As you can probably tell, I was very happy with the whole experience of working with eSession.
There were flaws, of course, some of which were fleeting, and some of which I'd expect could be fixed in future updates (transparently to the user, since it's hosted software). For example, on my Macs I sometimes found that eSession worked better with Safari, at other times with Firefox. I assume that was the growing pains of software that was just then emerging from beta. The Song Page, which makes heavy use of Java, was slow to load, especially on my behind-the-curve G4 PowerBook.
I thought the interface was more modal than it needed to be: there was enough difference between the Main page and the Song page that it felt like switching between two interfaces instead of aspects of one. The process for sending work requests, negotiating, and paying seemed clear enough going in, and yet I found that I and most of the players got confused at one point or another. We quickly got better with practice, but some extra usability testing by eSession might lead to a faster learning process.
The project also took longer than it would have if I had booked a real studio. When people are together in a room, there's a lot of communications bandwidth available — much of it non-verbal — and that's likely to be hard to replicate fully in the online world for a long time. Esession is taking a step in that direction with a tool they call Virtual Glass, a DAW plugin that will connect recording sessions over the net while also providing video chat.
As it happened, my travels took me to Austin just as "Nowhere Motel" wrapped up. I dropped in at the eSession offices to meet Gina and her crew in person, and support manager Marc Rosenberg (a Rocket Networks alumnus) gave me a demo of Virtual Glass running in Pro Tools. I was impressed.
Video streaming in the Virtual Glass plugin restores some of the camaraderie of making records. (Click to enlarge.)
Real-world connections between people will remain important, a fact underscored by a friendly game of ping pong I enjoyed at eSession headquarters — such apparently casual interactions are so valuable to the creative process. But remote recording and collaboration are clearly here to stay, and will no doubt become increasingly common.
eSession is state of the art, as much for how well it aggregates services as for the services themselves. It was built by experienced professionals, and that shows. (Gina Fant-Saez personally gives tours of the site every day via web conferencing.) The participation by hundreds of other experienced professionals is both a valuable resource and a vote of confidence. For getting just the right player, engineer, producer, or studio when the time and expense of travel might otherwise make that impossible, I think it works beautifully.
The eTeam (left to right): Scott Gress (Web Developer), Amy Gamble (Director of Finance), Todd Lapitus (IT Manager), John French (Interactive Developer), Jose Cintron (Web Developer), Gina Fant-Saez (CEO), Kevin Killen (Co-founder, partner), Marc Rosenberg (Support Manager), and Ryan Chahanovich (Director of Talent Relations)