Why reduced latency is the moonshot for audio technology

And why reduced latency matters to music teachers

It’s been a strange hot summer of the “you know what” disease.  I don’t even want to say it anymore.

 

As we await our local school reopening plans, I’ve had to just go ahead and make some decisions on scheduling for my school, Park Slope Music Lessons.  I usually wait to follow the public schools calendar and then check with the area private schools as well.  This year, no one has posted a calendar yet!

This article in The NY Times really captured the vacuum of leadership and chaos pretty well.

My son was so excited and ready to go to college this fall.  But Brown University has decided to only allow freshmen on campus beginning in January.  He’s so bummed.  But in the meantime, he got a job that spreads joy…

Summer job serving joy

Staying Remote

So, it seems remote online lessons is the norm for many of us music teachers.  Most of us had gone to using Zoom since the start of the pandemic.  

But, Zoom fatigue is a real thing, especially for those of us working online for hours at a time through headphones.  The reason why is the audio is so compressed and there is filtering for background noise.  I feel exhausted after even an hour on Zoom.

A New Technology, Rock Out Loud

In the last few weeks, I’ve tried out a promising new platform called RockOutLoud.live.  The sound quality is enormously better than Zoom because the focus is on audio first and video second. You can hear it and feel it immediately.  

What’s Latency And Why Should I Care?

This leads me to the term latency.  This describes the amount of time it takes for data to go out and come back to you.  This matters, because as we are attempting to play music, the distance and the time affects our ability to play in tempo.  

When you are speaking to someone in a room, there’s a millisecond delay before the sound reaches your listener and also returns to you.  The further you stand, the greater the delay.  This latency gets to be a problem when it’s more than say 20ms.  

When musicians are playing together, there’s usually not more than 15ms latency.  If you are trying to play a duet with someone sitting on the opposite side of an auditorium, it gets harder the further away they are.  

Elvis And Slap-back

Back in the 1950s, Sam Phillips created a signature sound for his recording studio, Sun Studios when he captured Elvis Presley’s first songs.  He created a slap-back echo with a delay of 75 to 120 ms.  

Here’s what slap-back echo sounds like on That’s Alright Mama from 1954

But that’s just a cool effect.  When trying to perform a duet with someone, you need to reduce latency.  

Right now, RockOutLoud seems to have a round trip time of 100 milliseconds! Not very useful for playing together.

Future Updates

But, a future update promises to reduce the latency giving us the ability to play live duets!  How cool would that be?  Imagine being able to accompany your student as they play?  Or imagine having choir rehearsals online from anywhere?  A new era of music collaboration could be just on the horizon.  

Other Teacher-Centric Features

There are other features in RockOutLoud that make it easier for music teachers.

One is the ability to easily share PDFs of sheet music right from the screen so that the student can print it without parental involvement.  

There’s also a feature to show chord diagrams on the screen instantly, but I found those not very useful in the current iteration as they are not editable by the teacher.  I would love to choose my own voicing and save them to a library.  Maybe that’s coming too.

Screenshot of a recent demo of RockOutLoud with teachers at Park Slope Music Lessons

Screenshot of a recent demo of RockOutLoud with teachers at Park Slope Music Lessons

Next week, I have a meeting with another entrepreneur looking to provide a remote solution for musicians.  It seems this technology gap is well worth solving.  I’m eager to see what comes about in the next few months.  Zoom too has promised some music related updates.

Anyway, I hope you have a great week and talk to you soon.

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