Collaborating Online

By Line6Piper

Line6Piper (aka Matt Piper) explains his process for online musical collaboration, and compares features of three online services you can use for this. Matt is the in-house Propellerhead Product Specialist at Line 6, and the author of the instructional guides Reason 4 Ignite and Using Reason’s Virtual Instruments.

Whether you are a professional producer/musician working on a project for hire, or a home enthusiast wanting to benefit from the inspiration and motivation that collaboration can offer, collaborating online can open up opportunities to work with people who live far from you, or even with people in your own town (when busy schedules make meeting in person difficult to arrange with sufficient regularity).

For exchanging music files over the Internet, email is generally out due to file size, except for individual MP3’s. For larger files, there are three free options I make regular use of:

YouSendIt

In my experience, YouSendIt is the fastest and easiest option to use, but only up to 100MB can be sent for free.  (Larger files can be sent with paid account upgrades.)  100MB may sound kind of small for a huge multitrack project, but here’s how I usually make it work: My collaborator sends me an MP3 or .wav file of a stereo mix of the entire song or cue. Normally, he/she exports the file starting at Bar 1, and includes the tempo in the file name or in a note (e.g., 121.33 BPM). I open a new Propellerhead Record Song File, set it to the specified tempo, and import the stereo mix I have been sent. Then I record the requested parts, and export them (all starting at Bar 1, even if that means a bunch of silence before my parts actually come in). Then I .zip compress the folder full of my newly-recorded audio files and YouSendIt back to my collaborator.

If I have to send several parts, I find it very easy to use Record’s Bounce Mixer Channels feature, which automatically saves each track from my project as a .wav or .aiff file in a single folder. This feature, along with Record’s Multiple File Import, has also often come in handy when a collaborator working with different DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software has needed me to speed up or slow down entire multitrack sessions using Record’s superior timestretching technology.

DropBox

DropBox may not be quite as fast or easy as YouSendIt in some ways, and it requires that you install the DropBox software in order to take advantage of the full feature set. However, DropBox offers two significant advantages over YouSendIt.com. First, you get 2GB of storage for free. You can share files with people even if they do not have DropBox installed, simply by sending them a link to the file in your Public Folder (which is quite easy to do). The second advantage comes into play if your collaborator also installs the DropBox software and has his or her own DropBox account. That advantage is DropBox’s Sync feature. If you and your collaborator share a folder on the DropBox server, each time one of you makes a change to a file and saves and closes the file, the changes to that file are automatically updated on the server and on both of your computers. Only the changes are uploaded, not the entire file. So if you are working on a large 2GB Record multitrack session, and you edit a portion of a single guitar track, maybe only 278kB of changes are actually uploaded, instead of the entire 2GB file being re-uploaded.

You may be asking how a project file could get so large: That is because with Record, there are no separate audio files, fade files, analysis files, waveform images, or any other files to be managed. Everything resides in a single Record Song File. The overall file space isn’t larger than with any other recording software, but the monolithic file format assures that no part of the project will be accidentally misplaced or forgotten when sending to a collaborator or saving to another hard drive.)

Important note: Be sure to make regular backups of your project outside of the DropBox folder! Making an extra copy every time you make changes would be best. You don’t want your collaborator accidently deleting or otherwise permanently mucking up the only copy of your file! (You are backing up your work regularly anyway, right?)

SoundCloud

You may know SoundCloud as an online music community (sometimes compared to the quite different BandCamp) where music producers share their (primarily electronic) tracks with one another. Here is another use case for SoundCloud: You have been hired to compose and record some music for a television music cue. You can share your track privately to your client via SoundCloud. You can choose not to make the download available yet (streaming only). The nifty bit is that the client can actually make timed comments by clicking on the waveform timeline.

A free account from SoundCloud currently allows you to upload a total of 120 minutes of audio at any quality (32 bit 192kHz, no problem!). More time and options become available with paid accounts.

I hope this has provided some food for thought. I would love to hear your comments. It would be great to find out how you collaborate online.

8 Responses to “ Collaborating Online ”

  1. bassermann Says:

    Great article, Matt! I especially liked the priceless comment on the bass part in the Sound Cloud part – gerry


  2. Line6Piper Says:

    Thanks, Gerry!


  3. vigalante_man Says:

    Have you ever looked at digitalmusician.net ? The software is free and it can be rewired, you also can use the video chat during collaborations. It’s a bit similar to the old Rocket Network which was an integral part of Cubase.

    There is another site that uses it own system, http://www.jamwith.us this was set up shortly after Rocketnetwork got sold to Avid.

    I think I’m correct in saying that you can use Dropbox with out downloading the software via the web site and browser. Also with Dropbox you if you can refer friends you get an extra 250MB for each person that signs up.

    Online collaboration was one of the first things I ever got into when I first started using a computer to create music. I haven’t found anything that was as much fun or intuitive as Rocketnetwork.


  4. Line6Piper Says:

    Thanks for your post, and for the tips on digitalmusician.net and http://www.jamwith.us!

    You are absolutely correct that you can maintain a DropBox account and upload and download files using their online interface, without ever installing their software. However, automatic file sync across computers will not work without installing their software, and I find that the user experience is greatly enhanced by using the software instead of the online interface. In light of your comment, I think I will edit my blog post, since my original statement, “DropBox may not be quite as fast or easy as YouSendIt in some ways, and it requires that you install the DropBox software on your computer,” is indeed misleading.

    Thanks again, vigalante man!


  5. vigalante_man Says:

    That’s a very good point about the synchronization of files, it’s an important feature especially with music projects.I did read on the Propellerheads forum regarding Dropbox using a little bit of RAM I have it running on my Mac and I can’t say that I notice any difference with it there. Great subject Matt thanks.


  6. Gearbox72 Says:

    If you are sending “stems” back and forth – including the entire track from start to finish – doesn’t everything just sync up naturally? I’ve never had a problem with syncing up files with my collaborators as long as the stems are complete. Maybe I’m missing something. We transfer everything with MP3 until such time as we have the tracks we want – then everything gets sent to me and I drop them into a master file using Digital Performer and it’s all there ready for mixing, etc. We just use an FTP site for the uploading and downloading – time consuming. Uploading seems to take a longer time – maybe there is a better way. Thanks for the discussion.


  7. Line6Piper Says:

    The DropBox “Sync” feature being discussed by me (and vigalante man) is not sync in the music project. It is a File Sync between your computers & the DropBox server, so that when you are working on a file in your DropBox folder and then save your changes, only the changes are uploaded, not the entire file. This saves a lot of upload time.


  8. Gearbox72 Says:

    Okay, that’s very helpful. Anything to cut down on upload time – I will definitely be going to Dropbox to give it a road test. Thanks for the input!


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