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:
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 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?)
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.