WWW FAQs: How do I broadcast my own live music or talk show on the Internet?

2006-07-24: OK, so none of the easy fixes will work for you - you want to go out live! Is it possible? Absolutely. Is it easy? Well... not quite.

So I'll look at two solutions: how to do it all by yourself with open source broadcasting software called Icecast, and how to do it just a little bit easier with Live365's live broadcasting support.

Live Broadcasting With Icecast

How can you broadcast your own live audio program on your website? It's not too difficult... as long as you have full control over your web server. Since we're going out live, it's not good enough to upload prerecorded MP3 files. We'll need a special audio server program on the web server, called Icecast. And that means we need permission to install that software - not on your PC at home, but on your web server. You can't do that with free web hosting services, or with inexpensive commercial hosting that doesn't include such privileges.
Experts may wonder why I'm not recommending Shoutcast. Shoutcast is a reasonable solution as well, but it's not an open-source project, and it doesn't offer any compelling advantages over Icecast. You still need to set up a server, you still need plenty of bandwidth, and you still use Winamp as the starting point of your broadcast. You may, however, find it a little bit easier to set Shoutcast up - not because it's really any less complicated, but because the documentation is a bit more mature.
In most cases, you'll need a dedicated server, like those offered by pair.com, theplanet.com and other serious web hosting companies. Prices for dedicated servers start around $100 US per month.

Does that sound expensive? Well, there are alternatives. You could host your live broadcast on Live365 instead, which I'll explain below. Or you could work with a company that specifically offers an Icecast hosting service, which would save you the trouble of setting up the Icecast server software. MediaCast offers such a service. And finally, you could run Icecast on your computer at home after all... if you're willing to go to the trouble of hosting your own website at home. But keep in mind that there are downsides to doing that.

Yes, you can broadcast your MP3s to the world this way. But you can't legally broadcast prerecorded music without the permission of the musicians and other copyright holders.

Requirements To Use Icecast

Still interested in broadcasting live with Icecast? OK! You'll need:

1. A microphone! I recommend the Shure SM58, but lesser microphones can sometimes produce acceptable results. And, of course, you need a computer with a suitable audio input device. For better quality, or if you just don't have an audio card in your desktop PC, you can use a USB audio input device. These are inexpensive and they place the audio input circuitry further away from your noisy CPU. I've had excellent results with a very inexpensive gadget called the Griffin iMic (marketed mostly for Macintoshes, but it works fine with my Windows laptop). Fancy USB mixers are also available.

2. The free Winamp music player. Winamp is the starting point for your broadcast - both your live microphone audio and your Winamp music library can be sent out. You need the "full" download, not the "lite" one, but you don't need to buy the "pro" version.

3. The Oddcast software. This program acts as "glue" between Winamp and the Icecast server. Oddcast's job is to encode the audio that comes from Winamp (including your live performance) in a suitable format, such as MP3 or Ogg Vorbis, and then transmit it to the Icecast server. You can also get a standalone version of Oddcast that doesn't require Winamp, but most tutorials and advice you'll find on the web assume you are using the Winamp plugin verison.

4. The Icecast server software. Icecast can run on both Windows and Unix/Linux servers. You'll need unrestricted "root" or administrator access to your web server to install this correctly. This is the big sticking point for most users. If you don't know whether you have root access, you probably don't. Of course, you can work around this by hosting at home, but remember that your DSL or cable modem connection probably has limited upload (outgoing) speeds, and your provider might not allow servers.

Setting Up Icecast

Got the requirements? Great! Now you'll need detailed setup instructions for your particular server's operating system Others have written excellent tutorials for this, so I won't reinvent the wheel here.

You'll find this easiest if your server runs Windows. Just check out Poromenos' excellent article, how to create an internet radio station, which is actually a detailed tutorial on setting up Winamp, Oddcast, and Icecast on a Windows workstation and server.

If your server does not run Windows, you have a bit more work to do. MacOS X users should check out the thorough MacOS X Icecast install tutorial on GeekTimes. Linux users will also find that tutorial useful, especially if they run Debian or a related distribution of Linux, because it relies on the apt-get command borrowed from Debian Linux. Fedora Linux offers standard packages for icecast.

Linux and MacOS X users will also want to read the Poromenos article, because it covers the Winamp and Oddcast parts of the puzzle.

Live Broadcasting With Live365

The Live365 service offers an option called "Live/Relay," supporting up to 10 live listeners for $15 a month and many more if you opt for professional packages. Since your web hosting connection also has bandwidth limitations that will limit the number of simultaneous listeners, and you don't have to do complex configuration tasks with Live365, it is an option you should give some serious thought. Simple software for your workstation is provided as an alternative to the Winamp+Oddcast combination, and Live365 runs the server for you.

One downside of using Live365 for your live audio broadcasting is that it won't necessarily appear as a seamless part of your own website.

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