Updated: Jun 18
Earlier in 2020 online jams just exploded. With musicians in isolation, bands had to resort to online tools to be able to play together and even record. We had a look at online tools for jamming in another article, but at that stage JamKazam did not seem to have server in Australia so I didn't get very far with the testing, and moved on to Jamulus instead.
JamKazam is different than Jamulus as it was conceived as a commercial application. So it's more integrated and user friendly, and it now offers paid subscription options as well as a free - but very limited - package.
Getting Started with JamKazam
JamKazam can be downloaded directly from their website, where you can check the features for each individual subscription package as well. You can subscribe to the free package and then upgrade later if you need the additional features.
These subscription packages may vary in the future and are explained on the link above, so I won't waste time replicating each individual feature here, but the interesting ones are:
· Unlimited players in some of the top packages
· Better audio bitrate
· The ability to record
· Adding video
· Broadcasting, including busking
· Taking or teaching music lessons
· Adding VST or AU plugins
Basically some of these additional functions can be achieved if you are using Jamulus or JackTrip, but you will need creativity and some additional software like OBS, Loopback and so on to make it all work. Here they offer everything in one app if you're willing to pay the price - as the free package is limited to jams of up to 1 hour, 4 hours per month at the time of writing, with no recording or broadcasting.
Of course you will need a computer running Mac or Windows, and a fast internet connection. You need broadband, NBN if in Australia, cable, fibre or equivalent.
Extremely important: get your computer close to your router and connect via Ethernet. Do not use WiFi as this will make the latency even worse and cause additional audio issues.
Note that on their website they don't explicitly say (on their 'what do I need section') what speed is recommended. This varies a lot with the package you will select (if you have video or not makes a big difference) but it's safe to assume that like other similar programs if your broadband is at least 10 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up you 'should' be fine to get started. The main issue is latency, which we will discuss later on. Their forums have deeper discussions on bandwidth requirements for more complex setups like many users with video and so on.
Apart from that, you need an audio interface, your instrument and/or a microphone.
If you don’t have an interface my recommendation is the Focusrite Scarlett Solo:
Buy now: Amazon
The latency debate
Now while this is an extensive topic, I will leave the detailed discussion for the recent podcast episode I published. In that episode you will find show notes and a link to an article that has scholar research on latency impact on music performances.
JamKazam also has their own article on the subject where the bottom line is that up to 40 ms latency should be tolerable, and anything beyond that will be hard to handle. As mentioned in the podcast episode above, I was able to jam with 50 ms or above round-trip while listening to my guitar via indirect path (so no direct sound) but it worked as a) in this case the latency was round trip so direct latency between musicians was in average half of that and b) we played in leader-follower mode, where the drummer or the backing track basically ignore everybody else's fluctuations in time, and we just follow them.
Distance-wise it's a good idea to check this article here where I describe how you can find out the ping time between you and your bandmates. Latency will be higher than that, as it will be adding up the audio interface latency, plus any buffering and processing that the app adds. The bottom line is that 'all in the same city or region with broadband Internet' is generally fine, but it may work at longer distances as well depending on your country's infrastructure.
I have reports of people even jamming with musicians overseas, where clearly ping time alone eats up close to 100ms... I wrote to JamKazam tech support to find out if they managed to make the ocean shorter, but there was no solver bullet. They claim 74 ms between Australia and the US coast, one-way under ideal conditions. So my take on this is that a) for some forms of music that don't have a steady fast beat this matters less and b) people just want to have fun so they will be willing to overlook this.
First the basics, you need to create a profile with your name, instrument you play, headshot and so on. This is because there is a social media element to JamKazam where you can invite others to connect and join your jam sessions.
The audio configuration is as follows:
· Select the interface you are going to use. JamKazam should be able to list the interfaces connected to your computer if they have the appropriate drivers.
· Select the inputs you are going to use for your main audio track. For example select the input where your instrument is connected.
· Repeat this for any other tracks you may want to add. You can for example add a guitar and a microphone if you are singing as well.
· The inputs can be mono and they will be duplicated to dual mono in the track
· Select what device you will use for the voice chat. This is to chat between songs. If you are also singing you can select the same microphone you use for singing. If not, you can have a dedicated microphone to chat, which can be muted during the songs.
· Select the outputs you are going to use. Typically this will be the output of your audio interface, where you have your speakers or headphones connected
In addition to that, you can add plugins to your audio input, if the plugins are VST or AU (so no Pro Tools AAX format at the time of writing, but most plugins you buy will ship with all these formats). What is cool about that is that you don't need outboard gear or routing inside your computer to process your instrument sound. Say you want to connect a guitar but want to use tones from Amplitube. Since it is available in the VST and AU formats it should appear on JamKazam and so you can add it to the track where you configured the audio interface input where your guitar is connected.
Furthermore, you can add a MIDI input to a track (instead of an audio input). And then add a MIDI instrument on top of that if it is available as a VST or AU. This could be a MIDI controller followed by Sample Tank for example.
The video configuration is as follows:
· Select the webcam you want to use. JamKazam should detect webcams connected to your computer as well as internal ones.
· Select the video capture resolution
Since not all subscription packages have video, and resolution varies, the options on this step will vary according to your subscription level, which is linked to the account you've used to log into JamKazam. There are also a few remarks that pop up with recommendations of maximum resolution depending on your computer configuration.
The basic features
The main feature revolves around a jam session, which you can start in four different formats:
· Quick start private: a private session to practice and test your setup, and also invite selected friends to jam
· Quick start public: a session that will appear in the public list so anyone can join
· Quick start friends: this is useful if you always play with the same friends, as they won't need an invitation to join, and it will not be public
· Schedule future: there is a wizard which allows you to schedule future sessions (say you have regular rehearsals with your band)
Inside a session, you will find controls for your audio inputs so you can control the levels coming in from your instrument and voice, including the chat microphone. You will also find your personal mix where you can control the levels of the return audio coming from you as well as from all the other musicians, including chat microphones and all instruments and voice microphones. This allows you to personalise your mix during the session.
There is also a chat function, useful when the audio fails. The additional video and recording features will be enabled depending on your subscription level, as well as the ability to broadcast.
For a more advanced configuration, there is a sessions properties box
Through 'find session' in the main menu you should be able to find the public sessions from other musicians, and join in to jam if you wish.
The 'catch' is that at the time of writing I could not find a way to organise the sessions by proximity or ping time, so I could join the ones where my latency would be lower. Therefore the only way to know if the session is going to work for you latency wise is to join and try. Perhaps this will change in the future.
A great addition to the world of online jams. In a nutshell, I was able to get it all up and running faster than Jamulus or JackTrip, as it is a more polished and commercial app.
The catch is if you are willing to pay for the subscription and if they have enough servers in your country. So try before you buy and have fun !
Click here if you are ready to sign-up for JamKazam and give it a try