Mixing for Streaming: Right Mics, Placement Crucial to Quality Stream

Mixing for Streaming: Right Mics, Placement Crucial to Quality Stream

Your live stream will benefit greatly from nice, consistent levels, so spend some time experimenting with parts of the signal chain, until it sounds natural.

One of the most frequent questions I get asked is, "How can we get our church's live stream to sound really good?" It's a great question, and a lot of churches struggle with this.

Whether you choose to hang microphones or place them on the platform, make time to experiment with getting the placement just right, as it makes an incredible difference.

I wrote an article on the Worship Tech Director website back on June 22, 2016, about this very topic, entitled, “Mixing for Streaming: Finding The Right Levels For Music, Speech.”

That piece provides a nice overview of the various components of a good broadcast (live stream) mix.

In this piece, however, I will go into greater detail on two particular points that come up often in conversation: getting great audience sound, and building a broadcast mix from your front-of-house console.

One of the most important objectives in mixing for broadcast is to make the viewing audience feel like they're connected to the live, in-person experience. The way we do that is by careful use of audience microphones, just like the way the video team may use wide camera shots of the room to establish perspective. Without audience microphones, the broadcast mix will feel disjointed and the viewers will feel isolated.

The hardest part about using audience mics is simply experimenting with where in the room they sound best.

You want an overall sense of the space, especially during congregational singing and applause, but you need to get the distance just right. If the mics are too far away from the congregation, they will sound dull and uninteresting; if they're too close, you'll single out just a few people. You'll also want them spread reasonably far apart, to give a sense of spaciousness, and don't forget to hard pan them in the broadcast mix.

I am often asked about which type of microphones you need to capture the audience for your mix. The good news is that you can use just about anything as audience mics, although small-diaphragm condensers (SDCs) are very common for this application. However, I've seen people successfully use just about every type of microphone available. Ideally, I think you should probably start by experimenting with SDCs if you can, but don't be afraid to use whatever you have; something is better than nothing. 

In many cases, you'll get the best results by having the microphones hanging overhead, as long as their location and aiming will reject sound from the PA. For example, we use Neumann KM-185's at Lakewood, because we can hang them straight down and let their hypercardioid pattern naturally reject the PA. On the other hand, many people get good results from having the microphones on the platform, pointed toward the congregation. And, microphones with this "stage perspective" can also be used as "ambiance" for worship leaders wearing in-ear monitors.

Whether you choose to hang microphones or place them on the platform, make time to experiment with getting the placement just right, as it makes an incredible difference. And, if small-diaphragm condensers don't seem to be giving you good results, you may want to try using shotgun mics instead, for their ability to reject excessive ambiance. These are a common choice, but they can also overly focus in on a handful of people, if you're not careful.

Once you have the placement of your microphones settled, a judicious use of EQ (particularly with aggressive high-pass filtering) will usually get you the rest of the way there. You might start with a high-pass frequency of 200 Hz, but I've previously had to sometimes push that up to 500 Hz in some extreme cases. You might also have to scoop out some midrange, or boost some high end, or both.

Don't worry if your channel processing doesn't "look" right. It must sound right.

In a nutshell, you need to 1) find the right distance from the congregation, so the mics have the right blend of people and room ambiance; 2) make sure the mics are pointed so that they reject the PA; and 3) use plenty of EQ (particularly, getting rid of low end) to get a "clean" sound.

Now that we know how to get the sense of ambiance just right, let's talk about how to get a good broadcast mix from your front-of-house console.

As I had mentioned in my previous mixing for streaming article, there are a couple of big differences between an FOH mix and a broadcast mix: 1) broadcast mixes typically have much more limited dynamic range, and 2) speech and music should be at roughly the same level in broadcast (which is not typical in most FOH mixes). Considering that we also need to get our audience mics to the viewers, you'll need to use a stereo bus, to build an alternate mix for the live stream.

If you have an available stereo auxiliary bus, this will give you the most flexibility. Begin by sending every music input channel to this bus at -20, postfader. For your speech mics, however, you might start with an initial send level of -10 (also postfader) or higher to get speech levels to match the music. You'll have to experiment with these speech levels, of course, but this should get you started.

If the overall broadcast mix bus seems too low with the above starting points, feel free to shift all of the send levels up to compensate. Just make sure you've got modest headroom in the bus, so you won't clip. You can always make up the gain in your bus compression later.

The next step is to add the audience mics into the broadcast aux mix, but these will need to be sent prefader. That is, of course, because we never want the audience mics to feed the PA, so those channels will be turned down in the main mix. To be extra safe, also unassign those channels from the main mix. You will have to experiment considerably with finding the amount of audience that is just right: too little, and it won't be adding much to the broadcast experience; too much, and you'll wash out the rest of the mix.

Finally, use bus compression to keep the broadcast mix confined to a narrow dynamic range. FOH mixes are often quite dynamic (and I believe they should be!), but remember that we don't want that for broadcast.

Your live stream will benefit greatly from nice, consistent levels, so spend some time experimenting with this part of the signal chain, until it sounds natural. You'll probably want a long release time (several hundreds of milliseconds or more), and adjust the attack time, until it sounds transparent (a few milliseconds or so).

If you don't have a stereo auxiliary bus to spare, don't fret. You can, instead, assign music and vocals to a stereo audio subgroup (an actual subgroup, not a DCA), and place speech in another group. Do not route those subgroups to your main FOH mix, but instead, send them to a stereo matrix, and turn the speech subgroup up more than the music one (similar to what I described above in building an aux mix). This matrix will be your broadcast mix, except that we still need to get the audience mics to it.

Some consoles will let you directly route channels to matrix outs, but you may need to route your audience mics to their own stereo group (if you have enough available). Or you can always route them to one of the other broadcast subgroups in a pinch. Because we're not using auxiliaries in this example, however, you will have to turn the audience channel faders up, so that they will actually feed the subgroup (as subgroups do not have a "prefader" option). Before you turn up those faders, though, double- and triple-check that they're not also routed to the main mix.

Getting a great broadcast mix can seem daunting at first, but it becomes natural as you experiment and gain some experience.

Keep steady in your pursuit of worship tech excellence. Your web stream viewers will thank you!

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