If you’re a musician and you’ve ever used FaceTime or a group Skype chat before, you’ve at least once thought about using it for collaborating with fellow musicians. Maybe you’ve even thought about using it for jamming with your band. That said, it’s not quite as easy as it seems thanks to latency and other issues.
Even though it’s a challenge, putting together an online band practice isn’t impossible. Some options are easier than others, and they all take some amount of setup. That said, playing with your band online isn’t just possible, it might open up new creative doors. You’ll need to make sure you’ve got the right setup though.
Before You Start, Check Your Gear and Internet Connection
As you might imagine, a remote band practice session relies heavily on the speed of your internet connection. It’s not just your internet connection that matters, though. Your band members will also need relatively fast broadband internet as well. Depending on your location, a cellular connection probably won’t cut it.
You’ll also need ways to get your sound into your computer. Your laptop microphone will do in a pinch, but the sound quality won’t be great. An audio interface will go a long way toward making your instrument sound better, but they’re not cheap. If you don’t have one, take a look at our list of the best audio interfaces you can buy .
Now let’s look at the apps you can use to hold online band practices.
One of the most popular tools for musicians looking to play live in real time with each other is JamKazam. The service itself is free if you want to use your own hardware, but they also sell some add-ons.
The JamBlaster is an accessory for your phone that doubles as an audio interface. This lets you use JamKazam with ultra-low latency and has other features like broadcasting to YouTube. That said, the ideal situation to use this would mean every member of your band would need their own JamBlaster.
Fortunately, you don’t need a JamBlaster in order to use JamKazam. At the basic level it works as a version of Skype for musicians. For most uses, that’s all you need.
Download: JamKazam (Free)
JamLink is a hardware solution to the online jamming problem. You and your friends can buy a special JamLink box and use it to connect to each other for a session. They cost a bit upfront, but once you have the hardware you have no more costs to pay to use them (well, other than your regular internet and household bills). Sadly, everyone playing needs to have a JamLink box—even just to listen in.
Unlike JamKazam, there is no software-only solution.
Buy: JamLink ($199 and up)
Ninjam is a multi-platform tool to start online jamming. It works beautifully and is really easy to set up. It allows users to set levels for everything they hear and to record every track. Though, it does have a few things that are worth noting.
Firstly, Ninjam hasn’t eradicated the lag problem. Rather, they’ve worked out a way to make it more workable by delaying people in measures.
This means that unless you’re an organ player you’re going to find the deliberate-sounding lag a little weird. But, if you’re keen for a little improvisation it can be really cool.
There are many public servers for NinJam, some of which will be nearby (and possibly not very active) while finding more active servers will involve checking the forums. It is also quite easy to set up your own Ninjam server for yourself and your friends.
The last point of note is that Ninjam requires you to use a Creative Commons Share-Alike license for the tracks produced even if you run your own Ninjam server.
This makes sense, when you think about it, as the software is under this license and it makes it legal for all participants to record and use the recordings. While this is fine for random jamming, you might not want to use this with your band (unless you’re willing to share your work this way).
Download: Ninjam (Free)
In some ways, Jammr is similar to the other options we’ve looked at so far. It’s a service that allows you to jam with your band over the internet. What if you don’t have a band though? Or even if you do, what do you do if they don’t feel like playing?
That’s where Jammr differentiates itself. In addition to letting you jam with people you know, Jammr also helps musicians connect with other musicians from all over the world.
If you’re sick of playing alone and your band isn’t available, this is great. Even better, when your band members are available, you can use the same software to jam with them.
Jammr is currently in beta, so all aspects of the service are free. At some point the service will offer a premium plan, but the service hasn’t revealed any pricing information.
Download: Jammr (Free)
Jamulus is similar to Ninjam in that each participant uses client software and connects to a mutual server to jam. Users can host their own server in order to get privacy for their band.
Delays are minimized wherever possible and a light will show you whether the delay between you and other band members is small enough to jam effectively or not.
Users can label their instrument for the convenience of everyone and all players can adjust the levels of the others as they see fit.
Download: Jamulus (Free)
Soundjack is a slightly different solution again, allowing both a server-client connection as well as peer-to-peer connections nominally for use within a LAN. The lag is eliminated as best as possible and you are able to communicate via text chat while you jam.
The software takes a little more effort to set up than some of the other options we’ve looked at. Fortunately, the Soundjack website has several tutorials that make the setup process much easier.
Download: Soundjack (Free)
Other Ways to Collaborate on Musical Projects
All of the options we’ve looked at here are real-time solutions that let you play live with your band. That’s the best way to capture the spirit of a band practice online, but it’s far from the only way to collaborate on music.
If you can’t get together with your band for a while, consider collaborating on a recording with them. Thanks to services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive, sharing musical projects over the internet has become very easy.
Your bandmates will need Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software in order to record, but that doesn’t mean spending cash. Take a look at our list of the best free DAW software for more information.