Friday, May 17, 2019

Getting Your Stream Output Settings Just Right




There's a lot to think about when making a Twitch stream, but some of the most mysterious aspects are the stream output settings. These don't deal with how your stream is designed or how you as the host act on camera, but rather how the stream gets to the internet, how faithfully the image you see on your PC is conveyed to the viewer, and how reliably the audience is able to watch the stream without buffering. When doing their job right, your output settings will be completely invisible. When set up wrong however, your stream settings might cause the show to look ugly, create performance issues, or even completely crash the stream.

Choosing a resolution is like choosing the size of
a barrel. Choosing a bitrate is about how much
you can pack into that barrel.
I'm going to help you arrive at just the right settings for broadcasting your streams- not by giving you the exact numbers to punch in (everybody's games, PCs, layouts, accessories, and internet connections are too different to give one definitive configuration), but by handing you the tools to arrive there yourself.

Please be aware though, especially if you've never read The Twitch Playbook before and you skipped to this entry first: ON CAMERA EXPERIENCE is always more valuable than a perfect stream. If you haven't done at least a dozen combined hours of streaming already, put this entry down, enable all the "auto" settings on your broadcasting software and get out there, live on the internet. If you need an extra motivational boost, read the entry Start Your Twitch Channel With NO MONEY.


➢ WHAT ARE THE MAIN STREAM OUTPUT SETTINGS?


Depending on what broadcasting software you use, there may be a crazy amount of sliders and menus for you to tinker with. There are only two truly top-tier settings though, which just about every piece of streaming software will have, and these govern all other aspects of your stream. They are: RESOLUTION and BITRATE.

If you got Da Vinci to paint your portrait, it would
be totally lifelike. But this may not always be
necessary.
The interesting thing about streaming is that what you see in your game, or even on your computer's broadcasting software, is NOT what your viewers see. The nature of the internet is such that only a portion of your stream's original quality can be conveyed to viewers. There's a lot of science behind resolution and bitrate, but it all boils down to the following concept:

Before cameras were invented, if you wanted a picture of yourself, you'd have to hire an artist to paint a portrait. The resolution and bitrate settings you choose are equivalent to choosing a better or worse artist to paint the 'portrait' of your stream. Low settings may be severely lacking in detail, and high settings may be completely identical to the source, but it's important to always remember that there is an intermediary between you and the viewers.

Resolution denotes how many pixels of video are delivered on your stream. This is typically measured by two numbers, which represent the horizontal and vertical pixel counts. It's not necessary to get into more details for these purposes, but suffice it to say that 1920x1080 is the HD resolution commonly known as 1080p, and 1280x720 is the HD resolution commonly known as 720p. There is also the 'standard definition' resolution of 848x480. These are the most common output resolutions for Twitch streaming.

Bitrate is trickier for many to understand. This number, measured in Kbps, or 'Kilobits Per Second', denotes how much data is packed into each second of your stream. The lower your bitrate, the less internet speed is required on your end to broadcast. The tradeoff is, the lower your bitrate, the blurrier your video will look.


➢ THE PROBLEM WITH GOING TO 11


"Very interesting," you might be thinking. "But higher resolution and bitrate mean higher quality streams, right? I'll just crank everything up as high as it'll go and then my streams will look amazing!" This could work out for you, but in most cases, extremely high settings are a terrible idea. There are three main factors to be aware of: Processing Power, Your Internet, and The Viewer’s Internet.


PROCESSING POWER

Don't make your PC explode.
The higher your resolution and bitrate settings, the higher the processing load on your PC. As it is, your stream software is sharing your PC's processing power with the game you’re playing, as well as all other pieces of equipment connected to your computer. How much this affects you depends on what kind of computer you have, and how much strain your game puts on your PC. Playing a pixel based sidescroller won’t likely cause your computer to bat an eye, but attempting to play a next-gen visual powerhouse game on its max graphics settings, while also outputting a stream at max settings will likely crash your computer or cause major performance issues. Playing a game while streaming isn’t the same as playing it off stream either- just because you get a solid 60fps in Metro Exodus while playing on your personal time does NOT mean you’ll get the same results while streaming. If you're running into performance problems, it's likely because of these warring juggernauts: try lowering your game's graphics settings, and if that doesn't work, lowering your stream settings the next time you go live.


YOUR INTERNET

Everybody knows that you can't stream without an internet connection. What most people don't know is how much internet is required to stream, and how much of your home internet is safe to allocate for streaming. If your bitrate exceeds your amount of available internet speed, even for a half second, you'll start 'dropping frames', meaning your stream will appear frozen to everyone watching, until the internet speed raises above your attempted bitrate again. Here's a simple metric to find out how much internet you should be allowing your stream software to use, so that you won't have this problem:

Find out your internet plan's upload speed (not the more commonly advertised 'download speed'). A good bitrate to start with is roughly 30% of your upload speed.

This accounts for the huge swings in connectivity most internet companies suffer from (though they don't advertise it much), as well as anyone else who might be using the internet in your house.

Your internet provider may advertise their speeds in Mbps, or Megabits Per Second, which is simply the Kilobits Per Second number that your stream software uses, divided by 1,000. So for example if your internet plan has a 10 Mbps upload speed, this means you can use 3 Mbps to stream with. That's equivalent to 3,000 Kbps in your stream software.


THE VIEWER’S INTERNET

One other important point that many new streamers don’t consider is how the viewer RECEIVES the stream. Let’s say your PC can handle anything you throw at it, and your internet is screaming fast. If your stream outputs at 10,000 Kbps, this means your viewers need to have at least that fast of an internet connection to actually watch it. Bitrate is not only the setting that dictates whether you can stream from your end, but also the setting that dictates what whether someone can watch on their end. Have you ever watched a YouTube video that froze and started buffering, so you had to wait for it to load? This means the transmitted bitrate was higher than your internet connection could pull down at that moment. And you don’t want your viewers sitting around watching a ‘buffering’ screen all day. Otherwise they won’t likely be viewers for long. So you shouldn't just be lowering your Bitrate to the maximum that YOUR internet can handle, but one that most people can actually watch. If a lot of people complain that your stream is buffering, especially if they mention that other streams on Twitch load just fine, don't ignore these comments: lower your bitrate. You don't want to drive people away just to make your stream look better.


➢ THE MAGIC NUMBER


If you're on a pretty good PC and have decent internet, try starting with a resolution of 720p and a bitrate of 2,500 Kbps. From here, you can go higher if everything is smooth, or lower things if you notice problems. But there's a reason I waited until the end to mention these two numbers. Hopefully by teaching you what these metrics actually mean, and by demystifying the numbers themselves, you'll be able to get more performance and quality out of your streams than if you simply punched in a 'one size fits all' value.

Your ability to make an entertaining show will always be more important than how clear your stream looks. But if you've been improving your stream and are looking for another way to get better quality for no money, optimizing your output settings is a great way to do it. Always keep the 'trial and error' spirit I've mentioned in previous entries- you'll likely want to tinker until you find the sweet spot. But now, when raising or lowering these settings, you won't be shooting in the dark. Once your stream output settings are just right, you'll have one less thing to worry about when going live. So take some time behind the scenes, and make that stream shine!

Friday, May 10, 2019

Attempt Your Worst Idea for a Twitch Stream




Let's say you've been streaming for a while and your shows are going well. Your streams may not have the fanciest equipment or newest games, but you've got your audio mixed properly and your hosting persona is getting more refined. You might have also found a comfortable groove for your channel's schedule- whether that's always going live at a specific time, or just making sure you never miss a scheduled day. All is going well.

Do you love playing with action figures? Stream it!
But you probably have an idea kicking around in the back of your mind- a style of stream that's outside of your comfort zone. You haven't done it before, you're not sure if you'd be able to do it well, and you may have never seen anyone else on Twitch doing it- it lives in completely uncharted waters. For these reasons, you are terrified of attempting that stream.

This is good!

Fear of trying something on stream is the best way to know that it's the exact kind of idea you SHOULD be implementing. You should always try your worst idea for a livestream. You never know what's going to work.


➣ BAD IDEAS ARE SUBJECTIVE


It's hard to pin down what seems like a 'bad idea' to anyone out there, because anything that seems crazy to one person could be another's bread and butter. Suffice it to say that it's all relative- the kinds of streams someone typically makes are what cause a new style of show seem strange: a Fortnite streamer doing an IRL show where they repair their motorcycle, a competitive Overwatch player strapping their phone to their chest and livestreaming their morning runs in first-person, or someone known for painting miniature Warhammer figurines doing live karaoke. Think of the hobby you love most outside of livestreaming- what would it be like if you were able to incorporate that into your Twitch channel?

If you love building or customizing your PC,
don't assume others will find it boring.
Try sharing it with the world!
"But Nick!" you might complain, "My passion for LARPing would make a terrible stream! Why would I attempt something when I don't even know if it'll work?" There are many reasons. First, you can meet new kinds of viewers- if you have a passion for beatboxing, or photo editing, or sandcastle building and decide to do it on stream, there will most likely be others out there who love the same thing. You're making your channel more varied, and therefore more discoverable. Your existing fans would be able to look forward to new kinds of shows as well, having a welcome break in the typical style of stream. And most importantly, you'll be more creatively fulfilled- you'll get to do something you love and share it with everyone! Don't think of this as a permanent change- it's just a one-time thing. See how it feels to try on stream- if you like it, you might find you want to bring it back.

There's a saying by Confucius: "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without." Don't let your stream be a perfectly flawless pebble- keep trying new things even if you don't know whether they'll be any good. This is how great ideas grow!


➣ MY PERSONAL QUEST: THE TRAVEL STREAM


On my streams, I've implemented many of these kinds of ideas, and they have done wonders for my channel. That's not to say that I've kept every crazy idea I've tried, but rather that I have never stopped trying my worst ideas for streams, and through this constant experimentation have been able to significantly improve my channel. The following was my personal journey in arriving at one such stream idea.

For work, I typically fly around the country about a dozen times per year. When I started on Twitch, I didn't want to let this interrupt my daily livestream schedule, so I came up with a way to still stream while away from home. Several streams ensued, some of these tried and refined multiple times, but here are the overarching concepts.

I tried to hard to stream video games away from home, before I realized
I could branch out into the other things I love!

1st Attempt: The Portable Console

When I first started, I didn't do anything except stream story-based games. And I had a hard time deviating from that rigid concept in any way. So my first thought was to bring my Nintendo Switch, laptop and a whole nest of capture equipment and cables with me. I'd plug my Switch into the computer, route it into the hotel's TV through an HDMI splitter and play Zelda while away from home. It worked (in theory) but there were too many variables: some hotel TVs weren't compatible, there was too much hardware to lug around, and most importantly: my laptop couldn't handle it.

2nd Attempt: The Less Intensive Game

On my second trip, I tried streaming Stardew Valley, a simpler pixel-art game, from my laptop. Using a camera would still cause performance issues on the stream, but it ran more smoothly than the previous, more intensive setup.

3rd Attempt: No Camera

Next, I tried playing Stardew Valley with no camera. This worked better than before, but I'd still be cursed with crashes and unpredictability. After a few tries at making this work, it was time to go back to the drawing board.

4th Attempt: Video Game Novel Readthroughs

I picked up a companion novel to one of the video games we were doing on stream and did a dramatic reading of that story during simple Just Chatting shows. Since I typically create voices for all the characters on video game streams, this fit the channel identity well, and tied into the games we played. But I wasn't passionate about this idea, so I ended up scrapping it too.

5th Attempt: Walking Around IRL

I then tried doing streams where I would walk around outside the hotel where I was staying. Sometimes I would be in really cool places and could do virtual tours of the area. But the schedule of my work while traveling made this unsustainable: if my plane landed at 11:00pm, it would throw a wrench in any plans to walk around on camera.

6th Attempt: Coloring Book Stream

Getting to rekindle my love of art was a major source of
happiness in my life, and it's all thanks
to my Twitch streaming career!
One day I found a Harry Potter coloring book at a used book store. I thought it would be fun to try a coloring book stream, and after attempting this once I knew it was a huge hit. Everyone loved watching, and enjoyed the relaxed tone. I quickly realized this could be my idea for travel streams: all I'd need was my phone, a set of colored pencils, and this coloring book. It was easy to carry, fun to watch, and I was given an outlet for a major passion of mine. One that I never thought I'd have time to do anymore, before incorporating it into my Twitch channel. For the first 20 years of my life, I had been studying the fine arts, but ever since I moved away from that in my career I haven't had time to draw, paint, or create much at all. It was amazing to regain this creative outlet!

For the past several months, I've been doing an ongoing 'playthrough series' for the entire coloring book. Just like a story-based game, we are aiming to finish the entire thing from cover to cover. WHEN that task gets done doesn't matter, because it's a fun thing to look forward to every time I go away on business. I don't dread the extra work of setting up a stream away from home, or avoid streaming while out of town and then stress about how I'm missing  potential opportunities. I've met all sorts of new people who are interested in watching artwork-focused streams, who have then joined my normal video game shows after enjoying my personality while coloring. I now know there's a thriving art community on Twitch, but at the time I had never seen an artwork stream before. I didn't even know whether anyone would be interested in watching my coloring book show. All I knew was that I would enjoy doing it. And that's what fueled me. Even though the coloring stream concept seemed craziest to me out of all the ideas I tried, it ended up being not only the one I liked the most, but the one people enjoyed watching the most too. Who would have guessed?


➣ UTILIZE YOUR PASSIONS


I'm not suggesting you find some gimmick for your Twitch channel, or attempt streams you know won't work. I want you to try the streams that you WISH would work- the ones that would make you so happy to be able to create, even if right now you don't know who would want to watch them. Don't mistake this for me advising you to buy better tech either, to make a 'dream version' of your existing streams- I'm talking about trying your completely outside-the-box ideas that incorporate the passions that you haven't ever shown on your Twitch channel.

Do you love cooking? Video editing? Talking about sports? ASMR? Archery? Woodworking? Watching YouTube videos? Petting your cat? Learning new languages? It doesn't matter what the idea is, as long as you're passionate about it. Imagine if there were a way that could be incorporated into your Twitch channel. How pumped would you be to go live on Twitch when you were making one of those shows? Look at my example- every idea isn't guaranteed to work for you, but once you find the one you love doing, you'll be glad you chose to 'color outside the lines'. So get out there and try your worst idea for a Twitch stream. You might find that it was actually your best!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Finding the Flow of Your Twitch Chat




You now have people chatting in your streams and having a good time. Using some of the concepts we've discussed in the previous entry, you've been crafting your community into something you can be proud of, and viewers feel more welcome in your shows. When it comes to your personal interaction with the chat, the typical rule of thumb is that more engagement is better. But I've found that this is not always the case. You should certainly be getting to know everyone in chat and responding to comments during your shows, but every stream has its moments where the action on screen should take precedent. In many instances, engaging with your chat too much can actually hurt your performance in a game, or even damage your channel's identity. I want to help you identify the flow of your own Twitch chat, and then help you to refine the way you interact.


➣ SETTING A CADENCE


There are many different kinds of Twitch channels, and each will have its own flow of chat. Someone who is painting with oils on canvas will likely only look at their chat during set intervals, not wanting to constantly break their concentration. Someone doing requests for songs to play on guitar can't interact with chat at certain times even if they want to, because they're in the middle of playing. These kinds of streams are blessed with a natural cadence. The audience implicitly understands when the streamer is capable of even looking at their comments, and it's within these established windows of time that the host chooses what to read, and how to respond to it.

Whether your instrument is real or fake, your chat
implicitly understands that you can't read
comments during a song.
If you're playing a video game, walking around in IRL, or doing a Just Chatting stream however, there are virtually unlimited opportunities for you to both look at and respond to your chat. And while 'maximum engagement' is the generally accepted strategy, I find that a truly refined show in these categories will still have its own style for when to engage with comments. This means setting a cadence for responding to chat on your shows, establishing times when the chat knows that you will or will not be responding to comments, and finding interesting ways to keep people engaged throughout.

All of this will first depend on the kind of show you're trying to make. Are you focused on playing very skillfully? Then you probably shouldn't attempt to read chat in the middle of combat in Apex Legends. If you're walking around and doing an IRL stream, certain moments could be better for talking to chat than others- don't interrupt someone you're talking to in real life in order to respond to chat, for example. For me personally, since I focus heavily on story-based games, I never talk or even glance at chat during cutscenes or story-heavy moments. This creates less engagement at certain times, but it strengthens the overall brand of the channel. People can rely on a natural rhythm for chatting, and can trust that on my channel they'll always be able to watch the cutscenes uninterrupted. This ultimately makes the shows more enjoyable for the kinds of viewers who tune in. Identifying what about your streams is crucial to the identity of your overall channel is the first step. You want to establish what can be interrupted by engagements with your chat, and what can't.


➣ NEW WAYS TO ENGAGE


If you're playing Dark Souls for the first time, you're
probably going to want to concentrate when
you fight these guys.
One of the biggest mistakes I see streamers make in their engagement cadence is attempting to read a comment at the wrong time, and then blaming the commenter for having spoken. For example, someone fighting a tough boss in Dark Souls. They glance at chat while in battle, read a viewer's comment, then look back over at the game just in time to see their character get smashed with a giant mallot. They then either get mad at the chatter, upset that the person broke their concentration, or they make a playful note of how that chatter 'jinxed' their boss run. Neither of these is OK. You as the streamer are responsible for when you read chat, and shouldn't make someone feel bad for having engaged.

This same concept applies to any skill-based game. If you're playing Overwatch, you should have the discipline not to look at your chat during a high-stakes battle. In Fortnite, there are certainly more relaxed moments that are perfect for discussion, but when you're furiously building and fighting other players you shouldn't have your focus split. People shouldn't be discouraged from chatting during moments of intense concentration on your part, but instead given different opportunities for engagement.

Returning to the live music stream example, a guitar or piano player could have different chatbot commands for viewers to activate while they play their instrument. A command full of fire emojis, excited faces or crying faces could be used during different kinds of songs, or even different moments within those songs- a sad refrain, an exciting chorus, or a skillfully played solo. An IRL stream could encourage a sort of 'prop hunt' concept within their chat, asking viewers to post a certain emote set every time they see something in the background: an animal if they're streaming from a zoo, a boat if they're at the beach, or a certain kind of hat if they're on a crowded Tokyo street. On my shows, I actively ask people during boss battles to 'send hearts' as a show of encouragement, knowing that I typically won't be able to read normal comments, but could see the hearts coming in from the corner of my eye and thank the chat for them. In these examples, by having moments where you as the streamer are not expected to engage with chat, you're also not shunning people who are interested in actively chatting on your stream. Instead, you're giving them different and more varied ways to become a part of the show.

Like in some video games, the world has lots of hidden objects.
Why not let your chat join in searching for them?

Experiment with different cadences for your chat interactions- you might find something unexpected that suits your channel well. This will not only help you to concentrate more on what you're doing on-stream, but will give the audience more opportunities to get involved. Some people watching don't always want to come up with questions or comments to write in chat, but they do want to support you as the streamer. You may find that people who don't normally chat during your streams will come out to post emote sets during tough battles, if you make that a part of the experience. Talking to your chat and answering questions is always important, and you should be trying hard to build connections with your community. But despite what many others might tell you, it's not necessary to be available for immediate response to chat at all times. In moments where it's difficult for you to engage, you shouldn't fight against the current and attempt to respond to everything. You need to find the flow of your Twitch chat, and sometimes that means engaging less in certain moments in order to ultimately create more engagement overall.

Friday, April 26, 2019

Your Twitch Chat is a Reflection of Yourself




Twitch chat can be a wonderful place, or a toxic hellscape. Sometimes it's both of these at once. Yay, Twitch! There are all kinds of people who might tune into your streams, and there's no way to know exactly what someone is going to say. On top of this, aside from setting your chat to 'followers only' mode and severely stunting your channel's growth, there's no surefire way to prevent people from saying bad things at all. When your chat devolves into a bacchanalian den of vulgarity, constant trolling, or awkward political arguments, it's easy to throw up your hands and blame the Twitch gods for your misfortune. Similarly, it's just as easy to see someone else with a kind, generous, loving community and assume they've just been dealt a superior hand. Yes, there is plenty of luck involved in building a community, but for the most part your Twitch chat is only a reflection of yourself.

Sometimes Twitch chat can look like this. It's not
the luck of the draw, it's up to you to cultivate
your own community.
"But I don't stand for these filthy things they said in my chat today!" you might assert. Of course you don't. I'm not saying that everyone in your chat will be a blind clone of you the streamer, but ultimately you are responsible for the kind of community you cultivate. And no matter how entrenched you are into having a certain kind of viewership, you can always pull out of an overly negative, troll-filled nosedive- it just takes some patience, dedication and creative thinking. Whether you're starting a community now or attempting to shape an existing one, it always pays to begin with the simple stuff.


➣ SETTING GUIDELINES


The first step in setting up any community is to have the most basic rules in place. Many of these are pretty easy to come up with off the top of your head: no racism or sexism, don't be mean to other chatters, don't promote spam, things like that. Get the objectively wrong things out of the way- things that will lead to an instant timeout or ban.

Take out your wrench and keep it out. Don't think
something is finished just because you implemented
it. Refining is a lifelong process!
After this come the more subjective rules, which will vary based on how your channel works. What level of swearing is OK? Can people post their gamertags for multiplayer games? Do you allow spoilers for singleplayer games? Is self-promotion permitted, and to what degree? Set as many precedents here as you think necessary, but don't enforce them too strictly. For rules like this, it's better you leave them as soft 'guidelines' than instant bans or timeouts while they're first being implemented. Here's why: you actually want people to break them by accident.

I know this sounds backwards- setting out to have chatters break your own chat rules? But this all comes back to concepts I've discussed in the previous entry 'On Twitch, Failure Is Your Friend'. If you have the humility to harness your own ability to fail, you can succeed much more quickly. Don't let yourself have such a fragile ego that you think everything you do will be perfect on the first try. So when someone breaks one of your more subjective rules? Instead of lashing out at them, let the person know where to find your channel rules, and why that particular rule is in place. There are three potential outcomes of this: the vast majority will be understanding, some will become disgruntled, and a select few will turn hostile. Knowing how to proceed from here is crucial.


1. THE UNDERSTANDING CHATTER

Most people just want to have a good time, and the last thing they want to do is make waves on someone else's channel. It's important to realize that many viewers might genuinely not have seen your channel rules, and especially if those rules are different from the vast majority of Twitch channels, people will make honest mistakes. This is someone who can likely explain what caused them to misinterpret your rules. And if you can swallow your pride and actually listen, information like this is more valuable than gold to your Twitch channel. If they don't willingly offer an explanation, it can be prickly and sometimes downright humiliating for the chatter, to ask them during the stream. Instead, send a respectful Whisper or DM after the show, "Hey thanks for being a part of today's stream! I'm trying to improve my chat rules. Are there any changes you'd suggest to make my rule about spoilers better, or more welcoming to new people?" You don't have to implement every suggestion or react to 100% of chatters' mistakes, but you should certainly be paying attention when someone points out a stumbling block.


2. THE DISGRUNTLED CHATTER

Some people will become crestfallen when they break
channel rules. Don't let them spiral into despair
or anger. That's no good for anybody.
Sometimes people become disgruntled about breaking rules in chat. It's understandable- if you didn't think you did something wrong, you wouldn't likely want to be reprimanded either. The important thing here is to not let the rest of your community dogpile on someone who seems a bit disgruntled, because this will only make things worse. Do your best to defuse the situation by letting this person know that no one is mad at them for breaking the rule, that it happens to everyone once in a while. And most importantly, don't allow an argument to crop up in chat about the rule's validity. This will only cause the person's wound to fester. I've noticed that a shocking number of viewers on Twitch can't bear the thought of having done something wrong in chat. Many will keep explaining or arguing, as if they're taking a test in school and by telling them they broke a rule you're docking their grade. As long as you keep a cool head, and your community doesn't shout them down, this person will likely simmer. If you think they're reasonable enough, consider sending a Whisper or DM here as well. Let them know you aren't mad at them, that you hope to see them on future shows, and ask if there's anything that can be improved about your channel's rules.


3. THE HOSTILE CHATTER

Sometimes the situation just can't be salvaged. Whether the offending chatter starts a brutal argument or is immediately toxic, you're going to need to shut them down either way. It's important to issue warnings if you can see the behavior coming. Set a precedent for the rest of your chat, that it isn't a 'one strike, you're out' kind of environment. If this viewer was at first disgruntled for example, and they start arguing about your rules openly, let them know that they'll be timed out if they persist. When someone is timed out, they will often cool off once they realize that no one is actually mad at them, but the responsibility here is on you and your community as well. Don't openly talk about the person once they're timed out, or let your chatters openly gossip about them. Just because someone is timed out doesn't mean they aren't watching. And just because they're being mean doesn't mean they're a bad person or don't deserve respect. Everybody has a life outside of Twitch, and this person may just be having a bad day. They might be digging themselves into a deeper and deeper hole specifically BECAUSE nobody took away their shovel. Assuming they don't immediately leave, taking away that shovel and not letting them chat for a while can be actually be a big help. Keep your finger on the 'ban' button, but you could be surprised- they might not be so bad if they come back.


➣ A STRONG-ENOUGH FOUNDATION


Chat is a massive part of your Twitch channel. Don't
leave the quality of your community to chance.
Here's the thing that might be confusing about all this: Whether someone reacts well to breaking a chat rule or not, people breaking rules at all likely means there's a problem you need to address. Pay attention to the frequency of a rule causing problems for chatters. Is it the same person every time, or various people? Do mostly new people break this rule or are longtime community members tripping over it as well? Sure, a perfectly reasonable and well-explained rule will accidentally be broken every once in a while. Most of the time however, someone breaking your rule means you were unclear with its wording or visibility. Never assume that just because a chat rule makes sense to you, that it will make sense to everyone else as well. Always be willing to think from the perspective of the viewer, and adapt to whatever is causing them problems on your stream. And whether criticism is constructive or not, you need to have the humility to actually take note of it.

You'll gain a lot more understanding for your chat this way than immediately creating rules that erase a violator from the list, instantly removing them from the conversation. Yes, you may have some mud slung at you once in a while, but most viewers will be reasonable- they just want to enjoy the show. If you're willing to put up with the rare few offended people through this formative part of the process, you'll actually get some very valuable info.

I call this process building on a "strong-enough foundation". The foundation of your more subjective chat rules should not unbreakable, but malleable and open to revision. You may find you want to alter the guidelines you originally created, based on the overall reaction across a few streams. Maybe you could be less strict about spoilers because you don't really care about hearing story info if it hurts most chatters' feelings, or that you want to be more strict about swearing in order to make your stream more welcoming and positive. Whatever the change, you'll never get anywhere if you assume the first version of a chat rule you wrote was correct, and that everybody else is wrong. You need to take a step back, be willing to reassess, and realize that you are responsible when multiple people make the same mistake in your community. Your Twitch chat is only a reflection of yourself, so make sure you craft your community into something you can be proud of!

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Your Twitch Channel Needs an Elevator Pitch




I've seen it so many times. I'm watching a Twitch streamer who has no difficulty talking to chat or idly discussing the game they're playing, but when it comes time to actually introduce their channel they simply can't communicate effectively. One of the biggest stumbling blocks for new streamers without on-camera hosting experience is their ability to tell people in chat about their own show.

Old school games knew how to keep the gameplay simple.
You should do the same with your channel description.
Don't underestimate how important it is to consistently tell your viewers basic information about your channel. We'll get into the many benefits throughout this entry, but one big plus is that a spoken introduction helps entice new viewers to follow. Someone watching your stream for the first time knows nothing about your channel or what makes it unique, and they won't have as much patience with you as your regular viewers. Twitch streams are long- you may not be constantly doing something they're interested in seeing, or that represents what your channel is usually like. New viewers can use that intro to make an informed decision about whether or not they should follow. You should be able to explain what your channel is about, its top-tier critical rules, and any other important info that chatters need to know within a short, concise soundbite. Simply put, your Twitch channel needs an elevator pitch.


➣ THE RAMBLING INTRO


Have you ever been there for the first moments of a small Twitch streamer's show? It may have sounded something like this:

Hmmmmm... uh, yup. Looks like we might be.......... yes we are LIVE! Alright guys, hey, sorry I haven't been around for a while, my- wait, did we? Nope we're still live. Ok well, hey. Hi. How's it going, guys? I'm SmallStreamer83 and this is a channel about- oh, well what isn't it about, really? I play so many games, I play Fortnite, and I play Madden, and I do Grim Fandango speedruns. Well, I haven't done a Grim Fandango speedrun in a while actually, since my computer flipped out, but that's beside the point. Where was I? Oh, yes my channel is called SmallStreamer83 and today I'm going to be playing a game that I've really been looking forward to so much. You may know it, you may not. It's a game we've been looking- HEY what's up PersonInChat79? I haven't seen you in a while, welcome back to the stream! I hope you're doing well. Ok, let's get to it, let's play the game! 

Communication is key.
There are a few things wrong with this introduction: It's unclear, it rambles, it goes off on tangents and is sidetracked by chat, it doesn't put the most important things first, and it doesn't have a decisive beginning or end. But on a base level, it's just hard to follow. You get almost no clear information from the entire introduction, despite it taking a decent amount of time to actually say.

You may think having a 'polished intro' would be too stiff or impersonal. It is a trade-off to have a mostly pre-prepared introduction, but you're gaining much more than you're losing. You may be saying the same lines over and over across multiple streams, but you're still able to infuse emotion and personality into it. Plus, when you can intro your channel without thinking about it, you wouldn't believe how much mental energy is freed up to make the stream itself more entertaining. On top of all of this, you'll have a recognizable 'hook' to your stream that people can latch onto. It's like hearing the 'Scrubs' theme song every time you watch an episode. Reliable and entertaining refrains build brand loyalty!

Please note that while I used the beginning of someone's stream as an example, you should be introducing your show multiple times throughout- the beginning, after bathroom breaks, when raids come in, when someone follows, and at the end. Because new streamers have a hard time introducing their channels in the first place, they typically opt to almost never reintroduce during the show. Don't fall into this trap- it'll decimate your ability to grow. You should be introducing your channel as often as you can, especially if you don't have a following yet. This makes it all the more important to know exactly what you're going to say- you should have an elevator pitch prepared beforehand.


➣ THE INVERTED PYRAMID


So how do you create the perfect channel introduction? The first step should be easy, because if you've been following along with the previous entries, you should have the major ingredient already prepared. In the entry 'If You Can't Describe Your Channel, Who Can?' we narrowed your Twitch channel down to its bare essentials and then sprinkled in the things that set you apart from the crowd. Introducing your channel on stream is a perfect time to use that description you worked hard to create.

Spider-Man is a journalist by day, so he could tell you
about the Inverted Pyramid as well. But I couldn't
get him to sit down for an interview.
What else do you want people to know when joining your stream? An activity like song requests, map voting, chat minigames, or viewer challenges? A cardinal rule tied to your brand identity, like not backseating or spoiling games, explaining how to join you in a Fortnite match, or outlining the limits of your chat's language restrictions? Something you're working towards, like a follower, donation or subscriber goal? A community feature you're trying to grow, like a Discord, Twitter or Instagram page? Pick only the ones that are critically important to you. For me it's the channel description, spoiler rules, games list and follower goal. If you still have lots to choose from, try narrowing it down to one item from each of these categories. Then, order them by using the Inverted Pyramid.

The 'Inverted Pyramid' is a concept used in journalism to make sure the most important things get across first. If you're writing a news article, you want to make sure that someone who reads the first sentence at least gets the broadest idea of what happened, then the information can get slowly less important from there. The same applies when telling viewers about your stream on Twitch. You should begin your introduction with the most important thing- usually your channel's name and what it's about. Then you move down the list of importance from there. This way, you know that anyone who hears any part of your introduction will get as much information as they could ever have gotten in that amount of time.

Try to list out the essential items you'd want someone to know about your own channel, in order from most to least important. Then craft that into your own channel introduction.


➣ MAINTAINING DISCIPLINE


Now that you have an ordering system for what to talk about, it's time to talk about you. Watch how you introduced your show during your most recent stream. How did you present yourself? Did you exude confidence? If not, there are a few changes that can go a long way.

It takes discipline to host a stream effectively. Not as
much as running a city, but it definitely takes
discipline.
Practice. You may have a lot of things you want to mention in your introduction. Practice to yourself at full volume while you're NOT streaming. It's important not to mumble this under your breath, but instead project at your normal on-stream speaking voice, so you get used to exactly how it feels to say on a real stream. When I'm trying to work something into my intro, I'll say it to myself dozens of times before doing so on camera. You could also try trimming down your intro if it's too hard to remember. Shorter is always better, after all.

One thing I do that may sound backwards is never respond to chat, or even glance at it, during any part of my introduction. It sounds cold on paper, but in reality it just gives everyone a moment to check in and say hi to their fellow chatters. No one has ever complained about me not reading their comments in these moments, because 1) I can get through the intro so quickly and 2) In all other moments it's clear that I engage with chat as actively as possible. Not being distracted during my intro prevents me from going on tangents and ultimately failing to get my channel's message across.

Answering chat messages mid-intro is actually dangerous too- it can re-frame your information in a bad light. If you say your channel's name and description, then say hi to a new viewer who joined chat, then continue by calling out your follower goal, that person will likely think you're talking directly to them about the follower goal rather than continuing a larger introduction you were already doing previously. It's an example where your attempt at engagement can severely backfire. I've seen several streamers get tongue tied trying to back out of an accidental situation like this.

You don't have to be as strict as I am with my intros, but make sure you have a plan of some kind. Don't waste mental energy or stream time always coming up with how to describe your channel on the spot. Have it already thought out, be able to communicate clearly, and then spend that excess energy putting on a good show! Without discipline and efficient communication, your channel's introduction could be ten minutes long, while still ultimately telling the viewer nothing at all. Chat with people, banter about games, tell anecdotes about your life, and freestyle AFTER your channel introduction, not during. For an intro, just say the important things about your channel as quickly and effectively as possible. When your Twitch channel has an elevator pitch, you can attract new people more quickly, strengthen your existing community, and free yourself up to be a better host. Who wouldn't want that?

Friday, April 12, 2019

On Twitch, Failure is Your Friend




You may have been streaming a certain way for a while, and are now thinking about making a change. It could be a new game to play, a fresh hosting technique, a change in your channel graphics, or a different time to go live. Whatever it is, this new concept sounds like a good idea and you think you'd really enjoy it, but whenever it comes time to actually work on making the change you just can't bring yourself to do it.

You may have very legitimate concerns. "I can't change my stream time because so many of my viewers are in X or Y time zone," you might say. "I can't change my logo because I worked hard on the old one, and it's too ingrained in my stream graphics and channel emotes," you add. "I can't change my hosting technique because everyone knows the way I host my show now, and they'd think it's weird if I suddenly changed something about my style." Whatever the problems ahead of you though, your excuses always translate to the same thing: "I'm afraid of failing."

In Dark Souls as in life, failure is a major part of learning how to succeed. 


➣ THE SCIENCE OF FAILURE


Most people dislike failing. It's understandable. If you fail enough tests you could get kicked out of school. If you fail to park your car in the right spot, it could lead to a hefty ticket. If you fail to launch a rocket properly, your astronauts die. Yes, these are all real things and they're ingrained into heads so much that we have associated ANY failure with purely negative emotions. But here's what most people don't realize: there are two kinds of failures. Large ones are cataclysmic and hard to come back from. The other, smaller kind of failure though, is actually extremely helpful because you can learn from it - but only if you're able to harness its power.

Think of pivoting as playing a "Reverse" card on
your failures.
In the world of Silicon Valley startup companies, they utilize these micro-failures all the time. The roadblocks, potholes and traffic jams on the road to success are analyzed, and if they haven't been working as intended, the companies will execute what's called a 'pivot'. This means that, after assessing what was actually wrong about their idea, they move onto something that they think might work. These aren't always potentially company-ending failures we're talking about either, but mostly tiny areas of their products and services that are 'failing' to do one single thing as well as it could, and therefore need to be fixed or pivoted. Even if the product is 90% perfect, they don't just pat themselves on the back- they acknowledge that the 10% is something that should be addressed if possible.

They're smart enough to understand that everyone involved is human, that they they won't get every single aspect of their project perfect on the first try. They know there will be mistakes, and they use those mistakes to their advantage in order to learn lessons about the market. They don't sit and stew about how stupid they were for being wrong, keep pressing ahead and refusing to acknowledge the problem, or attempt to do everything exactly how all the other companies are doing it just to avoid failing again in the future. And yet these three completely backwards strategies are how most Twitch streamers deal with their failings. Most streamers would rather stagnate than admit that something on their channel has failed in some way.

To avoid making large-scale failures, the smart startup companies actually attempt to fail hundreds of times, in minuscule, controllable ways, in order to get the most performance out of their product or strategy. You should be attempting to fail like this on your Twitch channel: in a way that lets you learn quickly and adjust your strategy towards success.


➣ HARNESSING FAILURE


Twitch is a tricky place- there's no one way to know exactly what works, because everyone's channel is completely different in hundreds of ways. You'll never know all of the platform's secrets- neither will I- all we can do is keep experimenting. If it's not clear from reading the past entries up to this point, I didn't spring out of the ground knowing exactly what my Twitch channel would be. In fact, my Twitch channel as it exists now has almost nothing in common with the one I started with. I had totally different graphics, sound equipment and capture hardware, sure- this is what anyone could tell you would improve your stream. But I also completely changed the identity of the channel, radically shifted schedules several times, shut down entire social media endeavors, went through hundreds of iterations of my chatbot's messaging and branding, and have scrapped and refined aspects about the way I host my shows almost daily. I've only been able to grow the way I have through careful experimentation, failing at something and then knowing through experience that it does or doesn't work for me, rather than just staying away from it because I was afraid.

Some of these were major blunders- things that noticeably set me back once I realized what was happening, but most of them were small. They were failures in one single sub-department of a sub-department, where I was only getting 90% of the efficiency I wanted. If I weren't ready to admit that I had been wrong, or that I had failed in one tiny aspect of a larger thing that was working, I wouldn't have improved. Within the games I like to play, I went through different ideas for my amount of chat engagement, frequencies of speaking, volume mixes for the games, sizing for my camera overlay, timing for when to take breaks, different ways to raid, how to properly incorporate my chatbot or alerts, and when to re-introduce my show, all of these comprised of thousands of these little micro-failures and pivots that I'd implement daily or weekly after I'd observed enough about what was working and not working.

Sometimes choices will paralyze you. In those
situations, execute on ALL choices and decide
which ones work from experience.
Even knowing WHAT you want to stream won't come to you naturally. In my channel's quest so far, I've attempted dozens of different kinds of new shows, like iPhone game broadcasts, community movie nights, co-op or multiplayer games, coloring in a coloring book, IRL streaming from events, or playing games without commentary - some of these I'd refine and would eventually became part of my channel, but some I'd scrap after one or two episodes. Some of them I'd work hard to refine and then scrap later. Of course these are all fine ideas for streams, but only certain ones worked for me and the way I like to make content. It didn't matter whether it worked for someone else- I had to know enough to question whether it was working for my specific channel, or whether it was something I was even truly interested in doing.

Let's go through three scenarios I dealt with: 1) Changing streaming times, 2) Adjusting my hosting style, and 3) Managing my social platforms. When changing my streaming times, I didn't just do it on a whim. I tried to change certain days, then recorded what seemed better or worse. Many of the changes were failures, but others moved on to become permanent. When altering how I hosted my show, I would gingerly add or remove tiny aspects of how I introduced my channel and monitor what worked over a few weeks. I'd never change too many things at once, so I could always track what was and wasn't causing problems. Some things worked so I'd keep them, but some would get bad reactions or not communicate concepts as efficiently as I wanted. Something about these was failing, and I had to figure out what it was. Single lines in my channel's intro would go through dozens of different iterations to make sure I had it exactly right in order to communicate what I wanted with minimal room for confusion. Some of my social media efforts were beautiful and well thought-out, but would not get enough returns compared to the effort put in. When I decided the cost was greater than the benefit, I scrapped those social media channels as outright failures and put whatever excess time and energy was left over into my actual streams.

These three examples go through different kinds of failures: Changing streaming times would be objectively right or wrong. I could see the viewer numbers and chat engagement and know easily which changes failed. Iterating on my hosting style was more tricky, because altering how I explained one thing wouldn't make more or less people tune in, but I could keep track of how many people misunderstood the channel's cardinal rules and assume that this was because of an unclear explanation on my part. The social media example would SEEM to be cut and dry, but this is one of the hardest for people to address, because it requires completely removing something rather than 'fixing' it. Check the entry 'Twitch is the Only Social Channel You Need' for more about when to do this. In all of these examples though, I wouldn't have improved if I wasn't actively seeking out failure. Never be afraid to challenge your own past ideas- nothing on your channel should be 'grandfathered in' or completely sacred. If it's not working, make it work or get rid of it.

Each one of the thousands of little changes I've made to my channel has helped to solidify it into what it is today. It's not a channel for everybody, it's a channel that I can point to and say, "This is how I like to play video games, and this is the kind of content I would personally want to watch." I think everyone who joins the streams can detect this passion as well. But not even I knew exactly what I'd want to watch from the outset- it took experiments, failures and pivots to find this truth even within myself. It should go without saying, but all of this is a lifelong process. I'm never done improving my channel, and you shouldn't be either. For more details about how I specifically lay out and implement changes on my channel, check the entry 'Fix One Thing About Your Stream Every Day'. But first you need to have the humility to admit that something about your stream needs fixing, and that means embracing the fact that in some way you have failed. This isn't a bad thing- it's going to make your channel better- just remember that on Twitch, failure is your friend!

Friday, April 5, 2019

Optimize Your Stream Audio Without Buying a New Mic




One of the most important aspects of a Twitch stream is its audio. Most streamers know this to be true, but what I find shocking is many don't actually know why. When faced with a subpar audio situation, or sometimes without having any specific problems at all, it's very common for streamers to pine over more expensive microphones. It's understandable- better mics will typically yield better audio, but in a perfect world we'd all be buying "better" everything. What I'm saying is, you can likely improve your audio quality significantly without spending any money at all. You achieve this not with a better mic, but a better mix


➣ WHAT MATTERS ABOUT AUDIO?


Looking for loot can be fun. Save it for the games you
play, not the stream surrounding them.
It's easy to get lost in the 'quest for loot' when streaming on Twitch. It seems like there's always stuff out there that would take your channel to the next level, and if you just had those few new pieces of equipment you'd be gaining more traction than you are now. Where I come from in the world of film & television, there's a concept called "Gear Lust." Someone caught in the throes of Gear Lust gets lost in tech blogs and statistics breakdowns, wasting time looking up info and comparing products rather than actually putting in work. Yes, more expensive things can improve your content, but at the end of the day everything comes down to how you use what you have. A truly great cinematographer can film a movie on a cheap DSLR camera and make it look beautiful, a truly great artist can paint a masterpiece with the lowest quality paints and brushes, and a truly great Twitch streamer can make their stream pop with cheap entry-level equipment. Nobody ever ate a great meal and asked the chef, "What kind of oven did you use?" Equipment is always the means, don't ever let yourself think it's an end unto itself.

Whether you've been caught in the spiral of Gear Lust or not, you need to understand what actually matters about audio on your Twitch stream before you can improve it. You may notice I do this exercise a lot- in fact I break down almost every problem on my channel to its absolute simplest form before proceeding. I find that it's a great way to demystify the problems in front of me, and be governed more by logic than irrationality. Remember way back in the second entry when I talked about Minimum Viable Product? Stream audio is one of the easiest departments to break down into its most bare essentials. When it really comes down to it, there's only one thing that matters about your stream audio:

Can the viewer understand what you're saying?


That's literally it. Everything after that is just window dressing. I don't care if it sounds like you're talking through a 1980's car phone- as long as your viewers can understand the words coming out of your mouth, they are capable of connecting to you as a streamer. Yes, one mic will sound 'better' than the other, but whether you're using a $200 mic on a jib arm or a $20 headset from RadioShack, the ability to create an emotional connection doesn't change. That will always be up to you as the stream's host.

Hopefully this curbs your desire to click the 'Buy Now' button on whatever new equipment you've had your eye on, but you might be wondering how to actually make your microphone sound good with the tools you have. Especially if you don't have a background in audio production, you might be feeling particularly lost. The science behind actually understanding audio can be a rabbit hole as deep as Gear Lust, but when it comes to Twitch streaming, there's one concept that stands above all others when trying to achieve great audio: the sound mix.


➣ THE UNSUNG ART OF SOUND MIXING


A good sound mix is worth more than a great mic.
Sound mixing is more than just an Oscar category that nobody fully understands- as a Twitch streamer it's your lifeblood. The mix of your stream dictates what a viewer is hearing, and when they're hearing it. There are a lot of moving parts to a Twitch stream's soundscape- more than you might even realize, so making sure they're all working together in harmony is crucial. Here are some of the basic audio concepts that may be a part of your stream, in order of how important they typically are:


1. THE STREAMER'S VOICE

Obviously this is the most important aspect of a stream. Your voice should be louder than all other sounds at all times. Many streamers either don't understand this however, or don't pay attention. It's one thing to look at your bouncing volume levels versus the game's volume levels visually, but you have to make sure you're listening back to your stream as well. You'd be surprised how the measurements taken by your stream software can lie. Sometimes the game's volume levels look incredibly loud, but upon listening back they were barely audible. Many times I'll come into a stream where the game is completely drowning out the person speaking. You have to listen, and pay attention to your own stream from the perspective of the viewer. That's who you're making the shows for after all, isn't it?

One extremely important aspect to take into account is your voice's relative volume at different moments. Yes your voice might sound fine against the musical backdrop of Overwatch's menu screen, but have you listened to your speaking voice while in a firefight? Even that can be tricky- sometimes a battle is intense and causes you to yell everything you say from excitement, but sometimes firefights aren't a challenge at all and you're just discussing the weather with your chat without raising your voice. In these two scenarios your voice will be broadcast at two drastically different volume levels because of the way you're speaking, but in both scenarios the game will sound exactly the same. There's still a cacophony of gunshots, explosions and one-liners, whether or not you yourself have a raised voice. This means you need to watch large portions of your streams after the fact- understand what it's like to hear your voice during ALL of your show, not just the aspects you're able to check on in the minutes before going live.

In previous entries I've mentioned that you need to enable Past Broadcasts so you can watch your shows after the fact. If for some reason you haven't done this yet, you really need to do it now. Your streams will never get better in any department if you're not paying attention to how they've been so far, but audio is one of the biggest fields where improvement hinges on your watching the show afterwards, because you can't check on the sound easily while you're live.


2. A GUEST'S VOICE

Make sure someone's headset on the other side of your
Skype call isn't louder or quieter than everyone else.
If you've invited one or more guests to your show to play multiplayer games, make sure you understand how loud each of them are, not just in your headset, but on the stream itself. I've been on many streams where the guests were way louder or quieter than the streamer. It's also common to have one individual guest be significantly louder than all the others. If you're using Discord or Skype chat, it's useful to make sure before the show that everyone's Discord or Skype input volume levels are similar, or are optimized so that everyone can be heard equally. Having them specifically adjust the levels of the chat software rather than any dials on their mic or in the Windows/Mac sound options will mean that they're not likely changing anything that would affect their own stream's audio if they're doing a multicast along with you.


3. THE GAME'S AUDIO

Every game will have a different base volume level. This may be more or less important to you depending on what kind of streamer you are- someone who mainly plays one game for example, will have to deal with this a lot less than someone who juggles ten different games every week like me- but the first step is always to understand how loud your game's audio sounds on stream. Many times it helps to adjust the game's sound mix based on your needs- one thing I always do is lower the music compared to the game's character voice and sound effects levels so that I'm able to speak clearly above the game even when music swells or songs are playing on a menu screen.

Sometimes, especially if you're using a capture card, there are glitches you can't detect in your own headphones either, and would have to find by watching your streams after the fact. From one capture card I've had single pop sounds appear in my stream audio every 60 seconds, but not in my headphone audio. Another would, over the course of 6 or more consecutive stream hours, slowly drift the sound out of sync by a second or two. It's imperceptible as it's happening, and not something you can test beforehand since it will only happen over a prolonged length of time. Make sure you're listening for these kinds of problems as well as the basic ones.


4. ALERT SOUNDS

You worked hard setting up your alerts. Don't let a bad
audio mix ruin them.
Alert sounds are tough because there can potentially be so many of them to juggle at a time. These might be follow/host/raid alerts through Streamlabs, sound effects activated through your chatbot, or scene layouts you switch to in your streaming software. Lots of times the comedic timing of someone's joke using a sound effect on their soundboard, or lip syncing to a song that plays when they get raided will be sullied by the audio levels being way too quiet.

I recommend taking each effect one at a time and recording snippets of yourself talking while one of them plays, then adjusting the sound's volume levels accordingly. There will always be variables you can't plan for, no matter how much prep you do though. The only way to truly know they're all mixed properly is to- you guessed it- listen to how they sounded during a stream. Are you sensing a pattern here?


5. MUSIC

Music can be an essential part of your stream, whether you curate a playlist like a pirate radio DJ or take viewer requests like a, well, pirate radio DJ. (Man, I want to watch the movie Pirate Radio again.) All things considered though, there's almost never a reason for your music to be louder than anything else on your stream. Unless there's nothing else producing audio on your show, your music should be mixed lower than everything, providing a base of sound that picks up the energy level even during the quietest moments.


➣ FIND WHAT WORKS FOR YOU


These are some helpful rules of thumb I've always stuck to when mixing my stream's audio. The specifics about what's most important or how you go about solving issues comes down to how your channel works though. What I do know for sure is that properly mixed audio is one of the biggest factors in making your stream seem 'professional', and you can do that with a $200 jib arm microphone or a $20 RadioShack headset. I know because I've done hundreds of streams with a $20 headset and had the results shine. If you've already bought something to upgrade your stream, that's great- these same concepts of sound mixing apply to you as well. But if you're still using an entry-level microphone, I want you to understand that purchasing equipment will never be as useful as actually putting in the work. You're going to need to understand these concepts if you want to get bigger anyway, you might as well learn them before you set yourself back financially. So when you're worried about how your stream's audio doesn't sound good enough, always remember this: Don't blame your mic- optimize your mix.