Music at Long Distance – Online Creation and Collaboration Tools from Abbey Road Red

In this article, Abbey Road Red’s Junior Programme Manager, David Fong, tackles a question that many artists and musicians may be asking in these uncertain times. While in isolation, how can we jam, write or record a song together with our fellow musicians as seamlessly as possible and in (almost) real-time?

As a follow-up to the recent blog from our Technical Services team about the remote tools they use, the good news is that several solutions to this problem have already been devised by innovators in the music tech space. We’ll provide an overview of the exciting technologies for online music creation and collaboration, which we hope will give you plenty of options to choose from.
 

Introduction

Latency caused by transmitting audio over the internet can get in the way of achieving coordination with other musicians in real-time. While there are premium hardware-based solutions that can power real-time jamming and recording, as of yet, we’ve not found a solution that has a sufficiently low latency of 20 milliseconds or less to allow more casual users to do so.

However, all is not lost. Within the music tech landscape, we see many alternative solutions that can help you create music collaboratively online. We have identified two main types of technologies that may help you to bridge the distance between yourself and other musicians. These are are music creation apps and cloud-based platforms
 

Music Creation Apps

The first segment we will look at is music creation apps, which you can use to sketch musical ideas and share them or create fully fledged tracks on portable devices collaboratively.

If you are a vocalist working with a beatmaker, you may want to use your collaborator’s instrumental track to record your vocal lines over. With Abbey Road Studios’ very own free Topline app, you can import this instrumental directly onto a project and record several vocal lines on voice tracks. When you are happy with a result, you can share the audio file with the beatmaker via email or WhatsApp and even sync your projects on Google Drive, Dropbox or iCloud.
 
 
If you are a guitarist wanting to run a virtual recording session with your band, the free AudioBridge app is a perfect fit. Through a dedicated chatroom, you can communicate with your band members, post all your recorded tracks, and place them into a single multi-track project.

There are also applications centred on collaborative music making from the outset. Endlesss, having just launched its free app, is a highly specced short-form audio platform where you can meet new collaborators anywhere in the world and create tracks alongside them, as well as make music with other musicians in real-time through livestreams hosted on Twitch.
 
 
Similarly, Music Maker JAM, available for free, lets you combine studio-quality samples into tracks which you can easily share with collaborators on SoundCloud, Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram. Soundstorming, also free to use, is an app you can use to brainstorm musical ideas with your collaborators by recording and layering parts on top of each other.
 

For those of you exploring novel approaches to music creation, we recommend trying out the following AI-assisted apps:

If you are a vocalist in need of an instrumental, you can turn to Humtap, an alumnus of our Abbey Road Red incubation programme. Generate your instrumental using AI simply by humming a melody and rhythm, choosing a genre to base the style in and Humtap while do the rest, letting you adjust parameters after it’s shown you the resulting track. You can then import it into Topline to add your vocal line.

Similarly, you can use Boomy to create an AI-generated instrumental track which can be exported as a MIDI or audio file, ready to be developed further within a sequencer of your choice together with your collaborators. You will definitely enjoy Jambl if you are excited by the prospect of quickly creating instrumental tracks to insert into your own music videos with a fun and easy-to-use touch and drag interface. Symphonia will be particularly suited to you if you like to sing and share musical ideas, as the app intelligently transcribes them into MIDI so that you can then import them into your favourite sequencer.
 
 

If instead you prefer to stick to a traditional music production workflow in a mobile app environment, one of the following multi-track music creation apps will appeal to you:

For free, Trackd gives you an 8-track studio for sketching music which you can share via the app, Facebook or Twitter. It also acts as a platform for collaborating on a track together through online chatting and sending an unlimited number of takes to each other.

Roland’s Zenbeats app, available as a free version or as a pro version costing $14.99, adopts a sequencer-based approach to music creation and comes bundled with 23 instruments and effects. It is possible for you to share your work with others by uploading projects and even specific stems to the cloud through Google Drive or OneDrive.

Native Instruments’ iMaschine app for iOS, costing $9.99, may appeal to you if you like a beatmaking approach to music creation, as you can trigger loops and ideas by pressing on a pad within a grid. Even if only one of your musical collaborators owns Native Instruments’ Maschine hardware, all of you can now contribute to the same set of projects.
 
 

Cloud-based Platforms

At Abbey Road Red, we recognise that you may sometimes want to collaborate with multiple musicians on desktop rather than on mobile devices. For this purpose, we think that cloud-based DAWs might be an ideal solution. BandLab has been around for a few years and allows you to develop songs from start to finish with your collaborators, by working on the same project stored on the cloud together with all its revisions, all for free.

Subscription-based DAW Soundtrap, acquired by Spotify a few years ago, also stores a single project on the cloud which all your collaborators can work on together seamlessly.
 
 
If you are an instrumentalist wishing to maintain full compatibility between the desktop sequencer in your producer’s studio and the sequencer you record into at home, Apple’s Garageband for iOS and Steinberg’s Cubasis may be for you. Both are affordable options you can use to start projects on your mobile device which can be effortlessly imported into desktop sequencers Logic Pro and Cubase respectively once you return to your producer’s studio. If you are an electronic musician and wish to work on projects with other artists remotely using a Digital Audio Workstation, Splice has designed a cloud to help you synchronise projects between you and your collaborators for $7.99 a month.

For those of you wanting to record live into one of your friend’s projects, we think that ConnectionOpen will be a true lifesaver. It runs as a plugin that records the audio input from your video call with a musical collaborator directly into a sequencer using high quality audio and low latency. You can either subscribe to use the plugin on a monthly basis or pay once to use it for 24 hours.
 
 
We hope that this overview, while not exhaustive, opens up your online palette. We’ll be back with more as we see it emerge.