ITH MANY churches unable to offer public Masses during the Coronavirus situation, some are turning to the wonders of 21st century technology to live stream their Masses and devotions online. One aspect many find challenging is audio quality and balance. Ideally you want the priest’s voice to be crisp and clear at all times, but also hear the choir, cantor, or organist clearly as well. Some cathedrals and big parishes may have advanced house audio systems and are already well equipped for streaming, but many parish churches do not, and most of us never gave it much thought until recently. It does require a bit of effort, equipment, and savvy to achieve good quality audio, but it’s certainly not out of reach for the average parish. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you avoid the tinny, garbled sound so often found on live streams:
1) Your cell phone mic isn’t going to cut it; you need to have higher quality microphones placed nearer the altar, pulpit, and choir/musicians
2) This means you can’t just use your cell phone for streaming; you’ll need to stream from a computer in order to connect multiple external mics
3) You need more than one mic to have clear audio; I’ve found that a four mic arrangement works well in an average church setting: one pointed toward the altar where Father is offering Mass, one at the pulpit where he’ll deliver the sermon, and a stereo pair aimed at the musicians
4) You can achieve this with a high quality portable microphone/multi-channel recorder (I use a Zoom H4N Handy Recorder which works very well, but there are certainly other brands and options, many in the $100-300 price range); the H4N I use has a built-in stereo mic pair, includes two additional XLR inputs (with phantom power onboard) for two more microphones, and provides granular input and output volume control; portable mics like these can generally plug right into your computer’s microphone input with a simple aux (3.5mm) cable. Alternatively, you can forgo the portable recorder and use an external audio interface (USB or Firewire) with enough inputs for your external microphones.
5) Since you’re streaming from a computer, you either need a high quality webcam, or you can search the Apple App Store or Google Play for apps that allow you to use your phone as a webcam
6) TEST! Before you go live make sure your audio levels are just right for each mic and adjust as needed; if you’re streaming on Facebook, you can use your own personal Facebook page to go live with the visibility set to “only me” to do an actual live test privately before starting the public stream on your church’s page
7) When you start your stream, make sure you select the correct camera and microphone!
8) If your internet connection is bad, everything above is useless; you need a reliable, fast upstream (run an internet speed test to check your upload speeds — less than 5Mbps and you might have trouble), and whenever possible, avoid WiFi and opt for a wired ethernet connection (I just crimped a 150′ cable specifically for this purpose this week… I just have to remind Father not to trip on it, since it runs through the sacristy to the laptop in the nave!)
If you can’t stream from a computer and you need to use your cell phone only, you can find external microphones for your specific device type that will drastically improve your sound over the phone’s internal mic. You do have to place it strategically to balance the volume of the priest with the choir/organ while still getting the video framed the way you want it, and you’ll probably end up with more background noise and less clarity… but again, it will still be a substantial improvement over your phone’s internal mic.
I pray that circumstances allow us all to return to some sense of normalcy soon. But until then, hopefully those tips will at least point you in the right direction toward improved live stream audio.