Streaming 101

Image Courtesy of Sebastiaan ter Burg

Image Courtesy of Sebastiaan ter Burg

We talk to a lot of churches that have a desire to stream their services and events online. We recently taught a class on this topic at the North West Ministry Conference, and we thought we would share it with you here.  

So, you want to stream your services over the inter-webs?

Before you just jump in, here are some things you should think about.

Determine the Why

It is funny how many people we talk to that have no idea “why” their church wants to stream. Before you move forward, it is good to ask these questions with your team and leaders:

Does It Need To Be Live?

Would posting on YouTube or Vimeo Sunday afternoon or Monday work just as well? Often, a few hours or even a day delay won’t be a big factor for your audience.

Is it because it’s cool or does it advance the vision of your church?

Many churches fall into the trap of thinking they need to stream live because all the big “cool” churches are doing it. Most of those churches see live streaming as integral to their mission. But that doesn’t mean it’s right for every church. 

Here are (in our opinion) valid reasons to stream live:

  • Keeping services accessible for shut-ins and sick
  • Reaching your community
  • Reaching a larger audience outside your immediate community

Still going to stream live?

Do it well. Today’s connected generation has high standards and a short attention span. A poor live stream will do a lot more damage for your church’s creditability than no stream at all. Plus, you’re competing with all the big players will full staffs and big budgets.  

High quality video is essential. If you’re going for more than archival quality, you’re going to have to spend some money. Quality cameras can range from $5,000-50,000 each. If the camera requires an additional lens, they range from $3,000-50,000 each. If you have more than one camera, you will need a way to switch between them. Switchers range from $2,000-25,000.  Keep in mind you will also need capture cards, encoders, IT infrastructure and fast internet. The cost for those can quickly creep into the thousands of dollars. Live streaming is not a low-budget endeavor.

Camera Shots

Good execution is essential and that starts with camera shots. For speaking only, you can get away with one camera shot, but we recommend at minimum two. Here are some camera shots that work well and can also serve to feed your iMag and ancillary room video feed:

  • 1st front-center shot (above the knee or at waist)
  • 2nd Camera additional front-center (head to toe)
  • 3rd Camera Slash Shot (usually house left/ right)   
  • 4th-5th- Cameras POV on Stage    

Also:

  • Additional Slash or roaming
  • Audience shot
  • Jib shot
  • Dedicated Far-Wide Shot

Proper Lighting

You have to light with video in mind. Proper lighting is more important for video than it is in the room itself. Cameras don’t have the dynamic range our eyes do, so lighting needs to be well-controlled. The great thing about the new high definition cameras is that lighting doesn’t have to be crazy-bright anymore. That being said, color balance is important. The major things are:

  • Color balance front light to 4,000K-5,550K
  • Even front light
  • Good back light
  • Color (which helps with depth)

Good Audio

No matter how great the video looks, if it sounds bad, you will drive your audience away. If you are only streaming the speaking portion you can get away with the board mix, but if you are streaming the entire service with music you will want to explore some of these options:

  • Dedicated matrix mix from main console
  • Broadcast mix of stems from main console
  • Broadcast mix of each channel (split)

* A great execution of this can be found here 

Staffing Needs

Adding this kind of video may require a larger crew. Staff/ Volunteer positions may/will include:

  • Camera Operators (1-6 or more)
  • Video Director
  • Shader (depending on the complexity of your system)
  • Technical Director

IT Infrastructure

This is a BIG ONE. If you are streaming your services, you must have a good IT infrastructure and bandwidth and up-speed is crucial. 

  • For SD, minimum 1 Mbps upload, continuous
  • For HD, minimum 5 Mbps upload, continuous
  • For Multiple Bitrates 8-20 Mbps (don’t recommend)
  • QOS (Quality of Service)—prioritizing streaming traffic

Streaming Company Qualifications:

Here are some, but not all, of the services a streaming provider will offer which you should consider:

  • Weekend customer service hotline
  • Video Player embedded on your site
  • Ad free (you will have to pay for this)
  • Transcode to multiple bitrates (Receiver’s bandwidth is a potential limiting factor)
  • Analytics
  • Player DVR function (record while streaming); archive and playlist ability
  • Geo Blocking (regional availability)
  • Password protection ability for conferences etc.
  • Simulated live
  • Mobile device compatible

Read the Fine Print

Some plans will charge a monthly fee and then add bandwidth usage fees. Unlimited bandwidth may seem good, but it might ultimately be more expensive, so read the fine print and plan accordingly. One more thing; read the fine print.

 Some Streaming Providers you should look at:

     Stream Monkey

     DaCast

     Church Streaming TV

     Stream Spot

     LiveStream (use the paid service)

     UStream (use the paid service)

     YouTube (maybe)

You can also “Roll your own” with CDNs like Akamai but this is not for the meek and with all the providers out there, unless you are an uber-nerd with lots of time on your hands, we don’t recommend it.

Here are some other resources for your perusal:

10 Church Live Streaming Providers to Consider

7 Best Live Streaming Services for your Church

Top live streaming services for Houses of Worship

6 Church Live Streaming Best Practices

Elite Core

So Easy Anyone Can Do It!

Image courtesy of Gergely Csatari

Image courtesy of Gergely Csatari

There I was, enjoying my morning bacon and eggs, flipping through posts on Facebook. I came across one in one of the production groups I follow that really caught my eye and made me laugh. It read:

TRUE or FALSE: Anyone can be trained to be a great sound technician.

I should have noted the author and group so I could give credit (or maybe it’s good I didn’t…). To me the answer is so obvious, I initially laughed, but then it occurred to me where the answer was coming from. Most likely, the question came from a tech leader at a church—likely smaller—who is getting pressure from their leadership to develop a large, professional grade sound team. And the pastor simply can’t understand why they don’t have a team of amazing engineers. I mean, it’s so easy, anyone can do it, right?

Wrong.

I would (and have) argued that next to the preacher, the FOH engineer is the hardest job on a Sunday morning. To be a truly great sound engineer will take years (yes, Virginia, years) of dedication to training, learning and getting better at your craft. The amount of knowledge one must possess to be a great engineer is staggering. The number of hours one must mix to become great is dumbfounding. Check out my friend Dave’s post on learning to be a great FOH engineer. It Takes Time

Here’s what I have discovered after nearly 25 years of technical leadership in the church. For every 500 or so people in the church, there might be one, maybe two that could be good FOH engineers. Now, that doesn’t mean they have the time, willingness or desire to become FOH engineers, I mean, they could. Most can’t. I know, I’ve tried to train a lot of people with good hearts who want to serve but have no idea how to mix. 

It’s More Than Mechanics

I’ve already said it’s not possible that anyone can be trained to be a great sound engineer. But how about an operator? Can we train almost anyone to at least operate the board? No. My wife is a great example. She’s a fine woman but were I to bring her back to FOH and start showing her around the SD8, her eyes would glaze over and she would likely walk out. She’s a former musician and has a little bit of musical/mix knowledge, but learning to operate that console is not in her scope. There are a lot more people like her in our churches than not. 

I remember working with a fellow volunteer way back in the day. He was a solid volunteer; always there when scheduled, generally had the pastor’s mic on when it was supposed to be and had a good attitude. But he was a terrible mixer. Sure, he worked as an electronics technician doing board-level repair, but he didn’t for the life of him have any idea how music fit together. I used to have vocalists offering to pay me $20 to take over and mix their special on weeks he was mixing. He knew how the board worked—heck, he probably could have built it—but he had no idea how to mix music

Art and Science

It’s been said many times that being a great FOH engineer is a weird mix of art and science. We need to understand and almost unconsciously know the technology, but we also need to know music. We need to know how music fits together, and how sound propagates in a space. We also need to be therapists and counselors to the band if we want to get the best performance from them. It’s a weird mix, and most don’t possess it. 

Your Final Answer

False. Not anyone can be trained to be a great FOH engineer. In fact, I would go so far to say that most people wouldn’t even make good FOH engineers. I’m not being elitist, this is just what I’ve observed after 25+ years doing this.

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Where's Waldo?

Image courtesy of Waldo

Image courtesy of Waldo

Regular readers of this website have likely noticed the falloff in post frequency of late. Listeners of the podcast have likewise noticed that ChurchTechWeekly is more like ChurchTechMonthly as well. It’s been a while since I shared much of what’s going on in my personal life, so I thought I would take a few hundred words to do so. 

On The Road Again

That’s been the theme of this year for me. During the first quarter of 2016, I was on the road almost every week for at least a few days each week. Between trips to the office, conferences, visits to churches and commissioning systems, it was a busy time. And I’m not going to lie, it was exhausting. The last month has been a little better, and I’ve only had a few trips in the second quarter so far, but there’s more going on (more on that later). 

The thing that’s hardest about being on the road is how disruptive it is for everything else in life. When I get back after a week out, there’s a mountain of mail and other chores to be handled, all before I go back out again. And for those few days that I’m home, I really don’t want to sit around writing blog posts, or reviewing equipment. The work has been good, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to serve the Church, while earning a good living. But the free time is less than it was. 

Family Changes

When my wife and I moved to Nashville, our two daughters stayed in California. We were sad to not have them with us, but they’re young adults and they wanted to live their lives, and we applaud them for that. About 8 weeks ago, we got a call from our younger daughter, and she indicated that she really wanted to leave SoCal. It wasn’t going nearly as well as she hoped it would be, and she wanted a fresh start. She asked if she could come live with us for a while she got settled, found a job and saved up some money to move back out on her own, this time around Nashville. Of course we said yes! 

So while I had almost a month home a few weeks back, much of that time was spent getting ready for Robyn to move home. Again, this is all good stuff, and we’re excited to have her back with us, even for a little while. But it’s taken time away from my writing pursuits. 

Mental Bandwidth

One of the biggest reasons I’m not writing as much as I once was is simply the lack of mental bandwidth. When I was a church TD, I worked hard and sometimes long hours. But it was all stuff I was extremely good at and didn’t require high amounts of mental exertion. As a TD, I felt like I was using about 30-40% of my capacity, which is why I wanted a change. Now I have a great job that uses 70-80% of my capacity, which I enjoy, but there’s a lot less left over for ChurchTechArts. 

Even when I’m not on the road, I’m pretty worn out by the end of most days as I continue to acclimate to my new role and build processes to make it better. That will come, and at some point it won’t be as tiring, but for now, it’s a lot. 

I write all this not to complain or give anyone cause to feel sorry for me. I’m happy with where my life is, and I’m grateful for the opportunities. But it is definitely a new life stage that is causing me to adjust. My intention is to keep plugging away at posts as I’m able for the foreseeable future and, who knows, a year from now, things could be humming along and I’ll be back to three posts a week. Or I’ll be completely worn out and in need of a sabbatical.

So that’s where we are. ChurchTechArts is not dead, and I have some ideas on new CTA projects I want to take on this summer if time permits. Thanks to each of you for being faithful readers and for all the support and encouragement you’ve shown me over the years. I love hearing your stories and hearing how God is using you to build His Kingdom. We’ll continue this journey together!

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