As coronavirus induced lockdown continues around the world, and clubs are closed for the foreseeable, many DJs are turning to live streaming sets to keep the party going and continue to serve the global dance music community in these difficult times. But with so many live streams, from the low-key, one-cam kitchen and controller soirée, to the full-on production and immersive experience of Dixon’s Transmoderna, there’s a torrent of streamed DJ sets to choose from.
So, how do you get noticed? And how to get people listening to, talking about and sharing your streams? Before you do anything, read our beginners guide to livestreaming from your phone and laptop. We're going to be talking about some things below that assume you've read it. We're going to be using Open Broadcast System (OBS) for this, which is a free broadcasting software, so download it here if you're just starting. Once you’ve got the basics sorted, we’ve put together a quick five-step guide to help spark some inspiration, and get your sets looking visually strong and interesting with limited resources and budgets. The music, of course, is up to you.
We know, we know, easier said than done – especially when almost all webcams are sold out around Europe – thanks ZOOM. But adding extra cams really does help in switching up the visual aspect and keeping the streams engaging, standing out from the crowd and maybe giving the audience some extra insight into what you’re actually doing.
If you can’t find another camera, and/or don’t want to splash out on any new tech at this time, the humble smartphone or tablet is a more than adequate solution. Most recent iPhones, for example, are just as good or better than any USB webcam you’d pick up on Amazon. OBS offers a cheap-ish solution called OBS Cam that’s £15.99 on the App Store, that’ll let you connect wired or wirelessly, and easily add an extra – or multiple extra – cams. EpocCam will do the same for cheaper still. Ideally, each will have a tripod, but propping them up against anything you can find is still better than nothing. You can see that KiNK used his phone on a tripod as a second cam in his live jam stream for DJ Mag above.
If the device is a bit older with a lower res camera, why not give it a novelty name like ‘Mixer Cam’ and add a filter like black or white or something stylised to detract from the lower quality? Or make it picture-in-picture so it’s smaller? There’s always a solution.
There’s also the issue of switching between the angles, especially if you’re isolating alone and don’t have any help. Wireless keyboards are a good shout here, and hot cues in OBS will easily let you map number 1 through 5, for example, to different angles and Scenes. Alternatively, if you find yourself and your housemates with plenty of iOS devices, a service called Switcher Studio can create a full-on TV studio using wireless iPhones and an iPad switcher software. It can also load assets, animated text, logos, live on-screen Facebook comments, and even bring in remote guests. It starts at $39 per month and is worth checking out if you want to expand your ‘show’ from just DJing to something more TV-like.
While you may never have dreamed of using a mic while DJing in a club or bar – ”But it’s Karen’s birthday?!” – these are different times and there are many reasons why you should communicate with your audience. First of all, if you’re not interacting, why live stream at all? Engaging with your audience and shouting out people in the comments will make them feel part of the party, and more likely to stick around, creating a sense of community. It also lets them know it’s truly live, which creates a connection between you and the viewer. Finally, it gives some personality to your stream, and while you’re competing with 100s of other streamers out there, personality is key, both in your music choice and you as a person.
We’re not saying turn it into a radio show, but interactivity is key to standing out from the crowd. Don't have a mic? Stick your headphones in the microphone port. Old school.
Are you really live streaming if you’re not surrounded by plants? Seriously though, using visual stimuli is another extremely important way for your streams to stand out, be it a lightbox, plants or something more quirky like The Night League’s Wild Morning streams. If you’re a producer with a home studio, why not make the most of any hardware you’ve got and stack it up in shot? The different coloured LEDs will also add colour and depth in the background. Our Avision stream is a great example. A disco ball, spotlight and motor would set you back around £40 on Amazon, but again, most are sold out, though there are other retailers. A projector might cost more, but as Rebuke showed in his stream for DJ Mag, it can be highly effective with minimal setup.
Another way to soup up your streams, especially if you’re limited to one camera angle and don’t have access to extra lighting or props is overlays, graphics and messaging. Defected make great use of this during their Virtual Festivals and it’s a fairly low expense, easy-to-implement solution – even if you’re not a graphic designer, websites such as Fiverr offer low cost animated logo or branding graphics you can overlay easily on your streams using OBS. You can also animate things like hashtags, or encourage donations to a particular cause with animated text, rather than a straight-up hyperlink.
Alternatively, there’s plenty of animated gifs and even if they don’t have transparent backgrounds, you can use the opacity setting in OBS – just like in photoshop – so they sit over your camera. These graphics from Swedish artist Carl Johan Hasselrot are a good example of high res, colourful and trippy gifs that would work well with housier, disco sets but there are thousands of these types of graphics out there. These gifs from Matthew DiVito are a good example too. Pinterest and Tumblr are both great places to start. You do need to make sure you reach out to the artist before you use them. If you’re willing to spend some money, Videohive.net offers millions of motion design graphics and loops, most with alpha channels to perfectly sit on top of any camera. Why not recreate Elrow with a virtual confetti cannon? You can buy that for $9 here. Try these glitch transitions for darker sounds, or this VHS effect, for example.
While green screens might call to mind Hollywood blockbusters and big budgets, it’s actually fairly simple technology and is available for free inside OBS. The reason the specific type of green colour was chosen is that it doesn’t occur naturally in skin tone, eyes, most clothing, etc. It’s an easy colour to remove and replace with something else. But it doesn’t have to be green – any solid colour will do, as long as the same colour isn’t being used in the foreground. And even if it is, that’s part of the fun. Small green screens are quite cheap – such as this one for £26 – but if you want to go full Ferry Corsten, or DJ from inside Hyrule Castle, you’ll need something bigger.
Experiment with what you’ve already got like a coloured bed sheet and household lighting – it might not give perfect results but that might not be what you’re looking for anyway. Now’s the time to go off the beaten track. There’s a good tutorial here on how to add a green screen to OBS. Once you’ve got it working to your liking, VideoHive is good again for some stock video inspiration – like this future retro cityscape.