Music on Zoom

There are some challenges to music on Zoom.

In this article, I’ll address how to play recorded music as “background music” or as 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

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 you as it plays) or by embedding it into a PowerPoint that you share.

To play it directly: 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, it will share whatever audio you play on your computer. 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.” Note: I find my participants hear the music in PowerPoints much more loudly than I hear it, so I always set the volume of the playback to low.

Playing Music from a Stereo, Phone, etc.

Many dance instructors have all their music in CD form they’re used to playing on a stereo, or they have it all loaded up on a mobile device. You can just play the music out loud in the room you’re in and your microphone will pick it up, and that might be good enough, IF you change a couple settings. You must use “Original Sound”, as described in the live music section below. Otherwise, Zoom tries to cancel the background noise (aka the music). 

Videos

Download them, embed in a powerpoint and play from there.

Live Music

[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, on the command bar next to the mic, you’ll see an up arrow. The musician needs to choose that, then choose audio settings, then choose advanced. Then choose enable original sound.

Before starting to sing, the singer should make sure they’ve turned on Original Sound.  When you move the mouse over the zoom window and the control bar (with mute and other controls) shows up, the Original Sound control is in the upper left of your picture.  You know that it is ON if it’s blue and offers the option to turn OFF original sound.

Then test it to see how it sounds.

With some live set-ups, you might also need to go into those advanced audio settings and select (or unselect) “Suppress persistent background noise.” This is a setting that is designed to filter out your neighbor’s leaf blower, but can also suppress beautiful music.

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 for a Zoom sound check, or you can do it at the start of the meeting where the performance will occur.

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.

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 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. 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 the three 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.

  • Zoom Basics (how to join a meeting, mute / unmute, chat, raise hand)
  • Becoming a more skilled Zoom participant (gallery view vs. speaker view, changing your name, looking better, sounding better, and finding a better signal so your calls don’t freeze)
  • Hosting a Meeting (starting a meeting, inviting people, scheduling a meeting, security issues to reduce Zoom bombings, muting, recording, and the basics of sharing screens)
  • Advanced Meeting Management (spotlight, breakout rooms, co-hosts)
  • Sharing Screens on Zoom (how to share PowerPoint slides, videos, documents, the whiteboard, etc.)
  • Optimizing PowerPoint for use on Zoom – you can place all the audio, video, and images you need all in one PowerPoint to help your meetings go more smoothly.
  • Games and Interaction on Zoom – lots of ideas from charades to Pictionary to polls and quizzes and skribbl.io
  • Music on Zoom: playing recordings, live music or leading songs
  • 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
  • Screen “hygiene” for prolonged use – reduce Zoom fatigue