Google HangoutsI am sure most of us have heard about Google+, Google’s answer to Facebook, Google’s attempt to create a social network. The most exciting feature in Google+ in my opinion is Google Hangouts. Hangouts started as a group video chat. But over the past few months the Hangouts feature has really started to grow and expand… into what I think is the feature that separates Google+ from other social networks. Hangouts is where Google should focus their attention.

A few weeks ago Google reached out to me to talk about Hangouts and how they could be used by musicians. I had never used one prior to this meeting and was very honest with them about what I thought about Google+. But as we talked about Hangouts I was struck by the thought that this is really a personal broadcast station. Desktop publishing allowed everyone to print, Hangouts give you the power to broadcast. So I jumped in to start using Hangouts. Google was interested in seeing how my podcasts could be created using Hangouts, as well as what a band could do. I like to try and use products if I am going to recommend clients and other to use, so I had to learn the world of Google Hangouts.

A basic primer on what is a Hangout. A Hangout requires two or more guests. You can’t do a Hangout with just yourself, well without a little trickery. The concept of a Hangout is a group. Your Hangout can be private, meaning just invited guests or can be public, meaning anyone can join. You can also broadcast your Hangout, if it is not public. This is where it gets really cool… when you broadcast it is streamed live to your YouTube channel where anyone can watch. When the broadcast is over a copy of the video stream is saved to your YouTube channel. That feature alone is what really excites me about Hangouts. Being able to broadcast live to YouTube and being able to have a video of the broadcast saved for later use.

Here are a some observations, lessons and tips I have learned as I started to use Google Hangouts.

First bit of advice, if you want to do a professional looking and sounding Hangout it is work. Definitely not as easy as just recording a audio podcast or recording a Skype call. Remember this is video and it is basically a TV production you are creating and with that are new things you have to be aware of and new things you will have to learn.

Be sure to practice your Google Hangouts!

Now you need to follow a plan for setting up and launching a Hangout. Don’t just dive in and hit Hangout and Broadcast. You definitely want to do some prep work in advance.

4 Things To Do In advance of the Hangout:

  1. Google+ Event Setup

    Create Event. – Google+ has Events, just like Facebook. Create a Event for the Hangout. This gives you a landing page to share and promote in advance of the Hangout. TIP: DO NOT click use Hangout is the Advanced Options of the Event. I know it doesn’t make sense, but trust me from experience, you don’t want to click that. If you click it everyone invited to the Event will actually be asked to create and join a NEW Hangout, not your Hangout. Here is a Event I created for a past Google Hangout. Check out Hype My Hangout, a nice little site that lets you create a YouTube video for promoting your Hangout.

  2. Use to shorten the URL for the Event page. – Use this short URL to post in Tweets, emails, Facebooks anywhere you want to promote the Hangout.
  3. Create a Facebook Event. – Setup a Event in Facebook for the Hangout, but for location and in the description insert the short URL from above. Your end goal is to drive people to the Google Event.
  4. Prepare a jpg bumper image to use at the start and end of the Hangout. – This is a simple image with logos, contact info, website urls, etc. This will be seen at the start and end of the video on YouTube.

20 Things To Do the Day of the Google+ Hangout On Air:

  1. Start a Google HangoutLaunch the Hangout and invite your guests. Be sure to click you want to Broadcast the Hangout. Be sure to title the Hangout as well.
  2. Inside the Hangout DO NOT immediately start the Broadcast.
  3. Launch your application to display the bumper image you prepared and set it to full screen display, covering all your desktop.
  4. Click Sharescreen in the Hangout App menu and select the bumper image to share. – Then select that thumbnail from below to display in the main window. This is what you want to have displayed when you start the broadcast.
  5. Google Hangout Embed CodeEmbed the stream URL in the Event. – Near the top right click the link for Embed URL, and copy the YouTube url NOT the embed code. Then go to your Google+ Event and click Edit and Advanced Options. Near the bottom of the Event there is a field to enter a YouTube URL, paste in the URL. Once the broadcast is live anyone you invited to the Event will be able to watch the live stream on the Event page.
  6. Google Hangouts Lower Third AppInstall and use the Lower Third app to add professional id across bottom of each guest. Note: each guest must install and setup their own Lower Third app.
  7. Mute guests. – As the host of the Hangout you have the ability to mute your guest. For the intro of the Hangout mute all of your guests.
  8. Start the broadcast, be sure to wait a few seconds until you get the alerts that you are broadcasting. Don’t start talking immediately.
  9. Use Studio Mode for music. – If you are going to have a musical performance you can have the musical guest change their settings in the Hangout (top right) to select Studio Mode so they have better broadcast audio. This is not required for spoken audio.
  10. NOTE: You CAN’T play YouTube videos in a broadcast at this point, it is a licensing issue. If your Hangout is not being broadcast then you could play a video on YouTube and all the guests would be able to watch it.
  11. As the host of the Hangout you have control over which camera is displayed in the main window. – Left to its own the Hangout will auto switch cameras based on which guest is speaking. The switching is not smooth and I don’t care for it. You can control the camera displayed by clicking on the thumbnail of the guest you wish to display. Remember, you need to change thumbnails with the conversation.
  12. At the end of the Hangout you should bring up your bumper again. – Click Sharescreen and select the bumper. Make this your main window. Close out the Hangout with this displayed.
  13. End the broadcast. – This will stop the live stream.
  14. Exit Hangout. – This will end the Hangout and release all the guests.
  15. Mark video in YouTube private. – If you intend to post the video of the Hangout at a later date or want to review it for possible editing, head over to your YouTube channel and mark the video as Private.
  16. Remove the URL from the Event. – Go back to the Hangout Event and remove the URL for YouTube video from the Event.
  17. Stats can be found in YouTube Video Manager. – What stats are available can be found in your Video Manager on YouTube. Pretty limited at this point.
  18. Use the app Fastest Free YouTube Downloader to download and convert the YouTube video to file formats for editing. – I use this to create a mp3 file for posting as a podcast and a mov file to import into iMovie for some minor editing.
  19. Edit the video and upload. – Upload the new video you just created to your YouTube channel.
  20. Replace the YouTube URL in the Event with the new YouTube clip URL. – Now anyone coming to the Event on Google+ will see your newly created video clip.

Done! Whew, see it is a bit more work than just recording some audio. Most of the work is before and after the Hangout, but it can be challenging to remember to switch cameras during the Hangout if you are also a guest. In a ideal world you would have a production director just running all of the behind the scenes stuff so you can concentrate on the Hangout.

Other items to note:

There is a text chat screen that guests can use if you want to communicate with each other without speaking. Good for providing directions during a Hangouts.

A Google+ Page can start a Hangout. This means your Page could create and host the Hangout and your personal profile is one of the invited guests. Doing this you can use the Page as the source of the shared screen bumper you use. You could also do this to create what is essentially a one person broadcast with no guests.

If you want to record your Hangout for other uses I have tried a number of solutions. Google itself does not provide this ability so you have sort of “hack” it. I tried rerouting the audio from my computer and recording the audio using GarageBand, not a easy process. I tried using one of many websites that convert a YouTube video to a mp3 file, not very fast and very few options. I found a app that runs on my Mac and on a PC called Fastest Free YouTube Downloader that give you many options for downloading and converting a YouTube video. It seems to be the easiest method.

Some Google Hangout limitations were listed above. A couple more things I wish Hangouts had:

  • Ability to display a split screen in the main window.
  • Ability to display a picture in picture in the main window.
  • Built-in support for bumpers, rolling credits.
  • Built-in links to easily share to Facebook and Twitter while a Hangout is happening.
  • Registration for a Hangout would be great.
  • Charging to attend a Hangout would also be great.
  • A timer would be very handy.

Here is a great PDF file that Google gave to me, Hangouts On Air Users Guide. Feel free to download and share.

Here is a link to a recent Google Hangout Broadcast I did for the podcast Dropping The Needle.

After reading all of this I am confident you can setup and launch your own Google Hangout. I would love to hear about your experiences running Hangouts. Let me know how you used the Hangout, if you have any additional tip and tricks.