One seemingly calm Thursday morning, you receive an email from your pastor relaying to you that he would like to start live streaming your worship services. The technical gear-house that is your mind immediately starts thinking, "We need another console. We need an isolated split for all the inputs. We need a broadcast audio room. We need, we need, we need"
Then, all of a sudden, your daydream of the perfect broadcast audio setup is interrupted by a follow-up email from your pastor with two additional criteria: "We need to start this weekend. And there is no budget."
Immediately, the daydream of the ultimate broadcast suite turns into sheer mayhem and panic. Being the technical MacGyver that you are, you quickly pull together the string of 17 different adapters and random cables needed to make it happen by Sunday.
Then, life moves on because Sunday is always coming, right?
To start chiseling away at the difficulties plaguing your streaming mix, you must first understand a few principles about broadcast audio vs. live audio.
A few weeks, maybe even months, down the road you get another email from your pastor. A friend of his was watching the live stream and commented on how hard it was to hear the pastor teaching, and the drums and acoustic were the only things he could hear during music.
Your new charge: Fix the mix still without any budget.
Where do you go from here? To start chiseling away at the difficulties plaguing your streaming mix, you must first understand a few principles about broadcast audio vs. live audio.
Broadcast audio (which is the term I most often use, because streaming is a broadcast) is an entirely different animal than live audio. In the worship center, during a service, you have the luxury of experiencing the energy (ambient sound) coming from the stage as well as the congregation singing around you. A person watching your broadcast only receives the energy coming through their earbuds or computer speakers.
The most common practice for overcoming this is using room mics. Place a microphone somewhere toward the front of the stage, pointed back toward the congregation to give the online viewer the feeling of really being there. This will allow for the pickup of the voices of people singing, as well as the ambiance of the room, without too much direct interaction from the PA. This room mic (or two if you are doing stereo) can be added to your broadcast mix via an aux send or matrix, depending on your signal flow and console type.
The second major issue that changes from live to broadcast is dynamics. In a live setting, it is generally thought of as best practice to avoid compression or dynamic control over the main mix. You want the band to have the freedom to grow and swell along with the congregation. However, in a broadcast application, the listeners' speakers or earbuds don't have the same dynamic range as your worship center PA.
Two quick ways to overcome the varying dynamics of a mix for broadcast are adjusting the mix itself and the use of compression. Hopefully, in our "hypothetical" situation, you are feeding the broadcast mix with a matrix or an aux send. If you are using a matrix, you can simply increase the level of the inputs that are softer in the mix, like speaking mics or maybe even some instruments.
Using an aux send is often one of the simplest ways to achieve a good mix for broadcast. It's important to set up the aux as post-fader in this case so that as you bring up, for instance, the electric guitar solo in the second song, the broadcast mix will follow suit.
A soft-knee compressor with a fairly significant ratio is also great at smoothing out the dynamic jumps in a broadcast mix. Set your threshold at the spot where speech is just barely engaging the compressor. Then tweak with the levels of the music to pull them down enough to be similar in level for your broadcast audience.
Finally, you have to consider the device delivering your mix. In a live setting, everyone hears from the same system. Your PA should cover the entire room and all congregation members receive the same information from the same source. In a broadcast setting, nearly every viewer will be listening to a different set of speakers.
It is important to have someone who is not in the worship center monitoring the broadcast feed. This person should be able to listen on small computer speakers and earbuds while communicating with the FOH engineer about any changes that might need to be made in the mix.
These tips are certainly not an end all solution for every streaming mix problem, but they will help move you along the path toward achieving a better quality product that does not distract the viewer from worship.
Michael Scott serves as the Director of Media Arts for Henderson Hills Baptist Church in Edmond, Okla. He has a passion for serving the church and helping the Body connect through worship. Michael oversees all aspects of live production in multiple venues with a team of more than 50 volunteers. Ask any of his volunteers and they will tell you that Michael’s main goal for his team is to serve without distractions and with excellence. Throughout the course of Michael’s career he has had opportunities to work with many churches of varying sizes as a full-time employee, contractor, or consultant. Michael has been married to his wife Kristi for 12 years and they have two sons, ages 8 and 6.