The Covid-19 virus has the world upside down. I’m struggling to figure out what entertainment services I can offer to my clients, and the virtual show seems like a viable option for me. However, it might not be an option for other entertainers. I will do my best to show you what you need to consider when developing a virtual show.
Let’s dig into this further.
I have an IT background. Computer knowledge is a major plus to have when setting up a virtual show. I know the frustrations of working with both software and hardware. If you are a person who is technically challenged, this will become your biggest hurdle. Computer nerds do not make things easier when it comes to explaining concepts. Don’t be surprised to watch five to six Youtube videos before fully getting things working.
I found myself struggling with trying to get Voicemeeter working. If you want to get better audio out of a cheap microphone, the Voicemeeter is your tool. My problem was I have a Blue Yeti mic, which I use for recording. However, the Yeti mic is very sensitive and picks up audio beautifully. Every squeak of a balloon twist is captured entirely. I can imagine the audience acting like a dog in a WB cartoon and covering their ears with every loud squeak. The Blue Yeti is excellent for speaking, just not for recording a balloon show.
My solution was to downgrade my mic to a cheap headset mic, and I mean a cheap headset. This 20-years old headset came with an old work site and has been sitting in a cabinet all these years. Lost is the Yeti mic’s beautifully audio capabilities, and now I’m left with a mic that sounds like I’m talking into a tin can.
My solution is the Voicemeeter software, which allows me to electronically add a fuller, richer sound to the cheap headset mic in real-time. Problem solved, except I had to watch several videos and play with computer drivers to get the software working correctly. It was upside to this story, good audio, but I had some very frustrating problems to make it work.
Before I go further – let’s talk about equipment.
The virtual show requires a good computer. The computer should have a video card with extra memory and a secondary processor; the more memory, the better, and a fast computer processor. If you are working on a computer gaming machine, you are one step ahead of me. My computer is designed to make contracts, light video editing, and is six years old. It wasn’t purchased to be an online streaming computer, just a work machine to do the daily tasks.
Hardware limited my options.
I have a Dell computer that can handle the basic to intermediate streaming software and equipment. My Logitech C920 webcam streams at 1080 x 760 HD as I don’t own a DSLR. And what I’ve read, not all DSLR cameras are suitable for streaming video as the DSLR was not designed to be a webcam. Unlike my C920 webcam, a plug-and-play device, the DSLR may require additional software and cables to set up. You don’t need 4K streaming video as some platforms do not accept 4K video, and you’ll find your computer lags when streaming hi-res video. My best options were to go for good clean images vs. 4K streaming.
I know what you are thinking, “Can I use my cellphone”? Yes – but with limitations. If you’re trying to get a two-camera angle, you need a central hub, i.e., a computer, to process the video input and stream the video. Open Broadcast Software (OBS) is what I use as software. But OBS doesn’t connect your cellphone; it just controls the phones. A couple of fellow entertainers and I spent hours researching, testing, and with each failure, we came up with these two options.
Here is what we learned. IP Web and Droidcam are the best options. Look for these apps where you download your phone apps. These apps turn your phone into webcams. You stream the video via WIFI, Bluetooth, or USB connection. Streaming app software uses an IP address to send video to a computer. You don’t need high-end skills; download the app to your phone, type an IP address into a web browser, and you’re done. Your cell phone will be broadcasting to your computer.
Side note – it is best to have a hardwire connection to the internet or computer when you can. WIFI and Bluetooth devices send data slower, and lag/video quality can be lost. Hardwired connections are the best option.
My cell phone is now a webcam.
I transformed my cellphone into a webcam, but I still need computer software; in my case, OBS comes into play. OBS allows me to capture the cellphone streaming video and stream live on Facebook or Youtube. If you’re wondering why I am using OBS, OBS gives me the ability to control multiple cameras. OBS is a TV production software that allows you to switch cameras, mic, video, and add overlays; it is a whole TV production studio at my home computer.
STOP – Do you need a second camera?
I spend a good two days researching, testing. After all that, I questioned why I needed a second camera as my Logetic C920 gave me excellent quality for streaming. My Galaxy S9 was slightly better, but for all I needed to do to make it work, the Logetic was sitting there, ready anytime I needed. Plus, I could always step one foot closer to the camera, and the second “close-up” camera was not required.
You can opt for a green screen, but I learned a long time ago using a green screen overloads my computer CPU processors, and the video and audio lags. Talk about frustrating, I watched a test video, and 5-minutes into the video, it freezes, pixelated, then jumps back only for the voice to be slightly off. All because of my CPU spike while using the green screen. I’ve learned green screens are not easy to work with unless you have the proper lighting, camera, and computer. I do my best to avoid green screens whenever possible.
I learned this years ago when producing iTalkDEO. Not all balloons play nice with green screens.
The more light you have, the better you look. It is that simple. I have three main lights and one ring light that I use. Google how to set up video lighting, and you can lose half a day with DIY options.
Years ago, I learned your promotional video needs to contain royalty-free music as Youtube would turn off your audio. I had this happen in a test video using what was advertised as no copyright, royalty-free music. I uploaded the song to share with a friend while testing out equipment, and Facebook notified me that my video has copyright infringement and muted the song. What I found interesting was Facebook muted only half the song that the artificial intelligence (AI) bot thought was in violation. So my show segment started, and halfway through, the audio was muted. Talking with other entertainers, I heard war stories of them buying royalty-free music and having social media sites kill the sound. Takeaway lesson, upload audio to private or unlisted, and then wait to see if the AI bots flag the music.
A second test to Youtube resulted in the following email, “Copyright Claim. A copyright owner using Content ID claimed some material in your video. This is not a copyright strike. This claim does not affect your account status. Either ads are running on your video, with the revenue going to the copyright owner, or the copyright owner is receiving stats about your video’s views.”
It all works now what?
Showtime? Or is it? I feel I’ve taken the path of most entertainers and have built a show over the years that requires audience participation. Virtual presentations have little to no involvement on Facebook or Youtube Live. This now means retooling a live show to work without an audience, no volunteers, and no audience reactions to a performer. I was lucky as I have several routines to fall back on. If you don’t, you might spend the next week or two developing new material. Please consider this as we don’t know how long social distancing will last.
I did find that I had to customize my props to work. Screen height was an issue, and I had to become creative and downsize some of my props while elevating others to work in my studio. Prop adjustments alone can take a day or two to figure out the best format that works for your show.
Congratulations – You have a Virtual Show.
I spend a week and a half installing, uninstalling, digging in old computer equipment, finding old tripods, purchasing and building a better lighting system, tearing the house apart for more cables and connections. But I’m not finished yet – I had to make the PR material to help sell the show and research the clients who might need the show I build. Yes, I contacted those who canceled. Yes, I reconnected with others who might need it. Yes, it’s now more competitive as budgets designed for entertainment are now being used for cleaning and sterilizing resources, but I now have a quality product to sell.
There are a handful of entertainers who will do a virtual show. Many entertainers will find this extremely challenging from the technical and emotional sides of not having a live audience. Working with computer software and hardware is frustrating as no Youtube video has my exact equipment or setup from personal experience as an IT guy. I have spent many hours testing. I’ve been lucky as I’ve done Youtube videos, edited, and set up a working studio in my office over the last five years. It’s costly, time-consuming, aggravating, and a significant learning/growth experience for those trying to do this.
If this sounds too much work, place the cellphone on a tripod, hit Live on Facebook, and be done. After doing a couple of live events, ask yourself these questions – Do I want to do a virtual show? Do I want to invest my time to improve equipment and market a virtual show?