The Virtual Band: How to Jam Online with Other Musicians Via Video Calling

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Musician Darren “Harts” Hart rode the success of a song posted on his Facebook page from his native Australia all the way to Paisley Park, USA.

The song, Leavn It All Behind, went viral toward the end of 2013, catching the attention of the late Prince who invited Harts to jam with him at his Minneapolis home. That attention led to commercial success in the UK and Australia, and independent radio play around the world.

 

Album released and career established–he’s landed a deal with U.S. label Razor & Tie–Harts is now helping other musicians make the digital leap into the music industry. He is overseeing the creation of a virtual band in Australia that brings together three remotely located musicians who’d never previously met, and who collaborate exclusively through video calling. It’s a concept that can change the way musicians find each other, and how 21st century music is made.

Creating a Virtual Band

The band Harts is mentoring isn’t an organic group in the traditional rock ‘n roll sense of young musicians meeting at school or by catching each other’s acts at local venues.

The three musicians involved were selected through an online audition, and the whole act is being supported by the Australian government as part of the marketing around a nationwide program to upgrade the country’s broadband network.

The musicians working with Harts have been chosen for their technical abilities, and if they can come together over video calling to produce original music despite being separated by thousands of miles, it may inspire other remote musicians to reach out over the internet and find ways to express themselves.

The chosen musicians have been left to their own devices to collaborate and jam together online using services such as Google Hangouts, and will only link up with Harts for guidance and some production wizardry once a month.

So just how do you jam online?

How to Play Music Online

We’ve written before about the trouble you can run into trying to synchronize live music online. Essentially, you need a high-speed line like Internet 2, and a little patience, to overcome the latency problems that make beat-perfect duets difficult.

For an informal jam though, things work in much the same way as any group video chat–albeit with an emphasis on using a quality microphone, and decent internet.

When it comes to hardware, the video chat equipment built into your average laptop, for instance, isn’t going to cut it. Nor is the pocket-sized little clip-on webcam you find at the cheapest end of the market.

Instead, you’ll need to find a quality camera that includes a solid noise reduction microphone, and probably something with a little more focus to its audio beam. Still, there are some solid webcams available around the $100 mark that’ll do the job, and you can always resort to the tried and tested egg carton and cardboard baffles route to make the most of your in-room acoustics.

It’s easier still if you’re sharing pre-recorded riffs and ideas, as most VC platforms now come with data sharing features, and there are a bunch of online production suites you can download–and try for free–that let you multitrack and reassemble anything captured digitally.

The more difficult part is getting consensus on what is needed, and where, among a group of creative minds. But there’s a VC platform for that too.

Social Video Conferencing

There’s a trend in video calling toward always-on, instant platforms.

Houseparty, for instance, is winning a place on the smartphones of teenagers by letting them chat whenever someone else is online in what’s been tagged spontaneous togetherness. It’s a perfect way for a virtual band to operate.

You just send through a notification when inspiration has struck, or if you’ve finished recording your section of a piece, and then instantly share it with your virtual bandmates. Houseparty also allows friends of friends to join in on private chats, which is central to the word of mouth way bands and communities of musicians form in the real world.

And that seems to be the real challenge for the future of the virtual band.

Yes, once you’re all together it’s easy enough to exchange riffs and pieces, but how do you know which fellow musicians out there would be the perfect collaborators? It doesn’t take a musician-specific social app to get things going, just a space on an existing two-way service that’ll let musical accidents happen. YouNow already has a section cordoned off for live music performance, it just needs to open it up for audience participation beyond a simple chat service.

The key to Harts’ success wasn’t so much that he could create music online, it’s that he found a way to use digital technology to find real-time collaborators–we’ll be watching to see how he goes about teaching others how to pull off the same trick.

Image Source: Flickr CC User Wonderlane

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