Ok – having just narrowly prevented myself from starting yet another article with a variation on the theme of “Covid has Changed the Way We Use Technology Forever!”, I am now struggling to think of an alternative introduction to this article.
So, let me start by suggesting that the concept of bringing church services to the people is a concept that has been around long before Covid. Indeed, it is an area of church worship that has been a relatively quick adopter of technology over many years. Whether it is printed sermons, audio cassettes, DVDs or online platforms, the church has always had an interest in bringing the worship experience to individuals who are for one reason or another unable (or unwilling) to attend worship with their local community. However, while there are good reasons for extending community worship beyond the four walls of a specific building at a specific time, isolation of individuals from the community of faith has been considered a bad thing, and by extension, providing tools that make it easy to isolate themselves from the community by providing a rationale that “I’ll catch-up the livestream so I’m not really missing out!” This issue is perhaps food for another article for another time – arguably a Faith & Order matter rather than a technical matter but I have a foot in both those camps, so I don’t expect to escape.
However, for whatever reason, many churches are now trying to work out what they will do with the livestreaming setup they hastily put together in response to Covid lockdowns. Over the next few issues, I will explore a few easy and (relatively) cheap ways to make your livestream experience memorable (for the right reasons!), starting with Audio quality.
Perhaps paradoxically, the best way to improve the technology side of a livestream – sorry, technology can’t improve the content – is to improve the audio quality. The human brain can put up with an amazing amount of video defects so long as it has a clean, crisp and intelligible audio feed to help it fill in the deficiencies in the video.
A common strategy for first-time livestreamers is to rely on an in-built microphone in their camera device, whether a phone, webcam or even a more sophisticated camera. The resulting sound from this type of audio setup is muddy because the microphone happily picks up every sound in the space, whether it is useful or not. A single microphone in a space will make no distinction between sound reflected from walls, the kids playing at the back and the fire engine going past outside – it will capture everything it can hear. If you are lucky, it will capture the preacher’s voice too. If you are doubly lucky, the preacher will be louder than everything else put together, but there will always be some distortion as first the streaming equipment, and then the human ear, attempts to make sense of this very complex audio signal.
Ideally, we want microphones that are placed as close to the speaker (human speaker, not technology speaker) as possible, and optimised to reject as much background noise as possible. Which, un-coincidentally, is exactly what you should be trying to achieve with a church sound system. If your church already has a sound system, the easiest way to improve your livestream sound is to use the sound system’s sound. Stream the video from the camera(s) and the audio from the sound system together and you should see (sorry, hear) immediate improvements.
There are a couple of caveats to this approach;
- If your church relies on congregational singing, or has lots of responses in its worship liturgy, or other non-electronic audio that is an integral part of the livestream, then you will probably need to add some microphones to capture that audio. However, you probably don’t want that sound to come out of the local audio speakers – to do so would be to invite instant feedback (and the ire of the now deafened congregation). This means that your sound system needs to be able to support multiple outputs or buses and has the ability to switch specific inputs to only specific outputs.
- Similarly, if you have someone in your livestream audience who is going to speak (for example, if you are using Zoom Meetings), the sound that originates from Zoom should never be sent back to Zoom – this time the feedback (and the ire) will be in the Zoom Room. The solution is the same – your sound system needs to support multiple outputs and the ability to switch inputs to specific outputs.
So, give it a go and see how much better you can make your Livestream sound.
Next time, we will look at Lighting.
Peter Lane is Principal Consultant at System Design & Communication Services and has over 30 years of experience with Technology systems. We invite your questions, suggestions and ideas for articles. These can be submitted either through the editor or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We also operate a website focused on building a community of people interested in improving how we can use technology in churches, located at www.dct.org.nz