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Live Collaborative Streaming Performance
from Respective Homes: JamKazam

October 27, 2020

Written by Alix Cohen

Live streaming performances since the pandemic began have fallen mainly into two categories — a singer/instrumentalist (such as Jay Leonhart ) playing and singing live from his/her home, or, more commonly, a singer (such as Karen Mason) singing from his/her home to recorded tracks created by a musical director/arranger. For vocalists who don’t accompany themselves, this has been the only way to perform live online. The spontaneous give and take, listening and following each other, making a song new together while working live with an accompanist has been impossible to achieve with everyone sheltered in respective locations.

Last Friday, Ann Kittredge changed all that with a two-song presentation called Virtual Shorts. The artist was reliably excellent. The sound quality and syncing were especially good. With Ann in her home, MD/pianist Christopher Denny accompanying her live from his, and tech director Matt Berman facilitating the project in a third location, they managed to deliver a stream of such high quality it seemed as if everyone was in the same room. I inquired.

It turns out the trio were using JamKazam (https://jamkazam.com/ ), a technology created to enable musicians to “jam” together from separate, sometimes even very distant, locations in real time without the deadly sound delay which makes real-time performance impossible on Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, etc. Many of you are broadcasting from home. Music is so much a part of your lives, to let it fall fallow would be like losing a limb. Between what seems to be complicated technology and cost, intimidation is natural, but apparently unnecessary. Now you and your accompanist (and others) CAN perform live! I spoke at length to Christopher Denny, who’s an expert on this system. As I myself am a Luddite, I had many questions for the very patient musician.

The first thing you need to know is that it’s FREE. At some point, there will be a minimal cost to utilize JamKazam over a certain number of hours or, a modest subscription price, but as of now there’s no charge. Denny’s been in regular touch with the creators, so this is reliable information. Cost of set up depends on what you already own in terms of home equipment. Additions are not very much.

JamKazam is a peer-to-peer program. Unlike Zoom, whose signal goes elsewhere to a big server causing a delay, it travels directly to participants’ computers. When the inventors found occasionally unavoidable connection issues, they bought space on 60plus servers throughout the U.S. and Europe as an alternate means of connecting. The program itself decides whether your set-up needs to avail itself of a server near you. And does it for you.

JamKazam can be used for video (just select it) on YouTube Live, Facebook Live, or Twitch. JamKazam audio can also be used with video from platforms such as Streamyard when people are guest starring in someone else’s show which is already on an alternate platform.

Equipment: You need a computer, headphones, a microphone with mic cord, a mic stand. It’s also recommended to invest in an audio interface – required if you have a PC and recommended if you have a Mac.“The best set-up is with a regular XLR-type mic plugged into audio interface which then plugs into your computer, although with a Mac (NOT PC), it’s possible to get good results using a USB mic without an audio interface,” Denny says.

With either, you need to connect your computer via Ethernet cord to your router or modem. A modem is the box that connects your home to the internet which sometimes can double as a router. If you have Spectrum both are likely in one box; with Verizon Fios, they’re probably two separate units.

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It’s important to use a wired internet connection, not WiFi, and vital that you have a decent internet connection. (Denny recommends 50 download, 25 upload or faster.) You can check this by downloading to your computer and running a free app called speedtest by ookla which gives you an accurate gauge. Sometimes, Denny says, you’re not getting what you pay for. If concerned, compare this information with what’s on your bill.

Kittredge and Denny had Matt Berman act as “broadcaster.” That means he was a third collaborator during the performance, mixing/balancing audio and video in real time. “Theoretically you can do this for yourself, but it’s a lot to do,” Denny notes. If you’re recording video and audio for later broadcast, things like balances and video-to-audio sync can be adjusted after the fact. (It takes a mixing engineer, though many musical directors have now learned to do post-production.)

Berman will also set you up with the program and troubleshoot. In Ann’s case, for example, he made sure the mic didn’t pick up the speakers so that she didn’t hear things a fraction of a second apart. “Matt determined everything I should purchase, including where the best buys were, in my case Amazon and Sweetwater (an online store). I got a simple mixer, a mic, a ring light, and some video apps to adjust lighting. I already had headphones and an audio interface. (The interface used was a five-year-old box belonging to Ann’s son.

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The JamKazam help site lists which interfaces work best with it.) Matt walked me through the setup.
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He’s amazing and very reasonably priced.” (Ann Kittredge)  mattbermandesign@aol.com)

With this program and the right equipment, it’s now feasible to return to rehearsing, arranging, and creating shows as if singer, pianist, and director were all in the same room even from separate locations. This will change things forever, even after the pandemic. Denny’s successfully worked from his studio in NYC  with singers in Connecticut, Florida, St. Louis, Scottsdale, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, and London. The program can function with up to eight people.

The audio recording feature of JamKzam is a particular perk. When you record something live through the program, it provides you with not only a quick mix of the performance as it happened but also with separate, high-quality tracks of vocal alone, piano alone, etc., as though you’d been recording in a studio. Denny says these are often good enough to remix as a CD-quality product.

“It’s also wonderful to jam with other musicians and not broadcast. You can get wav quality recordings.

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I find that particularly compelling when you’re getting rehearsal tracks because I can sing full out and afterwards get the accompaniment without the vocal. I don’t think I’ll ever go to a music director’s home again just to get a rehearsal track. This is better than whispering in their ears while getting a recording.” (Ann Kittredge)

If you’re ready to explore further David Sabella, Christopher Denny, and Cabaret Hot Spot have online courses on how to set yourself up and JamKazam’s capabilities:  https://cabu.cabarethotspot.com/current-courses/ Denny’s comprehensive tutorial is listed as Online Music Collaboration with JamKazam.

Christopher Denny is available for consultations: crdenny@yahoo.com

Regarding Ann Kittredge’s Virtual Shorts. The next one should be up in about two weeks. The artist plans to push the envelope by doing a duet each week with a singer live from his/her own home. See and hear the quality, not to mention enjoying the live collaborative performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Via3WBumXTU

It’s a new world, folks.

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.