Jam Indulges Rock Star Fantasy

Google experiment lets people play

If you get offered the chance of being a rock star, it’d be kind of churlish to turn it down, right? Well, that’s precisely the offer a certain not-so-little Mountain View corporation called Google made me — and the rest of the Internet’s denizens — when it launched Chrome JAM a month or three ago.

"If you ever dreamed of playing in a band, now’s your chance to be a rock star," says the blurb on Google’s blog. Hey, I take their searches as gospel, so why not their blog posts? Which is why, on a rainy afternoon in February, I found myself seizing my ticket to fame and downloading Chrome.

Chrome JAM is an adjunct to Google’s Chrome web browser, which has earned props for its speed and security. Once installed, you just hit enter at JamWithChrome.com, select one of 19 different virtual instruments, choose your rock star nickname, and then you can start to jam. Once you get a groove going, you can invite friends to join in, which is when things get interesting — or, in my case, kind of tragic.

It has to be said, no amount of automation can compensate for a profound lack of musical talent, as I soon found out. Wanting to instantly up my cool quotient, I selected the Analog Drum Machine. But having failed miserably at getting anything remotely Prodigy-esque out of it, which I later realized was likely because I had the tempo set at a plodding 95 beats per minute, I switched out to Electric Piano, before settling on my virtual instrument of choice, the Steel String Acoustic Guitar.

At this point I invited my first band mate to join in – Tamara Palmer, a fellow contributor here on The City. It was then that the Chrome JAM experience got really real. She selected the Standard Drums, and like a typical drummer soon started grabbing attention from the rear of the stage by getting over-flash with her fills.

“I'm an animal on the drums," she said via the inbuilt chat window, with a bit too much enthusiasm.

"More like an octopus," I thought, as she hit everything in sight.

Unperturbed by this minor irritation, I decided to hold open auditions for more band members via Twitter. Chrome JAM allows up to four people to play together by sharing a URL dedicated to your session. Another “Band Buddy” soon entered the mix, picking up one of the electric guitars, but left after five minutes without so much as a by-your-leave.

I have to admit, I was a bit upset by this. I mean, I’d only been in a band for about 15 minutes and had already lost one member. Another member joined in our session, but quickly left due to creative differences.

“I wanted to make radical techno music,” he later explained when I tracked him down on Twitter. After I promised to switch instruments and get my dance music groove on, he rejoined the session.

However, a few minutes into our Techno Drum Machine-based jam, things started to stutter — and not in a cool scratch-y DJ way either. Seems one of the downsides of the virtual platform is that it’s only as stable as your internet connection, which, where I live, is not very reliable.

This was kind of the last straw, and the band pretty much fell apart after that. On the plus side, I guess Chrome JAM did deliver on its promise of giving me the full rock star experience. Within half an hour I’d formed a group, lost a member, had creative differences with another, suffered technical issues, and ultimately had my dreams broken by the system. Seems the only thing Chrome couldn’t deliver on was the autograph hunters and groupies.

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