As mentioned previously, Wirecast can pull all sorts of media into shots. Most often these are videos (such as the pre-recorded talks), audio (such as microphone inputs), still images, overlays and watermarks (such as the conference logo). I used Apple’s Music.app to play music into Wirecast to provide a soundtrack for the day. I used a great Mac utility called Loopback, which allows more flexibility surrounding Mac audio routing. I specifically used it to send the soundtrack audio from Music.app into Wirecast without outputting the sound locally. This feature is particularly important as you want to be able to use the output from Music.app without it interrupting your Wirecast monitoring. If you didn’t do this step, you would always hear music even when the shot wasn’t live, making it very difficult to monitor the main broadcast.
Monitoring on the day is also crucial. I kept the Wirecast Audio Mixer open alongside monitoring the audio levels of individual shots to ensure the broadcast seemed consistent. Ensuring all audio is mixed consistently is really important; it’s one of those little things that contribute to a more professional broadcast, and something I’d recommend taking the time to master.
I ran the broadcast off a new 16” Macbook Pro with an 8-core i9 and a fair bit of RAM. Alongside that machine, I used an iMac to run the conference operations off (participating in Slack, co-ordinating the social media strategy, answering support emails). I used two machines as I didn’t want the broadcast machine doing anything other than broadcasting and recording the stream.
I had a Zoom H6 audio interface with a Shure SM58 wired up to it as my microphone. You’ll find the SM58 in pretty much every music venue in the world, and it is a fantastic all-round microphone. I had it mounted on a stand with a pop filter and, although the SM58 has a built-in pop filter I find an external one does a better job of softening popping sounds commonly found in large chunks of talking.
I also had the Elgato Stream Deck. As mentioned previously, I had the Stream Deck configured to launch single and multi-shot layers in Wirecast, and it took a lot of the stress out of producing the show on the day.
I used my ACS Evolve in-ear monitors to monitor the audio for the day. These are overkill for this task, but I purchased them a while ago for DJing with, and I cannot rate them enough. As well as being custom moulded to your ears, the quality and depth of the sound make it a lot easier to notice when something isn’t quite sounding right. I’d also recommend the Shure SE range of in-ear headphones for a similar reason.
The conference broadcast used Zoom. Again, there are plenty of remote conference providers, with more popping up all the time as a result of the pandemic, after all, now is the time more than ever for people to feel connected through this sort of software. I went with Zoom due to having used it for quite a few years and being confident in its ability to handle large meetings. I have since heard good praise of Microsoft Teams and their presenter tools, but as we were ready to go with Zoom, I stuck with that.
One annoyance with Zoom was them disabling 1080p broadcasting for meetings around the time we did the broadcast. We still broadcasted at 720p, but it was frustrating for me considering how much time we’d invested in getting the speakers to record at a higher resolution. All attempts to contact Zoom Business Support were met with the tickets being automatically closed. That said, we didn’t have one complaint from attendees regarding the broadcast quality, and as the entire stream was recorded locally in 1080p, this wasn’t a problem when I uploaded the whole conference to watch again on YouTube later on.
Here are a few tips for broadcasting a conference in Zoom. Alongside the Zoom Pro plan, I’d also purchased the Cloud Recording and Webinar addons.
- Ensure the Wirecast Virtual Microphone is selected as the input source
- Turn off “Automatically adjust microphone volume”, “Suppress persistent background noise” and “Suppress intermittent background noise” to ensure audio isn’t unintentionally dipped
- Turn on “Enable original sound” both in the setting and during the broadcast to ensure your original sound is broadcasted as-is. Technically you shouldn’t need the other settings if you do this, but I changed them just in case they altered the input in some way
- Ensure the Wirecast Virtual Camera is selected as the input source
- Ensure “Original ratio” and “Enable HD” is selected to broadcast at the correct aspect ratio and the highest resolution possible
- Turn off “Mirror my video” so the picture isn’t reversed. While this can also be done in Wirecast, there’s no point flipping the input twice
- Turn off “Touch up my appearance”, so Zoom doesn’t add filters to try and improve the colour palette of your broadcast
For webinar settings:
- Turn off raising hand so attendees can’t interrupt the broadcast (less likely in Webinar mode anyway)
- Turn off chat as we want to ensure everyone uses the Slack instance instead of the Zoom chat
- Enable Cloud Recording of the meeting, so we have a backup, just in case anything goes wrong with the local recording
- Turn on practice mode to ensure the broadcast can be tested before allowing attendees to join
It’s worth noting that during preparation for the event, Zoom released a new client version which broke virtual camera inputs due to the application being untrusted on Mac OS Catalina. This issue has since been fixed, but it took me a while to figure out until I found a thread explaining a workaround.
Ahead of time, I scheduled a few run-throughs of the setup with the team to ensure we had the webinar set up correctly on the day. One of the things that took us a bit of time to figure out was audio routing through Wirecast Rendezvous and ensuring that there was no feedback from each host. In most conference call software, there is some clever functionality that automatically cancels out feedback to the microphone when the speaker outputs sound. It stops a cyclical loop of a person talking, that speech being piped through a receiving client’s speakers, and that audio then getting sent back to the person who said it through the microphone again. We avoided this by having each host wear headphones to ensure their audio feed wasn’t fed back in this way.
Ahead of the conference going live on the day, we entered the webinar in practice mode to ensure everything was working before allowing public access.
On the day of the event, it’s about putting all that preparation to good use! After an initial sound-check with the co-hosts who were dialled in through Wirecast Rendezvous, I made sure I had everything I needed at my fingertips. I ensured that Wirecast was pretty much the only thing running on the broadcast machine, and I had Stream Deck set up with the correct clips to launch when required.
After running through the production in Zoom with “practice mode” on, I enabled the meeting for the public, and we began to see the attendance numbers increase until we were at capacity. While the meeting filled up, this was a good time to reel through some holding screens, from the countdown to the conference starting to social media buzz that was already taking place on Slack and Twitter.
While this was happening, I had Phil in a “green room”, the off-air Wirecast Rendezvous dashboard, where we could chat and prepare for going live. As the countdown hit zero, I put my camera live and did my introduction, then welcomed Harry and Phil to do their introductions. And then we were off, Phil performed his MC duties just like the in-person conference.
There are a few points of failure for this sort of event, the first of which is a catastrophic internet failure. As you’re broadcasting the whole thing from a single location, there’s a chance an internet outage could occur and take the entire thing offline. If this were to happen, I’d recommend having a backup 4G router to hand, just in case you need to get back online quickly. Fortunately, this didn’t happen on the day, and I was also running off a wired connection for speed and stability.
Ahead of the event, I’d prepared a Pull Request for the alldayhey.com app containing an updated live portal page with the links to each individually edited video already uploaded. Should the worst happen, I could have always deployed this page earlier on so attendees didn’t lose the ability to enjoy the content from the day.
One thing I was keen to make work was live closed captioning. After being pointed in the right direction by Remy from ffconf, I reached out to a company who could provide captioning in real-time, plugged into Zoom. The company provided a very reasonable quote, but the numbers didn’t stack up for our budget. Next time I want to ensure we factor this in, as it can make a big difference, not only for those who require subtitles but also as an additional aid for everyone. I know a lot of people who prefer to read the captions on videos as well as listening to help them digest the information being presented, and it’s something I’ve found myself doing more and more.
On top of the captions, there are other things I’m looking to improve next time, from the process of buying tickets to accessing the content after the event. Accessibility is a task that is never really “done” when putting on events; there is always more you can do when trying to ensure everyone can enjoy your event. Improving these touches is a long term goal for the conference and something I’m always learning from.
Throughout the whole day, I was also manning support tickets. Along with helping attendees get access to the Zoom broadcast and into Slack, I also helped with people wanting to purchase tickets to gain access as the stream happened. This was a nice addition to ticket sales, caused directly as a result of the social commentary happening on the day. Not only could people get immediate access to the stream, but they’d also gain access to watch it again following the event.
Most importantly, I kept an eye on the support tickets should any concerns surrounding the code of conduct be raised. This is always something we take very seriously. While we haven’t had an issue to date, should we ever have problems in this area I would want to know we handled a communication surrounding this with speed and professionalism.