What does proper audio for streaming services really mean?
For the purposes of this article, let’s define what’s behind “proper” audio for streaming services. It encompasses a mix that sounds true to what is happening in the room.
You want to capture the bigness of a sound system in a room, plus the excitement and energy coming from the stage and audience and put that into a complete mix. That mix is then streamed and/or recorded for a listener, to really feel a part of what is or was happening in a space, without them actually being there.
The idea here is to get the result you are looking for, without spending a lot of money, time or adding people to the procedure. Translation ... There is no need for a separate audio console to get a great sounding result for the listener. Here are some specific examples from our services at Journey Church of what this can sound like:
Separate Mix, But Yet the Same
In order to get a separate mix for streaming using the same audio console, that is also being used for the live mix, you will need a few stereo mix buses, that you can route individual inputs to and vary the level and pan.
The first stereo mix bus is for getting a duplicate mix of what is happening live. If you are running your live mix in mono, make sure to set up this stereo mix bus in stereo by panning your instrumentation in this bus, to match where instruments are on stage. In this first stereo mix bus, you will also want to set the band all at the same level (less than 0/unity ... maybe around -6 or so) and this includes all reverb and delay effects, that are used for the band as well.
You will also want to send all speaking and playback devices to this mix. These should be a little louder in the mix, so put these around 0/unity. Playback devices such as computers for videos and music may need to be slightly lower than 0/unity, depending on how you run audio levels for these in the live mix. The idea here is to try to bring the volume levels between speaking and music closer together for the stream mix. You can make this a more drastic difference if you need to, but make sure it doesn’t sound too unnatural with a huge level difference, between the band playing and someone speaking.
This is especially important if you have the band playing, while speaking is happening at the same time. You don’t want the band to sit too low and the speaking to be really, really high. As you work through this, make sure all the input channels are set to post fade, so as you make level changes for the live mix. These changes are also made in the stream mix.
The mix of the band may vary, depending on how small your room is and how acoustic instruments such as drums are affecting the mix. You will need to listen to the stereo mix bus, to dial it in to make sure it sounds the same as the live mix.
If drums need to come up, due to the acoustic drums playing a role in how the sound translates in the room, then bring up the drums from the -6 or so suggestion to a higher level until you get the desired mix that sounds the same. This will also include if you have a separate drum reverb for snare and toms. You will need to make sure you have the desired level of drum reverb that matches what you are used to having in the live mix.
Audience and Room Microphones
Now that you have a separate mix that will mimic your live mix, the next thing to introduce are audience and room microphones. Audience microphones are microphones that are on stage or rigged from a ceiling. They are aimed at the audience. There are numerous possible locations for these microphones.
I would suggest positioning these behind the main speaker system either on the stage or hanging them. The idea is to capture the audience response, so you want to minimize what you pick up from the main speaker system.
It is best to use two (for stereo, one left and one right) shotgun microphones. Shotgun microphones are designed to pick up farther away sounds (audience) and minimize picking up closer sounds (the main speaker system). Other microphones work for this as well, but shotgun microphones are ideal.
Room microphones are microphones that are typically located near the front of house, or FOH, mix position. The idea of these microphones is to capture the bigness of what is coming from the main speaker system, as well as the live mix that is heard at the FOH mix position. Use two (for stereo, one left and one right) large diaphragm condenser microphones for this. These should be aimed towards the main speaker system and possibly off-axis to the main speaker system depending on how wide of a stereo image you want.
Time Alignment - Critical
Now that you have a stereo mix bus duplicating what is heard from the live mix, as well as audience and room microphones, next it is to time align all of these sources. You need to time align these sources to make sure everything is timed perfectly.
The farthest source is what everything needs to be timed to. This means that the room microphones are what you need to time the audience and stereo mix bus to. Again, there are many ways to do this, whether that be an external processor that has built-in delay compensation or using your digital audio console.
My suggestion is to use your digital audio console. Most digital audio consoles have built-in input delay settings. This would be six channels of processing.
You will need to route that first stereo mix bus back into your audio console by using a couple of input channels or by digitally routing them back in. Then the two audience microphones and the two room microphones will be the other two stereo sources.
Your room microphones will not be delayed, and then the audience microphones and the stereo mix bus will need to be delayed, to time them to the room microphones. Again, there are many ways to figure out the timing for the delay. You can use software such as Smaart, or you can record audio using a DAW and visually see the delay to figure out the timing.
If you use a DAW to capture audio, you will need a source to test the timing so a lot of people have had good success by popping a balloon through a microphone on stage that will be heard by all of these sources (the stereo mix bus and the audience/room microphones). Capture this audio and you can visually see the timing within a DAW. Again, time alignment is critical.
If this is not done correctly, then the timing will be off between all of these inputs and instead of a clean snare hit sounding like one hit, there will be several hits heard in the stream mix (one from the stereo mix bus, one from the audience microphones and one from the room microphones) and all at different times.
You may also need to play with polarity reversal during this process for all three sources to make sure the timing and polarity are correct.
Before you time align all of the sources, you need to make sure your main speaker system is time aligned. You can follow the procedure above using a DAW. You will need to time align the speaker system to something acoustic on stage. Usually this is the drums.
The idea is to have the drums and the sound system fire at the same time to again have one hit sound like a single hit, and not two separate hits from the audience’s perspective ... one from the drums acoustically and a second from the sound system. You will need a device to delay your main speaker system such as a speaker management processor.
Bringing It All Together
Now that you have the stereo mix bus, audience and room microphones all time aligned appropriately, next is to output this as a single stereo mix. This will require another stereo mix bus.
For this second stereo mix bus, you will only assign the first stereo mix bus return inputs (two channels that are delayed) and probably set that to 0/unity on this second mix bus and then assign and bring up the audience and room microphones to the desired blend, to get the right amount of the audience and the right amount of the room/bigness for the sound that you are looking for.
Make sure to pan all of these stereo sources hard left and hard right to keep your stereo image. As a result, what is coming out of this second stereo mix bus is a complete mix of everything.
One Step Farther
You can use this second stereo mix bus as your stream mix, but you can also go one step farther. If you want a more cohesive and bigger sounding mix, you can take this second stereo mix bus and do some final mastering processing to it with multiband compression, multiband limiting and EQ.
You can possibly do this on that second stereo mix bus output, using built-in features on your digital audio console or by using an external device (preferred method) such as a processor or DAW/plug-ins. Then, out of this external device you can bring the audio back into your audio console and send that final processed signal to a third stereo mix bus to output that processed stream mix to wherever you want that mix to go such as lobby audio, stream audio, USB recording on the audio console, video capturing devices that need an audio feed, audio capturing software, etc.
Proper audio for streaming services can be a very complicated process, but once it is done and set up properly, you will have a great sounding mix that should be an accurate representation of what is happening/happened live in the room. Therefore, what is streamed and/or recorded will help a listener feel a part of what is happening, or has happened, live in the moment.
It is a powerful thing when people watching a service via a stream/recording can feel the same experience through a screen as they would experience live. For an example of what all of the above can sound like, here is a link to our Vimeo and YouTube pages to check out the worship and speaking portions of our services.