Video Conference Collaborations Open New Ways for Musicians to Maintain Artistic Control of Their Music

collaborating via video chat

“I can listen to the early records except the first record…it’s just the sound of the record. It was kind of mixed in a way that was…it was kind of produced.”

That’s how Eddie Vedder feels about Pearl Jam’s breakthrough 1991 album, Ten.

The album was written and recorded in the band’s native Seattle, but the final mix was made in Surrey, England by Tim Palmer. At the time, Palmer was unfamiliar with the emerging grunge sound that would dominate the early 90s, and he later admitted the band may have wanted a more “honest” production.

The band eventually got what they wanted when they commissioned a new mix of the now classic album in 2009. But there’s a lesson here for any budding musicians – key your eye on every step of the production process.

It’s also a lesson video conferencing can help bands heed.

Video Saves the Radio Star

When it comes to collaborating on music through video conferencing, timing is everything.

A lag of just a half second between musicians on either end of a video call makes it difficult to create art through music. It’s a problem so persistent that even those lucky enough to enjoy the gift of Internet2 – a private consortium of more than 200 universities linked by a network thousands of times faster than household broadband – still face delays.

The Manhattan School of Music developed a one-of-a-kind video conferencing system with Polycom that it claims as the gold standard for distance education in music. However, the School’s teachers’ still work with a half- to three-quarter-second delay when teaching students.

Those delays may soon be over thanks to technology with a very rock and roll name – LOLA.

The LOw LAtency Audio Visual Streaming System, developed by the G. Tartini Conservatory in Italy, allows for perfectly synchronised music performance by crushing the latency period down to 40 milliseconds. It’s dependent on a dedicated end-to-end connection, it operates on an enormous bandwidth of 800 megabits per second, and it’s not compatible with any commercial cameras or audio cards, but it does work.

Edinburgh Napier University and the Royal College of Music proved as much when they staged a joint performance across hundreds of miles.

As impressive as that is, the days of creating and recording wholly online way be just a few seconds too many ahead of us. In the meantime, video conferencing is of more value in ‘finishing touches’ mode.

The Sight of Sound

What current video conferencing is good at is relaying high fidelity sound. Acoustic echo cancellation uses algorithms to filter out unwanted noises like reverberations, audio reflections, and other grumbling repeated sound waves, such as moaning air conditioning units.

Other features, such as automatic gain control in conjunction with the right microphone and speakers, let video callers broadcast across the whole range of human hearing, essentially 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz.

It’s that ability to cater for the full range of human hearing that’s integral to the success of music by video conference. Most telephone services top out at around 3500 Hz. Check the EQ on your stereo, and you’re going to find higher numbers on that as well.

As always, there’s a trade-off between fidelity and frame rate when sending video through the internet. However, as there’s nothing essential to be seen when collaborating on an audio project, the average U.S. internet speed of 11 Mbps is plenty to maintain a smooth 60 frames per second speed while listening online.

All this clarity means the musicians of today can comfortably share their works with engineers and mixers the world over.

And keep an ear on the final mix at all times.

Your Ears in Our Hands

Once a band has finished recording their album with a studio producer, it’s shipped off to be mastered by yet more maestros. Describing music in words and speech is best left to the romantic poets, so it’s not always easy to convey a musical vision to that final producer by email or phone call.

In fact, often the next a band will hear of it is when a final product lands in their in-tray.

However, through video conferencing a band could put a call in at the end of each mixing session to hear just what has become of their baby. It’s a means of instantly tracking whether the bass is too low, the snare drum too dry, or the vocal too prominent.

It’s not a stretch to suggest that the shared desktop features of many video conferencing providers would let the band take control of any digital mixing board and make real-time decisions on their own sound. It’s still a debate between creators and refiners, but this way could allow the creators more direct input.

And, of course, opening up this video conversation means bands can work with experts from all over the globe without the time and expense of travel. A band in Chicago with a crush on a producer in Japan could comfortably collaborate online.

With a little digital to-and-fro, the bands of today need never have to wait 20 years to hear their own music as they intended.

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