Improving Your Livestream Audio
Updated: Sep 28, 2020
2020 has been a year of livestreams struggling to fill the void of in-person events. Unfortunately, along with that has come less-than-desirable audio quality. Getting your audio sounding good on a livestream may be the least important problem I can help solve in this disastrous year, but hey, it's something!
If you're an artist who has any type of recording setup and a DAW, there's a good chance you've got almost enough stuff laying around to have a great sounding livestream.
Here's the summary for this method:
Run everything into your DAW. (Logic, GarageBand, Fruity Loops, Frosted Flakes, etc.)
Get the output of your DAW routed to your livestream.
Now depending on if you'd rather livestream with your phone or your laptop, step 2 is going to look a little bit different. We'll get to that in a second.
GETTING IT ALL INTO YOUR DAW:
This should be pretty straightforward if you're used to self-recording. Using whatever interface you have, hook up all sources (Mics, guitars, pianos) and route them all to separate tracks in your DAW.*
Go ahead and record a test performance. Try to replicate what you'll do when you're live.
Using your DAW, do a quick mix using only stock plugins or other low-latency plugins.
Aim to get the output as hot as possible without peaking. Limiters tend to cause latency so if you want some protection on the master bus, use a stock compressor with a high threshold, high ratio, fastest attack and fastest release. Make sure it's not compressing more than 1-2 dB at any time. Just an insurance policy in case you get really loud and emotional while covering Jolene.
Feel free to delete the recorded audio, but keep your tracks in record-ready or input-monitoring mode.
*If you've got more sources than inputs available, you can use a mini-mixer to mix down to however many channels you have available. For example:
2 input channels = stereo mix
4 input channels = stereo mix + lead vocal + other main element
(and so on)
Some key things to remember here:
Keep your buffer size as low as your computer can handle to make sure there's no latency. If you don't hear any latency when you're recording your test performance, you should be good.
Plugins that tend to cause latency: convolution reverbs, plugins that model analog gear, certain limiters, etc. If you want to use reverb, use a stock algorithmic reverb plugin.
If you do want to use effects like reverb, be prepared to mute them manually while you're talking in between songs. It'll sound weird if you don't.
Don't over-mix yourself, you still want to sound natural. The whole point of a livestream is to be your authentic self for your fans. Try to stick to the basics: low-cuts, subtle compression, minor EQ, maybe some reverb. Resist the temptation to crank that high-shelf EQ or else everyone is going to hear your gross saliva noises while you're talking in between songs.
Save your settings as a template for future livestreams
HOW DO I GET AUDIO FROM MY DAW TO MY LIVESTREAM....
...WHEN USING A PHONE TO STREAM:
For this all you need is a simple device that can route audio into your phone. My favorite is the Roland Go-Mixer, although there are many others.
Here are some reasons I love the Go-mixer:
Gives you a stereo mix (2 channels) running into your phone
Has plenty of inputs. Enough that you can even livestream using this alone without the DAW.
Has a monitor-out with level control, so you can use your headphones to monitor exactly what your audience is hearing.
It's powered by your phone, so you can livestream in the middle of a field if you want
You can either use the line inputs or the stereo "keyboard" input to plug in your DAW's stereo output depending on what cables you have on hand.
...WHEN USING A COMPUTER TO STREAM:
Getting the output of your DAW routed to your stream takes a little bit of extra software. For this, I would recommend checking out Loopback (Free trial then $99) or if you're looking for free alternative that takes a bit more effort to install, take a look at Soundflower. Both of these are for Mac. Basically what they do is create "devices" within your system so when you open your streaming platform you can select your DAW output as the input device.
When using a phone, turn on WiFi assist so if your internet speed wavers, your phone can use data to help keep your stream running strong.
Invest in good lighting. Plenty of cheap options out there to make you dazzle.
Test your livestream before you go live.
Of course there are many other ways you can go about getting great audio for your livestream, so feel free to experiment and find out what works best for you. If you have any questions about this or anything else audio-related, feel free to shoot me an email or DM!
Jonathan Korzelius is a mix engineer and producer based in Nashville, TN.
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