Arguably, sound is the most important component of your online show. Unlike the live experience, where people are kind of used to uneven sound throughout the venue, noise from attendees, random tech issues, and whatnot, online concerts have a higher standard for the quality of sound as it’s so much easier for your audience to just click away to something more exciting. Plus, haven’t your fans and supporters come for your music, at the end of the day?

As someone whose experiences with broadcasting themselves on the internet begin and end with Zoom and Instagram (I'm a writer), I will be investigating the best ways to create great sound for your online show from scratch, just like you might be. So let’s take the journey.

I will ask musicians using Show4me streaming for their online events to share how they set up their audio and their best advice on providing good sound quality throughout the event.

Where to start

The first musician I talked to was singer Krizziah Juanico. Krizziah covers popular songs in the genres of Classical, Pop, R&B/Soul. She played an online show on Show4me in July and has just launched a ticketing campaign for her upcoming August 29 online concert. Krizziah helped me figure out the sound setup, starting with the very basics.

Krizziah emphasized how much good preparation matters. She took a whole week to set up her show and test everything out. She explained to me that the very basic setup any musician can have to stream their sound as part of their online show is a combination is a DAW + OBS.

DAW is a digital audio workstation, it’s a class of software that helps deliver the sound from your mics (or mixer) to the OBS. It doesn’t matter which exact daw you are using as long as it meets your needs. Krizziah uses a daw called FL Studio.

OBS is a free and open source software for streaming.

To send sound to your daw, you need a quality mic (Krizziah uses a condenser mic), plug it into your audio interface (external sound card), and there you go – you are ready to begin your rehearsals and test out various sound settings!

Krizziah explains that the key perk of this setup as opposed to just propping up your phone and hitting broadcast is the clean, crisp sound of high quality.

On the importance of a mixer

Next, I talked to Natalia Pelaez, one half of Latin-American band Los Soneros, who live and work in the UK. They’ve played four shows on Show4me already and are currently preparing their fifth, on August 22.

Echoing Krizziah’s recommendation, Natalia also emphasized the necessity to rehearse a lot, play back the sound and video, and tweak and improve until your audio setup sounds exactly as it should be. Natalia shared that Los Soneros play unlisted lives on YouTube and watch them back to check what needs improving.

One thing Natalia advised every musician to get for their live shows was a mixer. Vocals, guitar preamplifiers, drum machine, any instrument you might be using to create your music needs its own channel to go into your mixer.

If it’s just your vocals and a guitar, you can get away with an audio interface that has two channels. But normally a mixer is necessary for quality sound as using one mic to capture all of the sounds in your show creates a messy sound that Natalia described as being distinctly vague.

Another important aspect of playing live that Natalia shared with me was using headphones during the show. Headphones help to hear the playback of what you actually sound like in real time and adjust as you go. This feedback is important to play well and is difficult to replicate using playback speakers may not provide as accurate a sound feedback plus the sound from them goes back into your sound channels and interferes with the clarity of your show sound overall (creating echo).

Once all of your sound channels are connected to your mixer, you connect the device to your PC with a USB cable.

Ensuring consistent sound

Next up, I chatted with gospel musician Clyde J. Clyde J was one of the performers at the First Online Gospel Marathon that took place on Show4me on July 27 – August 2, 2020.

Clyde talked me through dealing with sound fluctuations throughout a livestreamed show. Musicians change instruments, go from instrumentals to solos and back, and, of course, chat with the audience. All of these can create sound fluctuations – sometimes so drastic that your audience is forced to change the volume every time you stop playing and start speaking – that you need to address in your audio setup.

To deal with that, Clyde J advises to use an audio box and hook it up to a daw of your choice (Clyde prefers Pro Tools for live events and Logic Pro for recording) where you can adjust the sound.

As your daw is hooked up to an external mixer where all your instruments are plugged in as we’ve discussed above, you can go to your daw interface and manually or through presets remove any peaks or harsh sounds from your show. Your daw is the place where you do sound compression, EQing.

Clyde has a simple hack to avoid sound jumps for when you are talking to your audience and not singing. Short of teaching someone in your household to adjust the volume in your daw to make it consistent throughout the show (which Clyde insists is very easy to do and takes very little time to teach), the singer advises to create two channels in your daw with sound presets – one for singing and another one for speaking and mute them intermittently, depending on which you are doing at the time.

Your singing channel can have all the presets for your signature sound and vocals, settings to help your singing voice stand out and/or fill the room, etc. Clyde notes that people are drawn to you for your specific sound and these presets can help brand your voice and further expand your fanbase who will have an easier time remembering and recognizing your sound.

Your speaking channel can be just a dry channel that only transmits your voice. You mute the channel you are not using and then switch once you start singing or, vice versa, talking.

Clyde J also advises to use a mixer and notes that if you don’t have a mixer at home, there are very affordable portable options – small audio boxes with little mixers that you can easily connect to your phone, tablet or PC. Plus, if you are using a 4K camera (which he recommends for optimal video and sound quality), plug in the audio from the mixer (instead of using the camera mic to capture sound). Most cameras will have an audio slot for you to plug the mixer in.

Just like Krizziah and Natalia, Clyde J reminds once again to do a full test run. Like Los Soneros, Clyde also does a private stream to check that everything is in place. He uses Streamyard for that.

Here is Clyde showing off his Presonus audiobox:

The musician also noted that it’s important to understand the difference between your live gigs and online shows.

Using digital effects

Our own musician, singer, songwriter, and DJ Dan BG also shared his notes on the process of setting up online show sound.

He advises to pay attention to this often overlooked aspect of the online show – when playing at a venue, if the guitar or bass are not perfectly tuned, your fans might not even notice. Why? Venue walls create the reverb that softens any irregularities in the sound (this is why a crowd of fans singing along to a song sounds pretty good despite most of the individual voices not hitting all the right notes).

During an online concert even the least demanding viewers will notice if your instruments (and voice) are hitting the wrong notes. Make sure you tune your instruments ahead of time and set everything up to sound good. Don’t shy away from using various sound effects. Dan recommends adding GTR Tune plugin to your daw and using it 3-4 times during the show.

For vocals, Dan advises to have a good vocal warm-up, especially if you are using a studio mic capturing high quality audio. Dan’s lifehack to make the sound during an online show better is using mixed and mastered tracks and playbacks. Get creative – add a variety of accompanying instruments, use samples and voice tags, atmospheric sounds and backgrounds. Dan uses Omnisphere for this.

“Don’t be afraid to use effects,” he says, “Autotune for vocals and instruments; delay, reverb, flanger, or phaser... Remember you are not playing in a big room or venue, so feel free to add more!” he concludes.

Here is Dan BG setting up one of his gigs:

What about DJing

Now that we know the basics of creating excellent sound quality for your online show as a singer, let’s address sound setups for DJs.

If you are a DJ, not everything shared above will apply to your online show. We’ve connected with DJ and producer Denylson to chat about the way sound is set up for the online DJing gig. Denylson’s dance party is coming to Show4me on August 28.

The DJ explained to me that many DJs struggle broadcasting their sound sets to their online audiences so don’t sweat it if you are one of them. Denylson explains that the first thing you need to figure out is whether the software you are using with your midi controller is compatible with the streaming software OBS.

DJs normally use either basic midi controllers like Numark or full-on professional DJ gear like CDJ. Both will require a software to manage the sound and reproduce what you create in the midi controller into the streaming program.

Denylson combines his Numark midi controller with VirtualDJ. The program encodes the sound created and sends it to the PC. This is where OBS takes the sound and can stream it out to your audience! Just connect your midi controller to your external sound card and send your processed sound to OBS.

To get another perspective on this, I’ve also talked to DJ and sound designer DE FEO who has already held two online shows on Show4me.

The DJ shared with me that he uses CDJ for his on-site sets, but for online gigs the way is using a midi controller Korg nanoKONTROL, connecting it to Steinberg UR22 sound card, which has two outputs – one for his bluetooth speakers and one for OBS. The software he uses to record his audio is Ableton Live, which then sends the music directly to OBS.

Here’s DE FEO during his live set on Show4me last week:

Our own Dan BG plays his online DJ sets with the following setup: DJ controller Pioneer DDJ 400, Beyerdynamic DT 770 pro headphones, Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 audio interface, an iPhone 7 camera, OBS, and iPhone app Larix.

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