By Heather Halsey
Directly connecting artists with fans in a unique entertainment experience for an ever-expanding audience craved by sponsors, the Alpha Media radio broadcast company created the Skype Live Studio in Portland, Oregon.
Musical artist media tours have long been a staple of traditional album launch and tour promotion. Artists visit local radio stations for interviews, perhaps a live radio call-in Q&A with fans, and maybe a brief performance. But advances in live web streaming and video production have allowed Alpha Media to take the concept of the artist media stop to a whole new level.
“In many cases, an artist will roll into a town to a conference room with a radio staff upstairs or in the next room to stage a performance. The acoustics are usually horrible, and there’s not much interaction with fans,” said Stephanie Hough, Project Manager of Skype Live Studio. “What we wanted to do here was create a high-quality experience in front of a live audience, which creates a nice energy, and also record and live-broadcast the performance to a global audience. We also wanted to allow for live remote fan participation through Skype.”
A variety of Alpha Media music stations utilize the space, but local Portland rock station 101.9 KINK FM brings in about 70 percent of the studio’s events. The station’s adult contemporary, AAA format has proven to be an excellent match for the studio’s capabilities. Recent performances included artists such as Band of Horses, Catfish, and the Bottlemen, and music legend, Graham Nash.
Streaming Live Performance
“For most sessions, we have a live audience of about 100 people who get to come in and watch the show. We also have three camera operators who are videoing the event and we’re live directing those cameras,” explained Hough. “The space was designed for audio and video so we have top-notch acoustics and technologies in place. We spent a lot of energy in designing the space, and it’s become an excellent venue for us.”
The studio has three camera operators, a front-of-house mix engineer who does the audio for the live audience, and another audio engineer who mixes the show for recording and broadcast. A director calls and live switches the event. The studio records all sessions and nearly all performances are streamed live as well. A NewTek TriCaster enables Hough and her team to live stream performances so fans can tune in from around the world to watch and listen.
“The TriCaster unit allows us to execute our shows smoothly. Our director seamlessly switches the shows, pops them into editing and publishes them in near real time,” said Hough. “We produce about 300 shows a year, so we’re pretty high-volume and fast-paced. We post all our videos on YouTube, usually about an hour or two after the performance. The NewTek TriCaster allows us to do this very quickly and efficiently.”
The studio will often produce a couple shows a day, with three shows a day being fairly common. A few times a year the studio may even produce four or five shows in a day. The Skype Live Studio also supports sports stations with viewing parties and will often bring in athletes such as Portland Timbers soccer players to meet fans and promote games.
Skype, the title sponsor for the studio, was looking for innovative and creative ways to use their Skype TX technology utilized in NewTek’s TalkShow product. Skype TX provides tools to easily control, adjust and preview multiple Skype calls in a workflow. Television studios and live event producers are using Skype TX to reach millions of connected Skype users worldwide.
TalkShow delivers enhanced Skype TX capabilities combined with a set of unique live production tools. TalkShow augments Skype TX using NewTek’s renowned video processing technology, based on the same powerful software utilized in TriCaster and 3Play production systems. With these technologies, studios of all size and type are able to conduct video interviews without the conversion loss, aspect ratio squashing, and video artifacts common in many video-calling options.
Several times a month, in addition to the live streaming and broadcast, the Skype Live Studio will host Skype sessions between fans and the artists.
“So, we bring a video monitor out on stage, and we have the DJ or radio jock host on stage with the artist facilitating a live Q&A where we have up to three fans calling in from anywhere around the world,” said Hough. “The first time we did was with the Australian mega pop artist Troye Sivan and we had fans of his calling in from Chile, Chicago, Michigan, California — from all over, and they can talk to their favorite artist live on Skype. We were making fan dreams come true!”
Hough and her team use three TalkShow VS 100 units with their TriCaster to add extra feeds into the live stream to connect fans and artists via Skype. Each feed is one of the callers on Skype, then the Director uses a TriCaster to switch from a back-of-house camera to one of the feeds from the TalkShow units. With the monitor on stage, the artist can see the feed images — the fans — from the TalkShow unit.
“We like TriCaster and TalkShow because they allow us to do things other studios can’t do. We’re pretty unique,” said Hough. “The way we do shows with TalkShow to connect fans via Skype and with TriCaster to live broadcast the performances is pretty unique to our studio.”
Hough added that while having the live stream capability is a great benefit for artists and fans, it has also been great for Alpha Media. They now sell sponsorships into the live stream or into the studio, now that sponsors are able to reach thousands of people with the live stream. The studio’s audience and sponsor base have grown greatly by adding the live stream.
“We didn’t always live stream, but we realized it was unique and something we wanted to do. We reached out to NewTek to get set up,” said Hough. “I can’t imagine doing the work that we do without using NewTek’s TriCaster, it allows us to do everything quickly and efficiently and allows us to turn shows over quickly. Our work flow is so fast paced it allows us to keep up.”
At a Glance
- Skype Live studio hosts a wide range of artists in front of 100-seat, live studio audience for real-time performance, recording, web-broadcast and even Skype chat interactions with fans around the world.
- With excellent digital tools, a small production team is able to host and produce more than 300 events a year with a very high level of production quality.
- In addition to working with several Portland-based radio stations, Skype Live studio also hosts local sports and professional team events.
- Three live camera operators; one on a tripod and two roving, cover the events.
- A front-of-house engineer mixes for the live audience, while another engineer mixes for recording and broadcast.
- A director calls and live switches the event.
- The studio records and live streams nearly all performances.
- Three TalkShow VS 100 units are used with a TriCaster to add extra feeds into the live stream.
- Each feed is a caller on Skype, then the Director uses a TriCaster to switch from a back-of-house camera to one of the feeds from the TalkShow units.
- With the monitor on stage, the artist can see their fan from the TalkShow unit.
Equipment within the Skype Studio theater/stage:
- 3 Sony PMW-EX1R Cameras
- Audix Drum and Vocal microphone set
- Shure SM58 x 8, SM57 x 4, SM7 x 2, KSM137 x 2, Sennheiser 421 x 2, Sennheiser e609 x 2, and AKG 414 x 2 instrument and vocal microphones, 1 Ear Trumpet Labs “Myrtle” microphone, 2x Ear Trumpet Labs “Edwina” microphones
- Soundcraft GB4 Mix Console
- Yamaha SPX-990 for reverb
- Eventide Timefactor guitar pedal for delay
- Sony KDL-40EX700 video monitor for Skype chat artist monitoring
Theater Sound System:
- House monitors are JBL VP7215/95s in front (Matrix 1 & 2) and JBL 7212/95s in back (Matrix 3 & 4). A Klark Teknik DN370 GEQ unit is on the main LR inserts. A JBL AL 6125 sub is fed by the GB4’s center channel.
- Stage monitors are 4 x JBL SRX 700s powered by 2 Crown CT 1200s.
Skype Studio Production Room Gear:
- 3 x NewTek VS-100 TalkShow Units
- TriCaster 460
- Midas Venice F32 Console
- Lexicon MX400 for reverb and delay effects
- Cisco wireless router
- Sennheiser HD 650 headphones are the main audio monitors, plus an Avantone Mixcube and a pair of small 4.5″ JBLs for the video switcher to reference.
- 2 Dell 23.5-inch Video Monitors
- Dell Optiplex 9020 for Audio
- Clear-Com MS 702 2-channel talkback
- CC-95 headsets and RS-602 body packs
More stories by Heather Halsey
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Learn more about Live Production and Streaming
Learn more about NewTek TalkShow