Friday, July 31, 2020

Perfecting Your Pre-Stream Checklist

Making our streams run without a hitch, or as close to that point as possible, is a goal we all aspire to. It doesn't matter how perfect a broadcast is overall- one tiny mistake at the beginning can sometimes throw our confidence for the entire rest of the show. In the previous entry, Creating a Pre-Stream Checklist, I detailed the tool I've found most useful in preventing mistakes from cropping up on my own broadcasts. By laying out every step involved in starting a stream, and then following that script to the letter every time I'm about to go live, I've been able to stream without incident for the past 1,000+ broadcasts. But as I mentioned in that entry, it's not a one-and-done solution. Things will need to be adjusted and fine-tuned, and as your stream evolves, the pre-stream checklist will need to evolve with it. In this entry I'll help you to perfect your pre-stream checklist. 

First, when something goes wrong on your shows, keep in mind the basic troubleshooting steps I laid out in that previously mentioned entry. Essentially, there are three main pre-stream checklist oversights: either your list isn't complete enough, you're not sticking to the list well enough, or there might be a unique situation at play. Even if your problem falls into that third category, you may not have been able to predict it, but you're still responsible for it. Don't start thinking that any problems are outside your realm of control. If something causes you issues on your show, one way or another it can be dealt with. Sometimes you just need to think outside the box. 


I have two quick examples of how a pre-stream checklist helped me with very specific issues. You probably won't have the same issues in the same way, nor will the exact solution likely work for you, but try to understand the underlying reasoning that went into solving them. Then use that mindset to help customize your own list. 


Isaac Clarke deals with the unexpected every few minutes.
Every few dozen streams, my capture card suffers from an unfortunate glitch where the video feed freezes. I have no way of knowing it's happening in the moment on my streams, sometimes for several minutes, because chatters often assume it's their internet connection causing the show to lock up and won't report it to me. To solve the issue, I have to disable and then re-enable the capture card feed in OBS, resetting it behind the scenes. This works for that single stream where it occurred, but the issue always comes back in a week or two. It's not possible to predict an exact time when the issue will occur again, but it's safe to assume it will never stop happening. So several months ago I incorporated this glitch into my pre-stream checklist, and instead of fixing the problem when it appeared, I started disabling and re-enabling the capture card as one of the steps every single time I turned on OBS. The issue never came back, not because that glitch got patched out from my capture card, but because I built a personal system that wouldn't allow it to appear on-stream in the first place. 


And then of course there's the classic streamer mistake- forgetting your microphone. I have a lavalier mic that attaches to the shirt collar. This means that if I forget to clip it on before a show, I'll still be audible but I'll just sound quieter, like I'm far away. From the audience's perspective in this scenario, I only 'sound different,' and they typically won't point it out as a problem because it's not objectively wrong. To them it could simple be a personal choice- maybe I lowered my microphone volume for some reason. People typically don't want to cry wolf about stream problems- most will only mention something to the streamer if there's no chance it's supposed to be that way. And sure enough, every three months or so I'd go for an entire stream without the mic attached- a very embarrassing mistake. It was especially frustrating because by that time I was already following a pre-stream checklist I had made, but was still forgetting this step every once in a while. How could this be? Instead of simply shrugging and being thankful that the problem didn't occur more frequently, I took it upon myself to revise the checklist once again. Maybe something was too loose, and it only needed a little bit of tightening to prevent me from making that mistake in the future.

Sometimes the checklist just needs piecing together
like a puzzle.
The solution ended up being hidden in one of the most unlikely of changes. Before I appear on camera at the beginning of one of my streams, a startup screen appears. This scene plays clips and elevator music, giving viewers a few minutes to congregate in the chat before the episode begins. When I'm about to end the intro and start the show properly, I switch to an OBS layout I created that displays a 30-second countdown. And this exact moment is where the bottleneck lived. Before altering my checklist, when I was getting ready to switch off the intro screen, I would do three actions in the following order: put on my headphones, start the 30-second countdown, and clip on my microphone. I was very rigid in following this action, and 99 times out of 100, it would work without any flaw. But I do a lot of streams- I go through this process of starting a broadcast three separate times every day- so there are a lot of chances for me to screw up. And 100 streams come and go pretty quickly for me. That means after those 99 flawless executions, I was still bound to forget the microphone on that 100th attempt a few months later. 

Of course on paper, this should have been foolproof. This portion only involved three steps- how could I forget them? What I realized was that these steps would work when there was no outside stress or interference, but what if someone distracted me right after pressing the countdown button, or if I needed to respond to something in chat during that moment, or if I had something heavy on my mind? I found that it was those instances when I'd forget to execute the final three steps correctly, and there was no failsafe between clipping on the mic and appearing on-air where I could catch my mistake. Once I realized this, all it took to solve my problem was a simple reorganization. I switched the order so that I had to have my mic clipped on before pressing the countdown button. This created a built-in moment to check myself: if I was starting that countdown, I would always reach for my shirt collar and make sure that the mic was there. If the mic wasn't clipped, the countdown couldn't start. And in finding a way to reliably check myself earlier in the process, I've prevented making that mistake for the past year and counting. 


Once again, my mistakes and solutions aren't going to translate 1:1 to whatever you're experiencing on your own shows. But in this entry I showed you two ways in which adjusting my pre-stream checklist has helped me in a very tangible way with my own personal streaming issues. All you need to do is identify whatever is causing you the same kind of grief on your shows- once you identify the problem, you'll be able to start zeroing in on a solution. As long as you stay inquisitive and don't resign your problems to the cruel Twitch gods, you too can perfect your pre-stream checklist. 

No comments:

Post a Comment