Musical collaboration via teleconference?
March 20, 2020 8:50 AM   Subscribe

Bandmates and I made an attempt to jam via teleconferencing. We used Zoom and Skype. But the half-second lag, and the apps' choice of primacy of sounds and methods of audio compression, made it sound like we were playing backwards in a muddy river. Any alternatives you've tried that work?
posted by not_on_display to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I am not sure that this is possible given that all conferencing methods will have some amount of latency. Your best bet might be something that’s audio-only.
posted by mekily at 8:57 AM on March 20 [2 favorites]

You may get better results by one person recording their part, sending the file around and everyone overdubs their part. Maybe start with rhythm guitar, record the chord progression, then send it to the drummer, etc. Not the same as live jamming, but still music, and it might give you all some avenues to explore that you wouldn't have otherwise.
posted by disconnect at 9:09 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]

This has come up in my circles a bit and someone linked to NINJAM, which doesn't precisely solve the latency problem but makes things interesting by bumping up the latency to some precise amount - "Since the inherent latency of the Internet prevents true realtime synchronization of the jam, and playing with latency is weird (and often uncomfortable), NINJAM provides a solution by making latency (and the weirdness) much longer."
posted by btfreek at 9:10 AM on March 20 [3 favorites]

Someone recently pointed to JamKazam, which claims to make remote jam sessions usable. I haven’t tried it.
posted by moonmilk at 9:28 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]

I haven't used it before, but I wonder if Smule would be an option? It's designed for real time remote duet singing, (hello rabbit hole) but I wonder if you could use just a backing track and jam over the top of it.
posted by oxisos at 10:38 AM on March 20

I've been recently recommended Sessionwire but have yet to test it out!
posted by stella1 at 11:15 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]

I am a music teacher and have been exploring this a lot lately with thousands of people panicking in Facebook groups about how to do large ensemble learning when you’re not in the same room. The general consensus after skimming hundreds of posts is that latency makes even duets pretty much impossible on any platform. Some people said that they had had JamKazam be okay (ish) with a very small group who were all physically near each other AND everybody had a hardwired fiber connection.
posted by charmedimsure at 11:18 AM on March 20 [1 favorite]

I'm gonna say no. Then I'm gonna say I've seen it done. I've seen it done live from three places spread across the continental US. I worked in high performance research computing networks and we could throw up direct low-latency paths of multi-gig capacity and had boxes that could encode and decode fast enough. Untold thoudands of dollars worth of equipment. I still doubt you can get that sort of low-latency needed for improvisational jam sessions over commodity networks and hardware.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:23 PM on March 20 [4 favorites]

Yeah, I agree with zengargoyle. Berklee did this as a stunt a couple of years ago, and I am fairly certain they tacked up a static connection between two .edu campuses to do it. (I can't find the article now, but I clearly remember discussing it with my son's guitar teacher.)

That kind of set-up uses fat networking bandwidth & fancy, low-latency switch gear: in other words, it's a big deal and not just friends messing around with free accounts, I'm afraid.
posted by wenestvedt at 1:33 PM on March 20

As a variation on disconnect's idea, pick a song; each of you records your part; send them around so that you do the same song, but the order of layering is different each time. Not as good as handing around the lead in real time, but maybe you’ll get interestingly different versions.
posted by clew at 4:14 PM on March 20

This would generally be better with landlines and a party call with headphones and mics but I bet none of you have landlines.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:26 PM on March 20

land... line? like the yellow one in the middle of the road?

We've had success in the "pass the multi-track" game in the past, and it did give a strange Krautrock-meets-Penguin-Café-Orchestra kinda feel to our sound (without percussion)—but we all liked it. We could probably start that up again.

Thanks, everyone! Anyone can feel free to hit me up on MeMail if you would like to play "pass the track".
posted by not_on_display at 8:49 PM on March 20 [1 favorite]

Zengargoyle and wenestvedt, it sounds like you understand the parameters of the technology. How long do you think it'll be before standard consumer video streaming will be able to do this?
posted by umbú at 8:37 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]

I had a reasonably successful jam earlier today with someone on the other side of town and someone about 75 miles away, using JamKazam. I've started writing up quick notes on how to get it going, since it's not obvious and the support site is offline.

The bandwidth requirement isn't all that high, but you definitely need a wired network connection to decent consumer broadband. Wifi isn't going to cut it. And I haven't tried the video component yet, just audio.
posted by hades at 12:46 AM on March 24 [1 favorite]

How long do you think it'll be before standard consumer video streaming will be able to do this?

It would take fiber to the home for everyone plus faster switching gear in between, on top of fewer network "hops" between every participant, and also faster wireless in your houses. And probably require that ISPs not step all over your packets to prioritize their TV/movie streaming and phone service.

Five years, maybe? Just a totally made-up number. Also, "5G" is not going to save us.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:54 AM on March 24

Thanks, wenestvedt.

I just found this. What do you think?
posted by umbú at 1:50 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]

Oh wait, it looks like this is for mixing, not playing with each other.
posted by umbú at 1:52 PM on March 25

This article just popped up in my email today: - 11 Tools For Collaborating On Music Remotely

And yeah, really the only two "live" collaboration tools suggested are JamKazam and Instagram Live.
posted by soundguy99 at 8:47 AM on March 26

I just saw this: Jamulus Software

Jamulus - Internet Jam Session Software download |

Which seems to use the local server model (like having a private game server or such). If you open up ports on your border and such and each client can get a good ping (<4>
If your band are all local and on same ISP (or close ISP) and you can finagle that low hop-count and get a low latency and low jitter and one person can run the server... Something like this might work.
posted by zengargoyle at 4:11 AM on March 27

You cannot use ordinary video conferencing software for this. The latency imposed by the encode->decode cycle on the video stream is just too high & video conferencing software generally deliberately delays the audio in order that what people hear at the other end matches what they see. On some platforms you can turn this off, but then your audio is fighting for transmission space with a pile of video packets, introducing extra latency and jitter. Because latency for video conferencing is dominated by video encode/decode time, there’s not much point using audio codecs optimised for low latency.

So you’re going to have to use an audio-only conferencing solution that focuses on delivering the lowest latency audio possible. The only solution I know of that at least tries to do this is mumble:

Originally written for gamers, it’s audio only & can prioritise latency above all else. It even does positional audio if you want to play around with that. You should be able to get latency down to the low tens of milliseconds with a decent mumble setup if you & your friends are in the same country / small continent.

Downside: one of you will have to run a mumble server somewhere. There are plenty of online offerings though & if you are willing to get your hands on the command line, running one yourself isn’t particularly onerous.

If you do try mumble, let me know how you get on!
posted by pharm at 9:05 AM on March 29 [3 favorites]

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