Although it typically comes with a hefty price tag, streaming live music events has played a major role in the music industry over the last several years, and its popularity continues to grow. Live streaming is a fantastic way to instantly bring a live performance into a fan’s living room in the same city or on the opposite side of the globe. The downside is the cost, which has typically limited it to higher profile acts with deep pockets. While there have been a few economical options, they have predictably provided inadequate sound and video quality which kept them from gaining mass appeal. Marshall Electronics has teamed up with StreamVu to change all of this. At first, I was skeptical that the sound and image quality would be up to par with the quality achieved when spending several times more money, but after using the system to broadcast a live show by the Grammy-nominated band The Choir, I’m sold. Marshall’s small, highly configurable IPTV system allows a band to incorporate a multi-camera shoot with high-quality audio at an introductory price of only a few thousand dollars.
The concept behind streaming The Choir’s performance was to demonstrate that a band can take Marshall’s IPTV system on the road with one or two additional crew members and effectively stream their entire tour utilizing Marshall Electronics’ small, fixed place HD cameras that are available for less than $500 each and a few additional pieces of gear.
The crew for the broadcast included Greg Boren, Product Marketing Manager for Marshall Electronics, who was the architect integrating all of the individual components into an operating mobile video editing system, fine tuning the camera’s exposure setting and monitoring for every aspect of the video capture during the webcasts to make sure there weren’t any quality compromises. StreamVu’s Brian Arrowood configured the upload equipment and oversaw the program upload via DirectLink. Technical director Ian Cohen supervised the location and positioning of the five HD cameras during setup and created the broadcast edit via a video switcher during the show. I was the broadcast mix/audio capture engineer and was assisted by Garrett Callahan and Oliver Long. In the venue, Ryan Rettler was the audio engineer and Sarah Blood was the lighting director.
The broadcast incorporated two back-to-back concerts of which both were streamed live. Ryan Rettler tastefully mixed the show for the live audience while I mixed the audio for the webcast. The broadcast mix was created on the same Pro Tools HDX system that I was using to multi-track the performance. A Nuendo system was utilized for redundancy in case there was a glitch with the HDX rig. If the show wasn’t being multi-tracked, a second mix from the FOH console that would be tweaked to compensate for stage volume and with the addition of audience microphones would suffice for the broadcast mix. Mogami microphone cables, MXL Sound Runner instrument cables and MXL microphones, including MXL LSM-3s on lead and backing vocals, MXL R-144s on the guitar cabinets and a pair of MXL V67Gs on overheads, were used throughout the process to insure the highest possible audio quality. A room adjacent to the performance space was utilized as a control room for the audio and video aspects of the broadcast.
In discussing the webcast, Greg Boren explained, “The primary challenge was how to keep the on-line experience interesting with multiple camera angles while not blocking the live audience’s view of the stage.” To accomplish this, he utilized five Marshall CV340 ultra-compact HD cameras that were adapted to mount on mic stands (the CV340 has been discontinued and replaced by the CV342-CSB). Marshall V-LCD56MD-3G camera top monitors with SDI inputs were mounted on Noga arms and attached to the mic stands and utilized as camera viewfinders. Boren added, “We had no trouble making the 75-100-foot runs from the stage to adjacent studio, as all video signals were HD SDI. Had we used cameras/monitors with HDMI connections, cable lengths would have been severely limited, making this setup nearly impossible.”
Greg Boren set the cameras for 1080i/59.94 operation (the cameras support formats up to 1080p60/59.94), utilizing wide Marshall VS-M246A lenses throughout. The wide lenses allowed the cameras to be placed closer to the stage while still covering a large portion of the action. The final camera placement consisted of left stage, right stage, very low center stage looking up at the lead singer, very wide shot from the back of the studio next to FOH mixer and a reverse shot from the back of the stage set to pickup the musicians, plus the audience. Boren explained, “The camera feeds were brought together in a compact switcher which, while convenient, accepted only four HD SDI type inputs. The fifth camera feed had to be converted to HDMI. We pressed an AJA KiPro recorder into service as a converter which also allowed us to make an “iso” recording of that camera (we chose the back-of-house wide shot).”
A Marshall QVW-1708 monitor was utilized to view the five camera feeds. The master line cut from the video switcher, and my +4dB balanced stereo audio mix was sent to a second AJA KiPro, which converted the +4dB XLR line level to the -10dB level needed for the Marshall PS-102 Producer Station H.264 encoder which Boren described as being “rock-solid throughout the evening and providing a very clean progressive output deinterlaced from the original.”
Knowing that many venues may have limited Internet connectivity (if they have internet at all), we opted to create a real-world situation by bypassing hardwired Internet and instead utilize an ATT air card combined with a $22 TP Link (http://tinyurl.com/pg45ory) as a means to upload the data stream. While the ATT Air card creates a secure Wi-Fi hot spot, an Ethernet connection is needed to plug into the Marshall Encoder, which is provided by the TP Link. Configuring the TP Link to the ATT service results in a secure network with no worries of Firewalls or fans consuming the available data on public Wi-Fi. StreamVu’s Brian Arrowood configured this system, which is simple to use and takes less than 10-minutes to deploy when onsite—and since it is completely mobile, it can be utilized anywhere there is a 4G network.
The live feed was available on both The Choir’s website and Marshall Electronics’ site and it looked and sounded fantastic. While we were fortunate to have Arrowood at the event, if this wasn’t the case, we would have been able to utilize StreamVu’s 24/7 tech support, regardless of time or day, to get any configuration assistance needed to get the system up and running. StreamVu is the only Value Added CDN that has 24/7 voice support, which frees the artist from the intricate details of broadcasting live video so they can solely concentrate on content. StreamVu’s add-ons let viewers share comments, follow along with uploaded .pdf documents, or send notes and questions via email without ever having to navigate away from the page where video is embedded. The Limited Direct link allows viewers to instantly view a web stream without embedding video on a web page. The link can be Emailed, Tweeted, or posted to a Facebook page, and when selected, it simply opens up in a browser tab. StreamVu’s analytics provide real-time broadcast monitoring and deep analytics, allowing the user to see how many viewers watched a broadcast, how long they watched, where they were when they watched, what type of device was used to view the stream, how much data was consumed during the viewing, and the average viewing time for each viewer, all giving an artist a deeper understanding of their fan base. Artists wanting to monetize their webcasts can use StreamVu’s merchant account system, which allows the user to create a broadcast or VoD event, set a price.
Stability can become an issue when mixing a two-hour show on a Pro Tools rig while simultaneously recording on the same rig. There wasn’t a budget to bring in a separate console for the broadcast mix, so I setup my Pro Tools session so I could mix the show using stereo aux inputs (drums, bass, stage right guitar, stage left guitar, etc.) via an MC Mix. This allowed me to mix while avoiding ever touching an audio track during the show. A Nuendo system was utilized to record a redundant multi-track in case the Pro Tools rig stopped for any reason, and my Pro Tools session was configured so that even if the session stopped recording, my stereo broadcast mix would continue without incident.
I utilized AAX plug-ins to avoid latency issues and I recorded the sound check, so I had an hour or so to dial-in my mix before the show started. I did a test session a few days before the recording to make sure the computer didn’t have any issues recording for that length of time while I was mixing. Both shows went extremely well. We had trusted colleagues in multiple locations across the country viewing the webstream and texting us their feedback; the consensus was that the show both looked and sounded great, but the most amazing aspect of the entire process was to discover that the entire webcast only utilized a few thousand dollars’ worth of equipment and the StreamVu fee was well below $100.
*You can purchase The Choir’s live album LIVE and ON the WING in Music City here: tinyurl.com/pssenuz
Lighting for broadcast is completely different than lighting for a live audience, so it is critical that the LD takes the broadcast into consideration. Ian Cohen explains, “It’s one thing to set up all the cameras and see what they are capturing in a room that has its regular lights on—i.e. fluorescent lighting. We had all the cameras set up, positioned and focused with the fluorescent room lighting, but we weren’t getting the full picture of what would happen with the stage lighting on, and how that might affect the cameras and the subsequent live stream. So a key to the process was then to have Sara (Blood) show us a basic run through of her lighting program during the band rehearsal. We were then seeing a lot of problems with the stage lighting blowing out the performers, and being too bright or overexposed on the camera angles. We really had to involve Sara in the whole process. Ideally, she would have had a dedicated monitor from the switcher output, giving her the ability to see all of the camera angles, but since she only had access to one of the five cameras, we had her come into the room where the monitor for the switcher/streaming set up was, so she could see all of the camera angles. She ran back and forth several times, finally getting a rough lighting mix in advance of the show that would compliment both the live stream and the live audience experience. She would turn on the stage lights, and then go into the other room and look at the monitor with all the camera angles showing, and see how the lighting was affecting the cameras. Once we were all in sync with regard to how the stage lighting was affecting the cameras, it made a huge difference in how we were all going to work together to make the live stream look professional, and also keep the live audience entertained. We also moved and refocused the cameras and fine tuned angles as we refined the overall setup, based in part on the lighting. The camera top monitors needed some adjustments in terms of reducing the amount of brightness that the cameras were capturing, so that when the stage lights were blaring into the camera lens, we had the correct balance so that the lighting wasn’t completely blowing out the performers in the live stream.”
On Camera Placement:
Since the cameras are stationary, their placement is critical to a successful online stream, Ian Cohen, who meticulously positioned the cameras and utilized the switcher during the performance to create the broadcast cut, gives a little insight to this process: “It’s one thing to have all the cameras set up and the lighting dialed in, [but] a major factor is that this is entertainment, so it has to keep the audience engaged. When the live stream finally happens in real-time, there has to be some consideration of how to utilize the cameras to create something that is interesting to watch, and which doesn’t miss something special that each of the performers does during the show either by themselves or collectively. A lot of effort went into placing the cameras to maximize the angles, and so that when cross-fading one camera angle into another, that they would blend seamlessly and not appear disjointed. Part of how you accomplish this is by involving the band in the process, and asking a lot of questions to understand their movements, and also to understand the dynamics of the songs, and to identify certain times during the show where there might be banter. In general, be aware that you are directing the cameras so that they capture the band and their musical presence, and coalesce into a stream that isn’t missing the chemistry of the performance. Going through the song list and identifying particular moments where a specific camera or cameras should be toggled back and forth is also important in keeping the attention of the viewer. All of these considerations will make for a highly professional looking presentation.”
Ian continues by saying, “You only get one shot as it’s going out to the world in real-time, and it is critical that the performer is represented at the highest level of professionalism. It needs not to be overdone, but with just enough finesse to capture all the right moments, solos and feel of the songs and performers. Listen and watch the monitor and all the cameras feeds for the magical moments when two or even three performers are in the same camera angle working off each other. Anticipating what might be coming next in a particular verse or leading into a guitar solo, and timing which camera is active during a chorus can also really enhance the live stream experience for the viewer. Camera setup and switching is an art into itself, and a part of the process that can make or break your live stream.”
Russ Long is a Senior Reviews Contributor, having written hundreds of pro audio recording reviews for Pro Audio Review over the years. Long is a prolific Nashville-based recording engineer, too, working with artists such as Miley Cyrus, Third Day, Jim Brickman, among many others.https://twitter.com/therealrusslong