Zoom For Music

(Note: This document is intended for Zoom 5.0.3 from May, 2020. I’ve updated the Zoom Settings pages here).

The Zoom meeting software is primarily designed for clear speech transmission, which means that by default it will automatically filter sound frequencies that are not in normal human pitch. There are a couple of good reasons for this- the biggest reason is that if you’re transmitting a smaller batch of frequencies, you’re using less bandwidth- and everything clicks along just a tiny bit faster.

That being said, there are several things we can do that will optimize live vocal and instrument audio during a Zoom meeting.

(Note: I will not go into the vagaries of microphone placement, or more complex setups that use multiple microphones or pickups. Just keep in mind that with a single microphone picking up both your voice and your instrument; it’s very easy to make either your voice or your instrument too loud. Experiment to get the best placement for you.)

1. Network
Make sure your computer is using an Ethernet cable to connect to the network if at all possible. If you must use WiFi, please ensure that others in your household are not on network devices during your performance.

Why is WiFi bad? WiFi is a party line- every device using it takes some of the bandwidth out of the available pool. So, if you’re on Zoom, your partner is browsing the web, and you have a child or two playing online games… this will reduce the amount of bandwidth available. You also have to watch out for home appliances and the walls of your home interfering with the signal as well.

How fast is your network? It is important to check your Upload speed. The minimum Upload speed for a decent music performance is around 2.5Mbps (slower is possible, too; but you may have skips, jumps, and freezes in your feed). You can check your network speed at www.speedtest.net. (Note: Speedtest reports on your DOWNLOAD speed first. Unfortunately, this figure isn’t helpful in this context. Just wait a moment after the Download speed is reported, and you’ll have your figure for your Upload speed.)

2. Use a computer
The settings discussed here can ONLY be done on a computer or laptop. Sadly, the tablet and phone app doesn’t have the settings described here, so they cannot be optimized at this time. If you are on a mobile device, skip to Step 11.

3. Download and install the App
While you can participate in a Zoom meeting through your web browser, you cannot optimize the sound. You need to download the app to access the advanced settings to properly configure audio for performance. You will also need a free account if you wish to test your settings (more on that later- step 11 if you want to skip).

You can download Zoom from zoom.us/download.

Once you have downloaded the software, you can enter an email address & password to create a free Zoom account.

Madison Metricula Roberts did an excellent YouTube video that covers most of the following steps. There are one or two additional tweaks below that she doesn’t touch on, but they are minor. You can see her video by following this link to YouTube.

4. Find the Settings
Open the Zoom app and click the ‘Settings’ cog wheel icon in the upper right corner. That will open the settings panel. ‘Audio’ is the third option down in the list on the lefthand side.

5. Adjust ‘Output Volume’
The top slider bar adjusts your headphone/speaker volume for your sound (what you hear). Headphones or earbuds are preferred for your best listening. More importantly, if you are listening through speakers, the microphone might ‘hear’ them too. This can create a feedback echo. (If headphones are not an option, turning this slider down can help reduce the echo. Also- don’t place the microphone near the speakers!)

Note: If there is more than one person in a room accessing the Zoom meeting independently on their own devices, it’s very important to use headphones!!! It is advised to keep one ear free of the headphones, if possible, to minimize a local ‘echo’ effect you get when the other person is talking.

6. Adjust the ‘Input Volume’
The bottom slider bar adjusts your input sensitivity. The built-in microphone of your computer will work; but a USB mic or other ‘line in’ device (such as headphones with a microphone attached) will improve your sound greatly.

Note: Again, if there is more than one person in a room accessing Zoom independently, you will want to discuss keeping all your microphones muted most of the time. There will always be a slight delay between when someone talks and when the sound comes out of your headphones. 

7. UN-check ‘Automatically adjust microphone volume’
This keeps the software from lowering the input when you play louder, and raising it when you play softer. It is located just under ‘Input Volume’.

8. Click the ‘Advanced’ push button on the lower right
Which opens the advanced settings panel.

9. Check the ‘Show in-meeting option to “Enable Original Sound” from microphone’.
This turns off more of the software designed for speech but unhelpful for music. We’ll be coming back to this point when you open your first Zoom meeting, starting at Step 12.

10. Audio Processing
Now we get to the nitty-gritty of the settings. Select the following dropdown choices:

Suppress Persistent Background Noise = DISABLE
Suppress Intermittent Background Noise = DISABLE
Echo Cancellation = AUTO

You may now close the settings panel, you are done in here!

11. Open the Zoom app to the ‘Home Screen’
If you aren’t already there, click on the ‘Home’ icon at the top of the screen. (The other icons are ‘Chat’, ‘Meetings’, and ‘Contacts’). If you haven’t made a free Zoom account yet, you will be prompted to do so to get to the Home screen.

12. Click the ‘New Meeting’ button
It’s a big, friendly orange. 🙂 This will start a new meeting with only you as a participant.

13. Toggle the ‘Original Sound’ option in the upper left
Set it to read ‘Turn OFF Original Sound’. This means that ‘Original Sound’ is on; which has turned off various filters that improve speaking voice, but break up music.

14. Hidden ‘Task Bar’
At the bottom of the screen is a hidden task bar. It appears when you roll your mouse to the bottom of the screen.

15. Microphone and Video controls
In the lower left corner of the screen on the Task Bar are the icons that turn your Microphone and Video on and off. There is a small carat next to each with a short menu of options, and you can open the Settings panel.

16. Raising your hand
Click the ‘Participants’ icon in the task bar. A new pane will open on the right, listing everyone in the meeting. At the bottom of that pane is the icon that allows you to raise your hand.

You will always appear at the *top* of the Participants list, and the hosts of the room should appear immediately below you in the list. When several people have raised their hands, they will appear in the order that they tapped the ‘Raise Hand’ icon.

This means that when you tap your ‘Raise Hand’ icon, to everyone else you will appear at the bottom of that list, but your view keeps you at the top. So, when you want to jump in, take a quick look at the bottom ‘Raised Hand’, and you will know how many there are in line in front of you.

17. Chat
Clicking on the ‘Chat’ icon in the Task Bar will open a new pane on the right for text chat. Be sure to always check the ‘To:’ pull down menu to ensure that you’re talking to Everyone, or directly to the people you wish to speak to.

Zoom Chat is not automatically saved, and it is possible that your Moderator has the security settings set so that you cannot copy/paste the chat elsewhere. It’s also not very secure; so you may wish to consider using different chat client, like Discord.

18. Test
On the Task Bar is a ‘Record’ button. This will make a local video recording. Go ahead and play a song, read a poem, do an interpretive dance… and then leave the meeting. Zoom will then convert the data into an mp4 file which you can then review to check your local sound quality, balance, etc.

Note: This is a local recording- so any issues with your network will not show up in this test. You need to create a meeting with a friend if you wish to test your network speed!

19. Done!
Close your temporary meeting, and that is all there is to it! You have now optimized all the settings of your Zoom app for music performance, and you know how to raise your hand and chat!

When you join a performance meeting, just double check your settings and ENJOY.

If you would like more help in working with Zoom, there are a bunch of video tutorials from Zoom here: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/206618765-Zoom-video-tutorials

Happy Zooming!

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