• [ Thumbnail ] Creating Bonds by Expanding Musical Opportunities #2

Creating Bonds by Expanding Musical Opportunities #2

Sounds in Sync, Hearts in Sync

September 6, 2023

During the global COVID-19 pandemic, many of us lost the means to connect with others in real life. As countries went into lockdown, we suddenly found ourselves isolated and unable to share physical spaces. For musicians, this also meant a loss of music sessions, and moments of shared fun and laughter. Then came SYNCROOM: a powerful tool that provides an open space for musicians across Japan to come together.

This is #2 of a three-part series.

SYNCROOM is an application that enables users in different locations to jam in real-time. Powered by Yamaha’s remote music technology “NETDUETTO,” the application enables users to enjoy a seamless ensemble experience with very little latency. Released as a free application in Japan in 2020, SYNCROOM now boasts a user base numbering in the hundreds of thousands.

Minimizing Latency While Maximizing Joy

Although SYNCROOM was released during the COVID-19 pandemic, the technology behind it was in development for over 10 years. In fact, it was all the way back in 2011 that Yamaha launched a beta version of the app called “NETDUETTO β.” According to Naoki Yamamoto, who works on the development of SYNCROOM, the service was made possible by leveraging a network technology that Yamaha had developed years prior.

[ Thumbnail ] Naoki Yamamoto from the Music Connect Department is responsible for software development
Naoki Yamamoto from the Music Connect Department is responsible for software development

Standard online meeting platforms have some latency in sound. While this can be negligible in normal conversation, it is detrimental for online jam sessions because musicians play while listening to each other’s sounds. NETDUETTO technology minimizes audio latency by facilitating a stable connection using a range of innovations such as the continuous monitoring of the network connection. On top of this, the system achieves high sound quality, making it possible to enjoy a comfortable and seamless jam session experience.

“Once we were ready to run it as a fully-fledged service, we re-launched the app as SYNCROOM,” says Yamamoto. This was in June 2020, early in the COVID-19 pandemic. “We never imagined the launch would coincide with a global emergency, but I’m glad that we were able to introduce SYNCROOM during a time when people were stuck inside and unable to get together to play music.”

A jam session using SYNCROOM (sample image)
A jam session using SYNCROOM (sample image)

Connecting Over Any Distance

SYNCROOM came newly equipped with various functions, such as the metronome and recording feature. Among the myriad updates from NETDUETTO β, the most significant was the profile settings. Users can now write their bio, as well as tag their favorite music genres and instruments they are interested in playing.

Erika Kitahara, who is responsible for product planning and marketing of SYNCROOM, says, “The profile system made it easier for users to find others who they might be interested in playing with.” In conjunction with the user search, session history, and “Favorites” features, the new system made it easier for users to meet new people as well as stay in touch with people they had jammed with before.

Similarly, the “public room” function enables impromptu jam sessions between complete strangers. Users can now hop into a public room and jam with someone they’ve never met, or open their own rooms for others to join. “When we first launched SYNCROOM, most users were using it with people they already knew. It was a way for them to play together while they were separated in lockdown. Now that the pandemic has subsided, however, we are seeing more and more users making new friends on the platform and enjoying music sessions with strangers.”

Erika Kitahara from the Music Connect Department is responsible for the product planning of SYNCROOM
Erika Kitahara from the Music Connect Department is responsible for the product planning of SYNCROOM

The new social features greatly enhanced the ease of communication between users. They make SYNCROOM not just a tool for online jam sessions, but also a platform that sparks new connections between players.

Kitahara explains that SYNCROOM has also been instrumental in providing opportunities for people who find it challenging to meet in person. “People with injuries, illnesses, or disabilities may find it difficult to travel or join an ensemble. The benefit of SYNCROOM is that it provides a space for people to make music with others, despite these challenges. I’ve even heard of cases where SYNCROOM is used for remote musical therapy sessions.”

The option to participate in jam sessions can empower many others as well, including those who live far away from other players, who are busy raising kids, or who have social anxiety in face-to-face interactions. Yamamoto explains, “SYNCROOM has much fewer barriers because all you need is the right Internet environment.” Kitahara chimes in, “In that sense, SYNCROOM can help foster inclusion and empowerment.”

This shows that in addition to minimizing sound delay, SYNCROOM also minimizes the emotional distance between individuals, providing a space where diverse people can come together to enjoy music.

Opening Up New Possibilities for Musical Ensemble

While SYNCROOM enables online jam sessions, Yamamoto and Kitahara emphasize that it is not intended to replace in-person experiences.

Yamamoto considers SYNCROOM not as a substitute for real-life interactions, but as a complementary addition. “My hope is that people will start to freely mix and match online and offline sessions, without placing a heavy distinction between the two,” he elaborates. For example, a band may decide to hold day-to-day practice sessions online, and get together in person for important rehearsals and live gigs. Another band could go hybrid, where some members play in the same physical space while the others join remotely.

Kitahara thinks that SYNCROOM has the potential to “enrich people’s music lives by providing a new option that was not available before.” To make this vision a reality, the team has been working continuously to improve the service and make it more accessible. “Our priority is to increase the number of users on the platform so that someday, people will recognize it as a space for playing music just like any other physical space.”

No matter how digital our lives become, people will never stop coming together in real life to play music. There’s a certain excitement and intimacy to live musical experiences that cannot be replicated virtually. “At the same time, though, there are also many benefits to online interactions,” Kitahara says. “Anonymity and the ability to participate regardless of location are just a few examples. I hope people feel empowered to combine SYNCROOM and in-person interactions in whatever way works best for them.”

In the previous article of this three-part series, we covered the School Project, Yamaha’s initiative that delivers music and musical instrument education to children in developing countries. SYNCROOM, meanwhile, provides an online space for people to make music together. In part three, we will delve into the “Key” that ties these two initiatives together.

(Interview date: February 2023)

Yamamoto is a member of the Service Planning and Development Group, Music Connect Department. He studied software engineering and machine learning in university, and joined Yamaha to leverage both his programming skills and passion for music. He currently works on the development of applications such as SYNCROOM.

Kitahara is a member of the Service Planning and Development Group, Music Connect Department. She lived abroad during her junior high and high school years, where she played the horn in a brass band. She joined Yamaha in 2017 with a desire to spread the joy of music to people across the world. A member of the SYNCROOM team since 2019, Kitahara works on managing and improving the service, as well as developing marketing strategies.

*Bio as of the time of the interview

Three-Part Series: Creating Bonds by Expanding Musical Opportunities