At Atomic, we’ve been staying connected with “Quarantunes” — mini live concerts given by employees and streamed to the entire company over Zoom. These concerts are a fun little pick-me-up during the week that help many of us get through the emotional roller coaster brought about by current events.
Zoom is a great platform for virtual meetings. But while its audio is great for speaking, Zoom has problems when you try to use it for music. Fortunately, I found a way to configure Zoom to provide high-quality audio even when playing musical instruments.
What’s the Problem?
I don’t work for Zoom, and I don’t know anything for certain about what is happening within the application. What follows is my theory.
Because Zoom was designed to provide high-quality audio for normal speaking voices, the application performs audio processing that attempts to eliminate feedback during calls. Feedback is when audio from your speakers gets picked up by your microphone, amplified, and then played back out of your speakers again. This feedback loop happens again and again, creating a loud, high-pitched ringing sound that makes it feel like your head might explode — which is why Zoom tries to cut it out.
When you attempt to play an instrument like a violin, mandolin, or guitar through Zoom, the application thinks the high-frequency sounds from your instrument are feedback and eliminates them too. The result is that your audience hears music that cuts in and out. This is not great for a live concert.
How Do We Fix It?
In addition to screen sharing, Zoom also supports sharing your computer audio. You can share music from applications on your computer with participants on the call, and the audio is really good. This tells me that Zoom doesn’t perform the same audio processing (feedback elimination) on audio shared this way. That got me thinking: Is there a way to share my microphone audio in the same way? It turns out there is.
In order to share your microphone audio as described above, you have to create a situation where your microphone audio is being played through your speakers. In the music world, this is referred to as “monitoring” your microphone input.
The instructions below are for a Mac. Depending on the type of computer you’re using, you may have to find a different way of accomplishing it.
1. Connect Microphone
An external microphone is optional. The built-in mic on my MacBook Pro actually picks up instrument audio quite well. But if you want to use an external mic, connect it now.
2. Connect Headphones
But don’t put them in/on your ears. For this to work, you’ll have to configure your setup such that the microphone audio is playing back through your speakers. Without headphones, that would certainly create a terrible feedback situation. If you put the headphones on, the delay in the output will make it really difficult to play your instrument.
3. Join the Zoom Meeting & Mute Your Mic
Since you’ll be sharing your microphone audio and bypassing the normal microphone audio channel, you’ll need to mute yourself in Zoom.
4. Set Computer Volume to Mid-level
Make sure your computer system volume is set somewhere around mid-level or above. If you have it muted or turned all the way down, this setup will not work.
5. Open Quicktime Player & Select a New Audio Recording
We’ll use Quicktime Player to monitor (or passthrough) the mic audio to the speakers. Open Quicktime Player and, in the application menu, select File -> New Audio Recording. You should see the Audio Recording window open up. You don’t need to record yourself for this to work, but you can if you want to.
6. Select Microphone Input
On the Audio Recording window, click the small arrow next to the record button. Choose whichever microphone you wish to use. The internal mic is fine. If you plugged in a headset, you probably shouldn’t select that microphone, although it might work.
7. Set Quicktime Output Volume
On the Audio Recording window, move the volume slider all the way to maximum. If you didn’t connect your headphones, prepare for a wonderful ear-splitting effect! You are now monitoring your microphone audio. If you look at the level indicator on the Audio Recording window, you should see it dance as you talk or play. You can also listen to your headphones for a moment to ensure that it’s working. If it’s not working, try restarting Quicktime Player.
8. Share Computer Sound
Finally, in Zoom, click the “Share Screen” icon at the bottom of the call window. This will display the sharing options dialog. At the top of the dialog, click “Advanced” to see more options. Then select “Music or Computer Sound Only” and click “Share.”
9. Verify Setup
Though you won’t be able to hear them, your friends will be able to hear you. Ask them to give you a thumbs-up if they can hear you. Now you should be good to go. Rock on!
10. Cleaning Up
After you’ve finished putting on your show, quit Quicktime Player. That will immediately remove the microphone pass-through situation. Then go back into Zoom and unmute your mic. You should be back to normal.
Now go and put on amazing concerts for your friends and family! If you find other setups that work for you, please share.