How to start singing in Second Life

Welcome back me!

You might be wondering: “Who the heck are you and why are you in my inbox?” Well, I don’t blame you, it’s been over over 2 months since I wrote an article for iRez.

That's me, Canary Beck, Singing in Second Life
That’s me, Canary Beck, Singing in Second Life (photo by Nearly Doune)

I want to share a whole bunch about what I’ve been doing that’s been keeping me away, but for now I just want to talk a little about my latest interest: singing live in Second Life.

This Saturday at 1:30 SLT, for the first time ever, I’ll be standing in front of an international audience at the Basilique Club in Second Life, and singing for them from my flat in London. Who would have thunk it? So, how did I get here?

I knew from the get go of starting the Basilique, that the usual contests we used to run at our old club just wouldn’t cut it anymore. “Best in (whatever colour)”, “Best in Superhero”, “Best in Latex Unitards”, etcetera, etcetera… well, the alluring interest of these kind of events only lasts so long.

The first idea was to put on a Burlesque Dance performance. The show took a few weeks to prepare and I’ll be documenting how that’s done in another post. It ended up being a great success and we were even invited to take the show out to other locations, which we have and plan to do more of in the future.

A Burlesque Spectacular. Click big to make large!

Then we had a campfire concert with Harvey Crabsticks. This concert took place in our Campsite and was really well received by both regulars and newcomers to the club alike. Harvey isn’t an experienced performer in Second Life, but he does know his way around getting it done, and did a great job entertaining us!

Campfire and Song - Click to make big!
Campfire and Song – Click to make big!

I suppose it was that experience that helped inspire us to the next step: An Open Mic Night.

Open Mic Night - March 2, 2013 at 1:30 PM SLT - Click to make big!
Open Mic Night – March 2, 2013 at 1:30 PM SLT – Click to make big!

Step 1. Decide to sing live in Second Life

Inspired by Harvey’s performance, I put myself forward to sing. Apart from singing lessons, both private and in classes, I don’t have a lot of experience performing in front of a group of people by myself. Just deciding to do this was the first step of many.

While the art of singing takes an extraordinary amount of time to master, we all have to start somewhere. So if you can carry a tune, have a reasonable sense of rhythm, and have the confidence to perform, you should feel ready to start.

The Nicecast Broadcast Screen
The Nicecast Broadcast Screen

Step 2. Setting up live streaming

To sing in Second Life, you need to broadcast an audio stream from your computer to the internet. Drawing on my experience as a DJ, getting this part sorted out wasn’t difficult at all. When you DJ, you play songs from iTunes (or another audio application) and this signal is broadcast to the internet through a stream (e.g. Shoutcast) in Second Life. Most venues in Second Life will have their own stream you can hook up to.

Because I use a Mac, my best choice was an application called Nicecast. Once installed, I simply need to set it up with the right stream settings to make my computer into a stream server (all the instructions are provided on the Nicecast site).

Cost: The full version that gives you all the options is $59 USD (Nicecast is a free download).

Step 3. Get the kit for audio input

You can sing in Second Life just by using a headset or built-in laptop microphone. However, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you do, as these options pale in comparison to the quality you can get from something designed for the purpose.

The Yeti USB Microphone from Blue
The Yeti USB Microphone from Blue

For my microphone, I chose the rather phallic-looking Blue Yeti Standard USB Microphone. It’s not cheap, but it does capture a very rich, high quality sound, so I’m very happy with the purchase. Also, it has the essential Cardoid setting, which is ideal for vocals and helps to exclude surrounding noise. It’s USB, so it just plugs into my Mac – no converters required.

Cost: £111 on Amazon.co.uk

To filter some of the Ssssss sounds I might produce singing into a microphone, I got this Adjustable Pop Filter to attach to the front of it. It arrived today and I still haven’t tried it yet.

Cost = £25 on Amazon.co.uk

The Essentials Vocal Booth
The Essentials Vocal Booth

While totally optional, a baffle cuts out the echoes and ambient noise you might get as a consequence of not doing this in a professional studio. I ordered this Essentials Vocal Booth, which will arrive for another couple of weeks.

Cost = £70 on Amazon.co.uk

The Vocal Booth needs to attach to a microphone stand, which I didn’t have (because I didn’t have a microphone!). The Blue Yeti microphone comes with a stand that sits on your desk, and it also has a screw socket for a proper microphone stand, which I ordered from Amazon.co.uk.

Cost = £25

So that’s the kit done. All together, it’s not cheap (about £230). If you’re only doing this once or twice, like I said, you could just get away with the basic mic that is already built into your computer or the same headset mic that you use for voice. This kit however, is an investment that I hope to get a lot of fun out of for many years to come, so it’s worth it for me.

Karaoke versions of Landslide
Karaoke versions of Landslide

Step 4. Choose your songs and a set list

Now it’s time to choose songs. There’s really no advice I can give you here apart from choosing songs you enjoy and can identify with, ideally with some kind of personal meaning to you, as that will likely come across in your performance.

It’s also a good idea to choose songs that don’t challenge your voice too much at first. Trying to stick within your octave range to start with is a good idea. Usually, trying a song out and getting some feedback will help you know if it’s right for your voice at the moment.

Importantly, whatever song you choose will need to have a commercially available backing track. Search for backing tracks using the name of the song (e.g. “Landslide”) and “karaoke” on iTunes (as above) and you’ll see if you can find one for the song you want. Don’t choose the first demo you hear, as there are several options for every song and some are in different styles and quality. This of course limits you somewhat to popular music, but that’s still a very wide range to choose from. Buy and download the track from the iTunes Store.

Cost: 79p per song.

In terms of a set list, it’s a good idea to choose a variety of songs to keep the audience guessing a bit. I’ve chosen mainly slower ones with some that are bit more up-tempo. I’ve chosen a track from the ’70s rock, folk pop, ’90s indie, and a standard jazz track.

Garage Band Screen Shot
Garage Band Screen Shot

Step 5. Practice (using a digital mixer is optional but extremely helpful!)

Once I got my USB microphone, I plugged it into my computer and launched Garage Band (which comes with all Mac computers). This software enabled me to add the backing track and sing over it on a separate track. I then adjusted the volume levels between my voice and the backing track. This is important because not all tracks are recorded at the same volume, and some need to be dialled up or down to suit your voice better. I was also able to warm and compress my voice, while reducing reverberation, and adding a subtle performance effect that provides the auditory illusion of singing in an amphitheatre, which tends to more closely simulate real life.

The best part about using Garage Band; however, is the feedback you get by recording yourself over and over again, and learning from the playback. Anyone who has practiced singing knows feedback is essential for improvement. Recording and playing back immediately allows you to get such instant and specific feedback that your learning rate increases dramatically. I usually feel I need about 20 practices of each song to make it “ready for primetime”. In this case, I needed only about 5 iterations to feel comfortable. Of course, more practice would always help, but eventually you have to just get up and do it.

Rehearsing for Open Mic Night
Rehearsing for Open Mic Night (photo by Nearly Doune)

Step 6. Perform!

So here comes the big day! Reading about a performance is really no substitute for hearing it yourself, so I invite you all down to the Basilique on Saturday at 1:30 SLT (that’s a SLurl by the way). I’ll be sharing the stage with three other amateur singers and performing four songs including: Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide”, Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel”, Jewel’s “You were meant for me” and Nina Simone’s “Summertime”. Attendance is open to everyone and is free of charge. I hope to see you there at my Second Life Worldwide Premier! And for one last picture, here is the play bill:

Open Mic Play Bill
Open Mic Night Play Bill

Oh, and before I leave you, here’s a sneak preview of an early cut I made of my version of Landslide, exclusive to iRez! For the live version of this and all of the other songs, I’ll see you at Open Mic at the Basilique – Saturday at 1:30PM SLT! Enjoy.

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