Adventures In Audio
The Amazing Jamhub - Inventor Steve Skillings speaks (and offers a PRIZE!)

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Sunday February 21, 2010
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We briefly covered Jamhub in a recent article. There is certainly nothing like it in the market so we just had to find out more. And who better to ask than Jamhub's inventor, Steve Skillings. . .

Where did the idea for
JamHub come from?

I was at my son's indoor soccer/football game (it's snowy in winter
here) sitting with another dad who plays guitar. We sit together and watch the games and during breaks talk
music and guitars. He mentioned to
me that his older bass-playing son was having his band over to play later in
the day that Saturday. I knew that
he lived in a two-family house and asked him, "How does that work at your
house?" He said that the neighbors
agreed to leave the house for one hour and the kids get to jam. I thought, "One hour of jamming?!? That's not much time if you love music."

The problem stuck with me. I knew that most musicians own gear that allows them to practice individually
wearing headphones. I thought to
myself, what if we had a device that allowed musicians to interconnect their
headphone jack equipped gear and jam quietly? By the time I got home from that game I had the original
JamHub concept fleshed out.

The need for a product like this is so great that I was convinced that
the product must exist. But, I'm a
gear head, I read the catalogs from the first page to the last and I could not
recall any such product. Of course
we have mixers and headphone amps and effect units, but they are all designed
for other purposes. None of them
allowed musicians to do what the JamHub does, which is make a mix that's right
for each musician, independent of what the other musicians need.

That first weekend was crazy. I was simultaneously searching the web for a "silent rehearsal studio"
and sketching out engineering diagrams as the pages loaded. My wife must have thought I'd lost my
mind because I don't think I left the computer for more than 5 minutes at a
time until Sunday night. I was
convinced there was an opportunity to create something new.

After about a month of designing and testing (I'm pretty good with a
soldering iron) I took the whole idea to a patent attorney (who happens to be a
guitar player with a son in a band) and he said, "Yes, this is a new invention
… and my son needs one." and so we applied for the patents (some of which have
already been issued).

Now it was time to decide if we wanted to start a business, my wife and
I talked a bunch about it and we said "let's go for it" … just before the worst
economy in the US since the great depression! LOL! It was scary but now we're doing fine. JamHubs are selling very well and the
user reviews we are getting are simply fantastic. It feels great that so many bands are getting to play more
because of JamHubs. JamHubs are
fulfilling that original spark of inspiration, letting musicians play more often
and in more locations.

Clearly it allows a band
to rehearse at home. But could it be better than a rehearsal studio in some
ways?

Is it better than a rehearsal studio jam, yes and no. With any loud music in a small room there
are problems, here's what typically happens with my band. The drummer hits his kit and gets all the
acoustic kit's volume up in his face, he asks the guitar player, "Can you turn
up? I can't hear you." and the guitar player says, "Turn up? No way, I don't want to be too loud." Oh, wait, not really, the guitar player
says "Turn up? YEAH BABY!" in his
best Austin Powers voice and cranks up the amp.

When rehearsing in a room smaller than a 10 meter concert stage, there's
not a lot of places for all that sound to go, so it bounces around the room. All that sound is in the room and the problems
start to grow. For example, the singer can't hear his/her vocals and they turn
up the PA … which leads to louder guitars, louder drums, louder bass and on and
on.

Our ears are like our mouth, they can only take in so much at once. It's like the old phrase "drinking from
a fire hose" … meaning would you put your mouth in front of a fire house to get
a drink? Well that concept applies
to our ears. Our ears can handle
only so much sound before they compress, distort and eventually feel pain.

What's happening in that rehearsal room is that the sound level is
getting so loud that the ears can't handle the volume and things become less
clear. Everyone is hearing less
clearly but they fix the problem by turning up … and that's never going to fix
the problem. Thirsty, can't put
your mouth on that fire hose? Well
turn it up dude! :o)

With a JamHub rehearsal that problem goes away, whether you're using
electronic or acoustic drums. With
acoustic drums the drummer should mic the kit and use good 'isolation'
headphones like the Extreme Isolation phones. That will ensure that the drum sound they hear is mostly the
mic'ed kit, not the acoustic kit.

Now, if everyone else is plugging into the JamHub with a modeling amp or
the headphone out on a practice amp, the band is in complete control of levels
and building mixes that are right for them. Since there are no loud amps adding to the loud drums, the
singer won't blow out his vocal chords trying to be heard. With a JamHub there is no such thing as
a volume war. Or mic feedback
problems. And the clarity is
remarkable. It's an amazing change
for those of us who've rehearsed in small rooms that you can't describe with
words. You've got to experience it.

On the down side of things, what you don't get from a JamHub rehearsal
is the feeling of the bass and guitars moving the zipper on your pants, because
all the sound is in your headphones, not in the room. My band still plays live and we get that live and loud
feeling at the gig, but we use the JamHub exclusively now for rehearsals
because when we rehearse we want to hear everything clearly. Rehearsing is about getting the songs
right and trying new ideas and experimenting. Shows are all about energy and performance for our band.

Musicians are telling us that their JamHub rehearsals are far superior
to 'loud amps in tiny room' rehearsals because there are no volume wars and the
clarity is remarkably better. And,
because the volume is down, the singer can sing longer, the band can play
longer without disturbing those outside of the band and the location is
typically more comfortable. Lastly,
the bands who are giving up spending money on their rehearsal space are now
talking about using that money to buy new instruments, upgrading their mics and
other music related spending … nobody has told us that they are saving it for a
rainy day or investing in IBM or Microsoft. ;o)

In each section, can you
use the three inputs simultaneously?

Yes. The JamHub is a 21
channel (or 15 channel) system where you can use the channels
simultaneously. Each section has a
stereo instrument input (two audio channels) and a mic input (mono
channel). With the GreenRoom and
TourBus system you have 21 channels grouped into 7 sections and with BedRoom
you have 15 channels grouped into 5 sections.

What is the SoleMix
feature?

SoleMix is the term we use to describe the mix controls on each
section. We wanted a quick way to
describe this feature and "SoleMix" had a fun play on words to it so we decided
to use it. Each musician can
create a mix solely for themselves, independent of the other mixes.

Even the remotes are called SoleMix because they are independent of any
other mix in the JamHub. So if you
have a GreenRoom model and you connect the maximum number of remotes, four, you
could have 11 perfectly unique/independent mixes happening at the same time
– 7 on the JamHub GreenRoom unit and 4 SoleMix remote mixes for a total
of 11 independent or 'sole' mixes. I'm not sure how anyone would use 11 unique mixes, but it is possible.
:o)

The effects are global,
is that right?

Yes. Think of them as the
'room' that you're choosing for your silent rehearsal studio. There are 8 reverbs (or rooms) like
'small', 'big' and 'church' and then there are 8 effects including delays,
modulation, etc. You can see the
full list by downloading the User's Manual from our website.

Why do you only put
effects on the mic inputs?

Great question! Most
modeling amps, keyboards and electronic drums have reverb built into their
presets. Putting reverb on reverb
can be a recipe for disaster so we put the effects on the mic inputs only. We are musicians so we know what
mistakes to avoid … like reverb on reverb. :o)

Is it possible for one
musician to mess up his or her sound for the whole band?

Anything is possible! This is music! All kidding aside, it is possible,
but it is really hard to do. Basically if you get the trim controls right then your sound into the
JamHub is good and you can't mess up someone else's mix unless you grab their
SoleMix controls and start turning knobs when they are not looking to mess with
their head. :o)

The JamHub is acoustically transparent from 20 Hz to 20 kHz, it won't
change your sound at all. If you
give it a messed up sound, it will do a great job of spreading that around to
everyone else. Luckily, the other
musicians can choose to either help you fix your sound or turn you down until
they replace you with someone else who has a good sound. :o)

If the band has a
leader, which section should the leader use?

Each section is identical, so it really doesn't matter. Pick your lucky number or favorite
color. The "1" section has a
special capability and should be used by the 'engineer' of the group for when
you are recording.

The 'R' section is not a numbered section because we wanted to emphasize
that it's really easy to record your jams with a JamHub. 'R' is for recording or 'R' is for
rear, whatever you prefer. It can
be used just like any numbered section because it is independent of all other
sections and has 3 input channels, just like 1 through 6. It could have easily been given a
number designation.

There is one unique feature in Section 1 that is helpful when
recording. We have a switch
between the '1' section and the 'R' section that allows for easy access to the
recording mix. The idea is this,
if you're responsible for the recorded mix and you're one of the musicians,
plug into section '1'. You can
create a mix for playing using the '1' section SoleMix controls and mix for
recording using the 'R' section mix controls.

From Section 1 you can use the 1-R switch to listen to either of these
mixes without unplugging your headphones. Simply put the switch in the '1' position for the section '1' musician
mix, and flip it to the 'R' position to hear the mix being recorded. Then flip the switch back to the '1'
position to play. The switch routes
the audio from the selected section to the headphone jack located in Section 1.

The channels
are color coded. Should the musicians be color coded too? (Sometimes crazy
ideas work!)

Yes, absolutely. Instruments, t-shirts, hats, tattoos, cables … everything. AND, if you split yourself over two
sections for more control, for example your instrument is in Section 1 (blue)
and your mic in Section 2 (green), you should wear blue pants and a green
shirt. We strongly recommend
against wearing green pants with a purple shirt so please use fashion sense when
dividing up the sections.

I like this idea … let's have some fun! The first band to send us a picture of themselves completely
color coordinated with their JamHub will get a free remote!
Make sure we can see the JamHub and the
color coordination and send the pictures to info@JamHub.com.

[This offer is made directly by Jamhub, not RecordProducer.com]

The keyboard player and
drummer are going to be some way from the controls. How can they get their
share of the action?

The SoleMix remote was created because the early prototypes lacked a
remote and my drummer kept asking, "Steve, can you bring up John, turn down
Alan …" and then we'd change songs and what he wanted to hear was a tiny bit
different. "A little more Alan now
and a lot more guitar …" Finally I realized that I had to fix this and the
remote was born … out of laziness. :o)

JamHub
JamHub with remotes

I'm a guitar player and can easily move to the JamHub, but today I use a
remote at my mic stand because I want instant control … okay, that's not true …
I'm lazy. I want to mix from where
I stand. We use a GreenRoom or
TourBus model for my band so we have a 4 remote capacity. I simply grab one and mix from the mic
stand. Walking 1 meter to the
JamHub is way too tiring. :o)

It sounds like a lot of
cables coming together in the same place. Is cable management ever a problem?

Yeah, cable management can be a hassle, but it's no worse than a typical
rehearsal. We are working on ways
to make it better, but for now, you've just got to deal with cables.

With my JamHub jams we don't really 'manage' our cables, everyone just
plugs in and plays. Since everyone
is standing in a different spot the cables tend to mange themselves … each
group of cables 'spokes' out from the JamHub like the spokes on a bicycle
wheel. There are not a lot of
crossed cables to manage but it still looks like spaghetti.

Do individual musicians
ever accidentally - or otherwise - change other musicians' setting?

Not very often and this was a LOT of work to fix. Albert Einstein once said, "It is a
simple task to make things complex, and a complex task to make them
simple." This was one of our
design tenets with the JamHub.

The original JamHubs started out as shapes that looked like mixers, rows
and columns of knobs. Then we
tried out perfect disc (circular) designs. With both shapes, making quick, fine adjustments to an
individual mix was problematic.

With the rows/columns design, like a conventional mixer, we'd have the
musician look down at their instrument then walk up to the JamHub and make a
quick, slight adjustment, and most of the time they would take 8 to 12 bars of
music to find their controls, make the adjustment, and get back to
playing. That's a LONG time. What was worse is that many times they
would mess up someone else's mix in the process. Mixers are not exactly designed to be 'easy to use' and we
saw this clearly with the early JamHub research.

Then we tried a perfect disc shape. This was better, people made fewer mistakes and found their
mix section quicker, but they still took quite a while to make the adjustments
and get back to the song.

Then we found the solution. When we added the flat side to the device, the ability to make quick,
fine adjustments went up significantly. There is something about having that one flat side that allows musicians
to know where '12 O'clock' is on the device and they can orient themselves very
quickly, even if you spin them or the JamHub around. This meant less time 'out of the song' and fewer mistaken
changes to other players mixes. It
was so significant that we patented the JamHub's unique shape.

Thank you to Steve for an excellent insight into this ground-breaking piece of equipment.

www.jamhub.com

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