In-person concerts are on hold at the time of this writing, but that doesn’t mean our favorite musical artists are just waiting it out – they’re taking to the internet and keeping up with live performances.
There are some downsides to your typical live stream that take away from the experience, though. Many of our favorite artists are coming to us live from their phones or laptops with limited lighting and tiny-phone-speaker audio that leave us wanting. These days, we actually have a ton of options to improve this, making sure our on-camera appearance and sound quality are at their best.
I was assigned to chase down what a really excellent live stream from home looks like. Outside of work, I’m a guitarist. I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to put on a show for my friends, family, and co-workers. Our goal here was to transform my dining room into a stage with great lighting, multiple camera angles, and clean, crisp audio. All of this would be channeled through the mighty Sling Studio Live Streaming Hub directly to YouTube live.
Equipment for a Live Stream
Right off the bat it might sound like a lot of moving parts, and…it is. I’m not a professional videographer but I was shocked by how easy setting this whole thing up was. Here’s the gear I used to make this live stream happen:
First, I framed up my main camera by standing in and finding the right place for me to be during the event. From there I used gaff tape to put marks on the floor so everything would stay in the right place if someone bumped into the tripod during setup. I arranged my lights which were 2 Quasars on either side of where I’d stand and the Aputure 120d II with the lantern modifier to fill in the room a bit so I didn’t need to crank my ISO.
Once I had my main camera angle and my lights in place, I got my mics set up on stands before setting up the other 3 camera angles. I wanted to build my shots around all of the gear I stuffed into my dining room. After that, I started positioning the rest of my camera angles.
We planned on having one tight shot on the body of my guitar showcasing my hands and the fretboard to the right of our main camera. I framed up the shot using the guitar mic as a reference point and stood in. My wife (and impromptu production partner) Amanda helped me refine the shot. To the left of our main camera we wanted a perpetual sliding shot. That’s where the Syrp Genie II and Magic Carpet come in.
We set up the Syrp, mounted our camera, and used the mics as a reference point again. From there, using Syrp’s intuitive app, we established key frames for slider and head motion and I stood in again to check.
For our fourth and final camera angle, we elected to showcase Amanda live switching using Sling’s Console app. We thought it would be a cool behind-the-scenes look at how this stream was actually working. We put the 5D Mark IV on a tripod and positioned it for an over-the-shoulder view of the MacBook. This angle was going to show my feet, though, so I begrudgingly wore dress shoes for this stream. Sometimes sacrifice is necessary.
With camera angles established and lighting and mics in place, it was time to get the streaming machinery up and running. In our case, we used the Sling Studio. While the Sling is an easy on-the-go streaming solution, it is also perfect for multiple stationary camera angles, recording, and for external sound.
Setting Up the Sling Studio for a Live Stream
Connecting cameras to the Sling requires a device called a “Camera Link”. These mount to the hotshoes of your cameras and are subsequently connected via cable to your camera’s HDMI port. Boom, easy peasy. A note here: you’ll want to jump into your camera’s HDMI output settings and turn off the information display. You’ll also want to configure your cameras HDMI output setting; in our case, 1080 at 60p to match our stream settings. Not a single music lover is going to care even a little bit about your f-stop or the fact that there’s no SD card in your camera. We used Camera Links on our three a7 III’s. For our 5D Mark IV, we connected directly to the sling with an HDMI cable.
For audio, the Sling offers no XLR ports so I needed to use an external mixer connected to the Sling via a patch cable. That’s how we ran our audio from the two mics in this case. My only complaint is the lack of audio effects. I would have preferred a touch of compression and some reverb for the guitar. To be fair, the MixPre 6 is more for field recording, though it got the job done here.
The final piece of the gear puzzle was an SD card. The Sling will record your live program, each individual feed in full, and a quad-view of all the feeds in full HD onto an SD card. At this point, we were ready to power things on and get to testing.
With the lights on, we adjusted exposure and white balance on our four cameras so that everybody’s output was nicely matched. With the Sling, Camera Links, mixer, and laptop powered on, we connected to the Sling’s own WiFi signal via the Sling Console app. From there, the Sling (in most cases) will automatically detect all of your Camera Links and their individual feeds will appear in the app. From there, I connected the Sling to our own internet.
Going Live on YouTube
To go live, I first scheduled a live event on my YouTube account that I could access later on the Console App. Once it came time for us to stream, I signed into YouTube on the Console app and was immediately able to access my scheduled stream. Once we established our stream quality and recording options, all we needed to do was hit the big red button and go live. We chose to stream in 1080 at 60p. Much to my surprise, my budget internet handled it heroically. When going live in full-HD, you can expect about 30 seconds of latency between what you do and what your audience ends up seeing. At least, that was our experience.
We wanted to go all out, and we did. The Sling Studio made all of this incredibly easy. Still, it’s a lot of moving parts. If you endeavor to take on a similar project, do a private test stream and have a trusted friend make sure nothing’s broken. It’s hard to tell how you’re going to sound and look on someone else’s computer in another state. After all that effort, it’s important to make sure it’ll translate.
Live streamed performances can be truly excellent. The tools that exist today make it very simple to undertake and I can safely say that it’s worth it. If the reality is that you won’t be hitting the stage for a while and you want to stay closely connected with fans, streaming is possibly the perfect tool for that. Set yourself apart with quality video and clean sound and go live.