Live Streaming Worship During Times of Isolation

During times of isolation such as the COVID-19 pandemic, many churches, ministries and even artists / bands have sought out how to live stream worship, especially on a budget. The most common approaches I have seen are:

  • Live stream the ministry team as a group from the venue. This approach is much like live TV and can be as simple as using a smart phone up to the complexity of a pro broadcast setup involving cameras at various angles, a switcher and even some fancy effects.
  • Almost live is an approach some take. The elements or sections are all recorded and then quickly assembled using editing software. Only blatant blunders are edited out. The goal is to add titles, transitions and sometimes song lyrics, then get it out quickly. In this case, the pre-recorded content is played and streamed almost live.
  • Pre-recorded is the same as almost live except that it is not rushed. It could all be prepared on an earlier day. Song lyrics can be edited in perfectly. The same applies to media slides in support of announcements and the sermon message. Like for almost live, the recording is streamed at the appointed time (as opposed to just posting the video online as pre-recorded content).

Often, there is a challenge to support the community aspect of the church service. In some cases (like FaceBook live) people can chat, post emoticons and “like” each other’s comments. Sometimes, an alternate technology such as video conferencing can be used to substitute for the fellowship time that may occur after a service.

In most church service formats, part of the worship involves the congregation singing along with a worship band (aka worship team). So during live stream of a worship team, there can be a variety of approaches.

  • Have the whole team spread out on the stage (according to proper “social distance” guidelines per health authorities) and record them as a group. The challenge here is to get a good sound mix. Most sound technicians do not realize that mixing the room like for a live service in the auditorium will NOT result in a good broadcast / recording mix. In most cases it will be poor. The sound tech would actually accomplish a better mix using isolating headphones. The most optimal solution is to mix in a control room that is acoustically isolated from the auditorium. This can be a challenge, so it may be simpler to get a good set of isolating head phones.
  • In most cases, the worship team will be reduced to a core. In some cases, it will be much the same as recording the whole team, except less people. In some cases, there may be more use of pre-recorded tracks along with the live musicians. Many will opt for the simpler approach out of consideration of the complexities of copyrights and license agreements. Others have this covered and will use the tracks (or they have produced their own tracks).
  • In rare cases, a worship team may pass a recording around and have each musician add their track to the recording. This can be a challenge since it is either necessary to have each musician show up one at a time, or take the recording hardware to each musician one at a time, or each musician has to have compatible DAW HW/SW to handle the recording themselves.
  • The last option is to use technology to live stream an online simulcast session involving the musicians. This is very challenging, depends on the right mix of technology, and will never be perfect, but can prove rather fun and spontaneous.

The last approach above is what I will be covering over the next while as a series of articles.

Your homework assignment should you choose to consider this approach is to web search for and study up on the following:

  • JamKazam – online jamming software and service (free but not open source, they operate servers).
  • Jamulus – online jamming software (free and open source, you can set up your own server).
  • Zoom – online video conferencing software (free for clients, not free for hosting large groups, they operate servers).
  • Jitsi Meet – online video conferencing software (free and open source, you can set up your own video bridge server).
  • Open Broadcast Software (OBS) – software to combine and switch between video and audio sources, add titles and effects, and generate a broadcast feed (free and open source, supports sending stream to FaceBook Live, YouTube and more).
  • My Stream Timer – software to generate simple countdown timers with OBS (free and open source).

For anyone not familiar with “open source”, this means that the software source code is available and the programs are usually maintained by a community of volunteers to keep them working. Open source usually means “free” as well, but in some cases, a vendor will package it with a support plan for a fee. This can sometimes include access to training resources more comprehensive than what you find in the wild.

What I have seen with above technology is:

  • Group of online musicians (mostly in Europe) performed an online Jam Session / Concert using Jamulus to mix the audio (and provide the musicians with monitor feeds). This was combined with a Zoom video session showing the musicians in the “tiled” layout on the screen. OBS was used to combine these and to stream it live via FaceBook to an online audience.
  • Some friends and I have experimented with Jamulus, but using Jitsi Meeting for video. We haven’t live streamed as of the time of writing of this article.
  • I have live streamed solo using OBS to combine audio and video to stream via FaceBook.

My live streams can be found at https://www.facebook.com/xstreamworship/ and the Jamulus sessions can be found in the “Jamulus Online Musicians / Singers Jamming” FaceBook group.

If you want to see what I am up to as I proceed with these live stream experiments, go to my XStreamWorship FaceBook page (link above), “like” and follow it. Then you will get auto-notification of upcoming live streams.

So stay tuned for more to come…