This week we’re going to be covering how to sync multiple computers running Ableton Live.’ I will be covering all the necessary steps to sync two MacBooks running Live, but the process will be the same for PC users (albeit with the respective PC program equivalents).
Synchronizing the MIDI clocks of two computers running Live is an essential part of collaborating with another Live user.’ While it is possible to play together without connecting the computers, I feel that you put yourself at a disadvantage because you are not fully utilizing all of Live’s crucial ‘warping’ features.’ I have read many different articles on this subject and some have quite in-depth explanations using third party plugins and are, quite frankly, and bit intimidating.’ While I cannot speak to the effectiveness of these techniques on a PC or using other performance software, I use a MacBook Pro and the technique I describe below is what I use on a weekly basis.’ Everything you need is already inside your Mac and can be set up very quickly with a bit of practice.
The first step you will need to connect the computers in some way.’ The two most effective ways are by either connecting them with a single ethernet cable or by creating an ad-hoc wireless network.’ To create an ad-hoc network you simply click on the wifi icon in your top menu bar and select ‘create network’.’ This will prompt you to a window where you can create a name for your network and security.
Once this ad-hoc network is created, the second computer should be able to see it as an available wifi network to join.’ Select it like any other wifi network and enter the unique password (if applicable).’ You will notice that the typical wifi symbol in your top menu bar is slightly different than usual.’ If both computers have this symbol, you know that the network connection worked properly.
Once both computers are connected you need to sync them up via the Audio MIDI Setup application (which can be found in your utilities folder).’ Inside the Audi MIDI Setup app, you will see icons for the various audio drivers and MIDI controllers that you have associated with your computer.’ For our purposes here, you want the icon labelled ‘Network’.’ Double-click on this and you will be prompted to a new window called ‘MIDI Network Setup’, which is where things can get a bit tricky.
Before you adjust any settings in this window you need to determine how the computers will communicate.’ In a two computer setup there will be a ‘master’ and a ‘slave’ computer (i.e. one sending the signals and one receiving the signals).’ In the bottom right hand section labelled ‘Live Routings’ the ‘master computer will select ‘Network Session 1? from the top drop-down menu and the ‘slave’ will select ‘Network Session 1? from the bottom drop-down menu.
In the top left menu ‘My Sessions’ you will want to make sure you have one session enabled.’ By default it will be named ‘Session 1?, but I recommend that you change the name to something unique.’ If you were able to successfully connect the computers via ethernet cable or ad-hoc network you should see each other’s computers under the bottom left window called ‘Directory’.’ Both computers should double click on the name listed in the ‘Directory’ to create a new connection.’ This will prompt the name of the other computer to show up in the window on the right labelled ‘Participants’.’ Once the computers are connected this way I recommend changing the ‘Local Name’ to something unique if it hasn’t already been changed from the default ‘Session 1?.’ If the computers are connected properly you should be able to see the Port number, Latency and IP addresses.
All of the above steps are to get the two computers speaking to one another. Now it is time to sync Live together. In Live, open up the ‘Preferences’ menu (either through the top menu or by pressing command) and go to the ‘MIDI Sync’ tab. Under the ‘MIDI Ports’ section at the bottom you should now see two new items; ‘Input Network (Session 1)’ and ‘Output: Network (Session 1)’.’ Here, the only buttons that should be selected out of these two MIDI Ports are the ‘sync’ button for the output of the ‘master’ computer and the ‘sync’ button for the input of the slave computer.
Once the MIDI Sync for the two computer’s respective input and output have been set, a new button labelled ‘EXT’ will now appear in the ‘slave’ computer’s Live in the upper left corner next to the tempo selector.’ The ‘slave’ computer should click this ‘EXT’ button to enable the external control of the program.’ Once it is enabled you will notice that the transport controls and tempo of the ‘slave’ computers Live become greyed-out and cannot be adjusted.’ This means that the two computers are properly synced and the ‘master’ computer has control over the global tempo and transport controls.
When the ‘master’ computer hits the global play button both computers should now be playing together with both the tempo and arrangement position indicators showing the same values.’ Any clips that are triggered on either computer will now play on the same tempo grid.
Depending on where you are playing, there are a variety of different audio output options to hear both computers playing.’ Ideally, you would want both computers to have their own sound cards and have each output running into a master mixer.’ However, if only one sound card is available you could run an 1/8th inch to RCA cable from one computer into the ‘input’ of the second computer’s sound card.’ Again, depending on the equipment available your audio output may vary.
I hope that the explanation above was clear.’ I use this exact setup to connect with other Live users on a regular basis.’ One thing I have noticed is that these network connections are sometimes quite fickle.’ If you notice that they are not working together correctly, simply repeat the process.’ Sometimes it is as simple as the order in which the programs were opened or the names that you give your network sessions.’ If nothing else works you can also try renewing your DHCP lease on the network you are using through your main System Preferences network menu.
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