Israeli funk musician and producer Kutiman, creator of the famed Thru-You, is back with an encore. Once again, he’s mixing the best performances of YouTube into a single video. Calling it a “mash-up” is perhaps unfair: this is really mix and remix. It’s no different than laying down multiple tracks in a studio, except that the players were working independently in different parts of the world. “My Favorite Color” is a jazzy, soulful number, particularly carried by those incredible vocals on the original song “Green.” The rest is really arrangement, and it works pretty darned-near perfectly. (An occasional ragged rhythmic edge seems only fitting to the form.)

This raises a question. I don’t think anyone would question that the ability to work musically in the same room, to pick up on physical gestures, eye contact, and inhabit the same space together is the ideal for collaboration. But there’s no reason that shouldn’t stop musical expression from taking place in less-than-ideal circumstances, too. You could think of it less as a poor substitute for playing together in a room, and more an improvement upon lonely solo production, a chance to add collaborative musical experiences to, say, time late at night after a long day of work. It could the ability to share something with someone who would otherwise be separated by geography – as imperfect as a letter from a pen-pal, but also as intimate.

As the above video hits my inbox this week, so, too, does a new video from the creators of Ohm Studio. Among other ambitions, they hope their software production workstation, now in progress, will be Internet-connected and collaborative. In its execution, it represents nearly the opposite of the YouTube video above: whereas a tool for simple YouTube sharing is mixed together by hand, an accidental session, this software is engineered with intricate connections of workflow. On the other hand, they both represent the same idea: cloud-connected creation, across geography, between human beings.

Software workstations have traditionally not only emulated studio hardware, but assumed one person in front of one computer working in isolation. So part of what the Ohm crew have to do is to answer how one piece of software can be used by more than one person across the Internet. They make an effort to do that in this video; it’s best to watch. (Thanks to Cid Andrade from Ohm for sending this our way.)

They write:

Ok, the Ohm Studio brings real-time music collaboration. But when two people are working together in the same project, how exactly does it look like?”

We’ve just put online a sneak peek of it, a video capture of two people starting a track from scratch. We see both screens, listen to both audios, and understand how artists will be able to compose/produce as if they were together.

I still think there’s value in solo creation, but that doesn’t have to exclude collaboration. I’m curious – YouTube upload or sophisticated DAW, does any of this look practical to you? How have you collaborated online, if at all? (Or is it back to a rehearsal room or studio to work face-to-face?)

  • Groc

    I think whatever works for you. The more options, the better.  I am a solo musician but love to have other musician (who can play certain instruments better than me or have a different style that the song needs) play on my music. You might want someone to improvise or play exactly what you have written down etc. I think Ohm Studio is exciting because for me I have friends in different parts of the world that I miss collaborating with or that have a certain sound I want and of course its so expensive to travel that this would be really amazing to have. It offers more options and bridges the gap that distance causes between musician. Basically, I find I have missed collaborating with certain people from different countries over the years and this might finally fill that need.

  • Regarding real time DAW collaboration as displayed in the video I want to say that I am really impressed by the software but not really convinced that this would be a very enjoyable and intuitive form of communication. It seems rather tedious and very slow compared to face-to-face interaction and I think that because of the delay of flow of information between the collaborators (chatting or working on the track, arming tracks, "I don´t hear what you are hearing" and vice versa) it actually favours misunderstandings and even irritations that a traditional sharing of sets in turns would not (the Ableton Share approach – kind of?). Having someone cut your freshly recorded clip in half or changing the key or groove of your midi track could be compared to someone changing the pitch of my snare drum at band practice or stealing my hi-hat while I am actually playing (!). Can be fun if you like this sort of thing – can be irritating.

    Still this is interesting and I would love to try it out because just like Groc I have friend musicians who live far away.

    That was my first comment on this page. Been reading this blog for a while now so… yey! Thanks to you Peter. I really enjoy this website a whole lot!

  • Groc

    Good point Robbie with regards to some of the irritations. I have to say though that I have been just as irritated by musicians in a room trying to tell me how music should sound. I guess thats why I am a solo musician now :). I think its all about communication, in every sense. You let people know what the boundaries are before you start. I think what they were doing in the video was just for the purpose of demonstration. For people who gel together it shouldn't be a problem. For people who don't you discuss it before hand i.e. like with a session player. I wonder how using skype/ichat etc might work while using this. That might be very cool! Then you could really discuss what's going on. Even better, if Ohm Studio had visual contact as well as text. 

  • Feelin' ya, Groc.

  • isn't it always about finding the right moment between first sketches you're not convinced of all by yourself and a final version you don't want to be critiziced for, to get in touch with other people (band members/friends)? instantly would not work for me. ohm studio looks like two band members practicing their instruments in one room simultaneously with a song they both don't know yet.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Rosa: I tend to feel just the way you do. Actually, the YouTube video really demonstrates that you can have a completely-finished recording and do something with it, so passing something around / going round robin could work. At the same time, I'm sure there are specific players – particularly if they're used to working together – for whom the Ohm Studio thing could be terrific. I suppose it's the flipside of what you're saying, for some there may be times when instant works.

  • What's funny is that Ohm Studio markets it as the first-ever, but it's really not.  About ten years ago, Emagic had an extension to Logic that allowed this exact same thing (although with audio and straight midi only), through a partner in San Francisco… I forget the name of the company.  The technology was cool and ahead of its time, but it was in the latter days of the dotcom boom and it soon disappeared.  I forgot the name up until I just typed boom, and I remembered, I believe it was named resrocket or rocket networks.  Researching further, it was bought out by Digidesign and buried.  Anyway, I'm definitely not objecting, because I've wished for something like it to exist every since.  Kudos to the Ohm Studio team.

  • Peter Kirn

    @Curt: There have been several attempts to do this via a plug-in, etc., but I believe that Ohm is the first major attempt to build a standalone DAW from scratch around the idea. So I don't think "first" is far off in this case – if we mean from-scratch, collaborative *DAW*.

  • There was also Indaba a couple years ago and I believe another one more recently that had entire DAW's online in Java. That being said, they couldn't host plug-ins or do a lot of other things we're likely to take for granted nowadays. I always thought the idea was cool, but never tried it myself.

    On the other hand, I have had some success collaborating with friends in far off places using Reason. We just emailed the Reason files back and forth and it worked pretty well. The nice thing was, because Reason doesn't support audio or 3rd party plug-ins, we didn't have to worry about interoperability with the others setup. The problem was because Reason doesn't support audio or 3rd party plug-ins, there was only so much we could do on each track.

  • Groc

    I can't imagine working with a daw like this full time. Personally I would see it as a convenience DAW. "Oh I know a guy in wherever that would play great bass on this". I don't think its ever about being instant. Ideas have to bounce back and forth ex. It might make a good pre-production tool. The problem too really is that everyone you want to play with would have to have the program and I for one don't see that happening. Theoretically its great but practically probably not so much.

  • paco

    no procedural novelties per se, just playing –

  • I always loved this Virtual Jam Session

  • I wrote a Drupal module for online music collaboration. It's free, fast, easy to use and the more important: no bullshit ads. You can try out the demonstration: