Online musical collaboration isn't new, but it's seen a huge increase in recent months. Here's everything you need to know about online music collaboration.
Lately, a lot of musicians have had to adjust how they work together—moving from in-person jam sessions to remote musical collaboration. It’s a different workflow that takes some getting used to, but it’s still possible to jam with other musicians, write songs and record studio-quality tracks without being in a room together.
In this guide, we’ll explain how to use online musical collaboration and creation tools to make music online.
Can musicians play together online?
Musicians can play together online via free video chat services like Jamulusor Jamtaba. These programs are essentially like Zoom or Google Hangouts, but with features catered to musicians. Reduced latency is the most notable of these features. This is what helps musicians feel a little bit more like they’re in the room together. Jamulus and Jambata are both open source software, which means you have to download them to your computer to use them.
You also need a stable wired internet connection (WiFi will cause sound problems) and an audio interface or a USB microphone. They also recommend you close all other programs on your computer and connect to servers with the lowest ping times shown in your server list to reduce latency.
The struggles of Online Music Collaboration
If it’s your first time collaborating with other musicians remotely, there are some things that might take awhile to get used to.
Let’s start with recording sessions. Studio players are used to bringing in a few performance options for a session and fine-tuning their subsequent takes based on feedback from the producers and other musicians. But if you’re alone in your home studio, you might not be able to get the real-time feedback you’re used to.
Instead, you might send a few options, wait a few hours or even days, and get feedback on things to change. Then you may have to go back and do it all over again, repeating the process until everyone’s happy. Whether you prefer this process to spending a few hours in the studio or not depends on the player, but it’s definitely an experience that many musicians aren’t used to.
As a musician, you know and loathe latency. Unfortunately, it’s almost unavoidable when you’re doing live jams over the internet, as a lot of musicians have learned in the past year when they tried to do their first Zoom jam session.
Tools built for musicians, like Jamulus, are built with the goal of minimizing latency, but it’s still not going to feel quite as natural as being in a room with your bandmates. If you’re working with one or two other musicians to write parts for a song, it’s something you’ll probably be able to work around and get used to. But if you add more musicians, you increase the likelihood that someone’s connection isn’t going to be as strong. It’s not the end of the world, but it could result in an awkward jam session.
Different Methods Of Online Musical Collaboration
Let’s take a look at a few of the different ways musicians can collaborate with each other remotely, from old-school methods to brand new solutions.
1. The old-school collaboration technique
The first online musical collaboration technique is something you’ve probably done before—recording your track or tracks in your DAW of choice and sending them directly to your collaborators via DropBox or Google Drive.
Even if you haven’t personally sent song files this way, you’ve definitely listened to songs that have used this method of collaboration. Musicians have been sending each other tracks this way since the invention of high speed internet.
2. Online music collaboration software, apps, and websites
Musicians have been sharing files online for decades, but now there are integrated real-time online music collaboration solutions that you might find more convenient. Some are even built into your DAW of choice. In July, PreSonus announced a Studio One update that includes cloud collaboration and a live performance environment.
Avid, the makers of Pro Tools, also have their own cloud collaboration program called Avid Cloud Collaboration.
Those tools are great if you and your collaborators use the same DAW, but if you like Ableton Live and your bandmate lives in Logic Pro X, you need a different solution. You could go the old-school route, or you could use a tool like Splice, which supports real-time cloud collaboration with Ableton Live, FL Studio, Logic Pro X, GarageBand, and Studio one.
If you don’t have a DAW and are looking for a free way to record demos, BandLab (formerly known as Cakewalk) is a free way to record ideas and songs. You can use an interface or a USB microphone to jot down ideas, and you’ll have access to their free effect plugins. BandLab also has a social aspect to it, so you can connect with new potential collaborators from around the world.
Thankfully, there’s no shortage of websites, apps and software for online musical collaboration. A few others we’ve seen include:
3. Live Jamming Websites And Apps
We’ve already talked about live jamming apps a bit. Because latency is usually such a problem with live jamming, there aren’t as many options available. But here are a few of our favorites.
Jamulus or Jambata are two options that are an open-source software that you download to connect directly with other musicians. It works in the same way as peer-to-peer file sharing but without the whole music theft part.
Endless.fm is an iPhone app that caters more to building live beats with people across the globe. It can also be used with external synths, mics, guitars, drum machines and eurorack modules. You can even use Ableton Link to sync up with other apps and DAWs.
Regardless of whether you’re trying a live jam session or are sending files back-and-forth, there are a few tools you need in order to collaborate online with other musicians.
Audio Interface or USB Microphone
Chances are, you’ve picked up either an audio interface or a USB microphone over the years. USB microphones are popular because they’re affordable and easy to use. If you’re a vocalist or tracking an acoustic instrument or amp for a writing or jam session, a USB mic should do the trick.
If you want more control over your sound, an audio interface might be a better option. With an interface, you can use any XLR microphone you want, depending on what works best for your sound. Interfaces are also great if you want to record directly into your computer, either with an amp-in-a-box solution or plugins that can to shape your sound.
When you hear better, you sound better. We recommend wired IEMs over Bluetooth for recording. We love the convenience of Bluetooth when we’re on-the-go, but even a little bit of latency can throw off an otherwise stellar performance.
A few IEMs we’d recommend for studio recording include:
We also like IEMs for the visual factor. If you’re participating in a live-stream jam session with your band that’s being broadcast to your fans, IEMs are a lot more discreet than over-the-ear headphones.
Finally, unless you’re recording completely direct, you want to avoid your music coming through your studio or computer monitors. If a microphone picks up sound from your studio monitors and there’s even a little bit of latency, it’s going to result in an unpleasant echo. Hey, we love a good slapback delay, but it’s not appropriate all the time.
Stable Internet Connection
A stable internet connection is probably especially important for a live jam session. Ideally, you’d plug directly into your router for a live jam session to reduce latency. Jamulus recommends internet speeds of at least 10mbps down and 1mbps up, but faster speeds might improve performance. That’s internet performance, not your musical performance—sorry!
Even if you’re not collaborating via a live jam session, you’ll want a stable internet connection. While MP3 files are small, entire song files in their raw formats can get big enough to struggle over a poor internet connection.
Slow internet isn’t a big deal if you’re uploading files in your own time for a producer or collaborator to review later. But it matters a lot if you’re using a tool like Splice Studio or BandLab to share your recordings with collaborators immediately. You need a strong internet connection to take advantage of the instantaneous backups and uploads of your music to the cloud.
Tips For Remote Music Collaboration
Regardless of the type of online collaborating you’re doing, there are things you can do to make the experience easier for everyone. Including yourself. Here are some tips to hopefully save you some headaches and time while collaborating with other musicians online.
Check and Communicate Your Settings
Though most DAWs will try to automatically convert your audio files, if you’re not using the same settings, you risk tracks that won’t sync up properly.
Whenever you send audio files with collaborators, include information about the settings you used to record, including:
- File format
- Sample rate
- Time signature
You might want to share the entire project when possible, or at least bounce your stems separately. And agree upon a naming convention so you can keep track of versions more easily. That level of organization might seem like a pain up front, but you’ll thank yourself later.
Use the Same DAW
Even when all of your settings are the same, sometimes DAWs don’t play nicely with each other. Unless you’re using a tool like Splice to share files, try to get your collaborators on board with the same DAW.
Be Patient And Flexible
For most musicians, collaborating and recording has never been a speedy experience. Online collaboration isn’t any faster. The internet is a great tool, but it’s a little like a speed bump when compared to in-person writing and recording.
If you start feeling frustrated with the process, take a deep breath and remember that you’re doing this because music is your passion. Online musical collaboration is new for almost everyone, so we’re all learning these things at the same time. So be patient, be flexible, and be kind to your collaborators and yourself when things don’t go perfectly the first few times.