How to Network Your MIDI and Audio Studio's Computers
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How to Network
Your Home Recording Systems

EZ ways to create a productive network

by the Tweak

There are many advantages and few drawbacks to networking additional computers in your project studio.  TweakHeadz Lab has 4 computers networked with an Apple TV/HDTV.  It's very easy to do and the benefits are large, especially as we move into the realm of podcasts, YouTube videos, integrating HDV with our music. One word sums it up: connectivity.    Here are some things you can do with networked studio that you cannot do with just one computer.

1. You can run one machine as a dedicated virtual synth and the other as your sequencer.  It's not always a great idea to run big virtual programs like Kore 2 from the same computer you are doing your sequence on, especially if you have a full cadre of audio tracks running in the sequencer.  

2. You can assign specific uses for the second machine.  You can put all your non-music applications on it, like word processors, graphics programs, internet software and games so as not to compromise you main music making machine.  The purists out there will tell you that games, internet browsers and other applications will erode your sequencer's musical performance.  I personally do not subscribe to that view, but I am certain it has some effect.

3. You can effectively double your hard disk storage by networking another computer.  Networking allows you to "share" hard drives, files, folders among all your computers.  For example, you can keep your sample library on a second computer and load them as needed into applications on your main system.  This is the real joy of networking.  I keep about 20 cds worth of acid loops on my 2nd computer's hard drives.  The load time over the network is still faster than pulling them off cd roms, and acid is built to be used over networks. 

5.  You can add more devices like printers, scanners, video capture, firewire More computers mean more slots and ports, or more hardware.  Lets face it, one computer simply cannot do it all.  I want to have digital cameras, vcrs and TV online.  If there's a hot new song on MTV I want to record it for further study.  Networking computers allows for the true multimedia experience.  Your recording studio connected to all forms of available media, not just the internet.
Apple Airport Express

With a simple under $100 device you can connect all your computers wirelessly to a your own home WI-FI network   Mac Networking items

 

6. You can run a second audio program like ACID, another sequencer, a software multitrack or alogrithmic sequencer from the second computer and sync it to your main machine with MIDI time code.  This does not require a network connection, but a midi connection.  But if you do this you'll end up slappin' files back and forth before you know it.  

 

7. You can use the second computer as a waveform editor while your main computer runs the sequencer.  Don't yawn.  Ever try to add a little compression to a 15 minute song?  Ever burn a cdr and sit for 35 minutes staring dumbly at the screen.  You can reclaim that lost time by offloading the task to the second computer. 

8. You can network a Mac to a PC.  It's not as hard as it used to be.  You can network via ethernet, firewire, or WIFI. WIFI has the advantage of connecting wirelessly.  Printers, computers, HDTVs, shared drives, backup solutions can all be on the same network.

2 computers9. Some sequencers are made for setting up networks.  The most simple is ACID by Sony Pictures.  Acid can read loops off of a network drive quite well.  A more complex example is Cubase SX.  It has a feature called system link which allows you to chain up different computers to the same project.  The idea here is to have several people working on a song at once.  Logic has a sub-application called Logic Node which allows you to run Logic instruments on a 2nd machine.

9. Saved to coolest for last.  Put that old Pentium 200 to work by installing it in the living room next to your TV/ stereo systems.  Yep, play your wave file masters for friends, potential lovers, your dog, whoever will listen as you entertain them in your living room.  "This is coming direct from my studio's hard drives".  Won't they be impressed!  Especially effective with potential lovers.  They will be amazed at your technological expertise, and you will send all the guys with the tired "wanna hear my CD?" line back to the minors. LOL!


 

How to set up a Local Area Network (LAN)

It's really very simple. If you are able to understand how MIDI connects Synths, you will not have a problem understanding how a LAN works. Don't let the jargon scare you off.  A LAN (or Local Area Network) is a protocol that allows two or more computers to share their hard drives and the data on them. It's similar to the way a modem can connect two computers, but its much faster than any modem.  You can, for example, transfer a typical 50 meg wav file of a 3 minute song in just a few seconds from computer to computer.  Look for a complete solution at your local computer superstore.  The old school package will include 1) A Hub 2) At least two NICs (Network Interface Cards)  3) Cables.  The newer WiFi approach just requires a base station and access points on the machines you want to connect. 

You can find solutions like this for under $100.  I use the D-Link DE-906 which cost me about $70 bucks and came with everything.  If building from scratch you want to use a 10/ 100 Base-T system.  You don't have to understand what that means, just make sure it says it on the box.  For WI-FI systems, you want to make sure all your stuff is compatible with the protocol used.  The current one of this writing is called 802.11.n.

wireless

 

The "hub" is the center of the network.  It's just a little box that routes the data to and from the computers on the network reliably.  With a typical consumer hub you can connect 5 computers or more.  Plenty for a studio and you can even run a line upstairs to the bedroom if you want so you can play audio files as you sweet-talk the significant other.  You can network all the computers in your house if you want and access all of them from any one of them. 

Step one:  (Old) Install the NIC Cards.  These fit into the PCI slots inside your computers.  No brainer.  Just like any other PCI card you ever inserted.  (New) Install USB wireless access points into standard USB slots

Step two: (Old way) Connect the cables from the NIC Card to the Hub.  The cable ends look like telephone plugs but are slightly larger.  Plug 'em in just like you would a telephone.  Even guitarists will not have trouble here.  (New) Plug the Cat 5 cable into the wireless base station

Step Three:  Install the software.  Its typically all plug 'N Play hardware, so Windows will automatically sense it and ask for disks.  Of course, this is not supposed to be hard, though as we know, sometimes PNP does not work as advertised.  It's easier than installing a soundcard, and way easier than SCSI.  Recently there are new USB systems which are bound to be easier.

Step Four:  Designate which folders (or drives) are to be shared between computers. Simple as any file operation.  Just right click the folder, look for the menu called "sharing" and click it on.  See the notes on security below.

Step Five:  Get an audio switchbox so you can route audio from the soundcard on each machine to your recording devices like DATs, cassette decks, an your mixing board.  You do want to be able to record your audio into other machines in your studio.

Step Six:  Use the  MIDI Out on the second machine and route it to the MIDI IN of your main Machine.  This will allow you to run midi programs on both machines and keep them in sync with your main computer.  This allows you to use MIDI TIME Code (MTC) or MIDI Clock Sync to keep the systems playing to the same beat. 
 

A Note on Security of your Files

Ok, as I said above, once a folder is designated as shared, any computer on the network can access it's contents. Here's the security problem.  If you use a cable modem or DSL to access the internet, you need to take caution. by connecting to these services you are actually part of a much bigger network, and particularly in the case of cable modems, your neighbors are on the network with you.   You don't want to give read write access to the entire internet.  Under sharing you can, it's true,  restrict access to specific users that know the password, can make the folder "read only" or make it globally accessible.  But this is not enough protection.  Its a grand idea for anyone with an 'always on' net connection to invest in firewall software or hardware. (There are some shareware and freeware firewalls out there for download).  This is like installing an alarm system to your studio as well as locking the doors when you leave. 

For Wireless networks, you might be surprised how far the signal travels.  Want to know why there are cars parked in front of your house?  Some people may be "borrowing" your connectivity.  Always put a password on your network connection.  

So, by keeping your shared directories on your side of the firewall, you can access your personal network, but others on the larger network will be thwarted from reading your files.  Of course, a seasoned hack may still be able to get in.  So after your third album goes platinum, you might want to disconnect your music making machine from the net.  Internet websites form clusters not unlike neighborhoods.  There are good servers and bad ones. 

OK, we're done, and the process of setting up a LAN was painless, and required little technical know-how.  Give yourself a couple of hours to do the job and your studio will become dramatically more productive as a result.  

Q) Can you network a Mac and PC?  How? 

Things have come a long way since the introduction of Win XP and Mac OS X 10.1. Windows 7 and Snow leopard both  strive to make networking as easy as possible and it's a simple as connecting them up with a router, setting permissions and sharing, and using the right network protocols.  Make sure when you buy, the router says, specifically, that it is compatible with your operating systems. Fortunately, buying a router is not as bad as buying a soundcard, but don't get too sloppy in your thinking. Firewalls can be set to allow communication between all computers on the network but with no computers from the outside.  Some firewalls like Norton's will even assist you in this process if you read the documentation carefully.  The good thing is that most music files are common to both Mac and PC.  .WAV, .AIF, .MP3 can be shuttled back and forth with no loss and without the need for file converters or file compression tools.  Of course, .TXT, .PDF and .HTML files and .JPG, .GIF, .TIFF and many other graphic files crossover just as well.  We have  come a long way to iron out the excesses of proprietary thinking and this is a great thing for all computer users. 
 

Best of Luck in your Music Making

Rich the TweakMeister

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