If you’ve been to Second Life gigs and thought “I can do a better job than him!” – read on. This page has been created for the benefit of anyone who would like to be a Second Life performer and explains how to connect your voice and instrument to Second Life.
The single most important factor is the quality of your broadband; particularly the upload speed. I get a rock-solid upload speed of over 5Mb/s and hardly ever get any adverse comments about the audio quality of my performance. If you’re not uploading at least 2Mb/s you could find Second Life performance something of a problem. If upload speed is at 1Mb/s or below, you may need to forget it. Your performance will be notable for the dropouts, breaking up and looping rather than your virtuosity or charisma.
I use a PC with Windows 10. I know that this guide works with earlier versions of Windows. If you’re a Mac user, there is a Mac download of BUTT and I imagine the process is essentially the same. My apologies if it isn’t.
How I used to do it
I’ve often lamented that the main downside of Second Life performance is I don’t get “washback” – an onstage monitor speaker facing in my direction and letting me know exactly how I sound to the audience. With a mixer, there’s a headphone output so that I can hear precisely what the final mix sounds like as I’m producing it. Not everyone can sing in key while wearing headphones, but it’s a mightily useful skill to develop if you want to work in a studio environment at any stage!
I use an acoustic guitar (Sigma JR-40) with an L. R. Baggs ANTHEM pickup. I also us a Sigma semi-acoustic 12-string. Those, together with an AKG D5 voice microphone were plugged into a very simple Behringer Xenyx mixer and the output from that went straight into an Audigy 5/Rx sound card. That gave me a lot of control over the quality of sound I delivered to Second Life and it felt appropriately professional.
Was the mixer essential? No, it wasn’t. But I’m glad I decided to get one (and I still use it for recording into Cubase). It gave me total control over the balance between instrument and microphone – an absolutely essential component of musical performance.
How I do it now
I bought a “Blue Yeti” digital condenser microphone that simply plugs into any available USB port. A few adjustments in sound and hardware settings and I was ready for my first performance. The microphone is VERY sensitive, so wouldn’t work in an environment where there is background noise. But it now means that setting up for a gig is much quicker. The microphone is on my desk and the guitars are by my side. I deliver a completely acoustic set, which is what I prefer. Members of the audience who heard me before tell me that it’s an improvement.
Streaming into a virtual world
The process of getting your musical output into Second Life is known as “streaming” or “livestreaming” and is handled by servers and software that are completely independent of Second Life. So, during a performance your avatar may crash, but the audience can still hear you. It might be important to know that if you’re given to uttering expletives when something goes wrong.
There are quite a few stream providers in Second Life and I imagine that they are all providing essentially the same product. However, I have rented my stream from TRAX supplied by Bones Writer for several years now and have been extremely happy with his top-quality service.
The livestreaming process introduces a degree of lag. The audio output from your computer buffers for a few seconds on the server before it’s served into Second Life. This minimises (but doesn’t completely prevent) the risk of your output signal breaking up, looping or dropping out before it reaches the audience. The amount of lag is usually around twenty seconds or so, but varies according to your upload speed, bitrate and samplerate. After quite a lot of experimentation I selected a bitrate of 96K and a samplerate of 44,100Hz. There are lots of different opinions about the most appropriate settings for Second Life and most of it is plain guessing. I am guided by the stream providers and read their notecards carefully when setting up a new stream.
The only extra piece of software you need is free and it’s called BUTT (Broadcast Using This Tool)
BUTT allows you to pre-load stream details and move easily between different streams (some performers rent a backup stream and some venues prefer you to use their stream). Once you’ve downloaded and installed it, BUTT should look like this:-
You can use the Settings to input your stream details, for which you will need the address, port and password, all of which you’ll have sorted out with the stream supplier. If any of those are missing, it won’t work.
Once they’re loaded you can name the stream and then add any venue streams or other streams you might from time to time use:-
You will know that you’ve entered all the details correctly when BUTT confirms that you’re on air and you can see the time counter climbing:-
You can also use BUTT to record the output from your audio input, but I’ll leave you to explore that on your own.
Remember that there are several volume controls between you and your audience. Of course audience members have their own volume controls, but there’s nothing you can do about that. Here is how I try to set up the parameters that are within my control.
The ultimate objective is to avoid making adjustments to my mixer controls during a performance. I’m trying to establish a volume level that works for the audience and for me. I get distracted when I read a comment in local chat along the lines of ” .. he’s sounding fuzzy to me .. ” or ” .. the guitar is so loud I can’t hear what he’s singing ..”. Suddenly I can’t focus on the next song because I’m thinking about the technical stuff. That never improves the performance! It’s well worth spending time to deal with the technical stuff outside of the performance; they’re not paying to listen to me tuning my guitar or fiddling around with my mixer!
The steps to setting up audio before livestreaming when using a mixer
1 Before I switch on my computer, I connect everything up as if about to do a performance. I switch on the mixer and plug my headphones into it. I set instrument volume controls to a little less than 100% and then go through several songs making sure I include loud and quiet samples from my repertoire. I’m trying to arrive at the ideal balance using individual channel controls so that I won’t have to adjust channel settings during a performance.
2 When I’m happy with the balance and the individual channel settings are around 50% (as far as possible) I switch on the computer. I use a microphone input on my sound card, so I make sure that the settings for that are around 80 to 90%. From now on I’m trying to make sure that the only adjustment I use is the Main Mix control on the mixer. I also remember to remove my headphones from the mixer and plug them into the output from my computer!
3 I log into Second Life and go somewhere where I can listen to my own stream. A friendly venue owner could be invaluable if you don’t have your own plot of land. If you are using land on which you have access to the stream, load the details into the “About Land” -> “Sound” -> “Music URL” box. This time you WILL need to include http:// in the address. You also need to include the port number. That means the address above would be loaded as :- http://126.96.36.199:9512
4 I listen to one of the hundreds of radio stations for a minute or so to get a sense of the appropriate volume level, remembering that there is yet another volume control in Second Life preference settings. I try to listen to a station that plays the sort of genre I’ll be performing .. in my case, folk music.
5 Now I open BUTT and establish that the stream is connecting. There is a volume control in BUTT. I leave it at 0.00dB because adjusting it would just introduce an unnecessary extra step into an already complex process. However, BUTT does indicate input levels and that can be very helpful. If you’re consistently in the red in BUTT, distortion of final output is almost guaranteed.
6 I then switch to my own stream (remembering to toggle the parcel audio stream) and play for around 20 seconds, which is the approximate length of the audio lag. Too quiet? I turn up the volume level on Main Mix and try again. When it’s about right I do a few more 20 second bursts. Loud music to make sure that the audio isn’t distorting. Quiet music to make sure that I’m hearing every nuance of delicate finger picking. I’m trying to make sure that the volume of my output approximately matches the radio station, there is no distortion when I play loud songs and that balance between voice and instrument is maintained on quiet songs. I’m adjusting nothing other than Main Mix on my mixer. This takes a while .. I allow myself around twenty minutes!
If you can, recruit a willing volunteer to listen to your output and comment on clarity and crispness of your signal as well as confirming that the balance between voice and instrument sounds OK to them. I recommend that you communicate with each other via local chat rather than voice to avoid confusion.
7 Once everyone is happy with what is being broadcast into Second Life, I take a photograph of my mixer so that I can set it up exactly right every time. Why? Because I might want to use my mixer for recording and would wish to have a different setup.
Now you’re ready to go and find your first gig! Each venue you perform in will need to know the web address and port number. Always keep the password to yourself unless you’re lending the stream to somebody when you’re not using it.
Having gone through the steps above, I don’t assume that I’ve got it permanently nailed. Every couple of months or so I check again. What I play and sing is travelling a long way via several different servers and multiple bits of software. Something might change without my knowledge and I shouldn’t be waiting for the audience to point it out.
Thank you for taking the time to read through this lengthy exposition! If I’ve made a mistake or omission, or if you think I could explain something more clearly, please let me know via IM in Second Life, or email me at brendan.shoreland (at) gmail.com. And very good luck with your first few performances!