Pumping Up the Online Jam

A new Web service called eJamming lets musicians play over the Internet. The collaboration software enables real-time jam sessions between musicians from almost anywhere. While small today, operators expect the

March 25, 2006

4 Min Read
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Collaboration is a popular buzzword for a lot of technology companies. But in the case of a recently launched software platform from eJamming Inc., the tag actually fits.

And the eJamming Station is a lot cooler than most any other "real-time" session, since the people getting together are musicians -- professional or aspiring artists playing over the Internet with their friends and complete strangers.

There are no groupies yet -- the technology has only been online for a couple months and has less than 1,000 users -- but Alan Glueckman, who founded the Boca Raton, Fla.-based company along with Gail Kantor and serves as its president, expects the community to grow once some social-networking features are added in the next few weeks that will give it a MySpace or Friendster flavor.

Users of eJamming, which the company describes as "the world's first real-time Internet-based music collaboration software," will be able to post personal profiles and search others by genre of music, style, playing ability, and location, and even send invitations to set up sessions with musicians anywhere in the world.

"You could call up a buddy of yours and each of you could get on the computer and mess around, or there's a chat room where you can look for other people to play with, which is a real cool feature," says Aaron Kaplan, a professional musician in Los Angeles.Kaplan was one of the first to use eJamming when he and two others gave a demo in January at one of the world's biggest music conventions, sponsored by the National Association of Music Manufacturers, where the technology made its debut.

"We were baffled at how well it translated into this medium. We didn't know how it would be playing together online, but it turned out to be very natural," he says. "You'd think it would be very sterile and not organic but it does feel organic."

Even though he's not active in the jam scene anymore -- as a pro Kaplan doesn't think he fits the target demographic -- but he says there's a professional application that appeals to him. He's used the software during the pre-production phase of some of his work to show others when he can't fly back and forth to New York to meet in person.

Besides a broadband Internet connection, all eJamming takes to work is a Musical Instrument Digital Interface, or MIDI, the hardware that converts audio to digital and sends it between computers. Players need their instruments to operate with a MIDI interface and a MIDI controller. Their computer must have 256 MBs of RAM; the required software is either Windows XP with at least a Pentium 3 or Mac OS X 10.3.9 with a 1 GHz G4 PowerPC processor.

"What's important is that we achieve synchrony over the Internet," Glueckman says. "The Internet has traffic jams, we all know that. It's hard for musicians to keep in time if there are delays and traffic jams."So, not only would a group with members playing in different places have a hard enough time holding a beat, but there's also the technical hurdle of relaying the sounds to the entire group. Each player hears everyone else, in sync, in real-time, except if notes are stalled; individuals can determine just how late they're willing to hear a note.

"If I'm a guy who likes my jams tight, I don't want a lot of late notes," but others might permit it, Glueckman says. "We allow musicians to set accommodations for other players to play ahead of the beat. We give the musician control of those parameters."EJamming hasn't quite conquered the latency hurdle, though. While there are some users as far away as Israel and Australia, Kaplan says that's too far away to hold a beat. "Right now the furthest we've been able to make it work is L.A. and New York and have it sound natural."

But the biggest challenge, Glueckman says, has been simplifying the process for players to configure their routers and open ports 2300 and 6500 so they can connect and start playing. "It takes less than 30 seconds to do, but the router companies make it intimidating. Gamers do it all the time for network games, but router companies should make it automatic and simpler," he says.

EJamming automatically configures newer router models, which come enabled for universal plug and play.

The software, which is free to download, caters to musicians of all abilities by offering different stages and open jam sessions, which can be made private, say, for a band wanting to work on its own material or audition other eJamming members on special "Leader Stages." A subscription to the site costs $20 per month.Sessions can be recorded -- since that's done at each individual's location, Internet latency is not a problem -- and then moved to more sophisticated audio sequencing programs for editing. In a few months, eJamming will add ReWire software that will make it possible to synchronize vocal tracks with a live session, Glueckman says.

"If you're a musician and you try this out, it's just amazing. I can't believe I can actually do this," Kaplan says. "Just that the technology works is an incredible thing."

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