Ten years ago, Rocket Network launched a revolutionary new “Internet recording studio” technology. The idea was big, the possibilities endless: track drums in South Africa, record vocals in Nashville, mix in LA…work anywhere, with anyone, anytime.
At a lavish party in downtown Los Angeles to showcase the technology, a crowd witnessed a live networked recording session, featuring a superstar combo led by Herbie Hancock and Marcus Miller, with members of The Roots at a studio across town, and other players online in London. As we watched, the musicians in the room started playing and laying down tracks, while text messages and files from the remote studios began flowing across large computer displays.
The track files synched smoothly, without a glitch. But as the musicians continually started and stopped, sending suggestions about hooks and bridges and passing takes back and forth, it was clear that they were growing increasingly frustrated with the stilted exchange. Hancock finally stopped, turned to the technology team and said, “Can we just turn this off and play?” Granted, this was during the early days of the Internet, but the technology was there. The problem lay in unrealistic expectations.
As Marshall McLuhan once wrote, “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us.” And that maxim holds true for computer-based production: Consider how easy it is to shift perspective from overall picture to microscopic detail and back again, how editing waveforms brings a visual perspective to audio manipulation. Tremendous opportunities abound in Web-based production, whether it’s remote auditioning and approving mixes, broadening a client base or accessing far-flung talent — all functions that previously were impractical, expensive or even impossible. Rocket technology was eventually acquired by Avid and evolved into the Digidelivery system, widely used today for file transfer and approvals. And now, a decade after Web collaboration became reality, horsepower and the bandwidth have evolved to the point where it feels almost like we’re in the same room… but not quite.
The Internet is great for communication — but remember, that type of communication is devoid of nuance, tone. And live music is all about those nuances, visual clues and the energy in the room.
There will just never be a substitute for that collaborative spirit of musicians playing together in a room, where magic really happens. That said, it pays to take advantage of all the ways that Internet collaboration can enhance your creativity, but remember to preserve every opportunity for that face-to-face connection: jam in the studio, play mixes for your friends and keep the magic in the process.