Music on Zoom

There are some challenges to music on Zoom.

In this article, I’ll address how to play recorded music either as “background music” or for things such as a dance class where music quality is important, and also address ways to handle live music and sing-alongs. Here’s how to make each of those work:

Pre-Recorded Audio on Computer

If you have an .mp3 digital recording, you can either play it directly (this is good if you want people to be able to see your camera image as it plays) or by embedding it into a PowerPoint that you share. [If you want to stream music from a website, follow the “play it directly” instructions.]

To play it directly: Have the audio open and ready to press play. Choose “share screen” but then choose “advanced” at the top of the screen, and then choose “music or computer sound only.” Once you’ve done that, start the music and Zoom will share whatever audio you play on your computer while you and participants can still see each other. When you’re done, “stop share.”

music only

Or, put your audio recording into a PowerPoint. Share your screen – be sure to click the box that says “share computer sound.” People will see your slide.

Playing Music from a Device

Many dance instructors have all their music in CD form and are used to playing on a stereo, or they have it all loaded up on a mobile device with speakers and don’t want to transfer the .mp3 to their computer.

You can just play music out loud in the room you’re in and your microphone will pick it up, and that might be good enough, but ONLY IF you change a couple settings. You must use “Original Sound”, as described in the live music section below. Otherwise, Zoom will try to cancel the background noise (aka the music). 

Videos

You may have a music video .mp4 or you may have found videos you like on YouTube. For best results, download them, embed in a powerpoint and play from there.

Live Music

For the best sound, the musician should have the best mic they can have, and should make sure they have a really solid internet connection.

[Before the meeting, if they haven’t already done so, the host should sign into their Zoom account and Enable Original sound for the account.]

During the meeting, the musician should be able to just go to the top left of their own camera image and choose “turn on original sound.” Test that and see how it sounds.

Other adjustments to try for best sound: on the command bar next to the mic, you’ll see an up arrow. The musician can click there, then choose audio settings – on that menu, they could try adjusting their mic volume and try turning off “suppress background noise.” Test that to see how it sounds.

audio

From that menu, you can also choose “advanced”. From that menu, try adjusting the echo cancellation or try turning on high fidelity music mode.

advanced audio

Then test it to see how it sounds.

Sound Checks

It is a very good idea to do sound checks before a meeting. The musician can check themselves, or the host and musician can meet in advance, or just before a meeting.

To check it themselves: the musician can just do their own free zoom meeting by themselves any time they want to. They can record the meeting, testing various mic placements and levels. When they leave the meeting, the recording is converted to an .mp3. They can listen to that, then adjust as needed – the recording will pick up the audience experience of the call.

Or you can schedule a separate meeting for a sound check with a host and musician (or the musician as meeting host with some participants to listen in). Or, at the beginning of the meeting where the performance will occur, you can enable the waiting room. The host lets the musician in first, does the sound check then lets everyone else in, OR during a meeting, the host creates a breakout room for the musician and someone to help them with a sound check, and they “step backstage” into the breakout room to test things out.

Sound checks allow you to fine tune the placement and volume of the accompaniment (whether that’s a live instrument or a musical recording played over speakers or recorded audio), singer’s volume and the zoom mic levels.

Note: Audio and video settings should be checked before each session, as some may need to be reestablished for each new Zoom session.

One more tip: The better your signal and the better your mic, the better you’ll sound. Get more tips on sounding better on Zoom here. And having all other participants muted during the performance helps with sound quality.

Sing-Alongs

The things I do on Zoom include running church services, teaching preschoolers, and running a camp – all of which include “sing alongs” whether that’s hymns or Twinkle Twinkle. Unfortunately, due to lagging signals, it is just not possible to sing in unison – you’re all just a little off from each other.

So, for ALL sing-alongs, you have one host or participant provide the music, the rest of the participants are muted and sing along in our own homes. It seems silly, but we do it at our church and in my classes, and I get lots of feedback that singing aloud still gives people joy. (And it’s good for your lungs!) To provide the music, there are four options:

  • Just sing acapella.
  • Upload and play pre-recorded (audio or) videos by sharing screen.
  • Have pre-recorded accompaniment track and a live singer.
  • Have a live musician and a live singer in one household on one device.

Acapella

Just sing. They sing along muted. No special settings needed. This is what I do for preschool!

Videos to Singalong with

You can record a musician and singer(s) doing the piece in advance. You can get quite good video with an iPhone, or decent video just using the camera on your computer. But the better the camera and mic, the better the final video. Once you’re done, you can save it onto your computer, and then play it from there (or embed in a powerpoint and play from there.) This method can provide the best sound and video quality of all the options and look more professional, but there’s a little less of the personal live-in-the-moment connection feel with the song leader.

If you want lyrics for the songs to appear, you can caption the video (I do this in my Video Pad video editor) or have the video only take up part of a PowerPoint slide, and have the lyrics on the other part of the slide.

Recorded Music with Live Song Leader

We tried doing this in various complicated ways with sound mixers, but gradually found that the best results came from simply playing the recording aloud into the singer’s room, using a separate device. (Like a stereo or a mobile device with a Bluetooth speaker.) Then the singer simply sings along to the accompaniment. Just be sure a few settings are correct. You must use “Original Sound”, as described in the tips above for live music settings. Otherwise, Zoom tries to cancel the background noise (aka the accompaniment.) 

Live Music and Song Leader

Do as above for live music, just keeping participants muted.

Learn More

To learn how to use Zoom, check out the other articles in my Zoom Guide. Here’s some articles to start with:

  • Looking and Sounding Good on Zoom: finding a better internet signal so your calls don’t freeze, ways to improve your audio and video quality
  • Hosting a Meeting (starting a meeting, inviting people, scheduling a meeting, security issues, muting, recording, and the basics of sharing screens)
  • Young Children and Zoom – tips for how to help teachers and grandparents connect with kids online and how to help children connect with others – includes lots of suggested interactive activities

Updated 6/28/21