11 Tools for Collaborating on Music Remotely

Throughout all the unprecedented situations continuing to unfold before us thanks to the coronavirus, one directive about how best to keep ourselves and our communities safe has remained true: keep your distance.

Whether you're following social distancing directives , "sheltering in place," or visiting D-Nice's "Club Quarantine" on Instagram Live, one thing you're probably not doing much of is making music with friends and bandmates—at least not while in the same room.

But this doesn't mean that you can't still write music together and collaborate on productions while you're stuck inside.

The tools below offer something for every type of musician. There are ways to make beats, ways to jam in real-time, and ways to complete whole new projects. What's better is that such tools aren't just great for a quarantine-based pinch—and learning them now may further your music-making abilities down the line.

Collaborative File-Sharing Services

If you do a lot of collaborative recording already, you may be familiar with a few of the file-sharing services that musicians and producers often use to share stems, audio clips, samples, and more to collaborate on projects. Dropbox, for example, is widely popular because of the amount of high-quality storage space it offers, making it friendly for large-format audio files.

If each of your band members is savvy enough to record at home, Dropbox is a great, central location in which to collect all of your files for eventual mixing and mastering—whether you take that task on yourself or send it off to an engineer. Or, if you're a Google fan, Google Drive can be another great option for file sharing and especially for syncing your files across multiple devices.

Pibox Audio Collaboration Overview

Services like Pibox Music and Splice are similar to Dropbox and Google Drive in their ability to provide musicians with a platform for sharing tracks and files, but both of these programs take things a bit further.

Pibox, for example, was specifically built with long-distance music collaboration in mind, which is reflected in the features it includes—live chat and screen-sharing, video chat, time-stamped commenting, and mix version history are just some examples. You can also make mix notes as comments right alongside markers in your audio tracks and upload remixed audio files easily, instead of sending strings of emails or texts around.

Splice: A Music Production Tool That Lets Artists Be More Creative

Splice is another service built specifically for musicians, and producers in particular. You may know it just for Splice Sounds—perhaps the largest collection of user-generated one-shot samples and loops on the internet. In the ever-growing ready-made sample business, Splice is a giant. But its cloud platform—built, as it was, by computer programmers interested in DAW-based music creation—expands far outside the realm of one-shots.

You can back up whole DAW projects from the likes of Ableton Live, Logic, or other DAWS using Splice's Studio feature. And its Community section allows you to share projects and collaborate with other Splice users, while the aforementioned Splice Sounds offers an endless sample library to mine for your tracks. If you're used to collaborating within DAWs at your friend's house or in project studios, you can do the same virtually through Splice.

Collaborative Music-Making Apps

As our computers at home get more and more robust, so too do the apps that allow us to make music from our bedrooms. There are so many apps out there that can do this, but one easy-to-use collaborative platform is Soundtrap (owned by Spotify)—which is a robust, modern DAW that's entirely online.

Soundtrap can be a great resource whether you're recording your own music, recording your own podcast, or trying to get into beatmaking directly in a DAW format. The interface is simple, which is great for beginners or even the most casual users to get started right away. Just with the Basic version, users get space to work on up to five projects, 210 instruments and sounds, and 900 loops—all for free. And because it's browser-based, it's easy to invite friends from across your social media channels to collaborate on your sessions.

SoundStorming is another likeminded "social music app" that's working to make music more collaborative and discoverable. Rather than, say, having you record a melody into the Voice Memos folder on your phone, SoundStorming encourages musicians to upload that idea onto its app, where a global community of musicians can weigh in, brainstorm, and even collaborate on your idea from wherever they are in the world.

A snapshot of Trackd features. Via Trackd.

Trackd is another free collaborative social music app (available to iOS users) that offers "quick, simple, and highly collaborative" music-making. Like many of the other music-making apps, this one includes helpful features for communicating with your collaborators, tools for writing and recording songs, multi-tracking, and even mixing—all directly on your phone.

Collaborative Live Performance Apps

If you're one of the many bands that has seen their touring calendars and scheduled shows cancelled for the foreseeable future, you might be less focused right now on making new music than on finding ways to perform for all of your fans that missed out. One way you can do this is through Instagram Live, via a newer feature that allows multiple people to live-stream together.

It's important to remember here that—unless you use a mobile mic or mobile recording interface and mic—you'll be playing into your phone's built-in mic and camera and transmitting over wi-fi, so you definitely shouldn't except a flawlessly clean-sounding recording—especially if you're using louder, electric instruments. But if you're interested in doing a stripped-down, casual show with a bandmate or two for your online fanbase, Instragram Live is quickly becoming the go-to platform for such virtual events.

Now, if you're looking for a collaborative live experience at a higher level than Instagram Live, check out JamKazam. JamKazam is a service that lets players play music with other musicians from their own homes across the internet, but in even higher definition. Players can record their performances at the individual track level to make actual live recordings later, and/or broadcast live performance to friends, family, and fans.

JamKazam Overview

However, many users simply use JamKazam as a low-latency way to practice together online. You can do something similar on all manner of other telecommuting programs, from Google Hangouts to Zoom, but JamKazam is built with musicians in mind, meaning the program takes pains to close the gap between when you strike a note and when your partner hears it through their computer.

And for any music instructors or students out there: JamKazam also has an online platform called "JamClass" for online music instrument instruction.

Collaborative Software for DAW Users

If you're already a Pro Tools user, you can take advantage of a collaborative tool that Avid built right in—Avid Cloud Collaboration. This tool is great for serious engineers who are stuck in remote locations but need to all work on a single project. (And just yesterday, Avid announced it would offer 90 days of free use for professional Pro Tools users who may be locked out of their studios for the time being.)

When you select and start a collaboration within Avid Cloud Collaboration, Pro Tools automatically saves and reopens it as a project in the cloud, with all tracks converted and ready to be shared. And, like some of the other services above, the program also features an "artist chat" window for talking with your collaborators directly in the project.

Ableton's introduction video to Link.

Lastly, Ableton Link isn't quite an option for far-removed remote collaboration, but it is well-suited for quarantined bandmates who also happen to be roommates. As long as you're on the same internet network, Ableton Link allows musicians to play electronic instruments together using any Link-enabled software on their computer.

There's no need for MIDI or USB cables or connections, and users don't even need to have Ableton Live to be able to join in on the fun. In terms of how collaborative playing works, it's really open rules. Anyone can join or drop off at any point and anyone can adjust parameters for other users. If nothing else, it can be a fun way to pass the time—but could also be used a unique live performance tool.

More Collaborative Music-Making Tools

Update: Readers in the comments section below and via email have been letting us know about other collaborative platforms and programs they enjoy. We've compiled their suggestions here as well.

BandLab is a free collaborative DAW that automatically syncs your work to the cloud, and boasts a user-friendly array of recording options, virtual instruments, and many ways to connect with other musicians.

Binfer is a file-sharing service that, unlike Dropbox, doesn't work via the cloud. Rather, it's a direct device-to-device service that still allows you to share large files (like DAW projects) with others.

Endless is an electronic music–focused app aimed at beatmakers, producers, and DJs looking to jam in real-time with others. Still in its beta testing stage but already attracting a lot of attention, the program is set to launch March 31.

Jamtaba is a free, open-source software that hosts virtual jam sessions.

Jamulus is another real-time jam program built with open-source software that some readers have had success with.

Kompoz is a cloud-based collaborative service that works with audio file uploads, allowing each person working on a track can still record with their DAW of choice.

It's a large world of collaborative music programs. Have we missed one of your favorites? In the spirit of collaboration, let us and our readers know what tools have worked for you in the comments section.

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