Updated: Oct 2, 2020
Concerns about contracting the virus and restrictions on number of guests at an event have left couples scrambling for new ways to include all their loved ones on their wedding day. In the wake of the pandemic, a new service called live streaming is emerging.
Maureen and Andy were married on 9/19/20 in an intimate, live streamed ceremony at Saint Anselm in Creve Coeur, Saint Louis.
"It was lovely not having so many people packed in a church. For people wanting to get married in a peaceful environment this was truly the best way to do it. We had 350 people watching from all over the world and the United States. Without live streaming we would never have been able to share this with so many of our friends." ~ Maureen Bierhals
Before we get started, let me clarify, I'm not a videographer. I'm a musician. The subject of live streaming holds particular interest to me, since I have been live streamed quite a bit singing at events during the pandemic. Sound quality and live stream are subjects joined at the hip.
Let me tell you, my first contribution via live stream was one big, fat FAIL. An important event had been set to broadcast on live television, and I was asked to prepare a complicated solo for the celebration. I worked hard on the piece and sang my heart out that afternoon. It soared with eerie beauty throughout the space. My heart pounded with excitement and anticipation as I advanced the DVD recording to listen once it was all over.
There was a voiceover the entire piece. I quickly realized that by stepping away from the microphone and relying simply on the acoustics of the room to amplify my sound, the television crew was left with no apparatus to capture and broadcast the sound of my singing.
Pandemic planning: live stream becomes mainstream.
If my story doesn't underline why a musician should be invested in learning about live stream, I don't know what will. Fortunately, my more recent experiences have much happier endings. To date, roughly half the events for which I have provided music during the pandemic have been live streamed (including a couple via live international television this summer), giving me opportunity to deep dive into the components of a successful live stream experience. It is my hope that by sharing some of my own learning opportunities, you will refrain from making some of the mistakes to which I've been privy.
Even though the same business will offer both videography and live stream, there are important distinctions between the two. A videographer will record footage during an event, but the final product isn't released until dozens of hours have been invested in post-production editing. Although sound from the day is sometimes included in the finished video, the focus is usually on the visuals, which are artistic and elegantly curated.
A live stream service, in contrast, is more raw and in the moment: a real-time production, with viewers watching exactly as an event is unfolding. A quality live stream provides crisp, clear audio, and utilizes an internet connection and specialized live stream equipment. The operator will be found mixing multiple camera angles and sound sources, making split second decisions about the best aspects on which to focus at any moment.
Most live stream services also offer videography; however, not all videographers are inversely equipped to offer live stream.
Now that we've established the difference between the two, let's unpack a bit the components of a successful live stream.
Let's start at the very beginning. Do your research.
1. Establish that your venue has an accessible, high speed internet connection. "Accessible" is key. Internet signals do not travel through brick and concrete walls, and if it is a private connection, you will need the password. Sometimes rural areas do not have strong internet service, making even backup hotspots a challenge to set up.
2. Be intentional with your choice of streaming platform. Facebook, Instagram, Skype, Google Meet, Zoom...each of these platforms offer unique options when it comes to privacy, number of guests you can invite, amount of time during which you can stream or view after it's over, and style of interaction with your guests. For example, a private Facebook group will let your guests post memories and best wishes, and a paid Zoom account will allow a couple to interact with guests face to face for an unlimited time frame. Once you choose a platform, get familiar with how the live stream option works and be sure to go live for a couple practice runs so that you are comfortable with it. Blooper stories abound for live streamers not familiar with their platforms, including one hilarious instance of an unsuspecting weather reporter who had activated the face filter while broadcasting on television via Facebook Live!
3. Ask your venue if it is already set up for live stream. Many churches, for instance, have been live streaming for awhile due to the shutdown or to reach those who are homebound. Live streaming has been a part of the corporate world for awhile as well, so a secular venue may have some guidance to share. If your venue is already set up for live stream, ask to see some examples of their work. If the quality is not what you seek, there are a growing number of professional services available for an improved experience.
4. Designate a live stream operator. This person should be familiar with both your live stream platform and your video live stream device, and comfortable using the tripod and any other equipment. Your operator should be monitoring the stream at all times, and ideally will attend your rehearsal to know the flow of the day, and how to capture the visual and audio elements most important to you.
Make the most of it with your virtual guests.
5. Send specific instructions to your guests on how to join your live stream. Keep it as easy as possible. Remember, the elderly are among those most likely to stay home due to Covid-19, and may not be as savvy with electronics as your millennial friends.
6. Make it interactive. Even remotely, your guests can still play a special part in your big day. Guests can dress up and make their own cocktails at home to share a toast, posting pictures of themselves to social media with a greeting message. You may ship care packages to remote guests, including items such as a formal virtual guest invitation and instructions on how to join, your wedding program, wedding favors, and a treat to enjoy "with" you after the ceremony.
If starting your live stream early, consider asking all your in-person guests to say hello as they pass the camera on their way to their seats. You may also wish to designate a time at your reception at which someone will read out the comments and well wishes of those who have participated virtually. Some people have gone so far as to create a live stream booth at the wedding reception, to interact face to face with remote guests. (Zoom is a great platform for this.) Also, private Facebook groups make it easy for guests to share pictures, memories and well wishes to the couple.
It's all in the details.
7. Consider your venue's visual elements. Where is your light coming from, and do you have enough of it? If out of doors, where will the sun be shining from at the time of the ceremony? The physical location of the camera is very important, too. Does the point of view allow your remote guests to see all the elements that are important to you (e.g. your faces when saying the vows, the altar or ceremony backdrop, your string quartet, the wedding party while standing socially distanced, or a side altar when offering flowers to Mary at a Catholic wedding)? Is your camera location unobtrusive enough that it will not interfere with your in-person guests' perspective, or your photographer's line of vision? Will guests' heads block the view? How will you secure the area around the camera so that it is not jostled by unsuspecting persons? Tip: flip your device to a horizontal/landscape view to capture the most visual details.
Photo: Metrospect Media mixes live stream feed from multiple camera angles and audio sources, including a professional harpist, pianist, and singer at Maureen and Andy's wedding.
8. Pay attention to your audio. Good audio is absolutely critical to a positive live stream experience. Softly spoken vows are easily missed by a simple cell phone microphone. Make sure all your key players are projecting loudly and clearly. Choose a quiet camera location to minimize any background noise, away from open doors on a busy street, electric fans, rustling dresses, wind, etc. You may opt to add an external microphone to the video device for improved sound capture. A microphone with a sound baffle is highly recommended for an out of doors event.
"The acoustics in our church are not ideal, and it's hard to hear what people are actually saying while inside. When I asked Metrospect Media to live stream our wedding, I wanted to make sure my guests listening virtually could understand every word. Jason had a microphone on each person who had a part to play, and my virtual guests ended up hearing my wedding better than our 'in house' guests that day! It was kind of like a football game, hearing everything play by play while watching on TV, instead of missing what's going on when you are inside the stadium, hearing it in person." ~ Maureen
Now, I'm going to be honest with you here. Audio poses the biggest difference between an amateur and a professional live stream production. Just think about your favorite movie soundtrack; how disappointing would it be to hear it with lots of static or muffled audio? Basic live streams with a home device almost never broadcast the sound as well as you would want. If quality audio is important to you, you will probably want to invest in a service with high end audio equipment. For a little perspective, consider this. I recently sang for a professionally live streamed wedding that captured sound from no less than seven different sources!
I am committed to giving my remote listeners the best live stream experience possible. All my music planning packages include a consult not only with you, but also your videographer and/or live stream operator. Believe me, there is a lot to know about capturing the best musical sound via live stream! I will discuss best practices, so that even a new live stream operator will feel equipped to deliver an exceptional sound experience.
9. Notify any DJs or musicians that you will be live streaming well before the big day arrives. Specific copyrights guide how and where music can be performed. Countless DJs who moved online via social media during the shutdown unfortunately learned this the hard way, with live stream videos being flagged and taken down by copyright bots within minutes of starting their virtual shows. Professional musicians will guide you through the process, seeking out needed music licenses, and making any necessary revisions to your music plan. They will also need to know where any microphones are placed.
Lights. Camera. Action.
10. Gather your gear. Be mindful that live streaming requires a lot of battery power. A cell phone, tablet or other wireless device should have a strong battery and be fully charged. You will want to purchase an inexpensive tripod, too. No one wants to watch a shaky cell phone video. If you are using a higher tech videocamera, include your backup batteries and cables, power strip, and gaffer tape to keep people from tripping over wires. A backup hotspot should also be considered, in case there are sudden issues with the venue's internet connection.
11. Do a practice run at your rehearsal. This is literally why we have wedding rehearsals - to work out hiccups beforehand. Your operator may need to practice using the tripod or panning the video device, and will want to review footage afterwards to ascertain that remote guests can hear and see what's going on. I recently saw a live stream ceremony at which an amateur cameraman was not practiced in focusing the lens. Unfortunately, the picture was so blurry that I couldn't even see the bride's face as she came down the aisle.
12. Ask people to turn off their cell phones when in large groups. Sound distortion and internet signal interference can be a problem when large groups of people have their cell phones on. Live streaming is a perfect opportunity to plan an "unplugged" ceremony and give your guests the chance to be fully present and engaged with you.
13. Inform your key players and guests that you will be live streaming, and if you are beginning the stream early. Your guests will want to know so that they can be on their best behavior once the camera starts rolling. Which brings me to another painful learning experience of mine. Recently I was singing as part of a quartet at a high profile event, and the live stream had started early, unbeknownst to us singers. Somewhere on the internet there is still an embarrassing link circulating with the whispered conversations that happened 10 minutes prior to the ceremony start time!
14. Keep in easy access everyone's email addresses, and make a backup plan. You should already have everyone's contact info handy because of the changing nature of special events during a pandemic, but if you don't, now is the time to pull it all together for any last minute changes or updates. Tip: if your internet or live stream platform aren't cooperating, you can still video record your event and share it later.
For exceptional quality, hire a pro.
A professional live stream service will reduce your stress by making sure all the bases are covered. Ideally, you will hire a service that already understands the difference between the sound mix inside a room and the sound mix via live stream (remember, they are not the same thing, as my story about my first live stream on television has illustrated), has invested in high end audio equipment, and is prepared to pick up and mix sound from all audio sources. Tip: If you are working under guest count restrictions, remember that staff contribute to the total number of people allowed to be present.
I have plenty more thoughts to share about music copyright and live stream, style of microphones, distance from microphones while performing, utilizing feed from the sound board, and considerations when broadcasting certain kinds of instruments, but I won't bore you with all the technical details here. As I mentioned, all my music planning packages include a conversation about sound and live stream, so feel free to reach out anytime.
The pandemic has brought with it new and unique ways of doing things. Live stream is a new frontier, and it is here to stay, well beyond the reaches of the pandemic.
"Without live streaming we would never have been able to share this with so many of our friends. There were people from Spain, Italy, Austria, Germany and Japan. It was perfect!"
These smiles say everything, don't they? A hearty congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Bierhals!
Special thanks to Metrospect Media, True Video Saint Louis, Natasha McGuire Photography, and Maureen and Andy Bierhals for their contributions to this post.
Angela Marie Rocchio, Soprano, is a cantor and soloist at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis and a Best of Weddings winner with The Knot. Pulling together the finest wedding music professionals that St. Louis has to offer, and an eye on the details so that you don’t need to worry about a thing, Angela personalizes a musical experience that you and your guests will talk about for years to come.