Do Androids Dream of Electric Streams?

The Tech you need to get started as a Streamer

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Note: This article is targeted at musicians, however, podcasters and other sound/vision artists might be able to leverage this content as well

The Great Leveller.

Back in March when we were “all in it together” and we approached lockdowns with boundless optimism and belief that this would all be over by Christmas, a live gig was streamed with some of the world’s most successful pop artists. I recall one such artist; an incredibly talented, multi-platinum, Grammy award winner, performing some of her hits from behind a piano in her house. It was shot on a mobile phone, no mics, no audio interfaces, no effects.

Somewhere out there an article probably exists with a similar opening paragraph to this that goes on to say that this stripped-down performance was amazing, incredible, a real showcase of the natural talents of the artist. This is not that article.

In the hypothetical article mentioned above, the argument will probably be that the medium shouldn’t matter because talent trumps all; ie if there’s a good musician performing, it shouldn’t matter if they are being recorded on a camera phone or on some swanky 8k camera rig in Abbey Road Studios.

So why did I stop watching after a few minutes?

And why are we not all attending live stream festivals every weekend from the comfort of our sofas?

There are two answers: Atmosphere and Production. In these crazy times, unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do about the atmosphere; try as we might, we can’t replicate the feeling of being shoulder to shoulder in a crowd of thousands at EP. Nor can we replicate the feeling of being peeled off the floor by a bunch of well-meaning strangers in a moshpit in Fibbers.

However, we do have some control overproduction. The way I see it is this; Production is the window through which we observe our art; good production is a great enabler, it allows us to see the artist the way they want us to see them. Bad production can ruin even the finest performance through detrimental sound and picture quality –  To continue the analogy, as artists we must present our viewers with the clearest window we can so that they can see our work the way we intend it to be seen.

So let’s talk about how as small-time musicians, we can start producing higher quality content for our fans at home at a relatively cheap price and how with some basic tools and equipment we can exceed the level of quality that was deemed acceptable by the worlds biggest popstars back in March.


What’s the plan?

In this article, I want to outline 5 different streaming setups at 5 different price points that can be used to produce a high-quality stream. I want to ensure that as a musician, you can get set up in such a way that you can communicate effectively with your fans and share your music/art. I’m doing this because I love live music and I really love to see local talent doing well. In a future article, I’ll tell you how to set up your kit.

Before we start, I assume that you have the following:

  • Computer/laptop – Windows or Mac
  • Mobile Phone – Android or iPhone, the newer the better

While we won’t be going into it in this article, for software, I am a big believer in Open Source, so we will try to use Open Source Applications where possible. They are also free so we can divert that money directly into our budget (or on pints, your call).

Buying The Right Gear

We will be targeting this rig at a singer/songwriter, however, if you have an input jack on your instrument, these options will work for you too.

When we purchase gear, we need to think about the Signal Chain – how do I get music from my guitar and/or vocal cords to my PC?

A fairly standard signal chain looks like this:

Source: https://www.practical-music-production.com/

In the image above, we have 2 inputs; a microphone and a guitar. We have numerous outputs, a Laptop, the monitor speakers and a set of headphones. The box in the middle is the Interface which controls the signal flow from the Guitar to the Computer. The Interface will be the first thing we buy when considering our gear and you will see that in ⅘ cases I recommend purchasing one (even if it is relatively basic).

NOTE: I’ll be using Thomann to include links to my recommended equipment but I believe you should purchase this equipment locally and use the price shown on Thomann as a guide. Many music stores will price match Thomann or even give you a better deal if you ask nicely, so buy local!

We will be looking at 5 different price points here:

  1. No budget whatsoever
  2. Under 200 euros
  3. Under 300 euros
  4. Under 500 euros
  5. Under 1000 euros

No Budget Whatsoever:

Although you won’t be able to purchase any gear, this isn’t to say that streaming is beyond your remit. In the next article, I’ll talk about how to use free plugins to improve your sound, whether that is from a mic or simply from your mobile phone.

Under 200 euros:

This is a pretty tight price point, even tighter when we consider buying new. However, we can still get a passable entry-level Mic, Interface and cabling for this money. You might have to provide your own speaker/headphones.

Interface: Behringer U-Phoria UMC22 : 41 euros.

Mic: Audio Technica AT2020 (Bundle) : 105 euros

MIC Stand: Gravity MS – any boom mic stand will probably do: approx 40 euros

Headphone Adapter (so you can use normal headphones with your interface) – 2.90

Total Setup Cost: 188.90 Euros

NOTE: At this point, you can spend an extra 15 euros to get the Behringer UMC202 described below, which is a MUCH better interface.

 

Under 300 euros:

At around 300 euros we can open it up a bit to include headphones. I recommend the Audio Technica M40x as a fantastic budget set of headphones that sound reasonably good and can take a beating. For reference, I have had my set of M50x for around 7 years and even the cable (which is replaceable) has remained mostly intact. We can do away with the headphone adapter too because one comes in the box. We have also stepped up the interface to support a second mic and a higher sample rate so the quality can go up and the latency will come down (hoorah!).

Interface: Behringer U-Phoria UMC202 : 66 euros.

Mic: Audio Technica AT2020 (Bundle, including pop shield) : 105 euros

MIC Stand: Gravity MS – any boom mic stand will probably do: approx 40 euros

Headphones ATH-M40x : 88 euros

Total Setup Cost: 299 Euros

 

Under 500 euros:

Getting a little more spenny at 500 euros (thanks Santa!) we can make some significant changes across the board. We are moving to an Audient interface which sounds incredible at the price point. We can also bump our headphones up to the M50x and add in a reflection filter for the mic so we can remove weird sounds arising from rooms that are not treated for acoustics. We are actually going to splash some cash on an LED ring light as well to make you look as good as you sound.

Interface: Audient iD4 : 121 euros

Mic: Audio Technica AT2020 (Bundle, including pop shield) : 105 euros

Marantx Reflection Filter: 55 euros

MIC Stand: Gravity MS – any boom mic stand will probably do : approx 40 euros

Headphones ATH-M50x: 129 euros

LED Ring Light : 30 euros approx

Total Setup Cost: 480 Euros

 

Under 1000 euros:

Oh, baby…

Let’s add studio monitors and a better mic. The SM7B is an industry-standard mic and it just might be the last vocal mic you will ever need to buy. Our chosen monitors are fairly basic but get the job done (and if you are irresponsible like me, you can repurpose them as speakers for your house party when all this COVID bs is over).

Interface: Audient iD4 : 121 euros.

Mic: Shure SM7B and FET amp  : 399 euros

Pop Shield : 18.50 euros

XLR Cable : 4.90 euros

Marantx Reflection Filter : 55 euros

MIC Stand: Gravity MS – any boom mic stand will probably do : approx 40 euros

Headphones ATH-M50x : 129 euros

Monitors MAudio BX5 D3 (2 required): 178 euros

Speaker Cabling : Corial Balanced x2 : 17.40 euros

LED Ring Light : 30 euros approx

Total Setup Cost: 992.80  Euros

 

So there you have it, 5 (well 4 if we dismiss the no-budget scenario) different setups for a variety of different price points. I’ll be writing a follow up soon to take you through how to get set up with OBS, a camera (or phone) and some plugins. This should improve your sound even if you have no fancy recording gear.

If you have any questions, please feel free to pop a question down below.

If you have any ideas for articles you would like me to cover then feel free to hit me up!

 

Written by: Stephen Brennan

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