Banding together around the world

Danny Allen explains why interacting with musicians from all over the world is beecoming easier than ever.

So, music technology has got to the point where aspiring music producers and DJs can start tinkering and creating with only a modest outlay compared to even a few years ago. As I've mentioned in previous columns, there's now a huge range of sometimes-free software, and entry-level hardware products out there, but there can still be inherent musical issues with a basic bedroom setup.

One of the biggest problems is that, at some point, most maestros will be keen to get feedback on their music, see how other people work, and even collaborate on projects. This is where the Internet comes in; par­ticularly if your musical friends don't live close enough to swing by for a jam.

Arguably, collaboration software got its real kick-start around 1999, when ResRocket's Rocket Network service launched. It used the Inter­net as a "virtual studio", which enabled online collaboration, and it eventually plugged into sequencing packages such as Steinberg's Cubase and Digidesign's Pro Tools (which still includes Internet collaboration features).

Unfortunately, ResRocket's early promise failed to create lasting success and, since the company appears to have fallen by the wayside, various alternatives have emerged to fill the gap left behind.

One particularly interesting, freely available and more per­formance-focused collaboration tool was DASE (Distributed Audio SEquencer). Developed by Kenny Sibir - the producer of Aussie hip-hop outfit The Herd - DASE was used at the original launch of the SoundHouse at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum in 2001. The Herd (www.elefanttraks.com) has since moved on to software including FL Studio and Ableton Live.

FL Studio 5 (www.flstudio.com) has a great new built-in feature called Collab (see FIGURE 1). Collab allows those creating music in FL Studio to not only chat and exchange music project files, but also to create their own groups and work on a project together. The easy-to-use interface gives you access to song revisions, listings of changes, and samples for the project itself. It's definitely worth a look, although it isn't quite like recording or creating a song in real time.

Collaborative cool

This is one of the reasons why a new service on called digital musician.net (www.digitalmusician.net) has gained so much interest.

On the verge of launching as I write this, the service will work in your favourite sequencer as a VST plug-in allowing for distributed, real-time audio production with similarly-equipped users anywhere in the world. Webcams and chat rooms will be supported, plus online forums and tutorials on the Web site to keep you up to date on the latest news.

For example, imagine you need a vocalist for a song you're writing. Use the service to find a singer and organise a time. They could be in England singing into a microphone connected to their PC and at that very same moment, you're in Australia recording takes and watching their microphone technique as things progress. That's just plain cool in anyone's language!

Digital musician.net uses a patent pending method allowing audio and MIDI information to be kept in sync even though it's being sent and received over the Internet. However, you'll need a fast connection - for CD quality recording, an ADSL broadband connection with at least 384Kbps upstream is required (many 512Kbps plans only provide 128Kbps upstream).

Although you'll need to pay for the more advanced features, a free basic trial of the service should be available by the time you read this. There's also an explanation video to watch to better get your head around the concept.

Digital musician.net is a great way to collaborate online, but you'll need a fast upstream connection(Click here to view image).

Another real-time Web jamming program that's popped up this year is the free cross-platform and open source Ninjam (www.ninjam.com), which stands for Novel Interval-based Network Jamming Architecture for Music[ians]. You can connect to Ninjam public jamming areas (called Jam Farms) or set up your own private Ninjam server.

Ninjam also employs a custom technique to offset latency, allowing everybody connected to (pretty much) play in time and, although it mainly uses OGG Vorbis audio compression, a final song can also be saved at CD quality.

You'll need some decent CPU grunt and a broadband connection, but give it a shot if you're curious. We've put the software on this month's cover disc and you may be surprised by the experience.

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Danny Allen

PC World
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