A screenshot of the Indaba Music in-browser mixing console.
Bob Boilen's band, Tiny Desk Unit, performs using eJamming technology in June 2007
A screenshot of the eJamming client in action.
Today, musicians don't even have to share the same stage in order to play together.
Last year, NPR's All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen held a reunion concert of his band Tiny Desk Unit. Boilen was on stage in Washington, D.C., his guitarist Michael Barron was in California, and they played using software by the company eJamming AUDiiO.
Liane Hansen spoke with Boilen about his experience with the software. Years ago, Barron moved across the country, but the friends and band mates wanted to continue to collaborate.
"We wanted to play music together," Boilen says. "We exchange sound files, and we love doing that. But we wanted to do something in real time. And so we found this software. And it was remarkable to be able to play with a friend who I hadn't played with in years.
"It was midnight my time, 9 o'clock his time, and we were making music together. And then we took it to the stage, which was absolutely an insane thing to think to do. But we did. And it worked."
Chris Short, a music technologist for eJamming, joined the conversation from Florida via his eJamming client. He acknowledges that it's not perfect yet: Like all powerful applications that use the Internet, glitches will occur due to the nature of the Internet itself.
"When you're trying to keep a real-time audio connection happening, then yeah, you will have problems," Short says.
"You're going to have dropouts from time to time — it's just the nature of the beast."
But even at a high Internet traffic period like 2:30 p.m. on a typical Friday, the eJamming program held up with few ill effects. Boilen laid down a drumbeat and a bass track at NPR headquarters in Washington, Short started riffing on the guitar in Florida and Short's friend Michael Fargnoli joined in on keyboards in a separate location in Florida. The three quickly had a simple blues going.
"It's like any three musicians getting together in a room," Boilen says. "We've been together now for four minutes."
The Internet has been revolutionary for building a fan base for musicians. Now, it's connecting musicians with other musicians.
Dan Zaccagnino is co-founder and co-CEO of Indaba Music, an online community that allows musicians to meet and collaborate with fellow musicians. He says there are about 100,000 people who have joined the service.
Once registered, a musician can look for others to collaborate with asynchronously. For example, a bassist may upload a bass track and search for people who can fill out his rock song with guitar, drums and vocals. Those musicians can then record their own tracks for the bassist and upload them to the same recording "session."
"It's really supposed to be a flexible platform for people to collaborate however they want to," Zaccagnino says.
Zaccagnino demonstrated one session started by a synthesizer player in New York. The keyboardist found a drummer online — both lived in New York, but the two had never met before — to lay down a beat. Other players then joined the session: a guitarist from the U.K. and vocalists from both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
Indaba Music has also run collaboration contests with musicians as diverse as Yo-Yo Ma, The Roots, the jazz faculty at the Berklee College of Music and Mariah Carey.
With imperfect though intriguing online collaborations already out there, the future of online musician networking is promising, say Zaccagnino and Short.
Short noted that for average musicians who don't have access to major label support, online collaboration offers resources otherwise inaccessible, for example, other talented studio musicians.
"I've met an accordion player on eJamming who laid something down on a track I was working on," Short says. "You don't wake up in the morning and say, 'Gosh, why don't I have an accordion player in my band?' But you meet creative people you would never meet."