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July 30, 2020

Intermediate and advanced livestreaming: A helpful guide

Streaming Mass

When public Masses were first suspended due to COVID-19, we offered a beginners guide on how to begin livestreaming. That blog post has been viewed almost 6,000 times as of the writing of this second installment. Whereas that content was intended to help parishes with limited resources handle the immediate need of streaming Mass as soon as possible, this installment is focused on taking the next step (or two) toward a more professional looking livestream experience. This blog will cover some software and hardware options to improve the quality of your parishes livestreamed worship experiences. While primarily focused on supporting the needs of a livestreamed eucharistic liturgy, this post will also be helpful for other livestreamed events such as concerts, seminars, prayer services or Eucharistic Adoration. We will not be discussing prayer groups or Bible studies which are probably better served by meeting technologies like Zoom or Google Hangouts. We intend to help you navigate the waters of taking your livestream content from beginner to intermediate level, and we will touch briefly on some more advanced options for which this this set up will provide the basis.

After implementing these suggestions your parish will be able to do the following:

  • Incorporate multiple camera angles into your livestream
  • Improve the sound quality of your livestream
  • Display graphics and prerecorded components during a livestream
  • Schedule a livestream for the future
  • Add a call out to donations
  • Add announcement slides

Step 1: Select a broadcasting software

The primary driver of advanced livestream features is the broadcasting software you choose. Facebook is very helpful at outlining 3 options that work well with Facebook livestreams. Those options being:

  1. OBS Studio – A free open-source software which works for Mac, PC and Linux users.
  2. Telestream – A software that works with Windows and PC, but will periodically watermark your feed until you pay $599. The software is very professional, but maybe too professional, as the learning curve is steeper than OBS Studio. This is a solution to look into if your parish outgrows the capabilities of OBS Studio. If you are only using the software to livestream the Mass, you may never outgrow the capabilities of OBS Studio.
  3. XSPLIT – A software requiring Windows 7 or newer. Because of this, it is not the greatest solution.

For the purpose of this walk through I’m going to ignore options 2 and 3 and focus on OBS Studio. It’s the best general recommendation because it is free, works on every system, and is the simplest to learn, so you can rapidly move into intermediate level streaming quality. However, if you have used or are currently using the other two options, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Drop me a comment on this post on my Facebook Page. I also want to point out that this is not meant to be a tutorial for all the more advanced features of OBS Studio. I’m focusing primarily on helping you get set up, but I will include the elements of set up from within the software.

Step 2: Cover your usage with appropriate licensing and permissions

To avoid getting flagged or receiving takedown notices over copyright concerns, you’ll want to be sure you have the appropriate licensing and permissions needed to broadcast your livestreamed events. For OCP music, you may be able to acquire free permission through the end of the 2020 liturgical year by following this link and filling out the form. Bear in mind that this permission is only for OCP published songs, and you should read the details on that page to make sure you are using the permission correctly. Under normal circumstances, we would encourage you instead to go to our partner ONE LICENSE and acquire a license. This of course would also provide you the ability to include music not published by OCP in your livestream. If you are streaming music for non-liturgical purposes or if you are supplementing your liturgy with some of the more liturgically appropriate songs from other denominations or Christian radio, you may want to consider supplementing your liturgical license with a CCLI license. They sell licenses to their sheet music and streaming. You’ll want to read up on those options and make sure you are covered for both if you are using that music in the liturgy. You will still need a license to stream music for liturgical moments. These are not available through CCLI. If a CCLI license interests you, but the additional cost of multiple licenses doesn’t, you may want to consider the Choose Christ Missal. You will also need to ensure that your streaming does not run afoul of the directives provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. I’ve included a link here to the USCCB’s policy page on permissions and licensing, but if you are from outside the U.S., you will want to find similar information from the conference of bishops in your area. For more details on licensing and permissions, watch this video from my colleague Leanna on the topic.

Step 3: Gather or purchase the equipment you need

The choices of equipment for livestreaming are nearly endless, and rather than fall into the bottomless pit of equipment research and analysis, I’m going to suggest some very simple, low-cost components. If these suggestions are too basic for you and you prefer to go all in on top level streaming gear, check out WorshipFuel, Telestream and Web Cast and Beyond. These equipment packages are $3,000–$10,000 and adding in accessories the prices only go up from there. But you don’t need to spend that much money to establish a relatively professional looking livestream for your parish.

Here is a quick list of the minimum equipment you need in order to run a livestream through OBS Studio.

  1. A decent laptop – If you have someone on staff that already does any sort of graphics work or internet work their laptop will likely be sufficient. If not, this task should warrant an upgrade. The computer doesn’t have to win any awards, but it should at least meet the following:
    • Minimum 2.7 GHz processor
    • 4GB RAM.
    • Dedicated graphics card, 512MB VRAM.
    • Enough hard drive space to store several hour-long videos at least 128-300GB

    Any newer Mac machine should suffice. PCs and Linux machines are much more customizable and come in all varieties of configurations, so you’ll need to be more careful when reviewing the specifications of those machines. This could cost between $500(PC) and $1,000(MAC).

  2. Two cameras – In order to capture the best video during your livestream you’ll need one camera for wide-angle shots and another camera for close ups. It is very distracting if people see the camera moving during the liturgy, so you should only move a camera if it is not actively filming. This requires two cameras. If you have a tablet, GoPro, or a DSLR camera like Nikon, Sony or Cannon, you already have a camera at your disposal. All of these options will work for video on a livestream. If you don’t have camera options already available to you, I recommend you get two of these. These cameras are budget friendly and capture video of higher quality than needed for a livestream. They come with cables, continuous shooting (this is important to prevent your camera from shutting off during a livestream) and relatively decent shotgun microphones. However, cameras are not set up by default to pass video to a computer. Which is why #3 on this list is so important. Two of these cameras, plus tripods, will cost about $300.

  3. Video capture cards – This is the sneaky part. Most cameras are not set up to feed live video to a computer. You will need to purchase a video capture card for every camera you are using. OBS Studio has a $15 app you can download on your tablet to do this when using a tablet. To get started, you don’t need anything fancy here. Two of these should do the trick for about $56.

  4. Audio solution – It could be that you will be using your own cameras. In which case, you probably want to upgrade your microphone situation. I’d like to suggest this 4.5 star shotgun microphone. It will improve the sound quality immensely when compared to the mics that come standard with your camera or device. This will cost $40. Alternatively, you could run a cable directly from your sound system into your computer for about $10, and the sound quality will be better still because you can use the parishes mixing board to make sure it is perfectly balanced. A third option would be to buy the Blue Yeti Podcast mic. It has a setting called “omni directional” which will pick up the sound of the whole church pretty well — not just the sound that the camera is pointed at. Experiment placing it a varying distances from a speaker to balance the ambient sound with the sound coming from your system. This option will cost $130.

  5. Assorted cables – You’ll need to look at your camera and determine what type of video output it uses. Then, find the appropriate cable to plug into the video vapture card you purchased. The most common input for a video capture card (and the input for the suggestion above) is HDMI. So, you’ll need either an HDMI to micro HDMI cable, or you’ll need an HDMI to mini HDMI cable. Be sure you look closely at your camera’s outputs and get the correct cable. What you need might be different than the two options above. However, if you purchase the above suggested cameras, they come with these cables (although they may not be long enough depending on where you set up in the church). These cables cost around $10 each.

Step 4: Plug it in and do a test run

This step seems obvious, but it’s very important to step #5 well. The outline above highlights the bare minimum needed to operate a livestream with more than one camera angle. Once you purchase and experiment with the above equipment, you’ll find gaps in this plan that are specific to the layout of your church or where musicians might be and who might be singing. You’ll need to experiment with different camera angels and different microphone locations. Every setup will be different, so this part is hard to walk through without being present in your church building. When everything is plugged in, you’ll likely have three or four options regarding the sound that will be coming into OBS Studio, so you will need to test the quality and select which one you want to use. You may not have a quality option and need to explore one of the other suggestions from above.

  1. Plug in the wires – Set up your computer and your cameras where you think you’ll be using them, and run your cables from your cameras to the video capture cards into the computer. Run your sound cable from the system output or from your mic to your computer if you are using a line in or a mic. You may be opting to use a shotgun mic on one of your cameras (probably the one dedicated to capturing the wide angle). In which case, the audio will come in with the video from that video source. Be aware that each camera will have its own unique setting for video pass thRough. You may have to consult your manual to find that options in the settings.
    Plug in the wires
    Plug in the wires
    Plug in the wires

  2. Make a scene – Click on the ‘+’ symbol on the bottom left of the screen to create a new scene. You can create any number of scenes which are pre-planned media configurations like “Camera 1” or “Camera 1 with Camera 2 to in lower right.” Give your scene a name and save it. It should then appear in the bottom left corner like the “Scene 3” I have in this image. The scene should appear as blank for now because you haven’t added any media to it.
    Plug in the wires
    My suggested starting point would be that for Mass you have at least four prepared scenes to switch between during the various liturgical moments for the Mass. You can use PowerPoint to create a slideshow of lyrics and other text elements including a welcome graphic and a closing graphic/announcement.
    1. Screen capture of PowerPoint
    2. Camera one – shot of whole sanctuary
    3. Camera two – close up on Ambo and/or altar
    4. Camera one – with screen capture of PowerPoint

    You can see in the screen shot above that I’m using a screen capture of my second monitor. When you click on a media element you can use the red box to move around the content or resize it by dragging and dropping. But I’m getting ahead of myself because you haven’t added any media yet. So, let’s do that.

  3. Add media sources – Start by selecting the scene in the bottom left corner in which you would like to add a media source and then click the ‘+’ symbol in the box labeled “Sources.”
    Plug in the wires
    Plug in the wires You have a lot of options here: audio input capture, audio output capture, browser, color source, display capture, image, image slideshow, jack input client, media source, scene, syphon client, text, VLC video source, video capture device, window capture, iOS camera.

    For our purposes, let’s focus on just a couple of these for now.
    • Audio input capture – Select this option to add an external microphone like the shotgun mic or the Blue Yeti recommended above. Also select this option to run a line in from your sound board.
    • Video capture – Select this option to add any DSLR camera, GoPro, Android Tablet or video camera.
    • iOS camera – You will need to download this free plugin and then purchase this app for $15.99 to make the iOS camera option work from your iOS device.
    • Display capture – Use this source to include anything displayed on a computer monitor such as PowerPoint or Keynote slides.

    You’ll have to add your desired media sources to every scene in which you want them to appear. But once you add them the first time, you can just select them from the list rather than setting them up each time. There is no limit to the sources you can add to a scene. You can even add other scenes! Here is a scene with four video capture devices, and I am pointing at the controls for three different audio sources. Here, I can adjust the active sources for this scene, as well as the volume levels for each source.
    Plug in the wires

  4. Get your stream key – Open the application you will be streaming to. For the purposes of this walk through we will use Facebook because it is the most common, but YouTube and several other options exist. OBS Studio supports simultaneous streaming to multiple locations, so you’ll just repeat this step for each platform you will be streaming to when you do your live broadcast. What you need from this application at the moment is your stream key. In Facebook, after you select the “GoLive” option, you are presented with three choices: “Use Paired Encoder,” “Use Camera,” “Use Stream Key.” Select “Use Stream Key,”and you’ll notice I’ve checked the box in the bottom left corner to make this a test broadcast. You don’t want people watching you stare into the camera during your test.
    Plug in the wires

  5. Set up your livestream in OBS Studio – Open the OBS application and click on “Settings” in the lower right corner.
    Plug in the wires
    Then enter your stream key on the streaming tab of the settings page. For any other service besides Facebook find the stream key there, and enter it the same way.
    Plug in the wires
    Now click “Start Streaming” in the lower right-hand corner to send the video stream over to Facebook. Don’t panic. This doesn’t start the broadcast. You’ll have to do a little more set up on the Facebook side of things. When the OBS step is complete you should see yourself appear in the black box on Facebook that previously said “Waiting for live video”.
    Plug in the wires

  6. Set the livestream options in the platform (Facebook) – Now that your video is coming in, the button in the lower left turns blue to start broadcasting on Facebook. If the test broadcast box is checked, clicking the button will only broadcast to you. Otherwise, it will begin a broadcast to whatever page and audience setting you have selected on the left side of the screen. Here, you can also enter the title and description of your livestream that will appear to your Facebook audience.
    Plug in the wires

  7. Go live – If you are happy with your settings, you can begin the test of your livestream by clicking the blue button. Repeat these steps with the “Test” box unchecked to start a public livestream. Select “Schedule a Live Video” in the upper left, instead of “Go Live Now” to schedule a broadcast allowing people the opportunity to find it before the stream starts.
    Plug in the wires

Step 5: Adjust and customize

As mentioned earlier, you’ll need to make adjustments to this walk through to accommodate your parish needs. This includes incorporating more advanced streaming technologies and equipment such as video encoders, audio compressors and mixers, wireless camera systems or dedicated AV booth desktop computer systems. One piece that might be helpful is incorporating a Bluetooth pedal to switch between scenes, so you can step away from the keyboard and mouse. Although, if you will be using slides for song lyrics, this won’t be possible. That is an example of why this step is about adjusting and customization. Below is a list of optional equipment you might want to consider, allowing you to customize your equipment for your particular ministry needs.

Streaming video devices

Streaming accessories

Streaming optional equipment

Fill out the form to receive a PDF cheat sheet of basic, intermediate, advanced streaming equipment needs and stay in touch for more helpful tips/walkthroughs to improve your parish livestream. I hope you found this guide helpful, and I’d love to get your feedback on improvements or topics where you would like more information. May God richly bless your ministry.

Jethro Higgins
Jethro Higgins

Jethro Higgins, father of 6,  has Directed Youth & Young Adult ministry programs and led liturgical music ensembles since 2004. Jethro received his Master of Science in Business Analysis from the Catholic University of America and is currently studying at The Augustine Institute in the Master of Arts in Theology program.