They say the best camera is the one that's with you. And these days, that's typically the phone in your pocket. It's safe to say we've come a long way with technology, and we have access to incredibly powerful tools and devices to create an impromptu live streaming or recording session.
Below are some tips, tools and advice for recording and/or streaming your music, either visually or orally, on a budget.
To get started all you need is a phone, a mic, potentially a tripod and, definitely, a clear and tested plan.
Check. Plan. Test. Shoot!
1. Check your equipment; hardware and software.
2. Plan your shots, the length of performance and internet connection
3. Test your internet connection and your platform of choice
4. Shoot a great session!
Phone or Camera
You should have a relatively decent phone/camera with enough storage available to record video and audio files. If you are recording video or audio for upload later to YouTube or Vimeo, the standard resolution now is 4k.
Look for a phone that can shoot in 4k video. When uploading to YouTube and other services, your video will be compressed so having the best original quality will help mitigate against a lot of this compression. 4k will look pin sharp in good light. At a minimum, aim to shoot in 1080P.
For live streaming, things are slightly different. The bitrate (quality) will be determined in real time by the upload speed of your internet connection. The better your internet connection, the better your bitrate and the better your quality. Streaming will always be more compromised and compressed than recording for upload later. However, anecdotally at least, on certain platforms, the more your stream is shared to other pages the more bitrate you might be allowed across the service. After all, popular videos on these services are given precedence in terms of bandwidth. This can be part of your streaming strategy,
Phone photo sensors are actually tiny. Most of the improvements to the end result of photographs are entirely software based. This can become obvious when recording videos as things change dramatically. The software cannot compensate well in challenging lighting conditions. Your video will always be darker than your images.
While a bit of a challenge, it can be helped greatly by using a tripod (see below).
We recommend looking for a phone/camera that has a lens with a wide aperture. A lot of phone cameras now have an aperture of f1.8. The number represents the amount of light the sensor can take in. As a very general rule, the higher the aperture number (f2.2, f2.4) the worse the quality in low light. So, when choosing a recording device look for the lowest number possible on the main phone/camera lens.
In summary, look for a phone that can shoot 4k video, with a camera aperture of f1.8 or lower.
- Experiment with camera placement for the best angle for your video.
- Try to get all band members in shot, not obscured by mics or equipment, or each other.
- Don't position your shot too low, looking up; not a great look.
- Likewise, don't shoot video from above; also not a great look.
- Your phone/camera does a lot of potentially unexpected things in "auto" mode. It is constantly "hunting" for both focus and exposure. Lock both of these in before hitting record, typically by long pressing on an area of the screen you want to expose for. This will minimise out-of-focus and over-blown images and stop the phone from automatically (read; randomly) adjusting exposure and brightness during your streaming or recording session.
- Frame your shot, lock exposure and lock focus.
- Consider upgrading your software from the built in camera. There are great tools for recording professional quality video such as Filmic Pro (iOS/Android) or FilmoraGo (Android)
While you may get away with the quality of video from your phone, particularly if you are shooting in good lighting, what can let it down is the audio quality.
The minuscule microphones on phones just can't cope with dynamic live music and can sometimes result in a hollow or distorted sound. Additionally, your phone will pick up sounds closest to it, meaning you get a lot of ambient noise. This could be the audience, glasses clinking, 2 people having a full-on conversation about the price of milk, etc.
Probably one of the most important elements to your streaming set up is a quality microphone.
This will dramatically improve your footage. There are many decent options, specifically created for mobile recording at various price points. Look for options that allow you to set the gain or sensitivity to reduce or eliminate distortion. Look for quality components to make your recording sound as professional as possible.
Depending on your live set-up, you could take your audio mix from the mixing desk directly.
This is a great option if everything is mixed properly by an engineer. Check out the iRig Stream. It’s a device that is designed to take a stereo desk mix and feed it to your phone with granular gain control.
Alternatively a decent investment is the IK Multimedia iRig Pro I/O. With this device you can use your own specialist microphone and plug this directly into your phone.
If you are setting up an acoustic or indeed any other live-stream there are dedicated phone/mobile mics that will greatly improve your audio.
Generally speaking, a condenser mic is the best choice for your live recording/streaming.
Take a look at IK Multimedia's iRig Mic for an entry level option under €50. IK Multimedia also do a range of other mobile specific microphones with different characteristics at different price points
A very versatile all in one microphone designed specifically for iOS devices is the Shure Motiv MV88. It has gain control, plugs directly into your lightning connector and has different multiple mics built in allowing for many different configurations. It’s a step up price wise from the iRig Mic but has a much broader range, is a quality brand and is very small. An excellent option if you are shooting on iOS.
Rode also do a range of microphones designed to augment your phone’s video.
Check out the Rode VideoMic Rycote - A shotgun styled microphone, great for a more directional sound.
Another option is a wireless microphone which gives you some interesting options.
Mikme do a specialised wireless microphone which automatically syncs with your video
While considerably more expensive than the options above, you have more options to move the phone around, get right up close to your subject while the audio is positioned near the back of the room resulting in balanced audio sound with great closeup visuals, even in loud live settings.
Steady as she goes! Tripods and Gimbals
We've all seen the shaky videos where the um, director, may have appeared to be in their own personal earthquake. Shaky video, sideways video..closeup of directors thumb. All easily fixed with a tripod. You can use a tabletop or a full size tripod. Virtually anything will do.
If you have someone else recording and you want to create a sense of movement, this can be done with a gimbal, which is a device used to steady your hand and provide smooth movement. Phones have built in stabilization to minimise hand shake but a gimbal can take this to the next level.
DJI do phone specific gimbals such as the Osmo range, and there are many other alternatives. Gimbals are great for creating a cinematic look to your recording projects.
There are many platforms to stream on such as Instagram (IGTV), Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube and others. Practically all of them have access to your camera so you can shoot directly in the app.
If your audio is good to go and you have some level of control over the staging of your video, the most critical thing is optimising your network. You will need decent internet speeds to stream video. Specifically pay attention to the upload speed at your location.
Download an app like Speedtest (iOS & Android) and check the upload speed at your location. The download speed is almost irrelevant as you are sending video (uploading it) to the internet.
It's vital that you test this a number of times privately before going public with your stream. Check your connection.
Check your audio. Monitor your audio to see if the levels are correct and check on at least 2 other devices to see what others are seeing.
If you plan to stream for a longer time, consider a backup battery, such as an Anker power bank or similar. Please note also that if you have to supply power to your phone and you have to have a mic connected, you may require a dongle (an adaptor piece of hardware that allows you to plug in different things into your phone). If you cannot do this, make sure your phone's battery is at 100%. Shooting video eats into your batter and, using the internet intensively eats into your battery.
If your phone's battery is old, your shooting time will be limited. Plan ahead for this scenario.
Stream Now or Stream Later?
Another streaming strategy is to record in advance and stream later.
This method gives you more control over the recording process, the video and sound quality as well as the ability to review the footage, add some audio processing, visuals and other overlays. Once completed, you can premiere this by re-broadcasting it on Facebook or YouTube, giving the impression of a live stream without the stress of worrying about quality, internet connection et al while you are performing.
Audio Recording Apps to check out
- Ferrite Recording Studio
- Cubasis 3
- Beatmaker 3 (iPad only)
- Audio Evolution Mobile Studio
- FL Studio Mobile
- Hi-Q MP3 Voice Recorder
Editing Your Footage On-The-Go
For iOS users, iMovie is a good built-in choice which works well, but, for a few euro you can seriously upgrade your editing experience and the resultant output.
LumaFusion is currently one of the best mobile video editors out there for iOS. Well worth the investment!
Consider also downloading some GoPro software. The official GoPro app is free as is its companion app Quik. Even if you don't have a GoPro, you can use this software to create dynamic visual content very quickly.
Other options such as Videoleap are great at infusing your videos with a sense of style.
Streaming your music is a great way to engage new audiences, build your brand and showcase your music online. Doing it well will present your music in the best possible way.
If you want any further advice on live streaming or recording on a budget please email hello[a]timprovisedmusic[dot]ie with 'Streaming' in the subject line.