Have you missed the experience lately of a live performance—actually being in the same room as the musicians? Have you wondered how much the musicians themselves might be missing it?

As a professional musician myself, I can answer the second question easily: A lot.

The Live Music Industry: A Casualty of COVID-19

Dan McKinnon performing outdoors on Canada DayThe author, Dan McKinnon, performing in pre-COVID times (Photo by Patrick McGovern)
In the past year COVID-19 has changed our world forever, with many businesses being affected in unprecedented ways—especially those in the travel, sports, and hospitality industries.

One sector that has been re-shaped since the start of the pandemic is the live music industry, with performances being moved almost entirely online. Live streaming has become more and more popular in the last year for solo performers. But bands and larger ensembles have mostly been left on the sidelines. Whether because of social distancing protocols, stay-at-home orders, or simply not having a large enough space and the necessary equipment to safely protect multiple musicians, the fact remains that it’s challenging to live stream a group of musicians from a single location.

The current workaround is for bands to put together performances by pre-recording their parts and assembling them after the fact. This is due to issues surrounding a thing called “latency.”Musician recording on computer while on phone with friendPhoto by Ron Lach from Pexels.

But now, an Ottawa musician has come up with a platform that’s on the cutting edge of solving this problem that has plagued musicians everywhere during the last year.

Latency: When Zoom Doesn’t Zooom

Before we continue, it is important that we define what latency is and how this poses a problem for musicians who want to perform live from multiple locations.

Latency refers to a short period of delay (usually measured in milliseconds) between when an audio signal enters a system, and when it emerges. Also referred to as “lag,” latency is a critical performance metric in professional audio, with excessive audio latency having the potential to degrade call quality in telecommunications applications.

In some cases, latency lags can last as long as 2 to 3 seconds on platforms such as Zoom, making live performances between musicians in multiple locations impossible.

Latency is a virtual brick wall for musicians who want to perform together…
Especially as it relates to music that requires in-the-moment interactivity between musicians, latency is a virtual brick wall for musicians who want to perform together, whether they work in the rock or classical genres.

Adrian Cho, an Ottawa-based musician, educator, and tech management professional, explained latency in an interview with The Globe and Mail in the following terms:

“Most people don’t realize that their electronic info – here, say, in Kanata (an Ottawa suburb) – is normally routed through Toronto, causing lag,” Cho explains. “It’s like posting a letter to your neighbour down the street in Ottawa. It will probably go through a postal sorting centre far from Ottawa, and then return here.”

This problem is something that Cho has looked to tackle through his new innovation, Syncspace.Live.

Introducing Syncspace.Live

Syncspace.Live is a new platform that enables a group of performers to sync audio and video in real-time across the Internet so that they can hear and see each other in a way that can, in the best circumstances, come very close to the experience of being in the same room.

“In many respects, this platform is a game-changer – it is a gift to the musical community in these times,”
How does the platform work? While playing a set, musicians can watch a video feed that’s of a lower quality in order to minimize the latency of visual transmissions between one another, while a broadcast engineer re-synchronizes the audio along with a higher-quality video feed to generate the finished product.

Musicians looking to use the platform will need a hard-wired internet connection, webcam and audio interface. With the proper setup, it’s possible to reduce the latency on the microphone to 3 milliseconds – a big difference compared to 29 to 35 milliseconds in similar programs.

Singer using microphonePhoto by Papa Yaw from Pexels.
Tested among Ottawa-based Jazz musicians, the early reviews of Syncspace.Live from the music community have been overwhelmingly positive.

“In many respects, this platform is a game-changer – it is a gift to the musical community in these times,” says David Renaud, a clarinet player from Duclos, Que. “Sound travels through air at about 1 foot per millisecond, so this is literally like standing 7 to 8 feet from each other in real space.”

What This Means for Live Performers

A platform like Syncspace.Live is a barrier-breaking piece of technology for a community that has faced unprecedented struggles over the last year.

Musician singing and playing guitar at computerPhoto by Vadim Artyukhin
As a musician myself, a platform like Syncspace.Live would allow for my band (a three piece) to perform online in our respective homes, while providing the experience of interacting with one another as if we were on the same stage. Performing in this way is drastically different from the current solution that requires musicians to record their parts in isolation, as so much of the magic that comes from a great live performance is due to the interactivity that comes with playing with other musicians in the moment.

It’s impossible to know how long live performances will remain online until crowds can congregate at live venues and concert halls at pre-COVID capacities. Until that happens, it looks like Synchspace.Live has solved a problem for musicians and audiences alike.

Have you experienced (or been part of) a recent online performance that has overcome the challenge of latency? Tell us about it in the comment section below!

For More Information, Check Out:

New technology is helping musicians play together virtually in real time - by eliminating lag time online - The Globe and Mail, March 3, 2021

'Incredible feat': Ottawa man creates site allowing long-distance musicians to play online in real time – Ottawa Citizen, January 7, 2021