David Santy Google Plus Hangouts On Air Studio Mode Setup Guide

Google Hangouts on Air: Audio Setup Guide for Studio Mode

Mixdown: Getting your Levels Right

Levels will not be the same between Voice and Studio Mode. Voice also has an automatic gain adjustment, so if you’re using a USB microphone and have to set the volume in software, remember that Voice mode fiddles with that. If you have to re-join a Hangout for any reason, you default back to Voice mode. Check your levels again immediately after switching into Studio mode.

Digital Distortion, DAC Performance and Streaming Codecs

First, I need to clear up a common misconception. Some think that with digital sound it’s clean until it isn’t, meaning that you either have distortion or you don’t, and as long as you’re not slamming the meters you’re fine. Eh…not exactly true.

With digital as well as analog, when you exceed 0db (the top of the audio meter) you get obvious distortion. Crackling/clipping in digital or fuzzy garbled sound on analog tape. But you can’t just push straight up to the edge and have 100% clean sound.

When a digital-to-analog or analog-to-digital converter is pushed at very high levels the resulting audio is not as clean. It doesn’t matter if you exceed 0db or not, you will be getting distortion. It just wont be as obvious as digital clipping. It has a cumulative effect of making a mix sound muddy, even if the individual tracks sound pretty good. 0db isn’t at the same signal level in all equipment either, though it’s usually pretty close.

But that’s with CD players and studio equipment. With a streaming audio codec like Studio Mode in the mix, when you push the levels too hard all hell breaks loose. The obvious distortion starts earlier and becomes really nasty once you start hitting 0db. With recording, it’s always advisable to keep your peaks at or under -6db. With Studio Mode, it’s a strict requirement.

Use a Limiter

If you have a limiter box, use it. If you’re streaming an entire band over Google+ Hangouts on Air, you absolutely should have a limiter. With solo artists, it’s not really as critical.

ProTip: make sure that your average level is about 75%-85% and your peaks don’t go over 95%.

Studio Mode analysis

HOA frequency sweep spectrograph featured
I’ve run some tests on Studio Mode to examine the bandwidth and noise characteristics of the codec, viewable here.

Mixing and Signal Routing

Single Mic Setup

Important: When using a single microphone with Studio Mode, you need to run it out of both channels.

You can do this a few ways:

  • Microphone into mixer and out a two-channel monitor output
  • Microphone into your DAW software and out two channels
  • Microphone into stereo effects box outputting into audio interface/mixer

If the single mono microphone signal goes straight into the Hangout in Studio Mode, there is a good likelyhood that sound will only come out of one side. If your audio interface has a software mixer, choose that as the Microphone in the Hangout settings instead of your interface’s multitrack input. That will give you a 2 channel stereo signal with your microphone panned to the center.

Though, sometimes to get a single mic setup to work you need to do a bit of creative software routing.

Acoustic Instrument Pickups

For acoustic instruments with pickups, you need to do the same thing. In one channel, out two.

Under-saddle acoustic guitar piezo bridge pickups can do with a little treble taken off the top and a bit of reverb to give it some depth.

If you’re performing with a single acoustic instrument with pickup (direct input rather than amplified) and a vocal mic, don’t worry about sound from the instrument bleeding into the vocal mic. For these purposes, it’s irrelevant. Nay, it’s probably beneficial.

Multiple Mic Setup

Use them pan knobs, people. Seriously. Stereo isn’t stereo if everything is center panned. No sense using that nice sounding stereo codec if you’re not going to be mixing in stereo.

A good starting point is to pan visually. Imagine (or maybe move) that mixer directly in front of the bandstand. Twist those pan knobs so they point to where the players are standing. What you might want to do too is pan the drum mics a little bit more aggressively to give them a pronounced stereo effect. If you’re using overheads for the drums, pan them about 35-50% to start and see how it sounds.

A little bit of panning left and right gives you greater instrument separation because your instruments aren’t all fighting for that same chunk of the audio spectrum.

Everything here is a matter of taste. If you have keyboards, maybe you want to run them in 2 channel stereo panned 75% left and right respectively, or 100%. You might want to try electric guitar in stereo as well. Up to you. Be creative. The mixer is just another musical instrument itself.

Unless you’re splitting a single microphone or instrument to two channels so you can output in stereo, I wouldn’t suggest panning anything 100% left or right. You don’t want to create a big hole in the middle of the soundstage. Your mix needs to be center focused but still spacious.

Again, if you’ve got a loud band, use a limiter if you’ve got one. Put a little compression on the lead vocal and touch of reverb. If the whole mix is very dry you can try adding reverb to the master output. Oh, and turn the gain down on the guitars a little bit.

Mixing with Headphones

If we were talking about mixdown for studio tracks here, I’d advise you to never, ever, ever, ever mixdown with headphones. Ever.

Chances are that you’re not going to have a soundproof mixing room and an audio engineer at your disposal for Hangouts. You and your headphones are probably it for Hangouts. Which is fine!

Keep in mind that when listening on headphones you’re always going to want the vocals to be a little bit hotter than they should and the bass a little bit heavier.

This effect depends on which headphones you’re using. Do not, under any circumstances, use cheap earbuds for mixing and performing. You wont be able to hear yourself properly. Same goes for any stylish headphones like “Beats Audio” with very colored presentations.

Speaking of not being able to hear yourself, that’s another reason why you might want to nudge those vocals up a bit more. The mix is the priority though and if you’re having trouble hearing your own voice, try pushing one of the headphone cups away from your ear. This is something I nearly always do when tracking vocals and it helps a lot. If you’re playing with a whole band, you won’t be able to do this. Though, if you’re playing with a whole band you need separate master and monitoring mixes.

Soundcheck!

Do this. Before every single Hangout on Air you do. Don’t try to get your levels right during the performance or between songs.

Just be careful in who you trust to give you advice on your sound. It’s just a matter of not knowing what their hearing or their audio setup is like. You never know what kind of weird surround sound processing they may have enabled on their computer that could be sucking out the vocals.

Things to keep in mind when you’re doing soundchecks:

  • Did I remember to turn on Studio Mode?
  • Am I getting sound from both channels?
  • Is the left to right balance good?
  • Is the balance of instrument to instrument good? Anything buried or too prominent?
  • Are the overall levels good? Keep it under 95% for your peaks, average about 80%.
  • Is there any strange hiss, hum or static in the signal?
  • Are there any sources of background noise that can be turned off?
  • Are all cables and jacks in good shape? Replace or repair immediately if not.
  • Did everybody show up for the gig?

Voice mode is being used
 
Make sure that you can switch into Studio Mode before the broadcast begins.
Recently there have been a few glitches in Hangouts where users are unable to switch, being prompted with an error that says “Voice mode is being used” (pictured).

 
 

Next: My Personal Setup

40 comments

  1. Bee

    We are having the biggest problem getting the Hangouts On Air to work at all. After logging on, starting to stream, the audio degrades after 3 to 5 minutes, resulting in a “jam” that isn’t anything anyone would want to listen to, due to the poor audio quality. It skips, scratches, and we’re amazed that any musician can get this thing to work to be able to “hang out” and perform for their fans…you’re the expert here…help! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=araEDWOL2Z4 – Example of the Problem

    • David Santy

      I did a test Hangout for 15 minutes and could not reproduce the problem you’re having. All I’m hearing is the typical distortion from the Hangout audio codec that has always been there.

      From the looks of your video your upstream bandwidth is either low or unstable. I would bet on an internet connection issue. If you had a good connection your video would be smooth but it’s very choppy.

      • Bee

        thanks for the reply =)
        We stream allot on the Internet, we have a Internet radio show that we do too on the side using the same connection., I jam on-line with others too at a place called onlinejamsessions, we stream direct to youtbe live stream too.. The only time we get choppy sound is within Google+ Hangouts, its like clock work too..it will start clear for just about 3 minutes and then gradually start degrading too full degradation at around the five minute mark.not our connection for sure..more like the hangouts app is .somehow buffering ..could the flash app that it uses somehow not be set up right, within my settings if i right click a flash app it shows a window of settings..and storage options..could it be something with that?..Im more curious then desperate about fixing it at this point..thanks for your Patience and expertize..seems no one know more then you about how all this works.thanks so much..

  2. Mark Loos

    I used Google Hangouts for an audio conference between five countries each week. We have hit and miss success with the audio quality. Would a studio mode setting help us or would the conversations create crosstalk or feedback in studio mode? If studio mode would not be the correct choice, do you have a suggestion on how to improve our success rate in using Hangouts?

    • David Santy

      Studio Mode is for studio audio equipment. You want noise reduction and auto gain that Voice Mode provides.

      Most audio problems with Voice Mode are caused by people having their audio going through speakers rather than headphones.

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    • David Santy

      Do a Google search for “Free DAW” followed by whatever operating system you’re using.

      I’ve never used any of the free stuff so I don’t have a recommendation.

    • David Santy

      Run a cable from the “Line Out” on the rear of the amplifier into the microphone/line input your computer. That’s all I can tell you without knowing more about your equipment.

  4. Wade Harman

    One thing I have been wondering about for Hangouts is how to play recorded music for show intro’s and such. There is an app in Hangouts that allows you to record music but do you know of anything I could do to hard wire sound for my show intro’s?

    • David Santy

      Hangouts doesn’t have an app for that. Take a look at the Software Routing section of the guide. You can use a combination of GarageBand –> Soundflower (or the Windows alternative), using Garageband as both mixer and media player. Mind you, you’ll need to run all of your audio through this setup including your microphone. Avoid using the mic in your webcam with this type of setup as it typically presents a ton of delay.

  5. Aubrey Sitterson

    Hi David! Thank you so much for this tutorial – it’s been incredibly helpful. I originally bought the Scarlet 2i2 on a friend’s recommendation, but had the same problem mentioned in the comments with audio channels being split. I exchanged it for the Alesis MultiMix8, and everyone works perfectly except for the monitoring.

    Even with everything turned all the way up, I can only just barely hear the loudest noises. I have a set of normal everyday use Audio Technica headphones plugged into a 1/4 inch adaptor plugged into the headphones port. They worked fine with the Scarlet mixer…Any idea what the problem could be?

    Best,
    Aubrey

  6. Gil Melo

    Do you know if the MultiMix 4 USB FX would work in the same way MultiMix 8 USB FX? Does it have a stereo mix like the MultiMix 8 USB FX? The mixer I have now I can’t hear myself and the hangout at the same time and I was wondering if the MultiMix 4 USB FX would let me do it the same way the 2i2 does?

    • David Santy

      Yes but the MultiMix 4 I’ve encountered have very noisy power supplies. Never had that problem with the MultiMix 8.

      You already have the Focusrite Scarlett 2i2? You really should be able to hear both yourself and the Hangout with it as long as Direct Monitoring is set to “On” and you have the Focusrite set as the audio output for the Hangout. If you’ve set the 2i2 as the output in the Hangout settings and you still can’t hear the Hangout, you may want to consult the “Software Routing” section of the guide to figure out how to do that.

      The problem you’re going to run into with the 2i2 is that you’ll have mic in left channel and instrument in the right channel (or vice versa), unless you’re running a stereo line input from an external mixer.

  7. Chris

    Hi,
    Thanks so much for doing this. We have a big webcast coming up Thursday night:
    http://www.media2studios.com/webcast/june-19th-chicagoland-songwriters-webcast/

    and in testing it out I had to share my screen so the other computer browser could see it. I think was in studio mode but with no audio meter next to mic?

    We are using a Roland V-4EX video mixer that looks like a USB webcam to hangouts (it has 4 hdmi inputs). Using Audio mix from a Personus 16.4.2 digital mixer

    thanks

    It might be cool to do some remote broadcasts for our webcast series.

  8. Alain Patry

    David, thanks for your tutorial! The web needed this! Although it has helped me get closer to my desired results, I’m still facing some issues. First off, I’m using Focusrite Saffire Pro 24 DSP as interface. Second, I’m using Cubase 7.5 as DAW. All I’m trying to do is sing along to tracks, with some reverb on the voice, and send it all out to Google Hangouts On Air. Prior to your tutorial I wasn’t getting the music or the VST effect (reverb) into Hangouts – only the dry signal of my mic passing thru the Saffire. I’ve now installed your suggested V-Cable and have set it up as the output bus for Cubase’s main out.

    However, I still face the following issues:
    1. The latency introduced by V-Cable is unuseable. 40 ms in my case. When I watch the test recording in GHOA, the sound that comes out of my mouth is very late (compared to my mouth movements).
    2. I cannot hear myself at all during the session – my hunch is I need to setup a second output bus and route that back to my headphones thru the Saffire’s software mixer.
    3. Playback of the Hangout seems to choke on the data – every now and then the audio seems to slow down then released. Too much data to buffer?

    And a last general question, which you may not be able to answer is, will mean I cannot use Cubase’s built-in Control Room?

    Whatever more insights you can provide would be great!
    Thanks,
    Alain

    • David Santy

      Thanks for the comment Alain,

      1) Is the latency problem you’re having still there after you adjusted the latency settings in V-cable? As I recall it was kind of a pain to get the latency setting to stick so I’d check to make sure it is in fact at the lowest setting.

      Can you not set V-cable as a VST output in Control Room?

      2) Yup, need to set an output for the mic

      3) What you’re probably experiencing is a bandwidth issue. First thing is to wire your internet in directly instead of using Wi-Fi. That being done, run a speed test (speedtest.net) to see what your upload speed is. Anything under 2Mbps and you may be having problems. 4-5 Mbps upload is closer to ideal. It could also be a problem with the consistency of your connection, despite what the maximum upload/download speeds are.

      – David

  9. Nate Maingard

    David, I can’t thank you enough for this post, it’s so very helpful! I actually purchased the exact mixer you recommended and the feedback has been incredible so far! The only thing is I can’t work out how to monitor myself through headphones while also listening to other people who are other participants in the hangout. Am I missing something very simple?

    Thank you David, you are AWESOME!
    Nate

  10. Steve S

    Hey David,

    I am trying to get this to work and I don’t see the “studio mode” selection in 1) my chrome book and 2) my Mac Chrome hangout. Does studio mode still work? I mean, is it still a feature? I’m trying to use it with my band and use my JamHub as the audio capture and monitoring tool for the full band.

    Steve

  11. Nate Maingard

    Hi David!

    Hope all is well with you :). Great tutorial man, thanks! I’m playing a show at a small venue tonight and am wanting to stream it live via hangout…Can I get the sound from the mixing desk and somehow direct that into my mac for the hangout?

    Thanks man!
    All the best
    Nate

  12. Tzvi

    Hey David, thanks for writing up this great resource! My only issue is that I really need a software workaround for Windows. Do you plan on updating this article soon? The interface I use doesn’t come with a control panel or mixer like your m-audio delta does. So I’m kinda stuck here since I’m only using one mic and my computer reads the input from the interface as stereo…resulting in the sound only emanating from one speaker.

  13. Colin Williams

    Hello David, Colin from over in the UK. Such a clear and concise tutorial, and as a singer/sound engineer myself I think you got it blob on as they say here in Blighty. Great advise on mics and mic technique. Many would fail to mention the art of using a mic for the quiet loud effect, being your own compressor. I’m a big K.I.S.S. fan and your take on micing up a simple one vox and one acoustic was right up my street. Although I did toy with the idea of two when I did my first hangout a couple of weeks ago, but I put foolishness aside and went with the one, Condensor an AKG 414 did the job nicely.
    So thanks for all this valuable stuff about about hooking stuff up and clicking dialogue boxes, the most important bit was right at the end when you talked about the ethos of the medium and that was the most informative bit for me, although I had already got that, but you said it in a real precise and may I say soulful way.
    Thanks Mr Santy

    • David Santy

      Colin, glad my guide could be of help.

      Yeah, a single omni condenser works pretty well. I use just the one microphone because I’m on a tight budget and I don’t want to throw any cheap stuff into the mix.

  14. Peter Stergion

    Thanks for this excellent write up! Can you tell me what it would be the minimum hardware setup to record an acoustic style studio mode hang out with a drummer on a djembe, bass player + vocals, guitar player + vocals, 2nd guitar player + vocals? Would I need a sperate vocal mic and instrument mic for each performer?

    • David Santy

      Do the guitars and bass have pickups in them? Unless you can DI the instruments, you would need mics for everything.

      For an acoustic group, I would also like to throw up a pair of spaced omni small-diaphragm condenser microphones as overheads to get the room sound.

      For a minimal setup though, I would add a touch of reverb to the master output to combat the dryness of direct micing everything.

      The question is, what gear do you have now?

      In total you’d need:

      • 7 microphones
      • Mixer (at least 8 channels)
      • 2 channel USB audio interface
      • Headphone mixer
      • 4 sets Headphones

      If the instruments DO have pickups, you can substitute some of those microphones with DI boxes.

  15. tom zicarelli

    Amazing tutorial. Wow Thanks.

    I cannot get the Studio mode option to show up on Hangout settings. (Chome, Mac OS Lion) The Settings always loads with Google Talk Plugin 3.13… instead of Google Voice and Video Plugin. (which has been installed). Also have checked HOA box. Haven’t been able to find a fix for this. Any suggestions? Thanks.
    Tom

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  17. Steve

    Excellent advice. I like the fact that you advise people to a) mute while people are playing and b) to use the chat window. Also, I know what you mean by using an Ethernet jack! My WiFi only allows a bandwidth of 11mbps download and it is very limited on upload, staying in the area between 0.5 and 2 Mbps! (whereas I can get 30 down and 5 up on wired!)

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