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.
…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.
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?
- 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 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.
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 .
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.
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 . 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.
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.
Especially, especially, especially, make sure you set up Zoom properly.
- Open Mic Tech Talk - How to Setup Zoom
- Using OBS with an Audio Interface on Windows for streaming to send to Zoom
- Open Mic Tech Talk - For Advanced Users : How to connect your DAW to OBS and send audio and video to Zoom
… 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.