Engin Hassan, former Rocket Networks member, talks about music collaboration

It’s been a while since computer based musicians rave on real-time music collaboration. And during last decade’s first half, there was a strong team working hard on an tool that – despite finding some obstacles – was such a good enterprise for that time and helped to push real-time collaboration’s boundaries. We’re talking about the Rocket Network, an add-on tool that used to work together with some DAWs providing collaboration features. Some of you teenagers out there starting to produce music today don’t remember that, but anyone more experienced knows what Rocket we’re talking about. Engin Hassan knows – and remembers it – very well, as he’s a former member of the Rocket Network team. We’ve interviewed him and he tells to the ohmworld how things were in the backstage, the goals and the pitfalls of their attempt, and why he’s enthousiast with the Ohm Studio.

Please tell us about the Rocket Networks enterprise and what was your job there?

Well I had a few jobs with Rocket Network. I started out as part of the beta team and then went on to join the demo team. As a member of the demo team it was my job to send audio back and forth to Rocket representatives who were showing the system to potential clients. So for example a rocket representative would be in a production facility in lets say New York and would say to me “ok I have just started a new session and I’d like you to send me a drum break”. I would prepare a drum track and post it to the session. Within a short space of time it would magically appear on the screen at the other end for the client to see. Later on when rocket went live I also joined the Online Facilitators team who’s job it was to greet new people (virtually in the welcome lobby that is) who were trying out the software and offer to show them round. For those who are wondering, Rocket was incorporated into three of the major sequencers at that time: Logic, Cubase, and Pro tools. The idea was that you could collaborate with other people who were using the same software i.e. other Cubase users or other Pro Tools users on projects. Communication would be via a chat app built into the Rocket interface and you would be able to move around the virtual studios and join projects the same way you would move around chat rooms for instance. Once you had entered a virtual studio you could start downloading the project in that studio into your audio software straight away. You could also chat with other users who were present in that studio at that time. If you liked what you heard you could add something yourself and post it to the session for the other users to hear. For example the other guy present in the session who was in Madrid posted a very cool percussion part to track one. If you wanted to add a bass line then you would go ahead and record the bass part as normal on another spare track and then press post. Within a short space of time it would appear in the other guys session for him to hear. Because Rocket used virtual studios that resided on the Rocket servers you did not necessarily need to be there at the same time as the other person. If you were busy your other collaborators could start a session and post it up to the virtual studio and you could download it and add your own parts later when you got home.

Since Rocket Network stopped its activities, have you ever tried any other online collaboration tool from those currently available?

Yes I had. To be fair to them, they actually varied in their approach to online collaboration and which specific target user they were after but, most of my issues/frustration stemmed from:

  • Too many technical hoops to jump through to get them working i.e. setting up port forwarding and such. Some musicians i work with online did not have the knowledge or patience to get past that first hurdle so we couldn’t even get started using the software.
  • Unusual or obscure interface for working which i think might deviate too much from a normal workflow for some. I think something that is simple as possible and doesn’t disturb the normal workflow much (i.e. record as normal and just hit send) works best.
  • Some of the newer online collaboration tools I’ve tried recently such as Tracks and Fields and Indaba Music are pretty good but no serious musicians would consider using them yet. They don’t work properly and both me and my brother who i collaborate with sometimes couldn’t get it working right.
  • I have also tried some online collaboration tools that work in a Peer to Peer fashion which is obviously great if both parties can be present at the same time but that’s not always the case, which is why I really missed the “virtual studios” concept from the Rocket days. For me and partners i collaborated with (especially if they were half way round the world) one person would start a session and the other would log in at another time, download the session and send their update.

Audio software and the internet evolved a lot during last decade. Considering nowadays bedroom or home producers and their expectations regarding musical collaboration, do you think that there’s more demand for the Ohm Studio’s “seamless project sharing” features, or for its “real-time collaboration” ones?

Well I don’t want to dodge the question but I think there are a lot of different people who want to do things a lot of different ways but the overall goal of wanting to successfully collaborate on a project online without huge technical and setup issues to overcome is the same. There are arguments for both as the different ways suit different individuals. I guess one thing you can say nowadays in this digital age of multitasking is that people are very busy so there MIGHT be an argument for seamless project sharing. But there are always those who want to spend some time on real-time working on projects with people online. From my experience of working with people on Rocket, they just wanted as much compatibility as possible. So an example of that from back then would be, if a Cubase user on windows recorded a guitar part, then edited it, then recorded some volume automation, then added a reverb plug in, then they would expect the Cubase user with a Mac at the other end to receive exactly the same thing.  Of course it was dependent on both users being on the same build of cubase and having the same plug ins!

What kind of feature do you think that a (new) collaborative music workstation should have?

Be as simple as possible to work with. Something that does not disturb the creative workflow. No major technical obstacles to overcome before the software can be used. Virtual studio sessions so users who cannot be there at the same time can collaborate anyway. The ability to easily send all the information related to the track or part (fades, plug ins, mixer settings). Good integrated chat app and maybe even webcam and audio link (though I never found it a major problem to resort to using some other instant messaging app if not). The ability to send audio at full quality uncompressed to highly compressed and small as possible for preview. Not sure how exactly Ohm Studio is going to work but not long before Rocket demise they were starting to include a kind of Producer mode where someone in the session could take ownership of other people tracks and change them or take ownership of all the tracks for doing the final mix. That would also be cool to see in your app.

In your personal case do you see the Ohm Studio as a tool to make easier the collaboration with people you already know, or more likely as a good way to find potential new collaborative partnerships?

Right now I have a few people I collaborate with who do not live close to me that I would like to resume online collaboration with. However there are always times when a project calls for something to be added and you don’t have that particular talent on board at the time. So it’s a perfect time to search for other people out there who can provide that missing element. I wouldn’t rule out wanting to go out there and find new people to collaborate with in the future so if Ohmstudio has that facility im sure ill take full advantage of it 🙂

We heard that you produce a band from West Papua band. What’s the name of the band, is there a site where we could listen to its songs? Have you been actually physically together with the band?

The band from West Papua I work with is The Lani Singers. I met then about 8 years ago when they came to England as they had to flee West Papua. The story is quite a sad one but its getting more exposure all the time and I hope It can turn into a happy one. This one isn’t an online collaboration. I recorded the album Ninalik Ndawi in the front room of their house. Quite a challenge with four kids running around wanting attention!  Info about the album and more about the campaign can be viewed  at www.freewestpapua.org. And some of my own experimental soundscapes are located at my personal MySpace profile.


12 Responses to “Engin Hassan, former Rocket Networks member, talks about music collaboration”

  1. June 19, 2010 at 19:05

    Nice talking. Cheers from Poland 😉

  2. June 21, 2010 at 19:53

    Huzzah! Great overview & blast from the past. Nice to hear from you, Engin!

    I’d like to amplify on something you touched on, how Rocket supported various compression rates for posted audio, including lossless audio.

    One of the things that I thought worked really well with Rocket was how you could flexibly / preferentially setup what audio quality you wanted to receive from your collaborators. e.g.

    Collaborator A records a vocal and it’s synchronized with the server (lossless)
    Collaborator B is on a slower connection, so preferences are set to receive vocal as lofi (128kbps MP3)
    Collaborator C is on a hifi connection and elects to receive better quality audio (360kbps MP3)

    Then later on, when collaborator B is on a super-high speed connection, he switches his project preferences to receive lossless audio, and then all the snippets update.

    – Canton
    (Rocket co-founder)

  3. 3 Engin Hassan
    June 21, 2010 at 21:08

    Hey Canton great to hear from you. Hear Hear on that. That was a very
    important feature amongst others that i did not talk about that was worth
    mentioning. Hope alls well in your world

  4. 4 Jay Griggs
    June 22, 2010 at 12:15

    Yeah Engin,
    That brings me back.
    Nice to see Canton is still out there.
    good luck to the Ohm Force guys
    (Rocket demo team)

  5. 5 Engin Hassan
    June 23, 2010 at 09:17

    If anyone wants to hear some of the results from our online collaborations back then
    iv put some of the tracks up on a Soundcloud page >>

  6. November 3, 2010 at 08:15

    Nice, and cheers from Poland 🙂

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