Virtual Drum Circles: Navigating Tech & Equipment Suggestions

Suggestions for Virtual Drum Circle Equipment:

For this posting, we will use Zoom Meeting as our platform. We all also presume you have no knowledge on this topic.

When approaching sound quality for online drum circles, rhythm activities, or any online meeting which requires acoustic instruments, depending on your budget, here are some suggestions to offer a pleasant-sounding experience.   

As mentioned in a previous post Tips For Virtual Drum Circle Facilitation, make sure you set all your audio settings in Zoom to the proper settings for live music.  There are plenty of videos online which go over the process step by step.

Let’s start with what is Not Recommended:

Using *Earbuds with microphone for both output and input:   Using the same in-ear device for output (i.e., talking, drumming) and input (i.e., listening to the participants) usually creates feedback or echo. The drums are usually too loud for the participants requiring constant volume adjusting. High-pitched drums will be brutal on the ears.   As the host, you’re not able to adjust volume independently for output vs input.   Also, when a participant is unmuted and has their volume turned up, it goes directly into your ears.  This is not recommended!

Suggestions:

Using only the computer (tablet or phone) camera and speaker:  This can work, but we recommend for one-on-one sessions with more verbal communication and less continuous drumming.  Drums will usually sound flat and/or distorted.  If possible, this should be your last choice.    

Use your computer (tablet or phone) camera & microphone for output and headphones or earbuds for input:  This does work.  Just be careful when asking participants to unmute.  If they play too loud, it could be concerning for your ears.  Also, if a participant forgets to mute, it can be annoying and distracting.  You will have to remind participants to mute.   Your drums will sound flat, but if you play softly, the quality will improve for the participants.   You may think that you’re playing extremely soft, but the participants will actually have a good sound level on their end. It might be frustrating for you to have to play so soft.  (side-note: if using a smartphone and having more than two participants, limits your view of participants making it difficult to identify them.)   

For better sound quality an investment is required: If you’re serious about offering online events, it will require some investing.  If you do not already own a microphone(s), we suggest to purchase at least one and with this a microphone stand and microphone cable.  This microphone will be used to be placed over or near your drum(s). To save money, you can use earbuds with a microphone for speaking and listening, however, using headphones and a microphone dedicated for vocal is best. (**More about types of microphones and other equipment suggestions, later in this post).  

You will also need an audio interface.  Do not let the words “audio interface” intimidate you.  It might sound technical and discouraging, but it is just a small box that transforms your analog signal into a digital signal.  Sound coming from microphone(s) is analog and you need this sound to be transmitted through your computer, which is digital. The audio interface simply acts as an interface by plugging your microphone(s) into the audio interface and then the audio interface plugs into your computer via USB.  

Usually, the company that makes the audio interface will have videos on their website on how to set-up and how to use with Zoom. You can also find plenty of help on YouTube. 

A 2-channel audio interface is suggested. You may think about going with a 4-Channel audio interface (again, more about equipment later).  This allows you to use a minimum of 4 microphones (depending if you plan to use an array of drums).  The advantage of having an audio interface is that you can easily control your output volume independently for voice and drums, and you have a separate channel just for your headphone volume.  Since you can plug in *earbuds or headphones directly into the audio interface and control the input volume, this helps to keep the volume level to your liking.

By adjusting the audio interface volume knobs for your voice and drum microphones, you want to get sound levels that you think are good to transmit over Zoom; there will be trial and error.   You can check your sound levels by using the Zoom option to “record” a meeting.  Set up a mock meeting with yourself, record it, and playback the recorded video to check your sound levels.  You could also check sound by setting up a mock meeting and ask someone to join the meeting from another room or location.   If using your computer (tablet, or phone) for the camera, the trick might be to place the device where you can still reach it and still have it positioned so the camera captures you.   To avoid lots of leaning to reach your device, an external webcam might be something to think about. 

A little about microphones:  In most cases, using any microphone will help improve your sound quality.  However, with a little extra money, you could use an instrument microphone or for sensitivity, you can use “pencil condenser” microphone.  For the voice, a “cardioid dynamic” microphone is recommended.  More cost is determined by which make and model of microphone and whether you choose to use more than one microphone for the drums.  (side-note:  Most audio interfaces have something called “Phantom Power 48v”, but make sure the audio interface does have this. This is just a button you push to turn on when using the pencil condenser microphone.)

One quality microphone with audio interface:  A way to save some money and offer a nice sound experience is to have a quality voice condenser microphone and mainly play drum loops and songs.  Although you’re facilitating a virtual drum circle, for the host you can facilitate the drummers with a variety of drum loops, songs, and vocal instruction.  This saves from having to set-up a lot of drums with a microphone(s) and requires no other software.   (recommended drum-loop app below)

**Here is a link with detailed information how to set-up an audio interface for Mac or Windows using a single microphone or multiple microphones:
https://support.focusrite.com/hc/en-gb/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&query=zoom

Here is a link to a YouTube video showing a basic set-up for an audio interface:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5roEqSv-nTM

Here is a link to a YouTube Video discussing microphones and other equipment:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tr9v1STtI6Y

 

One last step before we get into suggestions for equipment.  Most computers come with a DAW.  Don’t let DAW scare you. DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation.  A Digital Audio Workstation is a fancy term for software, if you choose to use, which allows you to enhance the sound of your voice and your drums. For example, Apple computers usually come with a DAW known as Garage Band or Logic Pro.    There is a learning curve and it will seem intimidating, but really not.  There are lots of videos on YouTube on how to use an audio interface with Garage Band and other software, such as Logic Pro, Ableton, Studio One, Pro Tools, etc...  **When using a DAW it does require some additional software such as LoopBack by Rogue Amoeba or iShowU audio capture (**see link above).  The goal with using a DAW is it will give you a separate audio track for your drum microphone and for your vocal microphone.  Here, with a few clicks, you can add some reverb to your drums and perhaps add “compression” (another fancy word keeping all your sound frequencies leveled).   You can make your voice and drums sound like you’re in a recording studio.   All of this goes through the audio interface onto Zoom.  (side-note: If your computer does not come with a DAW, there are some you can download for free or for low cost).  Youtube video on set-up DAW with Zoom https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EeLdAQiJN2A

Pre-recorded Drum Loops:  Another great way to assist your online facilitation is to use pre-recorded drum loops or songs with an emphasis on drumming.  With Zoom, you can access your music library and play uplifting rhythm music.  This helps to “fill-up” the sound.   There is a wonderful app called Drum Jam app by Pete Lockett www.drumjamapp.com  which you can use to create your loops. 

We hope this helps.  Below is the suggested equipment.  Good luck spreading the joy of music and drumming!

***All of above the above information and the equipment listed below are all suggestions.  We recommend you research on your own, ask friends, and check out recommendations from forums on the web.     

2-Channel Audio Interface:

https://focusrite.com/en/usb-audio-interface/scarlett/scarlett-2i2

Microphone for Voice:

https://www.shure.com/en-US/products/microphones/sm58

Microphone for Drums:

https://www.shure.com/en-US/products/microphones/sm57
or
https://www.shure.com/en-US/products/microphones/pga81

DAW”

Pro Tools First (free) https://www.avid.com/pro-tools

Cakewalk- PC only (free) https://www.bandlab.com/products/cakewalk

Studio One – (Free or low cost) https://shop.presonus.com/Studio-One/Software-Category--Studio-One

 

 

Article by Mike DeMenno - Remo Recreational Music Center Manager

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