the hot shoe of your camera and are connected to your camera’s HDMI port. (Note: You should adjust your camera’s HDMI output settings to turn off the information display, and configure the HDMI output to match your stream settings.) We used CameraLinks on the three Sony cameras. The 5D Mark IV was connected directly to the Sling with an HDMI cable.
The Sling doesn’t provide XLR inputs, so I needed to use an external mixer that then connected to the Sling via a patch cable. We used the Sound Devices MixPre-6, which is designed primarily for portability, but any mixing board will work. The final piece of the gear puzzle was the SD card. The Sling will record each individual feed of your live program, as well as a quad-view of all the feeds, onto the card.
At this point we were ready to power things on and start testing the stream. With the lights turned on, we adjusted the exposure and white balance on our four cameras so that the output was nicely matched. With the Sling, CameraLinks, mixer, and laptop powered on, we connected our laptop to the Sling’s Wi-Fi signal via the SlingStudio Console app. The Sling should automatically detect your CameraLinks, and their individual feeds will appear in the app. From there, I connected the Sling to the internet.
Going Live on YouTube
Before I went live, I scheduled an event on my YouTube account. When it came time for me to stream, I signed in to YouTube in the Console app, which gave me access to my scheduled stream. Once we established the stream quality and recording options we were going to use, all we needed to do was click the big red button and go live. We chose to stream in 1080 at 60p. To my surprise, my budget internet connection handled it heroically. When streaming live in full HD, you can expect about thirty seconds of latency between what you do and what your audience ends up seeing online.
We wanted to go all-out for our live-stream performance. The SlingStudio made all of this quite easy. Still, there are a lot of steps involved. If you decide to do something similar in your home or studio, we suggest that you try a private test stream for a few trusted friends to make sure everything is working properly. It’s hard to know how your stream is going to look and sound on someone else’s computer. And there’s nothing more dejecting than investing all this time, money, and effort into building, testing, and promoting your live stream only to have it derailed with technical glitches. Once you’ve sorted out any issues with your private viewing, then it’s time to unleash your talent onto the world!
How This Applies to Virtual Drum Instruction
Many instrumentalists are turning to content creation and virtual lessons as a way to generate income, since both performing and one-on-one instruction aren’t widely available options at this time.
The hands-on nature of instruction is key to bringing students to the next level in their musicianship. While virtual instruction is necessary right now, it won’t replace every aspect of face-to-face learning. But we can build new programs that blend pre-recorded instructional content and live instruction for a very effective learning experience.
Virtual instruction is a two-step process. Start by pre-recording a song or technique you plan to teach, so your student can view it ahead of your online lesson. That way you’ll be able to focus on answering your student’s questions about the song or technique during your live session. Have your student refer to timestamps in your video so you can quickly refer back to specific problem areas.
A professional-grade virtual lesson setup can be achieved by investing in some choice pieces of gear. Here’s the setup we’d recommend as a starting point.
• Atomos Shogun 7 HDR recording monitor
• Sony PXW-X70 camcorder
• Magewell USB Capture HDMI
• Aputure 120d and Lantern Light modifier
• Digital audio interface and microphones
This list is shorter than what we used for the live-stream performance, but this setup will allow you to achieve outstanding quality for both pre-recorded and live content. Sony’s PXW-X70 is a simple camcorder that’s user friendly and high quality. If you get two camcorders, mount one overhead to capture a view of your entire kit, and then aim the other one at your face for talking head–style instruction.
When both of the camcorders are connected to the Atomos Shogun monitor, a split-screen view is achievable, and you’ll be able to record directly to the monitor when creating lesson content. When it’s time to go live for one-on-one lessons with your student, hook the Atomos up to the Magewell, and connect it directly to your computer. If you use Zoom for your lessons, you’ll be able to access the same split-screen view, so your students can get a full, clear view of your instruction.
This online lesson setup can remain in place at all times so that you’ll never need to change the position of your cameras or lighting when recording content or streaming live with your student. This is new territory for most of us, so there are no hard-set rules here. But by following the steps outlined above, you’ll be equipped with a practical approach to configuring your home studio for remote instruction and live streaming, and hopefully the confidence to jump right in.
Thomas Anello is a social media specialist at BorrowLenses.com, where most of the gear recommended in this article is available
by Thomas Anello