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There are some musicians out there who seem to be able to do it all themselves—Prince, Dave Grohl, and a few select genius-level performers have famously written, played and produced every note on some of their albums.
But music doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Some of the most famous musical moments have come together because musicians were able to get together to create their art.
Looking at the Billboard charts or watching the Grammys, you can’t help but notice that many of the biggest songs of all time have multiple writers. In other words, musicians and songwriters worked with each other to create something special.
Unfortunately, it isn’t always possible to meet up with other musicians and songwriters in person. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still jam and write with your friends and favorite collaborators. Whether you’re limiting physical interactions with people outside of your household or your favorite collaborators are on the other side of the country, remote music collaboration is easier than ever.
We put together this guide to help you have successful remote music collaboration sessions. Keep reading to learn more about what gear you might need and a few tips to expand your musical network.
Musicians can collaborate online by sharing ideas through different virtual channels. Some prefer sending files back and forth through email while others might rather hop on a Zoom session for more immediate feedback during the songwriting and composing process.
If you’re working with another songwriter and are most comfortable with live writing sessions, a Zoom call with a decent USB microphone and headphones might be all you need for remote music collaboration. If you’re used to writing in a room with another songwriter—a practice very common in big music communities like Nashville—you’ll probably be most comfortable with this workflow.
If you prefer to write on your own schedule, even with co-writers, sharing files between yourself and your collaborators might work best for you. Cloud file-sharing services like DropBox and Google Drive can help you easily share and organize your song files and can allow your collaborators to drop in their ideas with ease.
Bandlabs is an online digital audio workstation with an online community of musicians
If you’d prefer a file sharing service that’s more immediate and music-centric than DropBox or Google Drive, there are a few options for you. Splice is a paid plugin that allows you to share tracks and stems with collaborators directly from your DAW of choice. BandLab is a free platform and browser-based DAW that similarly allows you to immediately share tracks with collaborators around the world.
Yes, it’s absolutely possible to play music together online with other musicians. Though latency makes it difficult to jam with other musicians online via common video chat programs like Zoom, there are lower latency options available.
If you’re not familiar with latency, hop on a Zoom chat with a friend. Tell them you’re both going to clap on the count of three. Chances are, your claps won’t be perfectly in sync. That’s because there’s a big delay from when information is sent and received through Zoom—which is called latency.
Jamulus and Jamtaba are two popular options for live jamming with other musicians with minimal latency. Both Jambata and Jamulus work in a similar way. Like the early days of Napster, it uses a peer-to-peer server network. This reduces the latency and allows you to play along with someone else.
Finding great collaborators has usually been an in-person affair. You might meet a collaborator at a party, at a show or through mutual friends. But how do you meet other musicians you can work with online?
Some of our favorite places to find collaborators include:
Regardless of whether you’re sketching song ideas with a friend or are laying down studio-quality instrumental parts, having the right tools is key for successful online music collaborations.
If you want your collaborators to actually hear you and your music clearly, the first thing you need is a good microphone. But what kind of microphone is best for your online music collaborations?
Before you invest in expensive microphones and audio interfaces, give some thought about how you plan on collaborating.
The Yeti and Yeti Nano are great choices for online songwriting sessions.
For writing sessions, a USB microphone like Yeti or Yeti Nano can provide high-quality sound at a fraction of the price. Plus, USB microphones are plug-and-play, which means you don’t need to buy more hardware, install any software or fuss with computer settings. Simply plug in your USB microphone, set it up so it can pick up your voice and your instrument and you’re good to go!
The Yeti and Yeti Nano have a few features that are ideal for remote music collaboration, including their variety of polar patterns—both of those microphones have cardioid and omnidirectional settings.
The cardioid pattern is ideal for capturing audio focused in a single direction. For example, a singer who plays guitar would probably be happy with the cardioid pattern. Omnidirectional is best for picking up audio from multiple sources around a room. That’s perfect when there are multiple songwriters in a room while another collaborator is in another city or even country.
For added flexibility and connection options, you may want to invest in an XLR microphone. To use an XLR microphone, you’ll need some sort of audio interface or a mixer. If you already have one of those, an XLR microphone like Spark SL has a few features you might enjoy, like a 100Hz high-pass filter and -20dB pad to bring professional versatility to your projects.
Quality sound is the most important part of online music collaboration, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also invest in a quality webcam. The Logitech StreamCam is an example of a flexible, high-resolution webcam that’s ideal for content creators and streamers like musicians.
As musicians, visual cues are an enormous indicator of whether someone loves what we’re playing or if we’re boring them to tears. In songwriting sessions, you might be looking to your collaborator’s face to see if it lights up at certain spots. For jam sessions, you need to see the people you’re playing with for changes and stops.
If you’re recording your streams, you also have the opportunity to edit and share those videos with other potential collaborators and fans. If you’re using StreamCam, you can even film your video vertically, which is ideal for Instagram, Facebook and Twitter Stories. But you could also have the other musicians you’re playing with film their video vertically so you can have a side-by-side performance that feels more like watching a full band play.
Nothing will derail your online music collaboration efforts faster than slow internet. Slow upload and download speeds will make it difficult, if not impossible, to have successful live jams or live songwriting sessions.
Even if you’re planning on sending files back and forth without virtual face-to-face time, slow upload speeds will be a huge drag as you try to upload song files. The good news is that most internet plans promise up to 5mbps (megabytes per second) upload speed when you hardwire in, so if your wifi seems painfully slow, plugging into your router might help.
So, you have a lot of the logistics of online music collaboration worked out including software, hardware and your internet connection. Now what? Here are a few ideas we have to jumpstart your online music collaboration sessions and grow your musical collaborator network.
Over the past few years, live streaming has become an increasingly popular way for creatives to grow their fanbase and their musical network.
While it’s possible to stream to Twitch, Facebook Live and YouTube with just a webcam and a USB microphone, you might want to consider looking into a free software encoder like Streamlabs. If you use Streamlabs, you can utilize a host of cool features including:
For example, you could display your working song titles and lyrics alongside your performance of them. Those watching could give you more informed feedback about your music since they’d have a lyric sheet and song title to reference when they’re sharing their thoughts.
Sometimes you come up with a cool track or write some stellar lyrics and then don’t really know what to do with the rest of the song. You might be unsure of what to add next, but your tracks could help someone else get out of their own rut.
Whether or not you have go-to collaborators, consider uploading unfinished parts to Soundcloud or BandLab and invite others to take your seed of an idea and make it their own. You might be surprised by the different ways people interpret your song starter and you could discover some stellar new collaborators.
Seattle indie rock group Deep Sea Diver did something similar in early 2020. They released a beat or a guitar part each week and asked other musicians to create whatever they were inspired to out of their early stems. In fact, the project was called Stay Home Stems and they got dozens of submissions each week.
Not only did the Stay Home Stems help Deep Sea Diver foster their own creativity, it introduced new people to the band through musicians sharing what they’d created from each Stay Home Stems session. While you don’t have to create an entire series of tracks every week like they did, the idea could grow your personal brand and your musical network.
In normal times, open mic nights and writers’ rounds are how songwriters and musicians test their new material. They use the response they get from attendees and other songwriters at those events to find opportunities to make their songs even better.
Streaming live or pre-recorded sets from different songwriters for a virtual open mic night could help build your musical network, give yourself and other songwriters the chance to try out new material and build a fanbase from the comfort of your home.
Online open mic nights can be streamed to YouTube, Facebook Live and more and can help fill the gap that social distancing has caused for songwriters. While you can’t stream to YouTube or Facebook Live with a free Zoom account, you can use something like Streamlabs to stream a Zoom session to Twitch, YouTube and more.
Remember, practice makes progress when it comes to remote music collaboration. The process of writing and jamming with other online takes as much trial and error as in-person writing and playing. Keep trying, don’t discouraged and tag #PoweredByBlue in your Instagram posts!