The Rise of Jamulus
Updated: Aug 5
In these COVID times, musicians are searching for a way to meet up and play, or even just rehearse! The problem with well-used systems like Zoom and Skype is that the audio quality isn't very good, and there is huge "lag", otherwise known as latency. This is the time between you singing a note on Zoom and it appearing in the headphones of your friend on the other end of the Zoom call. In some cases this can be as much as one second. Trying to sing something as simple as "Happy Birthday" in sync with your friend becomes impossible.
There is a range of software out there that claims to achieve the holy grail of low latency connections that musicians can feel comfortable using. Among them are JamKazam, Jammr and JackTrip. These vary in complexity, and also stability in use.
Jamulus is a name that keeps popping up as a potential solution: it's open-source (free) software, and can allow musicians to play online together with average latency between 20 and 50ms. Research shows that musicians don't notice latency below 25ms, so anything around there is usable.
There are some pre-requisites for using Jamulus successfully, however. You will need:
A better-than-average internet connection (25Mbps or more)
An audio interface to raise the quality and speed of your audio processing
A good quality microphone (a headset or internal laptop mic will not cut it)
Does it work? Yes, according to many musicians. See the choral performance below where musicians performed in sync despite being in different countries:
To connect to Jamulus, you install the software and then connect to a public server. These vary in location and it is best to choose the one that is physically nearest to you:
You can then make adjustments to your internet connection to achieve the best sound.
If you set the system for the least latency (and therefore most comfortable experience), it can put a lot of strain on your computer and internet connection. This can lead to clicks and pops where the audio transmission has failed.
Although Jamulus is used as a way of jamming with strangers on public servers, it is possible to set up your own private server; this can be hosted on your own machine or on a cloud solution such as Google Cloud Platform or AWS.
In conclusion, Jamulus shows huge potential, particularly for small groups of musicians with high quality equipment. Jamulus (and other software) will undoubtedly develop, and so the situation in a year's time could be very different.
Jamulus Official group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/619274602254947
Jamulus World Jam group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=jamulus%20world%20jam
Online rehearsals (string quartet): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lB4ZxDb9vnU
Good introductory webinar: https://archive.org/details/jlp_jamulus_tech_essentials_1