Open Mic Tech Talk - What you need to get started as a performer

Note: Quite a few edits ongoing, this is a WIP while I get more feedback

In the interest of reducing the barriers for newer performers to the JG Open Mics I thought I’d put together this post to help those that might be thinking of participating in an OM. And hopefully helping to prevent some of the glitches that can occur.

Justin Guitar Open Mics are run on Zoom. While for a real life open mic you could just bring your music gear, there’s a bit more required to perform on Zoom without tech issues. Here’s what I recommend as the basics for a good result. Of course open to suggestions from others. However I should point out that the point here is to not list all possible setups, that would be far too big - it’s to provide some examples to get started.

This post is supposed to demystify what you need to get started, and what you might want to add to your setup as you go along. It’s not a configuration post - we’ve got some of those already. Please follow the links for definitions.


Before we begin - the most important thing…

…is to test your setup before the OM. Log into Zoom to do a test meeting, ideally with someone else logged in too. Test your sound. Ensure you use the right Zoom settings. I say this at the beginning and at the end because it’s so important.


A super simple setup - the absolute basics

If all you want to do is perform at an OM, and have an acoustic guitar, all you need is:

  • A guitar. You know what that is right? :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:
  • Your phone, iPhone or Android, with Zoom on it
  • That’s it!

As you might imagine, this setup works like a handsfree or FaceTime call. It records all noise in the room. It’s important you use a phone for this basic setup, and not a PC, because phones have good hardware echo cancellation - at least Samsung & iPhones. PCs and Macs don’t.

The advantage of this setup is that it’s super simple. The disadvantage is that it does pick up all the noise in the room - including the noises that come from the strings & pick if you have an electric, etc - which is why it’s best used for acoustic.


The next step up, still pretty simple - PC or Mac

The next step up to use a bigger screen and improve the sound quality while still keeping it pretty simple is to use your PC or Mac.

For this, my recommended setup would be:

  • PC or Mac with webcam & Zoom installed
  • A good USB mic
  • Wired headphones

This works similar to the above in that it captures the noise in the room. Using headphones gets you the best audio result to prevent feedback (see the section on feedback below).

It’s also best suited to acoustic.

I should note it’s also possible to use speakers, instead of headphones here, if you’re using something like a webcam mic. It might work, but it might not, and you might get zoom muting your performance. Use at your own risk and make sure to test.


Getting more advanced now - better sound quality

If you want to enhance the quality and go beyond the basics, here’s the next step up. If you care about ultimate sound quality and adding effects like reverb, or if you play an electric and want to avoid string noise, you probably want to end up here.

There are many, many different advanced options. This is (probably) one of the more accessible ones.

You will need:

  • A PC or Mac with Zoom installed
  • An audio interface (e.g. Focusrite Scarlett, many others available).
  • Wired Headphones
  • Microphone & stand. One that plugs into your audio interface, not a PC/USB one.
  • OBS (probably)

While not essential, I also recommend that you use a DAW, Digital Audio Workstation. Especially if you’re using electric! It doesn’t matter which one you use as long as it supports VST plugins, which as far as I know they all do. Ableton came free with my Focusrite Scarlett, so I use that. Reaper is another popular one.

Justin has a good guide going over a bunch of this stuff in his home recording lesson in Grade 2. It’s not related to Open Mics however it covers the tech stuff, as an open mic is very similar to home recording.

I’m playing acoustic, what do I need?
If your acoustic doesn’t have pickups, you’ll need to make sure your mic is a condenser microphone. That can pick up your guitar and singing (if you choose to do that). More info on the home recording link above.

If your acoustic has pickups, you can plug it into your audio interface. You might also want to mic it too, as it might sound better that way :smiley:.

I’m playing electric, what about me?
Your electric guitar should go through your audio interface. There are two ways to connect an electric guitar to your AI - directly with a cable, or via an amp.

Cable directly
OK, time for some real talk. If you connect your electric directly with a cable to your AI, and record/stream that, the sound is going to suck. It will sound thin. Electric guitars are made to go through an amp, and the tone comes from the amp. So you need an amp simulator, hooked up to your DAW.

There are loads of options, I’m not going to list them all. Here are a few:

  • Amplitube. This is my recommendation if you’re not sure, because the free one is good and it sounds good by default.
  • Guitar Rig. Well known but to my ears didn’t sound great by default, you might like it.
  • BIAS FX. Another popular one, I haven’t tried it.

Via an Amp
The other option is via your amp. If your amp has an XLR line out, you can use the line out from your amp into the input on your audio interface. That way your amp is giving your guitar it’s tone. With some amps (e.g. my Fender GTX50) you can have the speaker volume turned off, while still getting full output via it’s line out.

If your amp has a USB recording interface ONLY, I wouldn’t recommend you use that for an open mic. This is due to the way PC sound functions with ASIO, which is low latency sound for this kind of stuff. It can only have one active device, your audio interface. Macs are similar. (An aside: yes, there is software that can do virtual devices to allow you to do this, but it’s next level complexity. This guide is supposed to simplify…)

I’m not singing, do I still need a mic?
Yes! For two reasons. One, is that you’ll talk and introduce yourself :slightly_smiling_face:. The other is that your audio interface needs to have all inputs and outputs set to it, so your mic should be plugged into that.


Important! Avoiding feedback and echo cancellation!

An unfortunately common cause of ruined performances is where Zoom detects a feedback loop and silences the performers. You’ve all heard feedback, that noise when a microphone is pointed at the speaker. It’s a screech. Zoom protects us all and silences it. However it ruins a performance.

You must make sure your microphone doesn’t pick up any sound from your speakers. Otherwise Zoom will silence you. Sometimes it’s micro-muting, that sounds like occasional stuttering. Or it could mute your entire performance.

The easiest way to ensure your performance isn’t ruined is to use headphones. That way the noise goes straight in your ears, not into your microphone. If there’s two of your performing, you can both wear headphones - whether with a cable splitter or more advanced audio interface.

But I really want to use speakers and a mic!

OK, you could use a dynamic mic (directional) instead of a condenser mic. These are designed for live use. However you’ll still need to ensure you set your levels correctly, as feedback is still possible with any mic/speaker combo. However if you’re at this level then you should be able to figure it out, the intent of this is for some good starting baselines.

This is one of the reasons that the super simple setup uses a phone - phones have good echo cancellation already for their hands-free, so they help to prevent feedback.

Decent internet connection
Most modern internet connections are fine, including 4G. Zoom recommends at least 4M down and 3M up for large meetings. You can check your connection with https://www.speedtest.net/.

If you’re not sure, make sure you test from where you’ll be performing as home wifi can sometimes cause more speed issues than your internet connection.

Configuration
If you’ve got all the stuff, how do you set it up for an OM? @TheMadman_tobyjenner and @Majik have written some very good technical guides on how to do the tech setup.

Especially, especially, especially, make sure you set up Zoom properly.

… and make sure you test
Make sure you test your setup before the OM day. There are many people on the community that can help with any issues.

I hope some people find this useful.

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Thanks JK but I’m curious, why not USB mic? I use one, and although it’s no high quality it doesn’t sound so terrible -also it was very cheap- :sweat_smile:

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Some performers have had issues with them, but sounds like it can work.

What’s your setup? If it’s a good simple one I can include it.

A lot of thought and time gone into this, JK. Thank you. :smiley:

I’d just like to reassure any first-timers that the vast majority of recordings are fine and that technical glitches (part of life) happen as much with the more seasoned performers as with novices.

We can lower the barrier even a bit more than that-
I’ve only ever used a cheap Microsoft webcam/mic on my PC for all my OMs.
Aficionados may cringe at the quality, but it’s fine for phonophobes like me :rofl:

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If we can lower the barrier even more that’s great. The point of doing this was to provide a straightforward “this is what you need” list. I just sat down and wrote it earlier today in one shot - and have hit edit a few times after some feedback, mostly in DMs! So happy to edit more.

Funny because I’m learning a bunch here too. I’m pretty techy and from reading the other tech posts, assumed that “the way” to do OMs is with OBS etc.

What’s your setup? Do you use OBS, or just Zoom with webcam? Any audio interface?

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Actually in fairness @brianlarsen is probably right for laptop/PC users the “easiest” solution is almost definitely a good webcam whether you’re playing acoustic or electric (indeed even a built in webcam would suffice). Most have pretty good mics now so the sound will be fine and it couldn’t be much easier to setup in Zoom either.

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It’s just as Jason says a simple usb webcam with inbuilt mic plugged into my pc.
Like all the other methods, you will still have to go into the Zoom program to select your mic/cam sources, set levels, original sound etc. but it’s probably the simplest way for folks who don’t like to use their phones or would like a larger screen :smiley:

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Thanks for the input @Rossco01 @KevinKevan and @brianlarsen, I’ve added a few updates including a “next step up” PC or Mac one without an AI. And called the AI stuff more advanced.

I really do think we should be encouraging people to use headphones though (or a Dynamic Mic but that’s advanced level stuff as well I think).

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Just the USB condenser mic and the laptop webcam.

The best thing about my mic is that it has a headphones jack so you can listen to yourself in real time.

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Some good work here JK and I know you are refining as we go. My only recommendation for first timers would be to keep it as simple as possible and test using Zoom video recording facility in good time for the show. You can also up load the video privately to YT to check the sound levels there as well - another way of verifying quality -but again that’s optional.

:sunglasses:

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Thanks so much @jkahn for this thread :hugs:. It was perfectly timed. I’ve just wondered, what technical stuff I would need for performing at an OM. Whether it would be sufficient to only have an acoustic guitar and an iPad? Ok, earphones are also part of my equipment :grinning:.
So it really seems, that I don’t have any further excuses to not perform in the near future :wink: .

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Whatever you use test test and test again…As Toby has said open zoom, start your own meeting, select your video and audio inputs and then hit record…play some of your song. End the meeting and it’ll save you a recording which you can watch and listen. If it sounds good nothing more to do…if not adjust and try and again.

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Thanks so much for this JK. This is really helpful. Now I just need to pluck up the courage to jump over that hurdle and perform at an OM someday. :sunglasses:

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Well done JK a simple is setup is just what folk need.

Headphones would be a useful secondary, but like you say best to encourage people with what they have rather than everyone thinking they need a ton of kit just to get going.

Bravo sir :clap::clap::clap:

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Okay, I made a few more tweaks. Emphasized the testing aspect.

I’m glad it’s been useful for you Nicole, that’s been the intention - to hopefully make it simpler to get started.

I think an iPad would be fine, it’s similar to an iPhone after all. Key would be testing it out to make sure. @adi_mrok used just a phone at his first OM.

Would be great to see you perform at an OM.

It can be a bit nerve wracking Eddie but it’s fun. I’ve done 3 so far. Give it a go :smiley:.

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@jkahn

Thanks for taking time to put this together, JK, and provide more information to people working up to joining the OM.

Over and above what you have shared, I’d suggest explicitly mentioning the option to use an Audio Interface and selecting it as the input source in Zoom. I stand to be corrected but if one selects this as the source then in Zoom you will get a combined stereo input that combines both the channels of a 2 channel AI. This is an ideal setup for an electro-acoustic and vocal mic combination. On an acoustic without electronics one could work this with either one or two mics. If one, a large diaphragm condenser mic carefully positioned to achieve guitar vocal balance. If two, a condenser for the guitar and a dynamic for the vocal. But maybe I am getting more complicated than is appropriate for this Topic.

I think perhaps one could write a separate Topic to explore options when it comes to the use of an electric. As you said, a ‘dry’ electric guitar achieved by plugging directly from guitar to AI and into Zoom will not be the best sound but for a first-timer would work and be fit-for-(OM)purpose. Thereafter you mention some of the options of which I have little experience. As I say, maybe warrants a specific Topic as some of the options could become a little more complicated, though quite doable with some study and experimentation.

My 2cs on this. I think there is (or was) a simple post which if memory serves me correctly was written up by @SS7 in the early days, which was geared towards the setup in Zoom and assumed using the built-in mic of the device, be it PC, laptop, phone, or tablet. Once that was settled then the other Topics were added over time driven by the experimentation and use-cases being tested out by people like myself, Toby, and Adrian with extra input from Keith.

In my case, I was using OBS because I’d picked it as my tool to make single take videos that needed no further audio post processing and fiddling to sync the video recorded with a phone with audio recorded and post processed in my DAW.

One last thought , perhaps something that needs more input, would be any differences, tips and tricks, in setting up Zoom when using a phone rather than a laptop/PC. Again, I stand to be corrected, but have a vague recollection of a soundcheck/problem-solving in one OM when a performer was using the phone and the interface to setup audio configuration was different for her. People were trying to give her directions and things weren’t consistent. I may be wrong. But if so we should make sure the Zoom setup Topic covers that difference.

Once again, thanks for the helpful contribution!

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It depends on the USB mic but they tend to be rather inflexible, especially if you want to have more than one input (for instance, separate mics or a mic and a guitar input, etc.)

USB mics basically have a built-in audio interface. And one issue with audio interfaces is that it’s a bit tricky to use more than one audio interface at a time. So, if you have a USB mic, it generally stops you using another audio interface for your guitar at the same time.

A lot of USB mics also don’t have easy monitoring capability, so you need another audio interface to monitor with (and we end up with the issue of using multiple audio interfaces again).

There ARE ways to do it, but as @jkahn points out, it’s more complex. Personally, I don’t think it’s that much more complex, but it’s definitely a consideration, depending on how technical you are. I believe that it’s possible to use ASIO4ALL to create a composite driver, but YMMV.

In my case, I use Linux so I don’t have to worry about ASIO, although there are different complexities with it! But it pretty much has the virtual cable thing built-in.

There are actually some USB mics which are a bit more interesting, such as the Audio Technica atr2100x which I own. This can operate as a conventional XLR mic with an audio interface, but also can be used as a USB mic, and it has a headphone socket for monitoring. It’s still tricky to use with other audio devices in USB mode, of course.

Cheers,

Keith

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You are quite correct sir and it is still in the OM Tech Talk Category after being carried across from the Old Forum. I always provide a link to this one in the Call For Interests but I am beginning to think most people don’t bother reading past the invitation ! :wink:

And its referenced here by JK in the opening post above.

And here just in case folks missed it.

https://community.justinguitar.com/t/open-mic-tech-talk-how-to-setup-zoom/4019

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Hi David, I didn’t reply to this the other day. Yes that is a good point. I’ll think about how to incorporate this in the post as it is simpler. Thanks

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