Thursday, June 01, 2017

How to Be a Video Game Streamer Part 3: Video Time!

I said this part would take a while to complete, and I was not joking. I must have edited this down at least 4 times. Better late then never!

If you're just starting, welcome! I recommend that you catch up with Part 1 and Part 2 before diving into this section. The focus for Part 3 will be all about your video content! Producing, recording, and editing. In theory, it sounds really easy. In actuality, it's a massive time suck. Scheduling out your recording and editing time will be critical to ensure you meet your deadlines for uploading content to your channel. Even if your focus is only streaming directly to Twitch and not post-production, you'll find Part 3 to be useful. This is going to be the tech-heavy section, so it will apply to all streamers in some form or fashion. So let's jump in!

Before you start streaming, you'll need some equipment. If you want to be taken seriously as a streamer, you need to invest in good gear. If people can't see you or hear you, then they will tune out. The gear doesn't have to be expensive, but it needs to be quality that will last so you get the most out of your money.

Web Camera: Yes. You need a web cam. At this point it's become a standard among the industry and it's rare to find someone who doesn't use one when working on their videos. Some early adopters of YouTube and Twitch don't use these as often, but have steadily made the transition over to web cam. Luckily, technology in this area has vastly improved over the past few years that getting a good quality web cam, doesn't require a lot of money. It's recommended that you get one with a minimum of 720P, HD. This covers your basic needs and provides good video capabilities.

If you plan to stream your games in 1080P, then you do need to have a web cam that matches the quality. Logitech is one of my go-to's for web cams. I've yet to be disappointed by their products. The C920 is one that you will hear a lot from streamers as their preferred camera. Not only is the quality great, but the head swivels and it can be attached to a tripod. So you have the ability to move the camera around more freely instead of keeping it tethered to your computer.

Another one to look into is Microsoft Life Cam. I did not know Microsoft made web cams, and this one is pretty nifty. It's got a better frame rate and image stabilization compared to more web cams on the market. While it doesn't swivel as well as the Logitech, it does have a tripod mount as well and has a built in light optimization to help brighten the images in the camera.

Microphone: And no, you can't use the one that came with your web cam. While the audio quality is okay, it's not going to be as clear as you'd want it to be. You have to have a dedicated microphone, with a pop filter (these can run as low as $9.99 and are mostly made of the same material, so you don't have to pay top dollar for this), to get the most out of your streaming.

I personally recommend that you use a USB 3.0 microphone, cardioid/directional to get the best sound. Having not only streamed, but co-hosted a podcast for over 5 years, I've found that traditional microphones with a sound jack just don't do as well as advertised. But with a USB, I've never run into an issue on quality. The microphone seems to last longer and there are less hiccups in the audio.

Blue Microphones have become one of the standards for streaming. The latest Platinum Edition is leaps and bounds one of the best, affordable mics you will find on the market. The cool thing about this mic is that you can change how it records sounds. Directional, omni-directional, cardioid, stereo, it's all there. It gives you complete control in your sound design with little fuss.

If you want to go fancy and get a sound board involved, Audio-Technica is your best bet. They are an industry favorite for theater and radio. Their latest model has better sound quality and it's hands-free. It's easy to install anywhere.

Lights: Yep. This is a thing too! Who knew that you needed so much stuff to run a gaming stream?

A stand-alone light or a 2-3 point light set-up will help improve the quality of your video. Most streamers will swear by a 2-point LED system that sits on each side of your monitor. Now the great thing about lights is that you can also do these on the cheap and use your excess funds to get a better camera, microphone, or editing software.

I personally use a portrait mono light, similar to this one. It's a stand alone and allows me to move it around as needed to get the best lighting on my face. You would want one that has a cord and not battery, so the light doesn't drop during your recording. But if you need something fast and easy to move around, battery is a good way to go. You can also go to a local craft/hobby store and pick up some freestanding natural light lamps. The bulbs used in these lamps are long-lasting and don't have that weird yellow tint some traditional lights utilize. It helps give a "natural" look to your video.

How do you set up those lights? Luckily the internet is full of resources. Here are a few articles to read:

- What is 3 Point Lighting
- 3 Easy Steps to Improve Your Lighting
- Lighting Video on the Cheap for Streaming

So you've got the basics and you've set up your gear. But wait! There's still more that you need to prep.

Video editing software: Even if you are streaming live and not handling post-production, you should still consider editing software. You can use it for more then piecing videos together. You can use it to create intros and exits/outtros to your streams, provide theme music during your recordings, or create a trailer on your Twitch/YouTube page that showcases what your channel is about.

If you plan to turn this into a career, don't cheap out on the software. There is Windows Movie Maker and iMovie that come standard on Windows and MAC. But they are the bare-bones editors. They offer standard transitions, title cards, and the ability to add an audio track, but that's the extent of it. Other free editors on the market will each have their own quirks, but don't offer much else. Lightworks and Shotcut are good temporary editors, if you have a low budget and cant afford an editing program right now. These programs allow you to do some minor edits to lighting and color correction, and a few additional transitions.

The bottom line is don't skimp on the video editing software. Get something that will work for what you need. Luckily, a lot of software has gone down in price over the years and you have more options available:

- Adobe Premiere Pro. The latest version is available on the Creative Cloud for $19.99 a month. You can buy it outright, but there are perks to having the Cloud service if you want to access Photoshop, Lightroom, and other graphic editing software. Premiere was Adobe's answer to Final Cut, which use to be a MAC only based program. Premiere has a lot of the high-end features that Final Cut utilizes, with an easier timeline system. However plugins are kind of a hassle for new content. Adobe isn't very developer friendly and takes their time to answer questions. But if you need access to all of Adobes Creative features for a low price, this is a good option.

- Sony Vegas. I think this program tends to get a bad rap, but it's a great starter software that's easy to customize and add plugins. The current version retails at $79.99. It's similar to Premier by having an easy timeline, allowing you to add in multiple tracks and adjusting the frame size, opacity, and volume for the track itself without having to overlay effects. This makes rendering faster. It is missing some lighting and transition features that you'll find in other, more expensive programs, but the Vegas community is active with plugins. It's easy to find what you need! The only major downside I have with Vegas is that it can be a bit of a resource sucker during rendering, and if you're not accustomed to the types of "cuts" that are available, it can be a hassle to search for what you need.

- Final Cut. Still one of the most expensive programs on the market. Do you need it? As a film scholar and habitual editor, I can firmly say no. You don't need Final Cut. Now if you have the money and you really want it, go ahead. Final Cut is still considered the best on the market. It's got some of the best chroma-key detection, great with lighting and color tweaks. It's robust in that it allows you to do as much fine-tuning of your video as you'd like - more then other editors. That's the only major benefit with Final Cut. Otherwise, Premiere and Vegas can do the same stuff at a lower price.

As far as how to edit a video, that all depends on the software that you use. Each one comes with their own manual, and I highly encourage you to read through them before jumping in. It is a lot of reading, but these are powerful tools that can do a lot of amazing things. It's best to learn early about the limitations then to be halfway through an edit and realize that you can't do the 1 thing you really want to do.

If you need a basic "how do I edit" tutorial, Popular Mechanics has a good overview on the process.

Here are some tips that I've learned over the past 20 years of editing - this is everything from traditional reel to reel films, VHS, and digital:

- Before you start editing your videos, take notes from the channels that you like and see how they edit. Don't watch the content. Instead, watch how the videos are spliced together. Do they use straight cuts, or fancy transitions between segments? Do they speed up videos, slow them down, or provide overlays of web cams? Do they cut between the web cam and the game footage? It's okay to learn from streamers you like to see how they create their work. As long as you don't steal what they are doing, shot for shot.

- For every 1 minute of footage, expect an hour of editing. So if your video is 30 minutes long, anticipate 30 hours to edit. That may seem extreme, but once you dig in and edit your first handful of videos, you'll see just how time consuming it can be. Make sure to allot yourself more then enough time to produce your content.

-  Save often. Auto-save is not a good fail safe.

- That time you spent editing? Be sure to add another 2-3 hours for rendering. Rendering is the process in which all of the effects in your video are processed and applied to produce the video. Every time you add in a transition, fade, additional audio or video, lighting or color correcting, it all has to be rendered. The more you add, the longer it will take.

- Watch your video in full before you post it online. It's weird the first few times you look and listen to yourself, but you get accustomed to it pretty quickly. But it's a good habit to get into to review what you're about to post, to ensure you post a product that is clean and error free. As we all know, gamers love to point out bugs and inconsistencies. Don't let yourself fall into that trap! Sit through your videos, and if you see a problem you can edit it before you upload. There's nothing worse then having to go through the re-upload process on YouTube or Twitch after you find an error.

Audio recording and editing software: Every streamer should invest in some form of audio recording or editing software. Luckily, the best one on the market is completely free, easy to use, and incredibly robust! Even the big names like Markiplier and Rooster Teeth use it.

Audacity. You will love it. It's the all in one tool for audio recording and editing. And a lot of people develop plugins for it year-round. If you're looking to add unique sounds to your audio, or do some funny voice tracks, there's probably a plugin for it! Save your money here, and go free with Audacity. I've been using the program for over a decade and it's still the best one out there.

My recommendation with this program after you install it is to play around with the settings, recording a few things, edit, and test it out before you read the manual. You'll find that a lot of the things you need are easy to access. The manual can be a bit dry, and should be used when you have weird questions. Most of what you can do in Audacity, you can figure out in a minute or two. Yes, Audacity does record and edit audio. You can do both. And it can link to multiple video editing programs, such as Adobe, Final Cut Pro, and Sony Vegas - so you don't always have to export your audio and re-import it into your video software.

Are we done with the gear yet?

Not quite. Now you need to think about your Video Capture Software for your web cam and your game.

If you plan to focus on the PlayStation 4 or the XBox One, then you already know that they offer streaming services direct to YouTube and Twitch, thanks to their partnerships with the companies. If you are just doing direct streams and utilize your web cam through your system, then you'll be covered.

But what if you have a web cam running from your PC to improve the video quality, or you're playing a PC game? Then you need software to capture your video, or a streaming service (if you are not doing post-production work).

- Movavi is one of the top software you'll see today. It does include an editing program, which is good for basic cuts but not much else. It will capture your full screen of whatever you're doing on your computer with a few quick clicks. It also allows you to stream in multiple sound sources so it can catch your audio as well as the game's audio.

- FRAPS is my personal favorite, with a one-time fee and a life-time of support and updates. While it won't record your web cam, for game footage it is top notch. It provides very clear visuals and audio, and allows you to tweak the frame rates to get the best quality.

- Snagit is another web cam recording tool. It's not the greatest with game footage when the resources are dedicated to the game. It tends to result in a lot of dropped frames, but with web cams it works quite well. If you have a PC or laptop set to act as your recording studio, you could have Snagit act as your web cam software, and another program for your game.

If you're streaming content, Open Broadcast Software and XSplit will be your best friends. I have read a lot of arguments about which one is better, and honestly it comes down to personal preference. Try them both out, and pick the one you like the most. They both offer the same features, perks, and enhancements for Twitch and YouTube streams. I can't recommend one over the other, so you choose what works for you!

And with that, Part 3 can come to a close! I warned you this was going to be a long post. But now you have your equipment, you are set up to record, and you are ready to game - whether it's to a live audience or in private to edit later.

Stay tuned for Part 4 where we cover some do's and don't on your steam/recording.


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