Jun 15, 2021

Getting Started with Virtual Events: A Playbook for Venues & Festivals

Post by 
Meghann York

This blog is part of a larger collection of educational content about hybrid concerts. Click here to check it out.

When Shlomo Lipetz, VP of Programming at City Winery, wants to livestream a show from one of his venues and sell tickets to the virtual event, all he has to do is, in his own words, “flip the switch.” Shlomo and team started livestreaming shows during the pandemic and plan to continue when events are back at full capacity. Why? “Because it’s so easy.” 

Mandolin has worked closely with City Winery to equip their venues for livestream as well as optimized dozens of others for hybrid events throughout 2020. If you’re a venue or festival and still unsure how to get started bringing in additional virtual revenue streams through hybrid events, look no further. Here’s our simplified guide to setting up your venue for livestream as in-person returns.

Equipping Your Venue or Festival for Livestream

In general, there are a few pieces of equipment and a small team needed to produce a livestream at your venue. At the highest level, you need:

Audio: Capture audio from the performance, mix it with the video footage, monitor levels, and stream it
Video:
Film the performance with manual or remote video cameras, mix in various production elements, and stream it
Video Switcher:
Create multiple camera angles with a software or hardware video switcher
Cabling:
Various cabling like HDMI, SDI, Ethernet, XLR, Power (AC), and Power (DC)
Crew:
A small but mighty team including camera operators, a sound person, and a director/producer
A Reliable and Stable Internet:
A dedicated hardwired connection to the Internet with consistent upload speeds of no less than 20 Mbps. 
Encoder:
Computer software or standalone hardware device that prepares video to be streamed over the Internet (ex: Open Broadcaster Studio (OBS) or Wirecast)
Streaming Platform:
A fan-side platform like Mandolin to broadcast the performance from the encoder to fans

Let’s dig in a little further...

Audio: Demystifying the audio mix

Audio is the single most important element of the entire production and equipment list. This is music after all. 

The audio feed is fed in from the house, so the artists don’t have to do anything differently when performing onstage. It is definitely recommended that you use an audio mixer dedicated solely to the livestream. The audio in the house will sound different than what is fed into the livestream, and so they should be mixed exactly the same. 

We recommend using an all-in-one video mixer to synchronize video and audio feeds. We also recommend placing your livestream sound engineer in a quiet place, so they aren’t distracted by the house audio (if it’s turned up like in the case of a hybrid in-person + livestream show).

Video: Picture perfect visuals 

To give everyone at home the “being there in person feel,” video is an incredibly important aspect to consider when planning for livestreaming your shows. Mandolin has you covered with full HD capabilities. However, a video feed is only as good as what you feed into it. Rest easy, though. With today’s video technology, it’s easy and inexpensive to create amazing fan experiences with video. 

When getting ready to invest in your livestream video setup, there are a few things to consider. For one thing, you need to decide how many camera angles you will need and where they’ll be placed to optimize both the in-person and remote fan experience. While it’s great to get up close & personal shots for the virtual audience, you’ll want to make sure the cameras capturing them don’t obstruct the view of the in-person crowd. 

The number of these cameras can vary based on the size of your venue and desired production quality. In general, smaller venues will have 2-3 different cameras. Larger venues will have 3 or more. The more camera angles you have, the more options you have when producing the show. Another important decision is whether you prefer manually operated cameras or remote control cameras:

Manually Operated Cameras

Manually operated cameras are generally more flexible (because a human being is physically manning the camera). However, they are typically more expensive because each one will add another member to your crew.

Remote Operated Cameras

Remote operated cameras help to keep your crew costs down. This is because several remote cameras may be controlled by one camera operator. Remote cameras can be installed in your venue in permanent locations and used for hundreds of livestreamed events, making them a great investment for many venues.

In addition to the footage of the show itself, other video elements could include pre-recorded intro/outro video, footage or still images in between acts, or other production elements to create a better experience for fans.

Video Switchers: The secret to high production

There are two primary types of video switchers, hardware switchers and software switchers.

Hardware Video Switchers

Hardware switchers are dedicated, freestanding devices with simple buttons that perform video switching functions. Whereas software switchers run on a laptop or desktop PC or Mac. Neither one is necessarily better than the other, so it mostly depends on your preferences, budget, and the equipment you already have. 

Hardware switchers offer incredible reliability because they are purpose-built to provide video switching between HDMI or HD-SDI sources. 

Many churches rely on hardware video switchers because they also offer the lowest possible latency for image magnification when sending video sources to a projection screen or network of LCD TVs. When you are thinking about image magnification you always want to have the least amount of video devices between the source and the destination in order to reduce latency. 

Software Video Switcher 

You may have heard of popular software video switchers like OBS or ECAM. These are required without a physical switcher and recommended, but not required otherwise. 

These programs allow for easy mixing of audio and video. They also allow you to set up multiple scenes. Other benefits include real time AV capture, and per source audio filters like noise gate, noise suppression, and gain.

Software video switchers are less expensive and slightly more limited than higher end hardware switchers. However, most software switchers have plenty of horsepower to livestream a concert, especially at smaller venues with a 2-3 camera setup.

Cabling: Tying it all together

There are a whole lot of three and four letter acronyms thrown around when it comes to cabling. In general, there are six types of cables that do 90% of the heavy lifting:

HDMI: The HDMI connector is the standard interface for connecting your audio-visual devices together (example use for HDMI cables would be to connect the video switcher to an external monitor)
SDI
: The SDI connector provides a method for transmitting uncompressed digital video, audio and other data between video devices (example use for SDI cables would be from the decimator to the video switcher)
Ethernet
: The ethernet cable created a wired connection between your computer and the internet, which is faster and more reliable than streaming over wifi
XLR
: XLR connectors are used for transmitting microphone or balanced line-level signals (example use of an XLR cable would be from the house sound to the switcher)
Power (AC)
: Connects to power (example use of AC power would be to send power from the house AC to a computer used for streaming)
Power (DC)
: Connects to power (example use of DC power would the connector between a battery and a camera)

Crew: The team that makes it all go

Crew size varies depending on how complex your setup is. In general, most venues will need between 1 and 4 people to help produce a livestream. This could be made up of full time staff or contractors. However, venues that plan to reap the benefits of many livestreamed concerts should plan to hire full time crew members because it is more profitable in the long run.

Factors that influence crew size include manually vs remote operated cameras and complexity of scenes and directing. Some setups will need a dedicated audio engineer (most venues already have one).

Types of Crew

Camera Operators: Responsible for filming the show
Sounds engineer / mixer
: Responsible for the livestream audio mix
Producer / director
: Responsible to the audio/video mix and additional production elements. This is often one person, and they may double as a camera operator.

Internet: Your portal to the fans 

Stable internet is simple but absolutely critical to a good livestream experience. There are only a few things to keep in mind.

Number one is speed. We recommend a minimum internet speed of 20 mbs per second. This connection should be wired, using an ethernet cable. Do not livestream a show using a wireless connection.

That’s really it for internet. Unless an internet service provider is experiencing mass outages, it’s very difficult for something to go wrong with a wired connection. SO long as you are plugged in, and the speed is high enough, you will broadcast to fans perfectly.

Encoder: Preparing your video for the internet

An encoder converts the video captured on your device to a compressed format that is usable by fan-side streaming platforms like Mandolin—and allows for a more highly produced viewing experience for fans. It’s what allows you to use multiple cameras, share your screen, or add special effects to the stream. Common encoders include Wirecast, OBS, and SlingStudio.

While each encoder offers different capabilities and requires different setup, this is the platform you’ll use to add and manage sources for your livestream—often including camera angles, different audio source volume levels, graphics, images and more. Here you’ll set the destination (stream key) for where this livestream will broadcast (Mandolin or other livestream platform).

Encoding is a strenuous task for computers, so it’s recommended that you encode streaming sources on a separate computer from where you manage the event on Mandolin—such as moderating chat or completing other necessary tasks.

We recommend clients set their encoder to stream 1080p at 30 fps, bitrate between 5000 to 8000 kbps, and Internet upload speed at least 20 Mbps.

Streaming Platform: Fan’s portal to your show

Choosing the right livestream platform comes down to identifying one that enables the fan experience you’d like to create. Top notch platforms like Mandolin offer livestreamers:

HD Video
Lossless Audio
Watch Parties & Private Chat
Seamless VIP Meet & Greet Experiences
Ability to Purchase Merchandise & Send Donations

As in-person events return, hybrid-enabled platforms like Mandolin not only optimize the virtual experience, but can amplify the in-person experience through virtual experiences offered in the mobile app.

For more information on how hybrid improves the in-person fan experience, check out this blog.

Summing it all up…

“Flip a switch,” you say?? “This looks more complicated than a switch!” 

The good news is that, just like we did with City Winery, the Mandolin production team is with you every step of the way. If you have any questions or would like a more detailed guide, reach out to our Industry Relations team! A member of our team will be happy to walk you through step by step to set up your venue for hybrid Mandolin events. 

Once you’re up and running, you’ll be flip-switching and making additional revenue in no time by uncapping your space and connecting with fans across the globe!

So...let’s talk and figure out how to get your venue or festival ready to stream. 

And once you’re ready to stream, check out the tips on adding livestream into your artists offers.

Take your in-person concert to the next level.

If you’re ready to amplify your venue’s concerts with hybrid fan experiences, hit us up! Get in touch via the form below to reimagine your next concert with Mandolin Live+. A member of our Industry Relations team will be more than happy to share best practices and build a solution that works for you.