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  • Writer's pictureJoe Chris

A Guide to Multi-Computer Composing Set ups

This is a very niche thing in the music world, but as media composer’s templates get larger and larger (and depending on their workflow) they may chose to move from an all-in-one workstation to a multi-computer set up. Some advantages this can provide are improving your main systems efficiency by spreading out tasks to other computers, less (or no) loading/unloading of samples, increasing the amount of CPU power/RAM you have access to, etc. You can also potentially have your template “pre-mixed” in VE Pro with plug ins and volumes set as well, off loading even more resources from your main/master/client machine to your satellite/slave/server machine.

Running multiple computers also comes at a cost – first a financial cost since it is expensive to add these types of systems to your rig, but also the cost of physical space, maintenance time, additional latency, more potential points of failure, a potentially louder/hotter studio depending on where the computer is placed, etc.

Computers these days are also more powerful than when this type of set up was more popular. You can run a powerful modern computer and if you manage your resources correctly should have no issue. But again, it really comes down to your workflow and how you prefer to work best with your particular needs.

One common misconception with composers starting a multi-computer set up is that they think they need a super powerful computer. You don’t need to have a top of the line, space hogging desktop tower computer to run VE Pro. Tom Holkenborg (aka Junkie XL) for example uses a couple old server units (Dell PowerEdges) that he maxes out the RAM of. You can get these for a couple hundred bucks as they are quite old, but the performance is still good enough to run VE Pro. This type of set up is great if you have a dedicated server room.*

*At this point it is probably important to note the difference between a dedicated server and a non-dedicated server. A dedicated server is a computer attached to the network that has one specific task such as hosting a webpage or your VE Pro instances. A non-dedicated server may host your webpage or your Vienna servers, but end-users (you) may use the computer for other tasks such as browsing the web, gaming, video editing etc. The benefit of a dedicated server is that since they are specialized to a specific task, you generally only need to get the specs specific to what program you run, and this can be more cost effective. One last thing, do not confuse the phrase “dedicated server” with “dedicated server room". A dedicated server may be inside a dedicated server room, but a server room is a separate room in your studio where all sorts of computers, networking devices, and other tech are stored and run from - rather than a tower near your desk in the studio.

Even without running multiple computers, adding Vienna Ensemble Pro to your set up can be greatly beneficial. It distributes the load better around your cores than your DAW typically would, as well as you can leave the server (software) running on your machine the same way you would as if it were on a separate computer, so you don’t need to load/unload every time you open your template.

Ultimately, running multiple computers is a decision you have to make for yourself if it is worth the effort. I personally enjoy having multiple computers, as I like to all my samples loaded all the time, rather than loading it on each start up or as needed.

Connecting Your Computers via VE Pro

If you would like to see a good video tutorial on this topic, click here

To connect two or more computers via Vienna Ensemble Pro, you need a few things.

· A router connected to the internet

· A Gigabit or 10g network switch

· A USB eLicenser with a valid VE Pro license on it

· Ethernet cables (One for each computer + one from switch to router)

If one of your computers does not have an Ethernet port (such as the newer MacBook models), you can get an Ethernet adaptor to thunderbolt, USB, or USB-C etc.

1. Connect the switch directly to your router via an Ethernet cable. Then connect each of your computers to the switch.

a. At this point, you would usually want to disable Wi-Fi on your computers. This will force them to only use the Ethernet channels, and help provide a more reliable and stable connection. Though it is possible to leave your Wi-Fi on, it is recommended to force everything to Ethernet in this situation.

2. Plug the USB eLicenser into your slave computer.

a. Ideally you will plug the USB eLicenser into your computer and never have to unplug/adjust it again. This is a perfect situation to use the hard to get to ports in the back of your machine, rather than the more accessible front ports. Also

3. Launch the Server application on your slave machine and load up instruments as you please.

4. In your DAW, load the appropriate VE Pro plugin. Make sure to select the one that matches the output system you are composing for (mono, stereo, quad, etc.) as well as if it has a special format for your DAW (MAS in Digital Performer) be sure to select it

5. All of your servers will be listed here, with the available instance being the ones that are not currently connected to your active project. Select the instance you would like to connect to.

6. Route your tracks like any other virtual instrument.

7. Route your outputs

The manual is pretty thorough, so be sure to check that out as well if you need any additional troubleshooting help.

!!!Static IP address – Make sure to set your servers up with a static IP address. This will provide a smoother and more stable relationship between the servers and the clients.

Running Video on a Separate Machine/Slaving Video Renders (360 video)

Like samples and plugins, offloading your video to another computer can save additional computer power, especially if you are running integrated graphics from your CPU. This is most often accomplished via a program called “Video Sync” (formerly known as Video Slave). A great thing about Video Sync (among many) is the ability to have multiple videos. Video Sync in conjunction with Cubase and VE Pro is a very adequate work around if you like Digital Performer’s “chunks” feature for multiple sequences/versions of sequence but have had to migrate to Cubase for whatever reason.

There are other applications that can benefit from slaving your video as well. If you ever worked with a 360 video, these typically take a lot of graphics power but the plugins inside your DAW allow you to stream it from a satellite computer. Again, same Ethernet connection process as the previous examples. After that, it depends on the plugin.

Slave Machine Specs

The slave machine spec requirements typically will be different of your main composing DAW should you go this route. As I’ve stated earlier, knowing what you intend to use the computer for can heavily influence what parts you go with. So in the case of a VE Pro machine, your graphics performance is much less important than the amount of RAM or SSDs you have. Windows will also certainly be the most economical choice for your OS due to your requirements and the upgradability factor of your build vs. buying a Mac off the shelf (which unless it is a Mac Pro that is far more expensive with similar specs, can rarely be upgraded). If you are using the slave to render/stream 360 video to your DAW, you may want to consider a more powerful graphics card, but if not I would not consider it essential.

Vienna Ensemble Pro distributes its load amongst the cores of your system pretty well, though the more instances you have, the greater the amount of cores you will need. Not only that, but the speed of which your CPU operates can be a bottleneck on VE Pro performance as well. If you go into the preferences of VE Pro, you can fine tune how it interacts with your CPU.

Managing multiple computers from one set of keyboard and mouse

As you add a second, third, or even fourth or fifth computer into your rig, it can get quite annoying and excessive to have so many sets of keyboard and mice lying around on your desk. There are a couple methods around this, be it hardware or software.

KVMs (Physical and Digital)

A KVM (kernel-based virtual machine) switch is a device that allows you to use one set of keyboard and mice on multiple computers. You can buy a hardware based one, or set up a server based one, such as Synergy. (Good tutorial on setting up synergy located - here).

Synergy works across Windows, MacOS, and Linux and allows you to not just use one set of keyboard and mice across devices, but also copy and paste text across an unlimited number of devices. If you have monitors set up in your studio for any of your secondary computers, this may be a better option than using remote desktop software as you already have the screens up and outputting images.

Remote Desktop Software

If your computer is in another room and/or you do not have a monitor at your workstation for this computer, remote desktop software would be a great option for accessing your secondary computers and modifying your VE Pro templates remotely. There is quite a bit of software available for this, such as Windows Remote Desktop or Anydesk.

Once set up, you can open your other computer up in a virtual monitor on your main computer. So it will look like a regular application window, but instead of the Internet, your DAW or a word processor, it is literally the other computer inside of it and you can resize, minimize, move it around your main computers screen etc. If you don’t need to dedicate desk space to a monitor for this computer and only need to make tweaks here and there in your template, it is probably the better option.

Sharing Files Across Devices

One frustrating issue of running multiple computers is when you are working on one computer and want to continue on another, such as going from your main desktop to a laptop. Most commonly, people will use a thumb drive, or external storage drive to accomplish this. For some tasks, this is probably the best way. But for others, it may be worth setting up a NAS (network attached storage) system in your home or studio*. This allows you to access any of your files from any of your computers. You can run a more serious NAS for long term storage of files, where everything is archived and organized, or run a much simpler NAS that allows you to quickly transfer files between computers but is not nearly robust or large enough for long term storage of anything substantial (such as a thumb drive connected to a raspberry pi). Since a NAS is a type of server, you can go the dedicated or non-dedicated route as well, with the same benefits applying here. With dedicated NAS servers though, you typically will get “better” back-up/storage functionality as they can have a lot more drive bays (which you can configure in a variety of RAID formats), as well as come with proprietary software that backs your data up to their cloud.

Other uses for additional Machines

Outside your main Master/Slave machines for your DAWs, sometimes having an extra machine around can be beneficial. For instance, having a laptop around and available for take notes, cue tracking spreadsheets or CueDB, Skype/Zoom calls, etc. without having to close or disrupt your current project.

These can be older machines that don’t require a great deal of power. And as I mentioned before, a great way to get a longer shelf life out of an older machine is to install Linux on it. The only cost to do so is the cost of a thumb drive, which you probably have lying around (Linux distros are free and open source!) For light office-type work, this is a perfect situation where you can keep old tech out of a landfill and also gain functionality in the studio with next to no additional cost.

Uses for Raspberry Pi as an Additional Computer in the Studio

You may find it useful to have a Raspberry Pi or two in the studio as well. They are low cost, small, and lightweight computers that you can set up to do a large variety of tasks. You may have one operating a smart calendar (sync’d with your Google account and phone) with all the deadlines for your project as well as a countdown with specific dates and specific deadlines on a small 4:3 monitor wall mounted somewhere in your studio. You can also use one to set up a DNS sinkhole, if your work requires you to do a lot of research online or youtube, and you want to avoid all ads (to be more time efficient). And as mentioned above, you can attach a thumb drive in it, set up a “samba server” and use it as a file transfer device between your computers. There are many other uses that you can google or come up with yourself. Raspberry Pis can have many practical applications in the studio. It just takes a little creativity and technical know-how in order to get it up and running.

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