What did your first stream look like? What does it look like today? Your first streaming setup is always real painful to look back on, but it is perfectly normal to reflect back and be embarrassed about how scuffed your setup was. Today, the bar is even higher for production quality as a content creator, so which areas should a new or small streamer look to update first? Here are the first five elements of your stream that are essential to focus on and upgrade first. And not all require any money to improve.
Audio (and not talking microphone)
Audio is one of the MOST important areas of your stream, more so than your video quality. And the discussion here isn’t even so much as your voice, it’s generally anything your audience is going to hear. Here’s the scenario to give an example:
You pop into somebody’s stream, they have a nice microphone, their voice sounds great, but they have music playing that’s almost the same volume of their voice and the game volume much lower to the point you cannot hear much of it. So your battling hearing the streamer over their music and trying to make out any sounds coming from the gameplay you are watching. There’s zero balanced audio!
Balanced audio is the difference between a professional streamer and just someone playing games in their bedroom. This isn’t new, the first thing universities teach undergrad video producers is audio is more important than video. Engrain that into your head! This will take some playing around with to get your audio levels just right. You want to find the perfect ratios where your voice stands out, your game volume is engaging when it needs to be, and your music is just loud enough that your viewers can enjoy during excitement downtime in your gameplay. The easiest way to accomplish this is to go live under no category to play around by yourself, even tune in on your phone with the volume up to listen how a viewer would. If you have a decent following ask those who join for feedback or make an alternate Twitch or Youtube account to stream in secret.
It should be noted too. If you stream one game and only that one game this process becomes a one-time thing that once set you can forget about it. But for variety streamers, this can be a reoccurring effort of tweaking between game to game. Luckily, once set the first time if you take notice of your audio levels on your mixer (OBS audio levels) you may be able to ballpark tweak it on the fly and be “good enough” during your live segment game changes.
Design and Visual Brand
This is the exciting bit of becoming a streamer that you probably already put considerable time into already. This is fun because you get to explore different styles of digital art that best express yourself to an audience. It’s a wonderful journey that seems to always evolve with you as time goes on.
For starting out, the best thing to do is grab a prefabricated overlay template as the baseline and start tweaking it to your own taste. You can change colors, change the shapes used, even change the layout of where your camera and info panel are on the screen. The point here is to have something you can call your own instead of the generic template that thousands of other streamers downloaded and are using too.
Look at your favorite streamers and study their overlay designs. See what they’re doing and what you like then go and replicate it in your own way for your overlay. The key is to brainstorm proven ideas and then incorporate them into your own taste to fit your personality; thus, truly stand out as unique to your competition.
Finally, and important, make sure you are aware of the current trends of design and follow it pushing the envelope forward to stay ahead. Over the years the designs for overlays have gone through different styles of themes. Back in the Justin.tv days everybody just had a plain camera, next we moved into the over-the-top flashy and busy overlays that took up way too much screen space, and today we are settling into a more modern minimalist overlay theme focusing more on clean designs allowing viewer focus back onto the content.
This is what you want your designs to be, they should complement your content; not be your content! Keep it super simple.
Widgets bring your stream to life. They can interact with the audience, let it be a rotating metric information panel, a hype bar animation, or a now playing popup when you are playing music. These widgets can be very simple to add and further boost your perceived image of being a professional. Today, most widgets are available through StreamElements or Streamlabs where it’s a simple browser source you copy/paste into OBS.
You should try and incorporate any widgets into your overall theme and overlay layout so that they look natural and not out of place. Let it be a now playing widget on your intermission screen so that during a break your viewers can see what song is playing. Maybe it’s an animated hype-train bar of a drinking glass filling with water as the hype-train reaches its goal. The point is, these are all positive engaging tools that sets your stream apart from the generic streamer next to you on the browse category page.
Seriously, lighting is almost always overlooked and lastly updated by new or small streamers. It can be so cheap to improve and the quality benefit obtained will be magnitudes better than investing in more expensive equipment. Look at it this way, a cheap $70 webcam with good appropriate lighting WILL look better than a $3,000 camera with poor lighting. It’s really that simple, the camera produces quality images via the light exposure obtained. No light equals no quality.
Remember the reference to the order of importance taught in universities for video production? Yea, the order taught goes Audio -> Lighting -> Video. Your video resolution should be the least stressed about upgrade when starting out; but, unfortunately, it’s the most focused area small streamers focus on.
Streaming with lighting can be an adjustment if you are not used to it. Some streamers simply refuse to use appropriate lighting because it “hurts their eyes.” Well yes, nobody enjoys having bright lights in their face for 5-8 hours a day, but suck it up if you want to do this as supplemental income or even a career. It’s work, it’s not sitting back relaxed getting paid for playing video games. Nobody likes bright light in their eyes, but you get used to it and after some time it’s just part of streaming.
Self Awareness and Reflection
What is meant here is after ending a stream, go into the VOD and watch your episode to analyze yourself and take notes on areas to improve. This could mean slouching often, touching your face with your hands too much, frequently using “umm” or “hmm” words when nervous speaking, or simply poor camera etiquette of never looking into the camera as though you are talking specifically to the viewers.
Review your audio, pay attention to your overlay, analyze your webcam is your lighting adequate across the time period. Take a notebook and write down the areas you want to do differently. Do it for every stream and soon you will notice if you have trends or patterns you really need to focus on improving.
Lastly, don’t overdo it. It’s a long and slow journey to developing that professional image you desire. It will come with time and probably many failures along the way. Keep at it day-by-day and keep reflecting on areas to change and focus and soon enough you will be looking back on your first VOD’s cringing how you looked starting out. Until then, have some fun along the way my fellow streamers!