The Ultimate Guide to starting streaming in 2021

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Streaming has become a very popular activity lately, not without a reason, in the pandemic, a lot of people started to stream as it is a fun and engaging activity, be it to spend some time with their friends or to grow a community online. For newcomers to the topic, there is a lot of questions that arise, from which platform to pick to what software to use, and how to start streaming.

Assuming that you want to grow an online community, we will attempt to cover common concerns that spark from this topic. Like everything that gets popular, it becomes hard to start on something with a lot of competition, so it is heartily recommended to dive into this world only those who truly enjoy doing so, but we aren't holding anyone's hand.

In general, there are two main platforms to stream in, Youtube and Twitch, those are the most popular in the industry, Twitch seems to get more traction from newcomers when we talk about live streaming, however, to each their own, you can still use Youtube for streaming if you want, but if in doubt, consider the following list before making your decision.

Youtube features for live-streaming

  • Youtube Partner program: A lot of features available if you get accepted. You can check more about it here.
  • Better algorithm: Youtube has an outstanding algorithm for video discovery that is used for live-streaming as well, think about how many times you see a recommended stream on Youtube that you'd watch, and compare it to Twitch.
  • Better quality if you're starting, Youtube will transcode your video freely to multiple qualities, this makes it way easier for users on limited data or bad connections to watch the broadcast. Twitch will only do this for Twitch Partners, to reduce resources.
  • Depending on who you stream for, Youtube may be a great idea for monetization, the website is more trusted by boomers, although this is just speculation.
  • Youtube is a big name in streaming overall, as a streamer, you'll probably use it in one way or another for recorded videos
  • Youtube has a big series of videos to help you get started, those are made from their company and can solve a lot of initial questions.

Twitch features for live-streaming

  • It is well known as the go-to streaming platform. If you're on Twitch, you're streaming, and this makes the website very popular for that matter.
  • Amazon Prime: The "free" Amazon prime subscription lets users get a monthly subscription for a streamer they like. There are more than one hundred million Amazon Prime users only in the United States.
  • Twitch cheering is cheap and accessible for users who want to donate.

There is not a big deal about the two, and nothing stops you from trying both as most of the software used to stream for a platform can stream for another as well.

Softwares used for live-streaming

It may surprise some but there isn't a lot when it comes to what software to pick, Open Broadcaster Software is widely used and a free solution for high-quality live-streaming, sponsored by Youtube, Twitch, and Facebook. Available for Windows, macOS, and Linux you can easily download it at obsproject.com.

As there's no need to keep listing endless software, we will cover the usage of OBS as it is the main tool used. You can think of OBS as a scene manager, you can have many scenes, and all of those can define what is being displayed on the screen, for example, you can have a Skyrim scene that will display Skyrim's window and some overlay image and at the same time you can have a desktop scene that only shows your desktop, and you can easily switch between them.

The main screen of OBS is almost all that there is to it, simple as that, here you can control scenes, sources, audio, and scene transitions. The below image will legend all of those.

OBS configuration screenshot
  1. Scenes panel: Your defined scenes, each one with different sources.
  2. Sources panel: Sources are exactly what will be displayed on the screen for the selected scene, you can capture a window, show the browser, show an image, or anything you want.
  3. Audio Mixer: Basic audio mixer, you don't want your volume to go to the red area all the time so you can tweak it.
  4. Scene transitions: As the name implies, they define what happens when you change scenes and the duration of the effect.

Another part of OBS will be the configuration, you want to make sure you'll use what your computer has to offer and stream in good quality, live-streaming is very resource-intensive and some computers may struggle with it a bit, you can try to close other applications that you're using if you get bad results when recording a game.

By clicking on settings in the control panel you will see everything that you're able to tweak on OBS, the first thing we want to do there is to go to the video panel. Two settings are important there, "Base (Canvas) Resolution" and "Output (Scaled) Resolution".

You need to set Base (Canvas) Resolution to be your monitor resolution, it should be the default one.

Your Output (Scaled) Resolution is the resolution you'll stream to, for Youtube and Twitch partners you can set it to something like 1920x1080 (also called 1080p) if it can handle that quality, 1600x900, or 1280x720(also called 720p), non Twitch partners must consider the latter without the transcoder, the resolution you pick is the only available for the people watching you see, so using a very high resolution will make it impossible to watch on slow connections, you can try starting with 720p and see how it goes.

As a note, 1920x1080 and 1280x720 are 16:9 aspect ratio sizes, depending on your monitor you'll have to check what is the best for you, the good and old Wikipedia can always give a lecture on the matter.

The next thing you'll want to do is to change the encoder you are using the video you're transmitting must be encoded to occupy less space before being sent to the servers and to make it become a recognizable output, the fastest way to encode is to do it using a graphics card.

On the output tab, change the Output Mode to Advanced so you'll be shown everything that can be changed there, on the selected Streaming tab inside output you can change the Encoder, the options will be a bit specific to your system, but the main thing you want to do is to avoid using a software encoder if you have a GPU.

x264 is the software encoder that you need to change if you have another option in this tab, do the same thing on the Recording tab in its Encoder option, and the recording path, you may want to change where the files are stored when you are recording you must know that videos may take a lot of available space.

There are other settings that you're able to change but those are usually the most important ones to tweak before you start recording or streaming, using a hardware encoder is multiple times faster than using a software encoder, and knowing the resolution you'll stream to will avoid disappointments later.

To start streaming or recording, those two buttons are on the main screen of OBS, you'll need to do a bit of configuration to link your Twitch or Youtube however it's very easy going. Have fun messing around with OBS!

What you need to buy to start streaming

If you have some good internet connection and a headset, you're pretty much set to start, there's a lot to "invest" in this but the truth is that you don't need to spend a lot to start growing a community or streaming for your friends, however, the main thing to keep in mind is to make sure your audio and video quality is right.

For the video quality to be alright you have to stream or record in a capacity your computer can handle, if you put all graphics in the highest option and your video starts losing frames, the quality of your stream overall will go down. The same is true for audio, you don't need to have a good mic at all, but you have to tweak the settings properly, recording it and listening is a good way to know if there isn't something weird going on.

This video with a lot of dislikes is the best video about microphone settings on Windows, it is the balance between two slides that will make your voice sound clearer without a lot of noise.

The big point on quality is to make sure you watch/listen to the content you're making, if you think something is off, it may be off for someone else as well, asking a friend's opinion is always great.

If you still want to start with a great microphone, you could search into XLR microphones, but be aware that they need an audio interface to work, they provide higher quality than USB mics and some of them are sturdy products that have been in the industry for decades. Always read deep into reviews of the mic you're buying as some brands will sell you less for a lot.

Condenser mics usually work better in a room prepared for audio, so a lot of condenser USB mics out there will work good for some and bad for others, while dynamic microphones are a good overall choice.

How to grow your stream

This article is more focused on the technical aspects of it, however, the known ways to organically grow your community are the same for any other project, sending it to friends is a good start, if you are on Twitch, all you have boils down to the viewer count, as Youtube is the one with a better algorithm. The viewer count on Twitch will determine your position on the category you're streaming, so telling your friends about it and asking them to come by will help you to move above hundreds of live streams on the category that sits at the bottom.

Making a presence on social media can also help to keep your community together and potentially grow it, as you will share opinions with people with the same interests, and something like a Discord server is often used to let members talk and get along... just don't spam a Discord server invite everywhere!

If you believe something is missing on this guide feel free to reach us out on Twitter, it is meant to provide a quick start over the topic, however, we don't want to miss out on what is important. And as always, have fun! 🚀 

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