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Mixing for Streaming: Account for Differences Between Room, Stream Sound

Many components go into a successful livestream: lighting, camera work, lower-thirds, graphics, transitions and audio mixing. The last of these is often overlooked, though, when churches put together a streaming production.

Livestreaming services has become the church's latest way to reach people not only locally, but worldwide.

Hearing the sound in the room and trying to mix your video feed is nearly impossible to do well.

Many components go into a successful livestream: lighting, camera work, lower-thirds, graphics, transitions and audio mixing. The last of these is often overlooked, though, when churches put together a streaming production. 

Examining the basics of a streaming audio mix will give you an overall production that can seem high-budget, but achieved with a low-budget price.

Step 1: Get It from the Source

No matter what type of video equipment you're using, be sure you're getting your audio from your front of house sound board. While there are many things you can do after that, getting the original source will simplify things down the road. From there, you can route to another sound board entirely, use different output sends to your video switcher, or use an auxiliary output to feed a smartphone or tablet.

Most camera manufacturers are focused on getting the picture you're seeing right. The built-in microphones simply won't be sufficient for a space, even one as small as 50 seats. The cost of getting your feed from the sound board you're already using is minimal, and adds immediate benefits to the quality of your feed.

If your audience can see your pastor, but can't hear him, they will quickly tune out and probably never return.

Step 2: Understand Your Feed, Room Are Different

What you hear in the room is completely different than what will be heard on the stream. Rooms have chairs, people, amplifiers, and/or drum sets that may not be miked. There are also walls and echoes that are all part of your normal worship and preaching mix.

Over time, your sound engineer has accounted for these factors, and the mix you hear during service accounts for all of this. The mix you are getting out of your sound board has to be adjusted to compensate for these things. If you have an acoustic drum set, it may be miked but turned down in your worship space. When you listen to the livestream, it may sound like you don't have any drums at all. The same goes for an amplified electric guitar.

If you're using an auxiliary or headphone out to a smartphone or tablet, your options with mixing music are going to be rather limited. Doing this will still be better in most cases, though, than simply using your camera's built-in microphone. Most digital sound boards have the ability to have different output groups or sends. This will allow you to have your main house mix and a separate video stream mix. Changing the levels on one won't impact the other.

Adjusting levels is only the start to a good streaming mix. Mixing your feed differently goes beyond that, and will require adding reverb and/or effects to eliminate a flat or a "muddy" sounding feed.

Seeing what your audience is seeing is also a key part of the mix. If you have a guitar solo, but your camera is focused on keyboard. you may not want to turn the guitar up as much as usual. 

As your worship team changes and shifts, your feed will change as well. Changing out of an instrument, microphone, or musician will have a significant impact on how your feed is mixed.

Step 3: Avoiding Kung Fu

If you've ever watched old kung-fu movies, you've probably seen cases where the mouths moving on the screen don't match the words you're hearing in any way.  The same can happen with your video and audio feeds.

Physics dictates the speed of light and sound. With digital signals you can easily add delay to video or audio to ensure that everything lines up perfectly. Keep in mind that this can be a huge distraction, and getting this wrong can mean people simply won't watch your livestream.  Another thing that factors into this is that some social media sites may decode and re-encode your stream to save themselves some bandwidth. This can amplify a minimal delay into something that therefore becomes noticeable on screen.

Step 4: Closing Yourself Off

Hearing the sound in the room and trying to mix your video feed is nearly impossible to do well. I've mixed streaming sound from an iPad, connected to our sound board, from a storage closet in the church. While not the most ideal or glamorous of places, it provided an area where the sole thing I was hearing was the video mix.

This idea goes back to Step 2, in understanding that what you hear coming from a phone, tablet, or computer is significantly different than what your sanctuary sounds like. This doesn't necessarily have to be a soundproof room, just a space where you can't hear the ambient noise of the worship space. A good pair of headphones will help you focus as well.

Before you start broadcasting your stream to the masses, though, know what you're working with. You may have a brand-new setup, and your pastor may be eager to start getting the stream going, but take the time to test before you go live.

Doing a Facebook Live stream, one that is private and that no one else can see, will give you a good feel for what your audio levels are.

Make sure to also watch your stream on multiple devices.

While most traffic is going to be viewed on a phone or tablet, it's good to have an idea of what things are like across platforms. Taking the time to get the audio on your stream correct will help you grow both your online presence and your in-person presence as well.

View your stream as a ministry, and give the very best you have, to reach people and glorify God.

TAGS: Gear Audio
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