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Online remote jamming can get you through the winter and beyond

Updated: Jan 26, 2021

Now that we’ve settled in for a long pandemic winter without in-person jams or bluegrass events, don’t despair. You can jam with others from the warmth and safety of your own home, maybe even in your jammies. Let’s look at three online jam platforms -- JamKazam, Jamulus and SonoBus -- that enable real time jamming.

This is not like playing along with someone on a video conferencing app, such as Zoom or Skype, where you have to be muted because the audio delay is too great. These jamming platforms are designed to reduce audio latency and deliver high quality sound. You’ll hear the other musicians and they’ll hear you, generally so close to in-time that you may not notice the latency between you.

While there are differences between these platforms, they all work in the same basic way: download a computer app and set up your audio gear in the app, then join sessions with your local jam buddies and/or bandmates and play together as if you were in the same room. You can also connect and jam with musicians near and far who you’ve never met.

Gear you’ll need

Set-up for these platforms is easier than it sounds. You may need to make a small investment in gear, if you don’t already own the following items:

  • Computer (Windows or Mac)

  • USB audio interface

  • Microphone(s)

  • Headphones

  • Ethernet (wired) internet connection -- WiFi is not recommended

Choosing a USB audio interface: A USB audio interface is a device that allows you to connect a microphone and instrument to your computer. For online jamming, an interface provides better quality sound than the internal computer mic. There are many brands and types of USB audio interfaces on the market. The most important consideration is how many inputs you’ll need. For example, if you are going to use a mic for your voice and one for your instrument -- or plug in an acoustic-electric instrument or instrument pick-up, you’ll need two inputs. You can find bundles that include the interface, condenser mic, headphones, and an XLR cable from all the major online sellers.

Choosing a microphone: If you can only buy one microphone, a condenser mic is the way to go for singing while playing an acoustic instrument. Condensers are more sensitive than dynamic mics, allowing you to be further away so that the mic picks up both your voice and your instrument.

More about the platforms

Now, let’s take a look at the features and differences of the three platforms. You can get more details and technical specs on the respective websites.

  • Paid subscriptions. Levels differ in terms of price, number of sessions per month, session time, and functionality. There is a free option, with very limited time and sessions.

  • A social component that lets users find other musicians based on location and/or genre, and “friend” each other.

  • Find and join open public jams.

  • Create private sessions that only invited musicians may join.

  • Built-in recording capability.

  • Built-in video capability, though many people feel that using video compromises the stability of the session and leave it turned off.

  • Share audio files in a session (e.g. backing tracks).

  • Share PDF charts within a session.

  • Chat and messaging.

  • Set-up is a little more complicated than the other platforms.

  • Generally good sound quality but sessions can be unstable at times. The developers are working to both lower latency and improve stability.

  • Free

  • Jams can take place on open public servers, which anyone can join at will. They’re organized by genre and location.

  • Or, a private server can be set up using the Jamulus server software that comes with the app. That can run on your computer, a separate local server (hardware) or on a data center server.

  • Simple set-up and easy-to-use.

  • Generally good sound quality.

  • No recording capability within the app, but recording can be enabled in the server software.

  • No built-in video.

  • Free

  • Nicely designed, simple interface.

  • Easy set-up.

  • Good sound quality.

  • Ability to create both private and public groups for sessions.

  • Built-in recording capability.

  • No video capability.

  • Can take quite a bit of fiddling with settings to get latency to a playable level.

There are other platforms out there; none are perfect. Your experience may vary depending on your internet service and equipment, that of other users in your session, as well as other internet usage in your household.

But, it’s amazing that remote jamming is even possible. And, lots of musicians, including some RIBA members and others in the southern New England bluegrass community are on these platforms. And you'll find bluegrassers from other states on these platforms, as well.

Hope to see you online this winter and in-person in the year to come!

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