I used to think that it would be impossible to jam with other musicians remotely. It seems like we only just started dealing with audio latency and now we’re already thinking of adding P2P technology into the equation… Let’s find out how some musicians are making that work!
In response to the current global situation, lots of musicians have started searching for alternatives to play with one another. Lots of solutions have started popping up such as Jamulus, Jamkazam and NINJAM. Most of these applications/plug-ins are FREE and allow you to play with other musicians remotely. However, it doesn’t mean that you’ll get optimal results without some proper preparation. That’s what the rest of this article is dedicated to, along with going over these services one by one.
- The difficulties with remote jam sessions
- How to optimize your remote jam sessions
- Jamulus (FREE/Open-Source)
- Jamkazam (FREE/Premium)
- NINJAM (Included with Cockos Reaper)
- Is this the way of the future?
The difficulties with remote jam sessions
If you’re still having difficulty with audio latency, then you’re definitely NOT equipped to play with other musicians remotely. The main difficulty that you’ll experience playing with other musicians remotely is network latency (ping).
It’s another form of latency which is caused by several factors:
- The speed of each user’s internet connection
- The distance of each user relative to the server
- The amount of users connected to the server
- The type of network connection (cable, DSL, etc…)
- The amount of network traffic
Of course, you’ll also need to add any audio latency you’re already experiencing to that equation.
That’s affected by…
- Your audio interface
- Your CPU performance
In other words, you’ll most likely have technical difficulties if the members of your server aren’t working together to optimize audio/network latency.
Even if you were prepared to the best of your abilities, keep in mind that there’ll always be latency.
However, we’ll be learning how to minimize that latency!
How to optimize your remote jam sessions
The first thing you’ll need to do (all of you), is to connect your computer to the internet using an ethernet cable (not WI-FI). If you don’t have the option (which would surprise me), you need to use 5GHz, not 2.4GHz.
That’s the essential solution for network latency.
If you’re still combatting audio latency… I suggest reading this article I wrote.
If you’re too busy though, I understand. To summarize that article, you’ll significantly improve your audio latency by using state-of-the-art CPUs like the 9th/10th generation Intel processors.
I also recommend using Thunderbolt audio interfaces (read more about those here).
Now, the next logical step would be to purchase the most expensive internet package you can afford… JUST KIDDING.
That may not be necessary depending on the software you choose to work with (more on that coming up).
However, you’ll definitely want to make sure that your internet connection is as good as possible. For example, cable is better than DSL (it’s also less prone to traffic spikes).
Fiber is even better, but it’s WAY too expensive at the moment.
So if you were going to ask me, I’d say go with cable internet.
The bandwidth/speed you’ll need is similar to online gaming which is between 30-60 MB/s. I know that may not be standard for all geographical locations (especially if you’re outside major cities), but it’ll really make the experience better.
Also, keep in mind that EVERYONE needs to cooperate.
If one musician’s connection is slower, it slows down the entire operation.
Perhaps one of the most popular remote jamming applications is Jamulus. That’s probably because it’s FREE, but is it really good enough?
The answer to that question depends on what you’ll be doing with it.
If you’re just planning to rehearse with your bandmates, then Jamulus is great. If you want to use it to broadcast remote concerts/performances, it’s probably not the best option.
Jamulus DOES provide you with its own servers, but you can also use your own if you prefer.
It has servers all around the world, so it should accommodate your location.
The main issue you’ll experience with Jamulus is latency (obviously). However, the application hasn’t provided any other solutions other than monitoring the processed output (not the direct output) which can be difficult to adjust to.
You’ll need to compensate your playing which will be awkward, especially for drummers and singers.
Still… I think it’s an excellent option to substitute rehearsals and it won’t cost you ANYTHING!
If you’re looking for something a little more comprehensive, then Jamkazam is the application you need. It leverages the power of P2P and DSP to give you the ability to…
- Broadcast (audio/video)
If Jamulus and OBS had a child… It would look like Jamkazam.
With that kind of infrastructure, streaming remote concerts/performances and teaching remotely becomes possible.
Jamkazam also supports VST/AU plugins and believe it or not… MIDI!!
That makes it a really powerful tool for collaborating on remote recording sessions.
In other words, you can route Jamkazam’s output into your DAW as if it were an input on your audio interface. Think of it as a virtual mixing console.
Being loaded with all these features though, you know it has a price!
You can easily try it out for FREE with a maximum session length of 1 hour and a monthly allocation of 4 hours.
That may be suitable for most, but Jamkazam also offers more to users interested in integrating this tool into their workflow. They’ve got pretty affordable monthly rates considering what you’re getting here.
NINJAM (Included with Cockos Reaper)
I think NINJAM has provided the most logical solution to network latency. Instead of fighting the latency, they’ve decided to work with it by making it musical!
What that means is the latency/delay is quantized into musical units of measure and buffered.
The party selects the optimal delay time (usually in beats) and accommodates their rehearsal to fit that variable. In other words, everyone will be playing one beat behind, but it’ll sound in time.
Of course, it’ll take some adjustment… BUT it’ll result in perfect synchronization.
It’ll also serve as some sort of musical exercise for your entire band!
NINJAM actually comes with Cockos Reaper because they’re the ones who created it. It can be integrated into your DAW in the form of a plug-in or it can be used as its own standalone application if you don’t use Reaper.
If your internet connection isn’t the best, NINJAM is the perfect alternative.
It makes it possible for EVERYONE to play remotely while cleverly overcoming latency.
Is this the way of the future?
I can’t say for sure, but I definitely think that these types of applications will become better and more popular (especially with what’s going on in the world). We can also agree that it’s much more practical/affordable than hauling all your gear around the world!
However, keep in mind that we’ll always be fighting with some form of latency (no matter how fast the connection is).
I’m not convinced that these online jamming applications will replace the real deal though.
If I were going to pick one to replace my rehearsals altogether, I really believe that Cockos NINJAM has the best solution.
After getting used to the predictable delay/latency (the buffer), it provides the most accurate results.
For anything major/commercial, I think Jamkazam has become THE tool to use.
What do you think? Did I miss anything? I’ll be updating this post every now and then to include new relevant applications and knowledge on the subject.
In the meantime, I encourage you to share this article with any musicians you plan on playing remotely with. Let’s make sure we’re all on the same page (or webpage in this case)!
Thanks for reading, let me know if you have any questions in the comments.