JamKazam - Setting up a Virtual Jam Sessions: Part 1
Updated: Dec 2, 2020
If you’re like most musicians, most of us have had our gigs cancelled and many of us are not rehearsing as a group because we’re practicing social distancing or our rehearsal venue may be closed. That’s not awful for our independent practice time but musicians who perform should practice AND rehearse. I’m a firm believer that THERE IS NO VIABLE SUBSTITUTE FOR INDEPENDENT PRACTICE and LIVE REHEARSAL, if you want to perform well as a group.
So, about a year ago one of my friends introduced me to the online realm of music collaboration.
The main product he uses is called Jamkazam. There are others like Sofasession, Kompoz, Jamulus, and Splice but they all fundamentally work the same and have similar limitations... phone lines. I’m a drummer and my practice instrument is a digital drum set, so this is a short review of my experience with Jamkazam. Note there are other ways of creating/recording music and collaborating online, like the iOS app, Acapella, but it doesn’t provide the simulated live rehearsal and independent jamming experience as Jamkazam and the ones mentioned above.
To get started playing online with one of the above products you’ll need:
1) a good “hard-wired” internet connection (wi-fi won’t cut it),
2) a computer that meets the minimum software requirements,
3) the music collaboration App or software (Jamkazam in this case),
4) a USB interface (and cables) to attach your instrument to your computer is recommended,
5) your instrument. If you have a non-digital instrument, such as a trumpet, voice or piccolo… you’ll need a microphone to get the sound of your instrument into the computer via your USB connection.
6) a nice pair of headphones is recommended if you don’t wish to disturb others
and the site discusses that in more detail.
The Jamkazam software definitely works but it’s a bit slow and clunky during startup. Once you get going it seems to be pretty normal, if you have a good internet connection. You’ll find several options to customize your volume controls, add backing tracks, a metronome and other technical settings for recording/listening.
The software and service, both which are free, invites you to set up an account and you’ll immediately be able to connect and navigate to hear and see others playing if they intend for folks to watch. I usually keep my camera off. It’s also possible to set up a personal room and invite specific folks to jam with you, which is the route I normally go. For a price, you can also purchase one or more of their backing tracks (JamTracks) to play along with you and/or your group. They say there are over 4000 songs available and many popular songs and jazz standards are available. I think the cost averages a few bucks but I’m not 100% certain, as I have only purchased two.
HARDWARE: You can use the mic that comes with your PC or laptop camera to get started, but as
I recommended above, a USB interface is better to produce the optimum sound. The average
interface box is about $100. I use a ProSonus Audiobox 96. The box is pretty basic but it seems to be reliable and is powered by the computer’s USB connection. It has two XLR – ½” combo inputs and has controls for gain, input and the mix of your instrument online. There are many other options, such as USB mics, Roland's GO:MIXER, the iRig or other digital camera/mic options. My friend who plays trumpet has successfully used his Zoom camera as an option. You'll need to abide by the manufacturer's recommendations for your own hardware and instrument combination.
PERFORMANCE: This is the area where most music collaboration software struggles. All of the offerings mentioned in this article are extremely dependent on the best internet connection you have available. Bluetooth or mobile hotspots won’t produce a good environment to interact with others, so don’t waste your time trying.
With Jamkazam, the user interface is not the simplest to navigate and there are technical areas I don’t bother because I don’t understand them – I’m a drummer, remember. However, I have found that taking time to get the levels on your instrument “dialed-in” is VERY important. It also helps with reducing delay time if everyone keeps their video turned off. The largest group I have ever performed with is four, a keyboard/singer, guitar, bass and me. We were playing Beatles songs that we all knew, just for fun. I have not yet held or participated in an actual rehearsal with Jamkazam because I simply have not found many musicians, until now, who have considered doing so.
SUMMARY: If your technology works as expected, your experience with Jamkazam will be interesting but it will NOT be much like an actual live rehearsal. There are similar products that allow for music collaboration and most are free to sign up, but they offer add-on features. You will experience delays with the music when you interact with others. Those who are very far away will cause and experience unacceptable delays, although none of the services acknowledges that fact. See my list of pros and cons for Jamkazam below:
- It’s free to sign up and play
- Thousands of other musicians use the product
- If not playing, the forum can also be used to listen to selections and have group discussions
- Your first JamTrack download is FREE and they work very well with the software
- Limited tech support is available (they helped me once with my settings)
- Successful use relies on great internet service
- The delays that occur, at times, make Jamkazam impossible to use
- The user interface is slow on start-up and not the simplest to navigate
- Random folks can virtually wander into your jam session and disrupt it with a loud instrument
- You’ll need a USB interface box and headphones to have the best experience
For those who hate to read directions or other commentary:
Use Jamkazam to connect your instrument to a computer and jam online with others from around the world.
- Download the software
- Connect your instrument
- Make the necessary adjustments
- Join others online to play/record
Ease of use: Fairly Simple
Sound: Noticeable delays when playing
I'll try to demo a few other products later and will post a review once I'm done.
Finally, special thanks to Magic Ray of Magic Ray Jazz for helping to share this information via social media with our local partners. A few of you have shared information about your own experiences with hardware and online music software with me. Please continue to do so and I'll be happy to partner with anyone else who has an interest in sharing information to get more of us playing online in the interim. My email is below if you'd like to send me a note.