How I stream Online Performances on Google Hangouts

The world has literally opened up for me, and I have been having loads of fun playing small gigs or even just a chill hangout with friends and fans of the band that I could previously never have reached. Most of them are in the US and Scandinavia at the moment. And I have been using Google Hangouts on Air to do this. This is a post about why I am liking livestream so much, a bit about the gear I use and the set up I have used so others could potentially replicate this.

Atul Rana at open mic night gigs

The energy I give at open mic nights even with empty venues is now also channeled into livestream 🙂

Streaming gigs is totally the new thing
The logistics of streaming are golden; I don’t need to travel anywhere and can get a studio style sound being broadcast from my bedroom, that’s good enough reason for me to stream. Over the years I have felt incredibly frustrated as singer and guitarist playing small live venues. In a band I invariably get drowned out as a singer, not to mention all the bring an audience nonsense that you need to do in order to play a gig, and all the band management on top of all that. It’s just waaaay too much work to get to the point where you can actually perform some songs. At open mic nights my solo sound is much simpler with guitar and voice and I can just rock up there on my own, but I still don’t have full control on guitar tone and reverb on voice. Livestreaming gigs has helped me hone my sound to perfection and I can feed in studio perfect sound to the listener. This is truly revolutionary and creates an amazing audio experience at the other end. Also more importantly on a human level, I have been able to connect to people by doing special one-on-one gigs with lots of chatting in between. It really is like hanging out in a room, playing some music and getting to know people. I really love this intimacy, which I felt was missing from venue gigs and even open mic nights.

Use ethernet cable and NOT wi-fi when streaming from home on Google Hangout
When streaming gigs you are using your broadband’s upload speed. Upload is always a lot slower than download so don’t be fooled by fast download speeds. It is the upload speed that counts when streaming. You can test your broadband upload and download speed using a free testing website. Wi-fi speed is slower than using a direct ethernet cable. This makes perfect sense since all electrical signals have electrons in the ethernet cable that communicate directly with electrons on the computer when plugged straight in. When you use wi-fi this electron flow is converted into waves, which is then re-converted into electron flow, which is indirect. The physics of ethernet means it is faster by default. During my experimentation I found that it made a substantial difference to the quality of video and sound being transmitted.

UX2 guitar and vocal interface
I already had an analgoue mixer at home, the awesome zoom H2 audio mic-recorder-USB interface, a bunch of SM58 mics, a boom mic stand, my trusty electric guitar and guitar stands. I found the UX2 set up as the best one. Basically plug your guitar into it and your microphone, tweak the guitar tone, add reverb for a touch of gloss and voila you have perfect guitar sound. For vocals you can add a dash of reverb or/and compression. I also tried out using a mixer straight into the PC soundcard (it gave me a good enough sound, although onboard PC soundcards can be noisy so apparently this is best avoided). To cut out the PC soundcard altogether, I also plugged in the analogue mixer output into the zoom H2 line input and use the zoom H2 as soundcard. The upside of using an analogue mixer is that I could potentially have 4 channels of audio going in live, the downside was that my mixer had no reverb effects I could add in. As I only needed two channels of audio, the UX2 gave me a bunch of really cool guitar tones and the ability to add reverb, which worked great for me. According to David Santy’s blog, it is even better to get a USB mixer as that allows more channels to be added should you want more mic’ing up or have more instruments involved.

Use Hangout on Air on Studio Mode
Google has two types of hangouts, one is the normal one and the other one is called Hangout on Air (which can also stream to YouTube live). The normal hangout is disastarous for streaming singing and guitar type audio as it is designed for speech. The way it is designed is that quiet speech can be made louder and vice versa (sort of compression with normalising). This is fine on speech but on music audio it really sounds nasty and clicky. To overcome this simply use Hangout on Air and use the studio setting.

This is pretty much how I’ve gotten started with online streaming, I am still trying new things and optimising my sound. There is a learning curve to all this which turned out to be longer than I first thought, but it is well worth it. So try it out yourself!

Many thanks to my musician friend Neal (from Amphibic) for giving me this streaming idea and David Santy’s very detailed blog post on livestreaming on Google Hangout.

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