Optimizing Music For Zoom

Feel free to contact me at jtr@acm.org if you'd like some help with this or you'd like to share what is working for you

General notes
  1. Adjust the audio settings on the Zoom client you are using as the sound source. Instructions are outlined in this helpful video. Making these adjustments will make a big difference.

  2. Use an external microphone (instead of the one built into your computer) if at all possible. If purchasing a new microphone, get one that plugs directly into your computer's USB port.

  3. If you use an external microphone without USB, it is best to plug the mic into an audio interface/mixer with USB out from there to your computer. A mixer will also allow you to adjust multiple inputs (e.g., voice and keyboard) for the best blend.

  4. Unless you have very good room acoustics and well placed microphones, you will probably find the organ and piano sounds from the line out on even a relatively inexpensive keyboard to be superior to mic'd instruments.

  5. If your setup allows, adjust your audio levels and EQ while listening to a Zoom stream. Zoom tends to to bring out both more of the treble (making your sound seem strident) and bass (making your sound seem heavy) but you won't know unless you listen to the final result on Zoom.

  6. Take time before a service to do a sound check to adjust final audio levels.

  7. When playing music, make sure everyone other than the musician is muted. Even small amounts of background noise from other participants will cause Zoom to crush your music in unpleasant ways.


Combining multiple (physically separated) musicians

  1. If you have tried this you already know that delays on Zoom make it impossible to synchronize multiple musicians. Moreover, even if there is only one musician, background noise from other Zoom participants will cause problems (see step 7 above).

  2.  We've had good results for hymns by having the music alternate with either reading or singing the hymn a cappella (playing through the hymn to remind people of the setting, then reading/singing, then ending with a short coda).

  3. A small, audio-only "virtual choir" is not particularly time consuming to create if you have the necessary hardware and software. As an example, we created a three-part hymn arrangement with piano and cello in an hour or two. We first recorded a keyboard backing track in Logic Pro and sent the file to a vocalist. She recorded the soprano, alto, and tenor parts as separate tracks in Logic Pro and sent the file back where a cello track was added. It was then edited into the final ensemble and bounced to an mp3 for use during the service.

  4. We've started using Soundtrap, which is a browser-based collaborative tool for doing at least simple virtual choirs or other music involving a few people. We have started combining Soundtrap with Logic Pro for more complex works. Soundtrap is used to capture the individual parts (people only need a computer and headphones or earbuds for this). The parts are then exported and imported into Logic Pro for more complex editing. Other audio editing tools are available for this as well. 

  5. An even easier approach is to record a backing track and send it to a soloist to play or sing with. It's possible to get acceptable results just playing the backing track on a home stereo while playing/singing (with the blended result being captured by the computer's built-in microphone). As noted in step 6 above, check out the blend and overall level prior to the service. Just moving the computer closer or farther from the speakers or soloist will do a pretty good job of adjusting the balance. Another approach is to have the soloist share their screen, using computer audio, and mix the backing track and solo part in real time on their computer (but this may not work for all hardware and does require the soloist to first share their screen rather than just be unmuted).

  6. Finally, it's important to realize that even with extraordinary work, results will never be as satisfying as what we strive for in an in-person service. And that's OK! People really appreciate the effort and are not particularly concerned with the kind of details we, as musicians, tend to stress over. For an example of how even the best professionals are approaching this from home you can check out the 8:15 EDT Tuesday evening hymn sings from the Nashville home of Keith and Kristyn Getty on Facebook (with less than stellar audio/video quality and several kids keeping things lively).



Streaming beyond Zoom

Our services tend to be on the small side (30-35 people). For this number, the interactivity and spontaneity are refreshing. We chat before the service where we decide who will read which passages and hymns. We also have a virtual coffee hour (often with a somewhat crazy theme) following the service. Zoom is also great because all it takes is a phone to participate. But some people find Facebook Live to be more to their tastes. Fortunately, there is a way to stream a Zoom session to Facebook Live (and Youtube for that matter). For details on how to set this up check out this video.

St. John's Church   11 Episcopal Avenue   Honeoye Falls, NY 14472   585-624-4074