So, you want to do a live-to-air radio broadcast from a local Live Music Event? This is a great way to connect with your local community, and provides something different for your on-air schedule.
To pull this off, you need to solve two problems:
- How to get the audio from the venue to the studio
- How to mix the audio at the venue
1. How to get the audio from the venue to the studio
This is by far the hardest bit. You need an audio codec (this encodes the audio and send it to your studio), and something to connect it to.
In the not-so-distant past we used ISDN. It was expensive, but reliable. Now, we use internet connections which aren’t as reliable.
How do you get an internet connection at the local live music venue?
- Ask to borrow the venue’s ADSL connection
- Install your own short-term ADSL connection at the venue
- Use a 3G/4G internet connection
- Use a WiMax connection
- Use a Satellite internet connection
- An analog STL
- A point-to-point IP link
A wired internet connection is most reliable – if you have this option, then use it. If not, then look for WiMax providers in the area and try that – the average punter can’t just jump onto a WiMax connection like they can with 3G/4G.
You could also use 3G or 4G. In Sydney, I’ve found 4G unreliable because the networks are so congested. They may be good enough for checking Facebook, but not for a constant bi-direction audio feed.
That being said, I know of people in Perth, Brisbane and Melbourne who are still getting away with it. I envy them. I find 3G/4G at a venue will be fine until everyone walks in, and then all the smartphones saturate the network.
What you need is an audio codec that will “adapt” to poor network conditions and try and conceal the bandwidth struggle that is going on in the background. My favourite unit at the moment is the Telos Z/IP One. It will automatically adjust the buffer and bitrate to ensure your audio doesn’t drop out, even when the IP network starts getting congested. I’ve used this unit in some truly horrible conditions and it hasn’t let me down. It does have it’s limits, but it is by far better than non-adaptive units.
Tieline is another popular manufacturer in Australia. Their G5 range has “Smart Stream” technology, which does a similar thing to the Z/IP One. I haven’t tried it myself, but I hear good things.
The downside with both of these units is:
- The price – I believe the Z/IP One and Tieline G5 BridgeIT both cost around AU$5000 for a pair
- No built-in audio mixer
- No battery
There are other IP audio codecs out there. Some are much cheaper, and some have a built in mixer and battery. What many codecs don’t have is adaptive streaming technology. If there is any congestion issue with your internet connection, your audio feed will probably drop out. I find these sorts of network problems often happen at places where there are lots of people (precisely the types of events you want to broadcast).
Deciding which codec to buy would really depend on how much you are willing to pay, how essential a built-in mixer is to you, and how comfortable you are running a non-adaptive codec.
2. How to mix the audio at the venue
This bit is a lot easier. My live-music setup typically includes:
- Stereo audio feed from the front-of-house audio console
- At least 2 microphones aimed out at the crowd (“atmosphere” mics panned in stereo)
- Whatever extra mics I need for announcers, etc.
If you have a built-in mixer in your codec, just connect everything up to that. If you don’t, then consider a small audio console from companies such as Mackie and Yamaha. Just make sure you have enough inputs and outputs – that’s the main consideration here. Having a detailed audio level meter is helpful, so you can appropriately adjust the levels as you go.
For events where we have more time and money, I prefer to take a split of every microphone and input in the venue and mix it myself on my own digital audio console. This is a lot more work, but it generally sounds better as it’s been mixed for radio not for “the room”.
WiFi Dongles, 3G/4G, Switches, Routers, etc.
If you are stuck with using a 4G USB dongle, you can usually buy a small router from a company such as Netgear which allows you to turn your 4G USB dongle into a few ethernet ports and a WiFi hotspot. You can plug this into your laptop, codec, etc. For smaller setups, there shouldn’t be a need to have multiple switches, routers, dongles, etc. unless you want backups (which I recommend).
Microphones and Front of House audio feed
For audience “atmosphere” microphones, I like the Rode NT5 – it’s a quality microphone and priced attractively. Other condenser microphones can work if you have them (the AKG 451 is the best I’ve used on-air). Play around with whatever you can get your hands on and see how different placements and microphones go in your situation. I tend to place my microphones either side of stage, but as separated from the PA speakers as possible. Depending on the venue, it can be helpful to place more microphones around the venue.
As for the audio feed from the front-of-house audio console, this should be easy. Have a couple of “direct injection” boxes and some common audio adaptors handy – this way you are prepared for any situation. Also, make sure the venue’s audio engineer knows ahead of time of your plans. It’s best to avoid a “grumpy audio guy” situation.
One last thing… the Pre-Record
If getting the audio from the venue to your studio is too hard, just consider recording it live at the venue and playing it back on air at a later date. This cuts out a lot of the complexities of audio codecs. You can record to your PC or use something like a Zoom H4N. You don’t even need an internet connection to do this.