Best services for online music jam (2020)
Updated: Feb 25
Online music jam is a common trend these days.
Many are the reasons for musicians to look for a service that allows them to jam online. Getting the whole band and the gear in one place is hard. Times might not suite because of work and other commitments. And in more recent times, we're all stranded at home for a while...
So unsurprisingly, demand for online livestreams grew quite dramatically over the past few weeks, something we covered in a recent podcast episode.
That suits those who want to get their music out, but what about bands who want to jam and practice together ?
In this article we look at a few services who claim this can be achieved with relatively low latency.
What is the gear required?
It will vary a bit depending on the case, but for the most part you will need:
· a computer (Mac or PC)
· a high-speed internet connection such as fibre, DSL or cable
· connecting your computer to your router via an ethernet cable - avoid wi-fi
· an audio interface
· Headphones with microphone if you want to be able to chat
· Cameras are optional and since the focus is on the music, I would not push my luck by adding video to this unless it's really necessary
So clearly the same gear you use for recording on your home studio should be enough.
In our case here I've used the gear below which you can find at Amazon:
Guitar connected to the Apollo via the outputs of the Line 6 Helix so I could jam using my preferred tones.
The main issue: latency
There is no way around this. For this to work you need low latency from one musician to another. In a rehearsal space, you are all listening to each other via direct sound waves, so unless the space is gigantic the latency is virtually zero. But over the internet you will have the compound effect of your interface, their interface, and the Internet connection between you, in addition to whatever other processing the service you are using might have.
The Internet latency will be a function of the distance between musicians. This is due to the way in which it is all connected; if you're in the same city you have a better chance of experiencing tolerable latency when jamming online.
So what is the tolerable threshold ? According to research I've done over the years when recording with various interfaces while listening to the 'wet' signal live, anything above 20 to 25ms starts becoming very noticeable. As you will later see this is highlighted in some of the services I've tried.
The formula for the total one-way latency when jamming with another musician online is:
(your audio gear latency + their audio gear latency + round-trip Internet latency) / 2
So it's easy to see that if your gear and their gear combined are close to 40ms together you have problems regardless of how close to each other you live. Step number one then is to go for low latency gear if you can.
See this article on the RME Babyface Pro vs the Universal Audio Apollo Twin for more info, but keep in mind that inside the DAW you can adjust the buffer size (with the trade-off of possible audio glitches) to compensate.
On the services I will explore here this is controlled by the service.
A network ping generally provides the RTT or Round-trip time, which gives us the round-trip Internet latency.
The service speedtest.net allows you to measure the ping time between you and the server you're connected to, generally from your provider. I have NBN in Australia with Vodafone and the ping is generally between 7 and 8 ms.
The service wondernetwork shows the ping times between cities. I've captured a snapshot for some of the cities in Australia, with some other cities from overseas.
To make things more challenging, consider that the packets of data need to go from your computer to the server of the service you will be using for jamming, but the same applies to the other musicians.
So the total round-trip Internet latency figure from the formula above has the compound effect of your connection and ping time, and their connection and ping time.
Clearly jamming with someone overseas is not going to be feasible. Melbourne to Melbourne or perhaps Melbourne to Sydney (~13 ms ping) is as far as I can go without significant latency issues. And this is considering reasonably good audio interfaces, and direct connection to NBN.