Zoom has become the de-facto standard platform for running group meetings and music sessions during the Covid-19 pandemic and when they work well, while never going to replace a real-life session, they can be most enjoyable. There are a few things that can help you get the most out of them and help them to run smoothly.
When you decide to join a Zoom session, knowing the basics will make things much slicker and easier for you and help you to relax into it, and will help the organiser too as they can get a little stressed if they’re having to offer technical support as well as keep things moving.
There are three possible scenarios when joining a zoom depending on the security settings of the meeting set by the host. Submission
- Click the link given by the host OR
- Go to http://zoom.us/, click the “Join a Meeting” link in the top right, and enter the meeting ID given by the host into the box before clicking the “Join” button.
- You will get a pop-up box to confirm you wish to “Open Zoom Meetings?”. Click the “Open Zoom Meetings” button.
- The Zoom Meetings App will open and you will, if password security is being used, pop up a box to enter the password – put in the password given and click the button to continue.
- You will be asked if you want to “Join with Video”, click “Join with Video”.
- At this point you will likely find yourself waiting for the host to admit you to the meeting. Just wait.
- When you are admitted you’ll get another pop up box asking you to “Join with Computer Audio” – click that button.
- Congratulations! You’re in a session!
As free zoom meetings are limited to 40 minutes, many sessions will run over several zoom meetings. Just go back to your email or wherever the link is, click it again and follow the joining process again.
Muting and Unmuting
In the menu at the bottom left of your screen you have a button that looks sort of like a microphone titled either “Mute” or “Unmute” – it really is that simple!
If you prefer keyboard shortcuts then Alt + A toggles between Muted and Unmuted. Often much easier if you don’t have a proper mouse.
Organisation and Etiquette
Zoom sessions can’t be truly collaborative as each software client processes video and audio at different rates and transmission of data to everyone’s meeting client software is out of step. So the only way that they can work is in a “Sinagaround” style, each player has a turn and performs a piece, the rest of the sessioneers are muted and can, of course, accompany the player as a duo while the player plays completely solo. It’s a great opportunity to practise tunes, construct an accompaniment for a tune. Here are some simple dos and don’ts.
Have an idea of what you’re going to perform and have at least 5 options available to you for a two hour session, if turn out is low, you’ll need them and it feels good when you know what you’re going to play. Having a few in the bag in a busy session is also good just in case someone else “does your song”!
Keep an eye on your mute setting
Organisers are NOT INFALLIBLE! If you’re not muted and someone is performing, mute yourself.
Don’t think you can get away with practicing during someone else’s performance
You don’t want to find yourself lost in singing the song you’re planning on doing next when the organiser hits the “unmute all” button. It’s very rude to the performer who is on. That said, if you know you’re up next, nobody will complain if you check your tuning on mute at the start of the performance you’re following as having to do that when everyone else has been muted… well we want to hear your performance not your tuning! In short, use your noddle…
Cut some slack
Online session playing is weird, everything is solo, some players are fine in that area, others aren’t. Some take confidence from playing with other people, helping with timing and phrasing and such and that’s taken away from them. Sound often gets distorted, has dropouts and such. Go easy on the performers, they, like you, are doing the best they can with what they have.
This is where knowing how to mute and unmute is good. If you’ve just enjoyed a cracking song, you don’t have to wait for the host to unmute you for an appreciative round of applause! Unmute yourself and make sure the performer knows just how good it was!
Also fun are the little reactions you can offer up, and you can do these during the performance too! In the zoom window at the bottom you’ll see a button “Reactions” from which you can offer applause or “thumbs up” symbols.
As video conference platforms are designed for people speaking the software they use seeks to improve the quality of speech through reduction of background and non-speech-like wave forms. Sadly, stringed instruments fare pretty badly in these algorithms. All is not lost! Follow these instructions to get the best out of Zoom for you and your strings:
For meeting hosts
You need to enable the option for Original Sound in your meetings.
- Log into your account on https://zoom.us/
- Click “MY ACCOUNT” in the top right.
- On the left in the menu, under “PERSONAL” click “Settings”
- Scroll down to the “In Meeting (Advanced)” section and look for the setting “Allow users to select original sound during a meeting”. Ensure that this is ON.
For meeting attendees (including hosts)
- On joining a meeting, beside the Mute/Unmute button there is a menu behind the “^” symbol, select “Audio Settings”, the last option on that list.
- In the Audio Settings Panel at the bottom right is the “Advanced” button, click it to access more settings
- In the Advanced panel there are four settings they should be set to:
- “Show in-meeting options to “Enable Original Sound” from microphone” – this should be ON
- “Supress Persistent Background Noise” – this should be “Disable”
- Suppress Intermittent Background Noise – this should be “Disable”
- Echo Cancellation – this should be “Auto”
- In the meeting at the top left of the screen you’ll see a box titled either “Turn on Original Sound” or “Turn off Original Sound”. Ensure it says “Turn off Original Sound” – it should be coloured blue.
- If you are a strings player then you probably want to always use original sound, go back to that button and you’ll see a downward arrow to the right of the button
- Click that arrow and you get a menu asking you to “Select a microphone to always use Original Sound”.
- Pick the microphone device you use and you should always have Original Sound on.
Other sound settings
If another helpful sessioneer lets you know that you sounded pretty quiet it could just be that your microphone output level is too low.
- Go to the Audio Settings (the upward arrow beside the Mute/Unmute button at the bottom left).
- In the “Microphone” section, drag the Volume slider to the right a bit. If you go too far you may experience feedback and distortion so try a little at a time.
Other Simple Tech Tips
Keep it cool
If at all possible, make sure the cooling of your computer is efficient. Blocked up vents, little ventilation around your computer, computers sitting on soft materials will all suffer from excess heat and will run their cooling fans which can seriously degrade your audio quality – particularly on laptops.
Clear around your computer so the air can flow, check the vents and if they’re full of fluff, use the nozzle bit of your hoover right up against it to clear it out!
Close all other apps
Except probably your email if that’s where you have the link for the session! This will leave all the memory and processing power available for Zoom.
It will also help your computer to run cooler and avoid having to run the cooling fans.
If you have some “proper” sound kit, you’ll want to test it fully and KNOW that it works before you join a session. Because of the sing-around style there are few opportunities to adjust things and online sessions work best when they just flow, tech issues are the biggest problem reducing the enjoyment of a session.
The best way of doing it is just to rig up your gear and get someone else to join a private zoom with you to make sure everything works and you have a good balance.