A global pandemic has made 2020 a rough year for live performance, but not an impossible one. Venues, performers, and fans have collectively come up with a socially distant solution: streaming everything under the sun, including punk concerts, Shakespeare, and drag shows.
Collectively, these audacious live performances have provided some good news: Livestreaming an event or performance is easy. The bad news: it’s also easy to screw up.
“Once you start adding layers — bandwidth, technology, environment — all those variables start to affect one another,” says Gilad Gershoni, the founder of full-service streaming agency Elevated Stream and the soundman for hip-hop trio De La Soul. If your live stream is not done right, the end result can be a frustrating, or even embarrassing, experience.
But it doesn’t have to be so. We asked Gershoni to share his expertise on the common mistakes he sees in first-time (and veteran) livestreamers, along with simple solutions, so you can make sure you get your live stream right the first time around.
The Mistake: Biting Off More Than They Can Chew
Many of the clients Gershoni consults with want to “do it all” on the first try. Biting off more than you can chew is a common problem among live streamers; things that initially seem simple, like bringing on multiple guests in quick succession, or cutting back and forth between experts, can’t be accomplished on a basic streaming platform, and actually takes a lot of production and budget. Once they realize that, some potential streamers simply decide not to stream at all.
The Solution: Keep Your First Streams Simple
“Make sure you can get your message across with the budget you have,” says Gershoni. “Because anything is possible with a budget, but if you’re trying to do things yourself, it’s important to set your expectations correctly.” Conventional wisdom applies: Keep things as simple as possible. And remember: all you really need for a successful stream is a laptop or phone and an internet connection. It’s OK to start small and add extra layers, like a PTZ (Pan-Tilt-Zoom) camera, later.
The Mistake: Not Testing Enough
A live video stream is not the place to learn on the fly. Most streaming platforms like Vimeo, Facebook Live, Instagram Live, Twitter, Twitch, and YouTube Live, allow users to preview a stream. “That’s great, so you can confidently know you’re the only one watching” during a test, Gershoni says. Too often, first-time streamers have not tested their internet bandwidth during different times of day, or have not considered their video encoder’s bit rate (your internet speed, which you can test via speedtest.net, should be at least double your video bit rate to ensure lag-free streaming).
The Solution: Rehearse, Rehearse, Rehearse
A successful streamer sweats the details. “As you rehearse, you get all the parts together, and it all starts to come into formation,” Gershoni says. The smooth flow of the (mostly) virtual Emmys broadcast didn’t happen by accident — practice shows are run for hours, then again. Schedule at least one rehearsal with all (or as many as possible) participants involved. Ask yourself: What is the run of the show? Will you have to rush to get through all your live stream’s elements in time? “Going into all these elements is a part of the production process that is very much overlooked,” Gershoni says.
The Mistake: Not Considering Where the Content Is Going
Once you have all the elements of your show rehearsed and ready to go, you might think you’re ready to go. Au contraire. You need to consider distribution and marketing, and treat them as separate things.
The Solution: Consider Your Distribution
Distribution simply means where you’re sending the final stream you’ve put together. “Where is it going to be seen by the end user? Is it going to be on Zoom? Is it going to be on Twitter? Is it going to be on many other platforms that are out there?” Gishoni asks. This requires some consideration. “Some platforms are specialized for the subject matter. Some platforms are more widely inclusive, if you will, of the different content that they have.”
What you decide about these “distribution channels” should depend on two things: your audience and your marketing plan. Where is the audience? Who’s going to be into your content? An awareness play for an album release, for instance, might include streaming on many distribution channels to many different destinations. On the other hand, if you already have an established audience, you might consider creating exclusive content developed in partnership with a single streaming service.
The Mistake: Taking on a Complicated Live Stream Without Backup
The more you build on your stream, the more people you add, the more devices you add to your arsenal, the more potential there is for problems. Once your first few streams go well, you may be ready to add a few extras: well designed graphical overlays, multiple guests, enticing backdrops. But getting to the next level might take more budget and expertise than you’re prepared for.
The Solution: Get Help From the Pros
At Elevated Stream, Gershoni and his team help brands, event creators, educators and entertainers find the right equipment and work smarter within their streaming environment. Elevated Stream also offers virtual remote control rooms where streamers can bring in remote guests to add a whole new element to their broadcast. If you’re not sure where to start, check out the agency’s Live Stream Kits, a mobile, self-serve solution that provides you with the tools you need to stream like a pro — without complicated setups and poor quality.
“As you’re starting out and you evolve, there’s different layers or levels of support you can get,” Gershoni says. That doesn’t mean you have to hire an entire production company. “It can literally be having somebody along that can guide you through any issues,” he says.