Thomas Dolby Goes Remote

Electronic Musician talks to synth-pop and music technology icon Thomas Dolby who is among the musicians involved with online collaboration.

Listen to Thomas Dolby talk about his experience with online collaboration.

Among the musicians involved with online collaboration is synth-pop and music-technology icon Thomas Dolby. This fall Dolby is touring the U.S. and U.K., after which he'll embark on a new album project, recorded totally off the grid — that is, using only renewable energy sources. On it, he plans to use eSession to record remotely with a host of musicians in various locales. Dolby spoke to EM in late August from England, where he'd just finished recording on an eSession project. (For more of this interview, go to the Podcasts page at

ESession's model is an offline one, where files are worked on independently and sent back and forth. Do you prefer that to real-time online collaboration, which can have latency issues?

Yes, and I don't think we'll ever get around those latency issues, certainly not in this Internet generation. But as far as collaboration goes, a couple of things are key: the first is that there's really no substitute to two or more people sitting in the room, running the track, listening to it, and having a shared experience. All the best producers I know have an ability to become the audience and then respond to that by saying, “We need a bit more of this and a bit more of that.” I'm not even talking about jamming; I'm talking about the process of production in layers. Once you've had that experience and you have established a rapport, it's just fine to work remotely. I think live phone calls or videoconferencing are really helpful as well.

Read more from Electronic Musician on the world of online collaboration

So it's beneficial to be able to see and hear each other when you're working, but not to try to send the audio back and forth in real time.

Personally, I've got broadband access, and I get fairly good quality out of Skype videoconferencing, which is free to another computer. Or iChat, same deal, [with] iSight on a Mac. I think it's great to have that open, and I think if someone is just showing you a part, that's very sufficient. But I think that as soon as you get something you like, you should revert to the high-res [file-sharing] process.

Talk about your experience working on eSession.

It's very seamless to the end user. All of the previewing and emailing and the negotiations and the high-res tracks are [handled] within the application itself, and the user interface is very straightforward.

Do you see a future where everyone will just be in their home studios, playing remotely, and never meeting in a studio?

I would think that theoretically, that would be possible. But part of the beauty of a bunch of musicians being in a room playing together is that you respond absolutely in real time. That's something I especially appreciate, because machines don't do that.