As a worship and creative pastor of a church, I get asked quite regularly from friends or colleagues what kind of gear I use to livestream our services, so I thought it might be a nice idea to show you what it is we have at my church, and maybe you can see some potential and decide if that’s something you’d like to do at yours.
So if you’ve been looking for solutions in this area, you’ve probably noticed that there are quite a few different ways you can go if you want to get into live-streaming your content, and the best way to decide which route to go is to decide what you want to do with it and how. I mean yes, we all want to get the content out on the Internet, but who’s going to operate the technology? Will there be enough staffing to man all the moving parts or will it be a one-man-show, or just a set it and forget it camera in the back?
One of my personal goals in doing ministry is to get people to understand that ministry isn’t “best left to the professionals” and involve them in the work of the ministry and using their gifting for the glory of God. With that in mind, I instantly threw out the idea of having a static shot (because it’s also super boring to watch) and the one man sitting behind a computer and controlling everything type solutions. Another goal of mine was to keep the setup somewhat portable so as to to be able rent it out along with operators to generate an income for the media department and a few of our volunteers. So I decided on more of a traditional broadcasting setup where there is a a switcher, CG operator, sound engineer, camera operators, etc. again, so I could create a place for someone to belong in our ministry.
So let me show you what equipment we work with.
Switcher: Blackmagic Design 4K 1 m/e switcher.
While we don’t actually record in 4k but we wanted the option to upgrade to 4k cameras at some point without replacing the switcher. The switcher has 10 camera inputs – including one that can be switched between Hd-SDI and HDMI, multiple program outs, a multiviewer output, and 3 auxiliary outputs. One deciding factor for using this switcher was the ability to control it from almost any device on the network. I can switch the inputs from a computer in the broadcast control room, or anywhere I am within range of our network using Blackmagic Designs’ native app for PC or Mac, or using third party app for my iPhone, called Strata. The person who directs the live stream on Sunday, controls the switcher using a stationary PC that lives in the same rack with the switcher.
We have a variety of cameras at our disposal, but our main follow cameras are Sony PMW-700s. These cameras aren’t the newest and greatest offerings, but they still produce a nice 1080i59.94 image and are a more traditional broadcast camera type setup with handle mounted zoom and focus controls for the operators and settings remotely adjusted from the control room, meaning a shader or the director can dial in or “paint” the cameras looks remotely to match the other angles, leaving the operator to concentrate on getting the shots.
In our sanctuary, we use a Behringer X32 to mix our house sound and another one in our control room to mix for the Livestream sound & CCTV. One of the benefits of a digital console is that there can be essentially a digital split. We can take all 32 channels that FOH console is receiving from the stage and pull it into our broadcast room over a Cat5 cable and mix it specifically for the needs of the livestream.
Why do you need a seperate mixing board you may ask? Well, in the event that we don’t have the personnel for a broadcast mix, there is a send from Front of House that we can pull up, but we’d much rather have it mixed separately for the livestream audience because some things you can hear acoustically in the main room that don’t get mixed in as much into the sound system, and that leaves it out of the mix coming to us. So for instance, the drums and bass are loud enough in the sanctuary so the audio engineer won’t turn those channels up very much on the console. If our streaming mix comes off of his or her FOH mix, then it will sound like we have no drums or bass in the broadcast. This is why we prefer to have a secondary mix position for the livestream.
I would dare say probably most of our churches these days have a projector setup at your church to show announcements, music lyrics, sermon notes or videos with someone operating that from the back of the sanctuary using a presentation software like ProPresenter. While we have the option of capturing that video feed and displaying it either full screen or in picture and picture (we do these things on occasion), we wanted to be able to have lyrics and graphics in lower thirds of the screen laid over the video feed. To do that, we created another position called Broadcast Graphics Operator and have another PeoPresenter computer stationed in the broadcast control room. We mainly use this for overlaying animated name titles, sermon notes, scriptures, and song lyrics. We do this by making a chroma green background behind our to be overlaid graphics and outputting that signal to the switcher. In the switcher we can go in and tell the Keyer to key out or remove that color and let the background show through.
If our FOH graphics operator is playing a video or some graphic for those in the sanctuary, we have that as an input into our switcher and are able to pull that into our livestream as well.
Streaming / encoding:
We use a PC computer running Vmix to encode our program out send from the switcher for the web. From vmix we send this feed to up to 3 internet destinations (depending on bandwidth usage). At church, we are using Facebook and YouTube. This computer does double duty as the computer the director uses to switch camera angles, So this doesn’t necessarily have to be a single use / single operator position. The director will switch from the switching application to start and stop the stream.
If you’re doing live production in this kind of multi-operator setup with people spread in different rooms, you need some way to keep everybody in communication with each other. The camera operators need to hear from the director what shots they want them to get. There are many ways you can do this, such as two way radios, a group text, apps on your phone, but the most reliable way to me is a party-like production intercom or “Comms.” There are a handful of companies out there that make these products out there like Clearcom and Telex and they aren’t necessarily cheap. For that reason when we first started, we used a group app on our phones. It worked well, but had a delay that could be frustrating if you were trying to get something done quickly. I began searching eBay for old comm systems and found an out of state church selling an old one because they were upgrading theirs. I ended up snagging this old system for $150 shipped y’all. It had enough working components for 6 people to communicate together.
I feel blessed to have found that deal. This may not be an every day deal, but there are similar deals out there if you just look. In fact, another church I did some work for, because their building used to be a theater, also had this older intercom setup, and they no longer used it. With permission, I was able to take some of the elements out and incorporate them into ours.
In conclusion, I wanted to say that my church is not a big one with large budgets, we have saved and searched high and low for deals and had some great blessings along the way with friends giving us stuff or allowing us to borrow until we could pay for it, for instance with our cameras. The media director at our old church let us use his cameras for a long time as we saved up to be able to purchase them. With the right ideas, plan and some persistence, I’m confident you can build a great livestream / production system as well, and hopefully get the Good news of the Gospel out to more eyes, ears, and hearts.
What does your live-streaming system currently look like if you have one? Or if you don’t, what would you like it to consist of? If there are other things I haven’t listed here, and if you have any questions about the setup, leave us a comment below!