Why is it so difficult to jam online with others?
Latency is the time it takes to process information and share it. In real life, this happens incredibly quickly, but the lag between us online is too great. By the time you harmonize to the thing you heard and send that back, it is out of synch and too late.
Music, especially long notes, played over an app primarily designed to squeeze voice over precious bandwidth winds up sounding rather tinny and thin. The app tries to simplify the sounds, and removes much of it to save bandwidth, automatically moving the microphone levels to adjust volume, and basically treating music like a phone-call. In order to make Zoom and other VOIP software work more efficiently, we have to make some music-centric adjustments. In Zoom, as an example, we have to turn off the automatic volume adjustment on the microphone, and turn on “enable original sound” as an option in our meetings. Without these adjustments, the music our computer sends out isn’t very robust.
Downstream jamming options
One alternative is “downstream sharing.” One single source can share a clean audio signal with everybody, and everybody else can listen and play along as they like.
To downstream jam on Zoom, only one source can send the original musical signal. The other participants must mute so as not to accidentally confuse things with an out-of-sync accompaniment. We participate downstream as we listen to the single sender who is upstreaming – sharing their ‘open mic’ style solo song – as we all accompany along at home on mute. It is important to enable “original sound” in Zoom both before the meeting starts (under Settings > Meetings) and then after joining the meeting by clicking the three dots or “more” section at the top of the screen.
Twitch is an online streaming platform. Viewers can watch and answer back in a chat window, as Community Jams provides a livestream jam of requested songs. Twitch doesn’t allow users to share their video like Zoom does, but it allows for a cleaner musical source as well as sharing our Bsteele app online in real time. Viewers can simply click our link at www.twitch.tv/communityjams, request songs in the chat window, see us and our music charts, and play along at home.
NINJAM is an open-source, online protocol which helps musicians play live music together over the internet. NINJAM works with the necessity of online lag by delaying and extending it. Since a downstream user can never ‘catch up’ and play with an upstream user in real-time, NINJAM delays everybody’s playback by one ‘phrase’ of the song. An upstream user will start playing, but downstream users won’t hear it until the timing is correct to start the next phrase. When they play back, their music is shared upstream as well, one phrase delayed and synched up correctly. Essentially, this means everybody is playing against what everybody else played one phrase ago, and is hearing everybody else delayed, and everybody else is hearing them delayed by one phrase, but perfectly synched up. NINJAM requires an ethernet/wired internet connection, an audio interface for a computer, and some practice to use, but it provides the only viable alternative currently available for playing online with real people.
For more details on how we are working with NINJAM, click here.
While downstream jamming is far from ideal, these online events provide crucial social and musical outlets for musicians during these trying times. Sharing your music, however we can, with like-minded friends provides validation and hope during moments of need, even if what we are sharing pales when compared to what we’re used to.
Join Community Jams online as we continue to connect our music, and our community.