Friday, September 13, 2019

Perfecting Your Stream Prep

Everyone's streams are different, but we all have to deal with the process of setting up our shows just before going live. This might mean adjusting cameras or lights, installing game patches, relocating a console to our streaming area, adjusting audio sliders, or any of a million other little tasks which slowly chip away at our time and motivation. If your stream prep takes even five minutes longer than it should, that time adds up more than you might think. After your 100th stream, you would have wasted more than 8 combined hours, just on that five minute activity! I want to teach you to standardize your setup and minimize variables. This will make it so that there is as little time as possible between when you decide to stream and when you actually press that 'Go Live' button.


How long does it take you to set up your show? Time yourself, from the moment you decide you want to stream on a given day, to the moment you go live. Don't rush because you want to make 'good time' and don't leave out steps because they 'don't count'. For bonus points, measure this span of time across multiple stream preparations to get a more accurate figure. It doesn't matter how big the number you write down actually is, as long as it's truthful. We just need to understand what it's like for you now, before we can start improving your future shows.

Get your stream done, then get to the next stream faster.
Many of the steps you'll hear in this entry might sound inconvenient, like you'll have to spend valuable extra time improving your show's startup prep rather than actually doing your streams. It's true: stream improvements like this are going to theoretically take time away from your ability to do a longer stream on a given day. But so does every activity you could do in life. The key is understanding when it's appropriate to take the time for improvements rather than normal streaming. There are two considerations to make before jumping into these kinds of future-proofing changes:

  1. Did you already stream today? Make sure you only work on these kinds of improvements after you've already done your stream. Being live on the internet is always priority one after all, and you don't want these improvements to become an excuse for not showing up.
  2. Have you already done ten official streams on your channel? Unless you've been streaming for a while, you won't know which aspects of your setup time need improvement, and you should be focusing on honing your on-camera craft rather future-proofing. For more info about this, see the entry Surviving Your First Ten Streams.


The ideal setup for streaming is completely stationary: a scenario in which you could simply sit down, press a button, and be live on the internet. This is far from reality for most however, because before the show starts there are things that need to get physically moved or changed every time they go live. This might mean a camera that needs to be positioned, a set of lights that need to be adjusted, or a green screen to be laid out. Each of these takes time to complete, and when you put them all together, they sap much more than your time.

When nothing is nailed down, things get out of
hand pretty fast.
See if there are any large-scale physical things you're able to regulate. Does your camera need to move every time you stream, or is there some way you could keep it in the same spot without ever moving it between shows? Can you keep your game console in your streaming area? Can you leave your green screen in place? What in your setup needs to be adjusted each time you want to go live? Can you think of a way to keep that thing stationary around the clock?

Physical changes like this might require rippling alterations to your streaming area as well. For my streams, I relocated my desk, the lamps and all the wall art in my room so I could make my stream lighting live in the optimal spot, and hook it up to the main light switch. Now when I enter the room, I simply press the light switch on the wall and every single light needed for my stream is already positioned and turned on. No adjustments, no digging on the floor or behind lamps for switches, no forgetting to turn on one of the lights before the show starts. It's all ready to go every time, and completely infallible. Imagine how much time and headache I've saved from that single change alone over the past 1,500 streams.


Be like a mechanic on your streams.
Virtual things should ideally be just as unchanging and regimented: volume levels, video window positioning, or capture card settings can all be controlled if you get creative. For my streams, I go through a huge amount of different games, which means juggling a crazy amount of volume levels to account for each one. Every time I'd start a new game, there were new factors to consider. Is the dialogue too quiet? Are the sound effects drowning out my voice? Since most PS4 games are natively quieter than PC games, how do I match their levels? I needed a way to solve all these problems without having to change a million settings every time I went live, or I would have been buried in busywork rather than actually streaming every day. Eventually I built three master OBS layouts: one for an average game volume level, one for uncharacteristically loud games, and one for games that are quiet even at 100% volume. This now allows me to simply 'go live' without ever touching an audio slider in OBS before or during my shows. See if there are any similar changes you can make on your channel, whether for audio, video or other settings, which will remove hassle from your day-to-day prep.

Sometimes improving your streams actually requires downgrading your streams. Is your camera a huge time-sink because you're borrowing it from your brother every time you go live? Is your Xbox One supposed to live in the family room, and you have to dig behind the TV to unplug its cables before each show? Does your green screen put up a fight every time you want to put it up, but there's no way to keep it up throughout the day? In other words, is there a single step that, by itself, takes 80% of your stream setup time? Then consider cutting that feature from your stream entirely. Yes, it'll lower the production value of your show, but if it allows you to stream more consistently then you'll be gaining much more than you lose. There is such a thing as growing too fast. It's the main reason new startup companies fail, and it's the main reason most Twitch streamers get burned out without even realizing what went wrong.


The biggest killers for streamers aren't huge losses or major mistakes- they're completely invisible enemies, things that creep up without the streamer even noticing, until one day they're ready to give up streaming altogether. Believe it or not, the stuff you're doing to prepare your stream right before going live could be quietly poisoning the well. By having a mountain of variable tasks, requiring you to get down on the floor, move things between rooms, unplug cables, or adjust settings, which all might take drastically different amounts of time or encourage mistakes in your execution, you'll start to subconsciously resent the activity of streaming altogether. It might not happen tomorrow, or a month from now, or even in a year, but if you keep a sloppy and undefined prep regimen, this stream fatigue will eventually creep up and you won't even know why.

When you make your stream setup process as stationary as possible, you won't be expending a bunch of mental energy to prepare your shows. Your setup time will be drastically shorter, and you'll be able to make significantly fewer mistakes. None of us will attain that mythical stream setup which needs absolutely no preparation before going live, but if you can adjust your stream to be as close to that ideal as possible, a huge weight will be lifted from your shoulders. When you perfect your stream preparations, you'll gain much more than time- you'll help your future self stay motivated for many more streams to come.

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