Meeting Report: April 2021 – Remote Music Collaboration in the time of COVID-19

On Monday April 19th, the Melbourne Section of the AES held a Zoom call for our regular bi-monthly meeting, with a good attendance of almost thirty members and visitors.

Chairman Graeme Huon introduced Dr Martin Koszolko to talk on the topic of remote music collaboration.

Martin Koszolko presents (virtually) to the AES Melbourne Section

Martin first spoke of his involvement in remote music collaboration, from 2012 as part of his PhD research. He described how he stared with an investigation into the tools available, which led to his concentrating on examples of three categories of the available cloud-based solutions namely AudioTool – a web browser-based audio workstation (a MIDI-centric DAW), Ohmstudio – a fully-fledged browser-based DAW with very advanced collaboration and communication options, and thirdly collaboration management systems available on platforms like Blend or Splice which add collaboration capabilities to existing DAWs like ProTools.

Martin then described his PhD project involving over 40 musicians across 3 continents resulting in over a thousand compositions and completed in 2016-17. On completion of his PhD he continued to use collaboration tools for his own work. He outlined the changes since 2012 – listing new products that came and went and failing platforms that were revitalized recently with an increase in demand due to COVID-19.

He covered the three categories of tools–
Virtual Studio – a joint songwriting/recording/mixing platform. This change in working methodology required a different focus from collaborators, and a specific technical demand on internet speed/latency. Platforms of this type mentioned were AudioTool, Blend, and Ohmstudio.
Live Jamming – he indicated that this presents different challenges – referring back to Fabio Marraccini’s earlier presentation (Nov 2020) he then briefly described his experiences using Jamulus streaming live to Twitch
Marketplace Networking – which he described as the use of online tools for finding collaborators.

Martin then went on to cover the past, indicating early experiments in networked music collaboration such as The League of Automatic Music Composers (1978-1983), morphing into The Hub (1986-1977). He described how, with the advent of the Internet in the 1990’s, the field progressed but was limited in the early days by slow internet speeds. The Rocket Network (1995-2003) became quite successful, with 15,000 users by 1999, as well as Beatnik (1993-1997), and the online drum machine WebDrum (1997).
Martin then moved to the present and spoke about the current classes of systems available to support music collaboration, namely Standalone and Plugin DAWs, Content Management Systems, Browser-based DAWs, Mobile Apps, Audio Streaming Plugins, Established DAWs, and Marketplace Platforms. He indicated that one online music creation and collaboration platform, BandLab now has over 30 million users.
Martin highlighted the social networking/cloud collaboration aspect of some systems, and how easy this can be overlooked, despite the significant value this can add to a creative endeavour. He then described the use of the locally installed online DAW “Ohmstudio” and noted the fact that Ohmstudio is about to close down.
He then moved on to the Satellite Plugins, which add collaboration features to your existing DAW, then on to Content Management Systems like Blend and Splice which offer cloud storage and manage your changes and assets.

He also mentioned AudioTool, a purely online DAW which runs totally in your web browser, as well as apps for mobile devices – like Bandcamp.
Then on to audio streaming plugins, like Audiomovers and Sonobus which allow real-time streaming of a feed from your DAW to your collaborators.

The AudioTool browser-based Digital Audio Workstation

He then spoke of the established DAW-makers like Steinberg (Cubase/Nuendo), Propellorhead (Reason), and Avid (ProTools) which had been adding collaboration features to their products, with limited success.

Music networking platforms like Sundae, and Spotify which offer services for collaborators were also mentioned.

He then showed a table comparing features of AudioTool, Blend, and Ohmstudio to give the audience where they fitted into the music collaboration ecosystem.

After a short discussion on the business models and monetization goals of some of the available services, Martin went on to describe the communication tools available, displaying a long list of options available in the various platforms.

He then moved on to outline some of the project management challenges, like stylistic bias, lack of technical proficiency in the tools used, communication issues, computer/network reliability issues, and the challenge of different time zones (although the use of asynchronous working options can reduce this).

He then covered some of the elements that make for a successful collaboration, like a mix of varied technical and musical skills, building relationships, and engaging the community.

Martin finished his presentation with a look at what had changed in 2020, starting with the demise of Ohmstudio, the growth of JamKazam, Jamulus, Audiomovers and the BandLab DAW, as well as the emergence of new platforms like SonoBus, Rehearsal Live Share, Satellite Plugins, and others.

We thank Martin for a most interesting and informative presentation.

The Zoom video recording of the meeting is available here and on our YouTube channel

You can view this video directly in YouTube via this link https://youtu.be/Jw-yTIal9Lg

You can learn more about Martin and his activities at https://www.musiccollaboration.online/
-and-
read his blog at https://philosophyofsound.info/

Other Links:
ohmstudio: http://www.ohmstudio.com/
Blend: https://blend.io/
Splice: https://splice.com/about#!
Audiotool: https://www.audiotool.com/
Bandlab: https://www.bandlab.com/

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