I was in a New York hotel room, working on a new song. Because it was a New York hotel room, I had barely enough space to open my laptop without hurting myself. Luckily, that was all I needed to begin using eSession.com, a new "virtual recording studio" founded by engineer, songwriter, and Pro Tools guru Gina Fant-Saez.
Gina, as it happened, was on the phone from her studio in the Texas hill country outside Austin. She had invited me to give eSession a try, and over the course of a 45-minute training session, she showed me how it would allow me to find and communicate with top professional talent, negotiate agreements, share (and protect) files, and make payments—all the things I would normally do in a studio, but online, from anywhere. eSession promises to let anyone create world-class recordings from New York hotels, Hong Kong high-rises, or anywhere in between.
Esession isn't the first attempt at making this possible. You may remember Rocket Network, which linked DAWs such as Pro Tools, Cubase, or Logic over the Web and enjoyed a burst of promise before fading into Avid/Digidesign in 2003. The idea didn't die there, though; Source Connect, Ninjam, mH20, and other web outfits have since been pursuing roughly similar ventures.
Even before most of us were on the Internet, audio pros could perform remote recording and editing via satellite or dedicated, high-bandwidth phone lines using ISDN connections. A leading example of the latter approach was EDnet, which is still connecting audio and video studios for clients such as the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.
Going back even further, radio producers came up with a technique called the double-ender—an interview conducted over an ordinary phone line, but with high quality mics and recorders running simultaneously at both ends. After the call, the interviewee's recording was shipped to the producer, who mixed the questions from one recording with the answers from the other. This is still done when high-bandwidth links are not available.
Esession is descended from that collaborative lineage, but it represents a big step forward. The site supports not only recording, but the entire music-production process, with a design that is among the most complete and best integrated I've seen.
I got a chance to learn about that design very thoroughly by beginning as a newbie and working my way through a full production. I chose to record "Nowhere Motel," a song I wrote with my brother Owen. It's the title track for a project I'm producing for my band the Desert Mothers. (Appropriately, the Mothers are a virtual band—me plus whichever musicians I'm working with on a particular song.)
It turned out that my life during this project made for something of an acid test: I was traveling all over the place, and location was definitely a problem that needed solving.
The eSession Song page: (A) primary menu tabs. (B) song tabs — Files, Details, Team, and History. (C) Bank and Bin buttons, which link to various kinds of song files. (D) Buddy List for the chat tool (Tom Roady is online; the camera icon indicates he has a webcam). (E) A file browser for my local hard drive, Loretta. (F) Bin buttons linking to the different kinds of files in the Mix Bank.