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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For many DJs, playing a set is largely a solitary endeavor. Most of us scour the internet or local record stores isolated in our headphones in search of new music. This new music is then processed through the many different methods we use to filter, tag, and arrange all incoming tracks. The few tracks that make it through the selection process are then played in our bedrooms and studios until ready to be played live in a set at a club.
What do you do if you have to deviate from your set list? What if there is an MC or instrumentalist that wants to play with you? Do you have any material that you can whip out for such an occasion?
There is a difference between playing solo and playing with others. When solo your only interaction is with the crowd, but when there are others on stage you have to learn to interact with them also. Anyone who has played in a band before might already understand this, but with a bit of practice anyone can play with other musicians.
One key concept to understand is that unless the performance has been pre-planned and rehearsed you will be relying on your improvisation skills to get you through the set. It is hard to improv with a planned set list, so you will need to prepare some other sound material to keep on top.
There are two main elements you can use in your live improv; loop material and playable instruments. The ways that you can use both of these will depend largely on what kind of setup you are playing on. Real vinyl users have limited options (mostly scratching and beat juggling), while digital DJs have more options available to them. Traktor and Serato users can use the loop banks to load up various loops and one shots, while Ableton users have almost limitless possibilities in this area. One easy way to prepare for this is to simply get a bunch of basic drum loops in a variety of styles. Simplicity is often the key when playing with others for the first time, so basic drum and percussion loops create a good foundation for others to build on. Another thing to do is have some drum one-shots prepared (i.e. kick, snare, clap, etc.) that you can load into your sampler for finger drumming. If you don’t have a good sampler/loop function in your software you can simply load up a drum loop and put cue points at each of the sounds to play as you wish.
Ableton users can also load up instruments to play with a MIDI controller, which gives the user a huge range of sonic possibilities. Also, if you are proficient at an instrument you can always bring it along with you to gigs in case you have the opportunity to play.
Regardless of the system you are using, two of your best friends when playing with others will be the tap tempo and nudge buttons. These are absolutely crucial when playing with non-computer music sources because real musicians always have variations in tempo. One way to avoid having to rely heavily on these functions is to become the ‘drummer’ for the group. If you are playing all of the main rhythmic content everyone will most likely follow your lead. If you are playing other parts you will have to listen to everything else that is going on and try to keep in time.
If you are playing with other digital DJs, another option is to MIDI sync your computers. This works well if you are both using the same software, but you can sometimes sync between different software if you know how. It can be very beneficial to the live performance if the master tempo and transport controls are synced between the computers. However, while the sync process is fairly simple it can also be plagued by errors. If you have someone join you onstage while playing and they want to sync up, I would be cautious. If at all possible try to sync up offstage and check to make sure that the connection works.
The final link in the live performance chain is the master audio output. If you are at a venue with a dedicated sound tech then you probably won’t have to worry about everyone’s sound levels. If not, you’ll have to take care of this yourself. How this works out will be completely dependent on the individual setup of the performers and the stage, but there are a couple general rules that you can apply.
If it possible try to run everyone through the main stage mixer. If there is a vocalist, have him plug into the main mic input. If there is another computer source, try to run it through an open line-level input or the aux input. This way, you have control over their mixes in relation to your main mix and the overall mix won’t exceed the levels set from the main mixer output.
If you have extra instruments or microphones that can’t run through the main mixer you can try to run them directly into the P.A. (perhaps through a D.I. box) or you can run them through your audio interface. If you are using Ableton Live and have an audio interface interface with multiple inputs you could create new audio tracks for each instrument and control them through Live. The goal here is to create even sound levels that let everyone shine through the mix.
The tips above are basic points to help you prepare for playing with others. The best way to prepare is to find someone else to play with and practice with them in your bedroom or studio. Apart from all of the prep and technical aspects of playing with others, everyone has their own style and method of playing that suits them. The only way to find this out is to jam with a variety of musicians and see what feels best. Have fun with it!
Auto-sync; friend to new DJs, source of much disdain to veterans. Most DJ software has it as a feature, but when is it appropriate to use? There are a lot of strong opinions regarding the ease with which the inexperienced can get on stage with nothing more than an iTunes playlist and some DJ software and call themselves a DJ.
The first thing to consider when debating whether or not to sync is the software and hardware that you are using. Obviously, if you are using nothing but vinyl there is no sync option, so you better practice your mixing chops. For better or worse, this seems to be a dying trend among young DJs (at least in North America) and the subtle skills required to effectively spin an entire night in this fashion might soon become a thing of the past.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Ableton Live DJ. One of the main features that draws people to use Live is its unique ‘warping’ function. Warping is essentially mapping all of your audio to a beat grid so that you can play anything in your set at any tempo and it will all stay in sync and in key. Since syncing is an inherent feature of Live, those who use it must find creative ways to perform live beyond the standard two deck mixing style.
In between these two lie the many different ways that DJs spin with Serato, Traktor and the like. Whether using virtual vinyl or CDs, many DJs are using this style of digital/analog setup. So, the question remains; when and where do you use auto-sync?
1. New DJs
While it may seem like a no brainer to learn how to properly mix before you ever get on a stage, this is not always the case. For all of you young DJs who might jump into the deep end in front of a crowd a bit too early there are certain times when it is acceptable to use auto-sync to get you out of a bind. If everything is happening too fast and you need that next track RIGHT NOW, but it’s not quite ready, a little help in this area can go a long way.
2. You’re too drunk
Let’s get something straight, most professional DJs take their job seriously and they act accordingly. That being said, everyone has a few too many now and then and auto-sync can be a lifeline in these situations. No one in the crowd can see exactly what you’re doing on stage and most would rather not hear the dreaded ‘shoes-in-a-dryer’ disaster of an out-of-sync mix, so in these cases it might be best to accept a little help.
3. You’re using multiple tracks and/or loops
If you’ve gone beyond the basic two-deck style of mixing and are now incorporating a third or fourth deck into the mix, most would say it is acceptable to use some measure of auto-sync. If you are only using two pieces of hardware (i.e. turntables) you will most likely be running the extra tracks straight from the software, so they will have to be synced since you have no physical control over them.
4. Other crazy things
If you are using external synths or effects, playing along with live musicians, or improvising original music on stage you might also want to use a sync function. How you do this will be completely dependent on your particular setup.
A good rule of thumb for using auto-sync is this; only use it if it helps bring your performance to another level. If you have to use it to cover up sloppy mixes or rely on it as a crutch for basic two-deck mixing, then you might want to go back to the drawing board.