USING ZOOM, SKYPE, FACETIME OR OTHER VIDEO CHAT
When lockdown hit, Zoom quickly became every business’s new best friend. But while video conferencing tools are certainly useful for screen sharing, presenting and having conversations, using them to jam is a little more challenging! The truth is, these programs just aren’t really designed for the smoother, real-time audio you’ll need for a good jam session. There will be far too much latency when it comes to jamming which will make it very difficult to play in sync with other musicians. Although there are plenty of tips online about how to optimise these programs, there’s only so far you can take it and other options below may be more preferable.
That said, for ease of setting up, this is a top choice. We don’t really recommend live collaboration across different locations, however, if you want to broadcast a performance from a single location, then it’s not bad at all for a casual solution.
If you type ‘jam’ into the App Store, you’ll see plenty of results. One application that we’ve had some fun playing with is called Acapella. Whilst it doesn’t allow you to jam ‘live’, it allows you and your friends to take turns recording different parts so you can layer up a song with multiple tracks. Acapella and other similar apps do have a lot of promise and potential but there are some significant issues as well. For one
thing, sound quality will be an issue if you only use your phone’s built-in microphone. The main issue for us however is that this form of music-making
doesn’t really constitute ‘jamming’ in the real sense. Although it’s a great way to collaborate with other musicians it doesn’t provide the same thrill that you get when you feed off each others’ playing in real-time.
Perhaps the closest you can get to real-time jamming across multiple locations is with a tool called Jacktrip. Beware, however, it requires a bit of technical know-how to set up, and a superfast internet connection if you’re to get some good results.
Jacktrip is available on Linux, Windows, and Mac OSX devices but what is it, you ask? Without going into the technical jargon too much, Jacktrip is technology that allows people to stream audio in real-time without risking the quality. But once again, not only do you require quality hardware, to really experience the ultra-low-latency potential, you’ll probably need a type of high-speed internet connection that is unavailable to the average household. If you’re not put off, however, then check out this video to see what’s possible when it works.
MIDI OVER THE INTERNET
Although this method also requires a little technical knowledge, one advantage is that you can get away with using a typical broadband connection. Rather than sending an audio stream to your jam buddy, you send MIDI data, which uses much less bandwidth.
If you’ve ever used programs such as Logic, Ableton, Pro Tools or plenty of others, then chances are you’re already familiar with MIDI. Whilst there isn’t time to go into details here, the basic premise is that each note of a keyboard is assigned a number, so as you play on your MIDI keyboard, those numbers get sent across the internet to your musical partner. When those numbers reach the other end they are then converted into sounds.
When it all goes smoothly you’ll have a great, high-quality jam session! That all sounds great but there is a downside to this. Whilst keyboard players can take part, it doesn’t allow for singers or other instrumentalists to participate unless they’re
also using ‘digital controllers’.
SOCIALLY DISTANCED JAMMING
If you’re lucky and have a musical next door neighbour, then you could even jam out
together from across your garden fence. That’s one way to make a new friend!
Alternatively, if you’re living in a flat or apartment you could even jam with others from your balcony. When it comes to jamming out nothing really beats the live experience does it? Best of all, you won’t have to learn new technology or deal with
any latency issues.
To conclude, remote jamming really does offer you everything you could want from a good jam session! Now you might not exactly be as close together as you normally would, and travel restrictions may limit the number of people you can
jam with, but you can still enjoy a good jam session where ever you are!