Streaming live with OBS Studio

Okay, like everybody else i started streaming too. I had a planned live show, but live shows will not be possible for at least another half year. Every evening my social timelines start buzzing with live streams and all the big artists have also started to stream live. No place for me with my newly created and sometimes shaky solo live performance to make a stand? After some discussions with friends i decided to make make the jump.

But how to go about it? If you already have experience with live streaming, you can skip this entire article. This is here just for the record so to say. After some looking around I came to this setup:

OBS Studio with ASIO plugin
Restream.io for casting to multiple streaming platforms
Logitech C920 webcam
Ring light
– Ayra ComPar 2 stage light see this article

OBS is surprisingly simple to set up. It has its quirks. Sometimes it does not recognize the camera, but some fiddling with settings does the trick. You define a scene by adding video and audio sources. Every time you switch from scene to scene it adds a nice cross fade to make the transition smooth. You can switch the cross fade feature off of course.

OBS Main scene setup
OBS Main scene setup

I only use one scene. The video clip is there to promote any YouTube video clip. It plays in a corner and disappears when it has played out. The logo is just “b2fab” somewhere in a corner. The HD cam is the C920 and the ASIO source is routed from my live mixer to the audio interface on the PC. I setup a limiter at -6db on the ASIO audio as a filter to make sure i don’t get distortion over any audio peaks.

I also had to choose my platform. From the start i wanted also to stream live on Facebook and Instagram. Instagram however kind of limits access to live streaming to only phones. There is software to stream from a PC, but then you have to set it up again for every session and you need to switch off two-factor authentication. For me one bridge too far for now.

I chose Restream.io as a single platform to set up for streaming from OBS. It then allows to stream to multiple platforms and bundle all the chats from the different platforms into a single session. For Facebook pages however, you need a paid subscription tier. For now I selected the free options YouTube, Twitch and Periscope. YouTube because it is easy to access for my older audience. Twitch because it seemed quite fun and i also like gaming. Periscope because it connects to Twitter.

If the live show takes shape i might step into streaming from my Facebook page. Another plan is to try the iRig Stream solution and start making separate live streams on Instagram. With high quality audio from the live mixer. I will surely blog about it if i start working with it.

For now it all works. Restream.io allows me to drop a widget on my site. Its a bit basic and only comes alive when i am live, so i have to add relevant information to it to make it interesting. If you want to drop in and join my live musings check my YouTube, Twitch and Periscope channels or my site at around 21:00 CEST.

Controlling a light show for a small solo set

I’m back on the track of my own small solo live set. The first experiment was running a video stream that would run along with the show. But now there is a new twist: The Corona virus came and there will be no live set the coming months. All public shows have been cancelled for about half a year. My first live show has been pushed to November from June. The only alternative is live streaming.

Just before the lockdown to combat the spread of the Corona virus I had bought a stage light. Just one to at least have a blue wash on stage to set a kind of moonlight mood. This was the Ayra ComPar 2. A simple LED stage light, with an IR remote and plenty of flexibility be more than just a blue stage wash.

But while staying at home and after browsing through some online articles it dawned on me: you can simply control stage lights as part of your Ableton Live set. I use Ableton Live sets to run my stage show and believe it or not I use color coding for each different song to quickly browse through all the songs without having to look up the names.

The colors match the moods of the song, so my simple idea was to use this color code to match the color of the wash on stage. A red wash for a deeply felt love song. A green wash for a song about nature. A purple wash for an up tempo hot song etc.

But why put all this effort in a stage light when there will not be a stage for months to play on? Up to then I had been a bit weary of immediately jumping to live streaming instead of playing gigs. All the bigger artists now stream live. Every night on my socials there are at least a dozen artists performing live. I’m just starting out, so what can I bring to the table?

After discussing this with a close group of musicians and my music coach it became obvious. Why not start streaming live? It’ll be fun, even if nobody watches it. I can invite friends and just have fun together. And also because I had nothing else to do I jumped in to make this stage light idea work. It would change color with the song. Not on stage, but in the attic. The attic with my home studio as my online stage.

One of the intriguing functions of the ComPar 2 is the ability to connect a XLR cable with DMX signal to control it. After diving into it and in lockdown there was a lot of time to dive into anything I found out that there are also DMX light controllers that support MIDI. From the same company I got the Ayra OSO 1612 DMX Scanmaster controller. Very friendly priced i think.

Blacked out by default
Blacked out by default

The DMX light controller simply accepts MIDI note data and maps that to programmable scenes. The controller can be connected to a chain of lights and a scene can set each light correspondingly. You can have flashing lights in a scene or movement from stage lights that can move. With 240 scenes you can probably make an interesting progression of lights for several songs, but I simply have a red, green, purple and blue scene for each song.

The controller I chose has a default setting where it blacks out all lights when starting up and that is not a bad thing at all. The only thing I must remember is to switch off the black out when playing live. That is the only attention it needs and from there everything is now running on rails. The live streaming shows allow me to test stuff out, but I’m now pretty happy with this setup.

Its the impedance, stupid!

This is a short story about something that you take for granted in this high-tech age. That you can connect anything to anything and that it just works. This time I tripped over something that did not work and it reminded me harshly that there are classic electrical laws to take in to account: impedance matching. Even more embarrassing is that I am actually an electrical engineer that switched to computer science and music.

Zoom L-12 monitoring outputs
Zoom L-12 monitoring outputs

So these days I am working on my stage monitoring. Of course its at least my performers dream to have wireless in-ear monitoring, but then you will find that you have to invest at least hundreds of euros and you can easily go up to several thousands. This is why I started experimenting with a simple wired stereo in-ear monitoring system. The Zoom L-12 mixer/recorder that I am using has 4 mix outputs for monitoring so that is the starting point.

Lets try to set the impedance story straight without getting too technical. For that you can go to the wiki page about the subject. In short its about getting the energy from the output (a mixer) optimally to the input (headset, amplifier) of the connected device. Otherwise its kind of like fitting a wide garden hose to something that is too small. The electrical equivalent: the output impedance should be lower than the input impedance. As a rule of thumb you can expect for outputs:

  • 100 ohm to 600 ohm output impedance from line outputs
  • 0.1 ohm or less from an amplifier

And for input impedance:

  • 10K ohm input impedance or more for line inputs
  • An average of 32 ohms for headphones, but it can range from 8-600 ohm
  • Around 8 ohms for speakers

This only applies to unbalanced outputs and inputs. So that means jack plugs and speaker connections. The transformers used in balanced outputs and inputs will usually match without you having to worry about it.

Enough theory. It is always a good idea to start with the ‘zero’ option. Lets connect a simple Shure SE215 earphone to the L-12 monitoring output. It says ‘Phones’. Easy peasy. The sound comes out, but the lows are kind of missing. I just skipped over this this, because I just thought that this was the quality of the output from the L-12. Looking back this was not surprising. If you check the SE215 spec sheet you will find that with an average input impedance of 17 ohm this earphone is quite hard to drive!

A lot of energy is therefore lost, because the output impedance of the L-12 turns out to be 100 ohms. This output qualifies as a line output driver, expecting a high-impedance amplifier to pick up the signal. Actually connecting earphones to this connector is a bad idea! Listening however with a directly connected Sennheiser HD 280 Pro is a more pleasant experience. This is easily explained by its more friendly 64 ohm impedance. Energy is transferred not very efficiently (almost halved), but much more efficiently than with the Shure!

So then I first looked at the Behringer P2, a small active monitoring amplifier. It uses two AAA batteries. You can connect XLR or a stereo jack plug. Since the L-12 has stereo jack monitoring outputs, this seemed to be the way. When connecting it all and the SE215 the result was very disappointing. Like listening to overly compressed, pumping audio, with completely random frequency dips and a lot of noise. Another impedance mismatch?

I immediately blamed the Behringer P2. But when you scout for reviews, this device invariably comes out as top rated with a lot of very happy users. How is this possible? I still don’t know. Particularly vexing is that there is no specification of the input impedance of the P2. It must be that however. Because when I connect the balanced input to a balanced output, it all sounds fine. Possibly no-one uses the unbalanced jack of the P2.

This is why have fallen back to using the Thomann mini body pack 2. It allows me to use long cables and gives me volume control on the belt mounted device. The sound isn’t perfect, because the 100 ohm output still has to drive the SE215. I am still looking for that perfect wired monitoring solution. Any ideas?

How about putting this card in your laptop?

After carrying around big and powerful laptops for years and tablets that were simply not powerful enough. I wanted to try a laptop in the ultrabook category. At that time the choice was light and powerful, but with compromises in working with graphics: the Lenovo Thinkpad T480s. These days you can buy ultrathin notebooks with additional graphics power, but that was then and this is now. Unfortunately similarly spec-ed Macbooks are out of my league.

One thing that I really checked when selecting this laptop was the support for Thunderbolt 3. This connection supports external graphics cards. Even though the onboard graphics on paper should be good enough for minimal VR support. However, I already had guessed that this would not run smoothly. Now after one year of use I finally got round to trying out the Akitio Node external housing with Thunderbolt support. Lo and behold, equipped with a ASUS GeForce GTX 1060 OC3 my laptop has now become a graphics powerhouse that easily runs VR, games and any other task smoothly as butter!

If you check the compatibility lists of Akitio, you will not find this graphics card. This list is very limited and only contains higher end cards. There is a small notice that it should work with any card, but there’s no guarantee. My idea was to try the slightly lower end, because maxing out anything like this in the end is bound to cause problems somewhere in the chain. The laptop is also a year old, so I reckoned that careful drivers go a long way. By the way, Macbooks also support Thunderbolt and external graphics cards. They don’t support the specific card I chose, because I believe you should use Radeon AMD graphics cards.

There was a struggle to get this working. When you go the Nvidia way with you graphics card, the driver installation can moan about the hardware not qualifying for installation. I got round this by checking forums and these explained that you should manually install the driver. Unpacking the software and finding and installing the driver files by hand, right clicking on .inf files did the trick.

The Akitio Node is large and slightly noisy, but you can switch it off for music work of course. Then when you want to do graphics intensive work, switch the Node on and voilĂ . Magic in a box! One other down side is that it does not support any other function then connecting the graphics card. There are other options with storage and other connections, like USB or network. There also is no daisy chaining of devices. The Node is a dead end.

If you too are looking for this upgrade I wanted to put this story out, because this is a working combination. There are a lot of horror stories around of combinations refusing to work. I hope this upgrade trick will work for you too!

Make your own affordable dust covers

I am a big fan of custom made covers for all studio equipment. Dust kills the quality of connectors, sliders and switches. If possible I try to use the dust covers from the instrument or equipment manufacturer. Otherwise I try to look for a Decksaver, because actually these are very clever desk space savers as well. And they fit like a glove. All too often however I find that there is no custom cover that exactly fits.

I tried to find custom covers for the Yamaha 01v and the MicroKorg, but couldn’t find any. My current solution for this is to buy flexible transparent foil and have it cut to a little more than the surface area of the device. It can attract dust, but at least the dust does not get in the equipment. It also looks quite professional and is easy to pull over the surface and slip away again.

For me this beats ill fitting cloth covers and other half baked solutions, like putting it in a box. The best alternative could be to buy thick sheets of perspex and glue a custom cover. There are shops that support you in building your own perspex cover. It will however never be as sophisticated as Decksaver covers, with extra space for knobs and bends in the device. If you’re on a budget, at least put a sheet of transparent foil over your equipment and make it last longer.

Why you should start using a 360 camera

Already four years ago I started using a 360 camera. At that time I wanted to create those videoclips where you are really in the set and I wanted viewers to experience the video. The video quality was then an issue and for me it still is, unless you have a solid budget to spend. At the 3.000 euro price point video quality is no longer a big issue. At the lower end however, things have improved slightly. I have now invested in an Insta360 ONE X at a fraction of that price, 400 euro. What has persuaded me to invest in this camera if the quality is only slightly better?

First off, it comes with software that allows you to take your full 360 degree recording and cut out a flat rectangle that looks like you recorded it with a normal camera. Where is the advantage in that? It is actually intended to allow you use it as an action camera and then in the video editing cut out, pan and zoom into any action around you. You can see samples of this in the product page. What use is that to me as a musician, you might ask. Well, how about filming a whole gig from several points and cutting, panning and zooming into all the action on stage and in the crowd? Also the software has some really captivating special effects like speeding up, turning the 360 view into a ball, fish eye etc.

Secondly, it has rock-solid stabilization, because it uses gyroscopes to record all movements. This also ensures that the recording is perfectly horizontal, even when recording at an angle. You will find that if there is too much movement in your recording, most viewers will become sea sick really fast. A smooth recording and stable recording makes the difference. I can now confidently record while walking. Also freaky is that if you use a selfie stick to hold the camera, the software will remove the stick. It will appear as if the camera is hovering above you.

Schemerstad
Schemerstad

Thirdly, it actually matters that the quality of the recordings is at least slightly better than that of the first generation of 360 cameras. The performance in low light is dramatically better and the 25% increase in pixels of camera’s in the same price range does make a difference. Am I completely happy? No of course not. I can really and wholeheartedly recommend the ONE X at the lower price tier. It has made some impossible recordings possible and I will keep using 360 as part of my video recording to capture the action and experiences.

So this is why you too (as a musician) should start using a 360 camera. Not because you want people to experience VR, but to capture everything and decide how to use the recording later. On stage and everywhere the action happens.

Perfect for small venues?

For a while now I have been starting up my live show. After five years of building a repertoire, I feel the next step is playing it live. I have been lucky to have had my “real pop star moment” with my previous band. A CD recording contract and live touring abroad. Now I am back to step one with my own music project.

Starting up, the most important for me is to record all practice sessions and to record all tryouts. For this purpose I have invested in multitrack recording stuff. It might just be that there is a gem in these recordings that needs exploring and investing in. This is what I learned in the previous band. Recoding, recording, recording… Learning, exploring, improving….

Multitrack live recording is easier than ever. It used to be only Tascam with analog 4 track tape recording, but now its digital 8, 12 or 16 track recording with computers, or Zoom or more exotic brands. CD quality or studio quality even. For now I focused on Zoom, because they make really affordable devices. I am not scared of using computers, but for me now it needs to be one single reliable device. Not another chain of devices with a computer at the end.

Zoom R16
Zoom R16

So I tried the Zoom R16 first. This is a true 16 track recorder. It has the shape of a mixer, but it is actually only a multitrack recorder. It can record 8 channels at once, but has a limitation for the SD card at 32GB. My problem with it was the sound quality as a mixer, that makes it difficult to make sure that the recordings are Ok. Also it tempts you to use it as a live mixer, but it does not have adequate send/return/monitoring chain at all.

Enter the Zoom LiveTrak L-12. The sound quality of the mixer is immediately a lot better. It can record 12 channels at once. It also accepts larger SD cards and record at higher bit rates then CD quality. Unfortunately, the send/return and single effect chain is still a bit meagre. You do have a compressor per channel, but when you use it, its recorded compressed as well. This might not be what you want. The monitoring chain is a different story. Its amazing. Four, or even if you really need it a fifth monitoring channel if you separate it from the master mix.

All in all, this cannot be your live mixer for all purposes. Just because of the limitations of the send/return and single effect and the compression with the penalty of also recording it. However it is probably exactly the mixer that you’ll find in any commercial practice room. So just replace it with this one and you could have a multitrack recording of all your practice sessions. Awesome! Now if you hit a gem, you can mix it down to a demo later.

Can it be your mixer for live venues? Absolutely! Connect some active speakers and you’re live. Unless you need more send/returns and effects live of course, then you need to bring a real live mixer. The challenge will then be to connect separate tracks of that mixer to the multitrack recorder. Hopefully, that live mixer has at least enough monitor channels or busses. Otherwise you’re stuck with a recording that does not give you enough options to remix the live recording.

Now in practice, how does it work when using the LiveTrak as a multitrack recording mixer? First of, as a mixer it will remember all your mix and recording settings as part of something that Zoom calls a Project. It will save it all on the SD card when you switch off and on. You will need to make sure that you do switch off and on again on the device, not just pull the power plug. When you switch projects then you can save different mix and recording settings per project.

Like an advanced digital mixer all fader settings are saved. But because it does not have motorized faders, a led shows the stored fader settings and such. When you hit that point of the fader again, you can change the value and save that again. This applies to all mixer settings in general. To extend on this you can save 10 different scenes per Project.

Zoom Export to USB
Zoom Export to USB

This is nice, but you cannot from the menu simply clone a project. There is a trick however, if you switch to USB host mode you can save and restore projects on a USB stick. The trick here is to save and restore an existing Project to a new name. This way you can start recording to a new Project with settings from an existing Project.

So there you have it. This is how I use this now and I know what it can do for me. I think it is great as a practice room mixer and for small venues. Please check the Zoom site or review sites to read more about all other modes and features of the LiveTrak. I don’t use any of the other modes, so I have no experience with any of the other features. It might work for your specific purposes as well.

Silently hiding under the mixing desk: Roland A-880

Recently I had to revise some cabling and routing under the mixing desk, when I found a rack device. A MIDI patch bay, the A880. It was happily blinking and had silently done its useful job there for at least 10 years. After looking it up, it turned out to be an actually more than 30 years old product from Roland! You can also see the dust on the cables in my setup.

Then the question is: do you need a MIDI patch bay? The answer is twofold. MIDI itself is an ancient protocol. If you have MIDI devices and a computer hooked up via MIDI, I will say that you cannot do without a MIDI patch bay. However, MIDI is showing its age and probably some of you are using USB instead. Also, new MIDI standards are now seriously being discussed. Possibly resulting in something altogether new that may not be supported by the A-880.

The current standard MIDI protocol is ancient. And when you look at it technically it is also slow and limited. Of course it is fast enough to connect a keyboard to an instrument or a computer. Most devices allow daisy-chaining to connect any chain of computer and keyboard and MIDI instruments you have. However, that is when you will find that MIDI has its limitations. If you daisy-chain more than three devices you will likely hit one of its limitations: bandwidth. When too much information passes through a single chain, then you will get traffic jams and you might start hearing hick ups.

This is where a MIDI patch bay kicks in. Instead of daisy-chaining you can now connect devices in parallel. The A-880 connects 8 inputs to 8 outputs. Each of the individual connections to a midi device from the patch bay can now pass the maximum amount of data without traffic jams. Also with some simple button presses you can determine which input gets sent to which output. Allowing you to have more keyboards and route inputs from there to more devices. The forever friendly blinking lights show you which inputs go to which outputs.

Inputs 1 and 2 are special. The A-880 can merge the inputs and send it to multiple outputs. I use the patch bay in its most simple and useful form. The inputs from my main master keyboard are mixed with the input from the computer and then sent out through all remaining outputs at once. This is the blinking pattern that been the core of my setup for more than a decade. Only occasionally I push the Signal button. Then the blinking lights show which devices actually send data.

It may be that the future of MIDI does not include the A-880. This will be the moment when I will switch off this blinking, silently working work horse. And I will remove it from its hidden place under the mixing desk.

Komplete Kontrol A49, you’re not using it right

After a month of working on singing and performing. Everything but working in the studio, I wanted to get up and running again with making music. As always, I started with updating the studio software. When updating the Native Instruments (NI) suite I am using, the A49 was part of the updates. When playing around in Ableton Live after that it soon became obvious that things did not work quite right. So it was time to reserve some hours diving into this.

The NI Native Access manager was updated and the first step is then of course to check all the software installations inside it. It soon turned out that the VST installation path of Komplete Kontrol was not correct anymore. NI likes to think that it is the only source for plugins on your computer, so I needed tot tell it that VSTs are located elsewhere on the computer. The Komplete Kontrol installation was then fixed by reinstalling. Nice.

After checking if both the version of Komplete Kontrol inside Live and Komplete Kontrol as a standalone application were matching. Things started working again. A plugin rescan was needed to pick up all NI instruments in both versions, so a lot of instrument settings were not matching up apparently. Also a quick scan of the MIDI integration settings revealed that the integration was still correct.

I use the Komplete Kontrol Rack VST in Ableton Live, but when you update your NI software this is not automatically updated in Ableton Host Integration. Time to copy vst files (vst) all over again from C:\Program Files\Common Files\Native Instruments\Host Integration\Ableton Live to D:\Documents\Ableton\Library\Presets\Instruments\Instrument Rack. Or some equivalent on a Mac.

This Komplete Kontrol instrument rack can host any plug in instrument and map the A49 knobs to macros to controls in the instrument. Please note: Only use this for all instruments other than NI instruments! You must manually map any control to any control inside the instrument. Not very pretty, but once you’ve set it up it works.

And what if you do want to use a NI instrument? I also found out that instead of adding Kontakt to a track to start working with a NI instrument, as I always did, its better to use the Komplete Kontrol plugin. This immediately gives you full control with the A49 and allows you to quickly switch instruments on the fly. Oh well. Never too old to learn.

Do you need a digital mixer in your home studio?

This is something that has puzzled me for some time. Do I actually need a digital mixing desk in my home studio? Well, technically no. Modern audio interfaces have a mixer on-board. So if you need 8 inputs, you could just make sure that you have an audio interface with 8 inputs. Starting at around 200 euros. Going up all the way to 3000 euro’s if you can or want to spend it for top quality. Now there are several reasons for me opting for a digital mixing desk and it all comes down to flexibility.

What you don’t want is a chain of devices that add noise on every recording. So an analog desk connected to your digital audio interface is probably a bad idea. Unless it is a very high quality analog desk with a unique sound. Something that would set you back the price of a new car. So lets try to stay in the digital domain for a better price/quality ratio.

One of the reasons to eye the higher priced segment of audio interfaces is the option of a direct cue mix. A singer, or solo musician is usually best recorded dry if you don’t have the luxury of working in a room with a nice sound or at least a quiet room. On the other hand lots of singers like to have monitoring with a bit of ‘room’ on it. A bit of reverb or even echo. When you can at least make a cue mix with just a touch of some effects on it, it can make the difference.

Now lets have the best of both worlds and flexibility. I chose the Focusrite Scarlett 18/8 2nd gen. It has 16 inputs, 8 analog and 8 digital and 6 analog outputs. Additionally it has stereo S/PDIF digital in/out. hence the total of 18 in and 8 outputs. Now connect the digital mixing desk to the ADAT 8 digital inputs of the Scarlett audio interface and there you have it: 16 inputs and enough cue mix options to accommodate recording of a complete band.

Ok, I was lucky to get my hands on a classic Yamaha 01V with ADAT interface, but I think it is still possible to get your hands on it or something equivalent for around 500 euros. Add to that about 300 euro’s for the Focusrite and there you have it: an affordable and also flexible setup that can accommodate any home studio recording session.