Can we share computer audio so that it’s good enough for music?
There have been many reports that Zoom audio is fine for speech but hopeless for music. This article looks at different ways of streaming music over Zoom by sharing your computer audio or video. If you’re looking at live music performance, we have a separate article for that.
First Things First
Zoom needs a lot of processing power and memory, so if you’re using an old computer or a tablet, there may not be enough computing power available to get sharing to work.
You also need a reasonably fast broadband connection. Fibre is ideal but if you’re on ADSL then make sure you have a good (and consistent) connection speed. Slow rural broadband just isn’t going to work.
You also need a good connection between your computer and the broadband router. Use a wired Ethernet connection if you can. If you’re on Wi-Fi make sure you are close enough to the router to get a good signal strength.
If you find things aren’t working as well as you’d hoped within a group, you can sometimes improve things by asking everyone to turn off their video cameras as this avoids the need to transfer moving images, and generating moving images on screen.
Sharing Computer Audio
If you have a sound track you want to play to your group, you can do this from the Share Screen button. Click the green Share button and then look for the Advanced tab at the top.
Here you can choose to share just your computer audio and not the screen.
Sharing audio from a phone may not work at all. The Zoom app on my fairly new Android phone was unable to handle Zoom at the same time as playing an audio file, even if not sharing.
One thing you need to be aware of is Zoom’s audio compression and noise gating which you can’t turn off for computer audio. This aims to provide a near constant voice level for normal speech, no matter how loud or soft the person speaking, and to cut out if the sound drops below a certain level. This works well for speech but can be disastrous for music and you can get some very odd effects or just plain distortion.
To avoid this, make sure the output level of the music playing program is turned up to maximum. This might be VLC media player, Windows Media Player, iTunes. It’s the output of the program that needs to be turned up, not the speaker volume.
This generally works well, although you may still have problems with home-produced recordings where the recording level was not properly set, or with music which has very quiet sections.
You should also be aware that technically Zoom is considered a streaming activity and you cannot normally share commercial recordings due to copyright restrictions.
Much like sharing audio, you can also share video content. This can push the host computer quite hard, so don’t try it on an under-powered machine. If you are playing a YouTube video then you need a very good broadband connection as well because you are simultaneously pulling the video down from YouTube and pushing it back up to Zoom’s server.
Also be aware when video sharing that if your broadband connection or your fellow attendees broadband connections are not very fast, or are being used by someone else in the house – gaming in particular is a killer – you can lose synchronisation between audio and video, sometimes by several seconds.
As with audio sharing, be sure to keep the sound output level high to avoid distortion.
When playing video there are two very important settings at the bottom of the sharing dialog:
The defaults are fine for showing PowerPoints or documents, but if you want to show a video you will want both of these ticked. If you don’t optimize for video clips then the update rate for your participants will be about 1 frame per second. If you don’t share computer sound then you get silent movies.
If you just want to share a PowerPoint or Word document, that is altogether easier and you can simply share the appropriate window. If you’re using PowerPoint, remember to start the slide show first, then share the presentation window over Zoom.
However, PowerPoint can be problematic in that it sometimes competes with Zoom for control of your computer and we’ve seen instances where PowerPoint prevents Zoom from stopping sharing or Zoom prevents PowerPoint from advancing slides. A better solution may be to prepare your PowerPoint without any clever transitions and save it as a PDF, then just use Acrobat to display the PDF full screen and share that instead.