Like other jobs turned remote, many upcoming and established artists and performers have transitioned into the digital space as a way to keep performing amid the global pandemic. Even theater artists find themselves telling a complex storyline in tiny little Zoom boxes, in hopes that the other performers are doing it as well as they are to make one coherent experience. The same goes for any kind of live performance—the setup alone can be considered an art of its own.

If you’re a rising star looking to stand out from the crowd or a lost artist who had to cancel a tour and appease fans on the internet, it can be tempting to go ahead and start a live stream on a whim, but in reality, it will take lots of practice to get the ball rolling. Without the hype and cheer of a large crowd, you’re left on your own to bring that same level of energy to a camera in an otherwise empty room.

Performances are never just performances, just as concerts are never just concerts, even if it’s only broadcasted in a private Twitch room with a select number of audience. Beyond the talent, there has to be a specific ambience, lighting, and background to turn the live stream into a cohesive experience.

What is Live Streaming Anyway?

What’s live streaming anyway? Simply put, it’s when audio and visual media are sent over the internet in real-time, applicable across several social media platforms such as YouTube Live, Twitch, Instagram Live, TikTok Live, and Facebook Live. There are more professional platforms, too: DaCast, Ustream, and Crowdcast give you more control as a commercial service handler as opposed to popular social media.

For newbie musicians, the internet offers plenty of tutorials and step-by-step guides that teach you how to live stream music on such platforms and other websites. If reach is what you’re after, we recommend going for highly populated platforms first then switching over to more professional ones once you’ve got a loyal crowd of followers. The case is a little different for theater actors who will have to rely on team effort to showcase performances and thus hop onto more collaborative platforms like Zoom or Google Meet which can then be live-streamed.

For Beginner Internet Musicians and Performers

Beginners who are psyched about starting a new live streaming project might be tempted to splurge on a new microphone, camera, and other equipment straight away, but it’s important to also make use of what you already have. Remember, the nature of the task is creative, too. With the right lighting, effects, and setup, a simple smartphone can work wonders, but also has its limits.

What sets music and the performing arts apart from other types of live streaming is the importance of sound quality as well as the ambience you create that accompanies it. If this is compromised, you run the risk of sounding out of tune to your audience even if you have the most impressive singing or speaking voice on the planet. Solo artists can make use of a single USB microphone, while multiple artists—a band, essentially—would have to upgrade to a multi-mic setup. For this tutorial, however, we’ll focus on a one-man setup.

If you’re a one-man or one-woman show, you’ll have to go beyond acting and singing to make for a memorable performance. Here’s our list of essentials: a good camera, a greater microphone, a video mixer, a reliable computer, and a live streaming software. The equipment doesn’t have to be the exact same ones recommended down below, but it does need to have the same core functionality.

But First, Streaming Room

What makes live streaming for music and the performing arts more difficult than the normal session is that the setup varies. You’ll need a streaming room—it doesn’t have to be a professional studio, but it has to be able to do the job. Next to your performance, another important thing your viewers will take note of is the feel of your surroundings. This will help brand your content and communicate what type of artist you are.

Have a theme in mind to achieve a cohesive feel to the entire setup. You can start off easy with a separate backdrop or be intentional with adding props and artworks in the background. Being consistent with how your live streams look can also give your audience a sense of continuity, which makes it easier to cement yourself as a serious artist in the grand expanse of the internet. Any room can be transformed into a streaming room!

If no room works for you, the last resort is to use a green screen as a digital backdrop. Although this one might seem like the easiest and therefore most appealing option given its flexibility, do note that this will take up more processing power from your computer or laptop, which could be the culprit behind a crashing session.

Online performances are held to a higher standard compared to the usual in-game streaming session for obvious reasons. People come to be relaxed or entertained by the music, not hear rustling and bumping and tapping, among other nuisance sounds. A quick fix is to install soundproof foam panels or hang fleece blankets on the walls to reduce the amount of sound waves traveling in the air. Carpets, rugs, and foam tiles can also aid in this pursuit while doubling as a prop in the background.

Lighting

In most cases, streaming rooms don’t have any natural lighting emitting from outside. Even those who have windows should consider investing in lighting gear as this can also make or break the entire production. It doesn’t have to be over the top with overhead lights, either. Just a simple lamp or two, when well-placed, can make all the difference. The same goes with LED ring lights and softbox lights.

Some lights dim, others add hues and temperatures, and most brighten. It’s up to you what vibe you’re going for. A rule of thumb: don’t mix and match warm lights with cool ones in one scene—this will create a chaotic and rather inconsistent feel for the stream. Keep it simple and decisive. There are lots of light stands and mounting accessories to choose from, such as the Elgato Ring Light, Godox SL-60 LED Light, Aputure 120D LED Light, Falcon Eyes, and Cowboy Studio for some professional LED film lighting.

Nothing beats experimenting which lighting setup best suits you, your performance, and your streaming room. However, we also recommend going with a three-point lighting effect if you’re pressed with time—aka the simplest way to look professional without having to try out too many angles and shadows for optimal scene-setting:

  • Place a single light behind the camera to highlight your face as a performer
  • Set another one up on one side to make yourself seem more dynamic
  • Add a third light behind you as a backlight to create a depth of field and remove shadows on the backdrop

Camera

Professional streamers will benefit from a camera with more specialized features and customizability. But instead of purchasing an expensive DSLR camera right away, consider a USB webcam with a high resolution that can work just as well. GoPro, Canon EOS, Fujifilm X, Logitech C920, C922 PRO Stream, and Logitech BRIO are some great examples.

With webcams, there’s no need to concern yourself with the inconvenience of needing a capture card—aka the HDMI interface unit—to transfer footage from the camera to the computer. In addition, DSLR cameras aren’t made to run for hours at a time—like a typical live stream would entail—since heat will quickly build up. This could permanently damage the camera if done often enough.

Production-wise, having multiple USB webcams and a video switcher can bring better dynamics to an otherwise small bedroom with one performer. Most streaming software allows up to four devices, making the switch between multiple cameras much easier and within control.

Professionally, DSLR cameras are still one of the best options on the live streaming market, regardless of the heat risk mentioned earlier. There’s much to be gained from a wider range of features and lenses available that streaming software won’t be able to level with. We recommend the Canon C100 Mark II, Sony A6300, and Sony a7S II if you don’t know where to start. Pro-tip: when live streaming, make sure every piece of equipment is run on power, not batteries, in the case of broadcasts. You never know when the battery will give up on you—trust us, it’s not worth finding out.

One piece of equipment that is often overlooked (but shouldn’t be!) is the tripod. It frames the perfect shot as it stays in place. Unlike film recordings, live streams can’t afford to have many mistakes—there’s only one continuous shot, after all—so keeping a still frame is essential for a professional session.

Audio

Never underestimate the power of audio. That said, avoid your built-in mic at all costs for live stream purposes if you want to go pro at this eventually. With bad audio quality, you might not even be given a chance even if you have the voice of God.

Musicians, in particular, should look into getting an audio interface, a device that allows you to connect your microphones and instruments to your computer to avoid any latency between your playing and how it gets to the computer. PreSonus Studio 1824c and Quantum are tried-and-tested basics to look into.

The number of microphones isn’t much of an issue so long as there’s an audio interface in the equation. There are some exceptions to the rule, of course. Drummers need a number of microphones to pick up each and every beat, but most musicians with other instruments can get away with one mic to cover most bases, with it plugged into an audio interface for good measure.

In the case that audio interface isn’t enough, it’s time to cop an audio mixer such as GoXLR, Behringer Xenyx X1204USB Premium, and Mackie PROFX8 V2 for musical performances. How do you stream on mixer with box? Sound mixers take two or more audio signals and funnel them into a coherent listening experience. It gives you independent control of the sound levels of multiple sources that other hardware or software are unable to do. With audio interfaces, changing settings require opening the software and possibly risking a crash along the way. Mixers don’t have this problem since it’s all about a seamless experience. Again, sound mixers are more of a nice-to-have than a must-have for amateur streamers.

Social Media Platforms + Software

Facebook, Instagram, Twitch, YouTube and TikTok have made live streaming accessible like never before. You can just hop on and start recording in an instant. However, if you want to up your game, there’s nothing quite like having streaming software under your wing. In addition, having reliable software eliminates the need for a standalone video encoder.

Software like OBS Studio, Streamlabs OBS and XSplit Gamecaster allows you to create custom themes to bring your live stream, well, more alive. You can control the live stream in real-time in more ways than using live features on Facebook, Twitch, or other platforms. Different camera and screen-sharing setups, for instance, can be navigated and selected with a few clicks in-between performances, making it a dynamic viewing experience for your viewers and a limitless customization experience for you as a streamer.

Here’s the best part: some software like Streamlabs OBS can release your live stream to multiple platforms all at once to maximize your reach at no cost, which is crucial for an artist or performer to thrive either online or in the industry. That way, your performance will lead to a wider range of audience.

Most of these open broadcast software are also free, straightforward, and can run on simple computers. However, make sure the computer or laptop used to live stream isn’t any less than a 6th or 7th generation quad-core i7 or you run the risk of skipping frames and having choppy sound. The worst-case scenario, of course, is that the computer won’t be able to accommodate a large processing power and might stop the live stream altogether.

If all you have is an iPhone, don’t fret! Download the Camera for OBS Studio for the same broadcasting experience.

Setting Up the Scene

Technicalities aside, here’s the most important tip we can give every starter: give yourself ample time to explore and play with your equipment’s features and functions before debuting your first online performance. Have a test stream and have someone else listen in beforehand to see if everything is going well on their end. It’s possible the sound plays nice to your ear, but not to everyone else’s. Hence, we advise you to focus on the bedrock of all live streaming—stability and preparedness—to bring everything all together.

The same power that online platforms give to streamers for reach can be likewise leveraged for your live show’s promotion. Take advantage of what online features are capable of and start sending out invites in one go. Publicize your live stream as much as you can—social media can only do so much! You’re competing with other big names in the streaming world, so you’d have to do some work to let these platforms work for you.

Before finally starting, check how your internet connection fares. You’d need a strong connection to broadcast live without complications. HD streaming needs a minimum of 3-5 Mbps to flow smoothly, but upload speed requirements differ per streaming platform, so do some research beforehand. Remember: it’s tough to go through the hoops of testing, but it’s even tougher to have your video or audio stop working as soon as you go live.

Other pieces of equipment to enhance the performance include microphone arms, light stands, stream decks, switchers, and headphones.

It’s a Live Performance—Treat it Like One!

In a nutshell, learning how to live stream music on Facebook Live or YouTube Live is one of the best things you can do to yourself as a performer. Although done online, a live music performance should still be taken as it is—a live music performance. It’s never just about the equipment and setup, but how the overall flow fares to you and your audience. If you want your live stream to feel like an actual live event, then you have to treat it as such.

There’s no good reason to skip out on test runs and warm-ups before the actual event starts. Tune your instruments, do vocal exercises, have your setlist on sight—these are small but crucial steps in ensuring a performance to remember. Just because it’s a real-time experience doesn’t mean mishaps should be welcomed. You’d want to keep mistakes at a minimum. Practice makes perfect when it comes to live performances, and you’ll be one step closer to reaching perfection if you start today!