The impact of COVID-19 on music making
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many who were able to began to work from home or work remotely as a safety precaution. A survey conducted by Apollo Technical suggests that in may 2020, over 26% of the employed worked from home and over the course of the pandemic, that number increased to about 70%. Technology is capable of incredible things, making this remote work possible without the presence of an office or communal workplace. For musicians however, this is a different story.
When the pandemic hit, performing arts were the first to be hit and are still in the process of fully coming back to where they were before both financially and programmatically. Between January 2020 and May 2020, the unemployment rate for performing artists jumped from 1.7% to 27.4%
A large factor in this is the fact that many musicians must be close to each other in confined spaces and unmasked in order to rehearse and perform. Because of this, it was extremely unsafe for musicians to make music together in person. While most of the world turned to programs like Zoom and Skype, musicians were unable to use these technologies due to concerns over sound quality, lagging internet connection, and network latency.
What is latency?
Latency by definition is the time it takes data to go from one point on a network to another. From JamKazam, “latency is the time from the instant that another musician plays a note on their instrument until you hear that note in your headphones. If latency is too high, it becomes difficult or even impossible to play music together – because you hear other musicians in your group playing behind you.”
Latency can be affected by distance between you and the server and also by bandwidth. If you have ever tried to sing with a friend over Zoom but one of you found the other was always delayed, high latency was the problem. This is obviously a big problem if you are attempting to play music together at the same time over the internet.
What’s the solution?
There are some things that can be done to help improve latency by the use such as purchasing higher bandwidth, connecting through ethernet, and making sure all internet equipment is up to date.
There are also programs specifically designed for low latency video conferencing and music performance. These programs have been used by students, music teachers, and professionals to rehearse, perform, and record throughout the past two years.
What online music collaboration tools are out there?
Programs like Acapella and Avid Cloud Collaboration with ProTools allow for live collaboration in producing music by allowing multiple people to contribute to a single project.
Avid products are more often used by professionals and pre-professional students in the field. This is essentially like google docs, but for music producing and mixing. Avid Cloud collaboration offers a way for you to work with others on a project without having to physically be together or share massive files.
Acapella was adopted by many amature musicians and younger students due to the easy to use app which allows anyone to easily record duets, trios, and quartets with themselves or any other user using nothing but a phone. Acapella is a video recording and mixing platform. To use it, you start by recording one video at a time either live into the app or by uploading an existing video. You can then listen back with headphones and play along with the initial recording of yourself, or someone else, to add additional parts to the video. You can then trim the video and mix the audio to create a produced duet, trio, or quartet completely in the app. Then just export and share. There is even a sharing feature within the app which adds to the ease of collaboration.
This still leaves the question of how musicians can hold concerts and perform live and rehearse with each other remotely.
Tools like JamKazam, Aloha, and Jamulus are all products created to help musicians “jam” simultaneously over a network connection with each other. These platforms work by allowing musicians to play live and processing their audio together. Each performer has their own setup through a computer using a microphone (or audio interface for electric instruments) and headphones.
Additionally, these tools allow you to live broadcast your collaborative performances. JamKazam offers the opportunity to simulcast through YouTube, Facebook or Twitch. Giving musicians the chance to host their own remote concerts which has been especially important in the past two years of the pandemic.
Remote Audio Processing
As each musician performs into their computer, the audio is converted to digital audio, processed, and streamed to each of the other collaborators. In JamKazam, for example, the app on your computer takes the audio streams of the other musicians, plus your audio stream, mixes all three audio streams together, and plays back the total mix of all three musicians out through the audio interface into your headphones. These types of apps are designed with the latency issue in mind, so ideally this audio processing happens so quickly that you hear as if you are in the same room as the other musicians.
What are the benefits of this technology post-pandemic?
While many musicians, students, and ensembles are eager to get back to “normal” by having in-person concerts and rehearsals, there are still some huge benefits to continuing the use of these collaborative technologies in tandem with traditional practices.
These technologies give students more autonomy to create and share their own music with classmates outside of the classroom. During a typical music class, whether that is band or orchestra or even general music, students often all follow the direction of the teacher together in an ensemble or group setting. With the introduction of technologies like Acapella and Flipgrid which allows for video sharing within a class group, students can perform and record individually and share with each other. This kind of individual collaboration and sharing is only effectively possible with the help of these resources due to classroom setup and time constraints for large music classes. Many music classes are well above the average class size for a subject like math or science. In order to have each student perform individually could take multiple class periods and cause the class to be less helpful for everyone overall. With the use of a tool like flip grid, students can share their individual work and have other students view and comment on it without the use of class time. This kind of collaboration creates more ownership in each student’s musical endeavors and helps with critical thinking of observing others. The benefit of this can be seen even with the integration of in-person music classes.
Professionally, remote performing allows groups to make music and perform together who may live in different places whether that is friends in different states, or inter-cultural projects by musicians on different continents. Another benefit is concert venue rental for small ensembles.
For smaller ensembles who may just be starting out and looking for exposure, it can be daunting to rent a venue and sell tickets. Using something like JamKazam to perform and stream a concert, they are able to promote their concert and sell tickets completely virtually, potentially reaching a larger audience and cutting costs.
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“Acapella – Pitch Perfect. Music Maker. Sing & Collaborate With Friends.” Mixcord, 2022. https://www.mixcord.co/pages/acapella.
Cunningham, Margo. “Technology Integration in Arts Education.” AMT Lab @ CMU. AMT Lab @ CMU, July 24, 2020. https://amt-lab.org/podcasts-interviews/2020/7/technology-integration-in-arts-education.
How to Use the Acapella App. YouTube. YouTube, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WX3imwWmgmc.
Marrone, James V., Susan A. Resetar, and Daniel Schwam. “The Pandemic Is a Disaster for Artists.” RAND Corporation. The RAND Blog, August 4, 2020. https://www.rand.org/blog/2020/07/the-pandemic-is-a-disaster-for-artists.html.
“Statistics on Remote Workers That Will Surprise You (2022).” Apollo Technical LLC. Apollo Technical LLC, January 16, 2022. https://www.apollotechnical.com/statistics-on-remote-workers/.
“What Is Latency? | How to Fix Latency.” Cloudflare. Accessed March 15, 2022. https://www.cloudflare.com/learning/performance/glossary/what-is-latency/.
Wilson, David. “How Does Jamkazam Work?” JamKazam, 2020. https://jamkazam.freshdesk.com/support/solutions/articles/66000122531-how-does-jamkazam-work-.
Wilson, David. “How to Use Broadcast Features.” JamKazam, October 2020. https://jamkazam.freshdesk.com/support/solutions/articles/66000124875-how-to-use-broadcast-features.
Wilson, David. “What Is Latency & Why Does It Matter?” JamKazam. JamKazam, September 3, 2020. https://jamkazam.freshdesk.com/support/solutions/articles/66000122532-what-is-latency-why-does-it-matter-.