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Midi Sync in Ableton Live: Why so Complicated?

Ableton Midi Bar

A reader of the blog Mark sent me an email this morning. It seems as though more share my opinion of the current state of Midi sync in OSX and Live.

He writes:

Thank you for the informative article concerning stable sync between two computers running Ableton Live. We have been struggling with this issue for several years now and reading your article confirmed we are on the right track. Currently we are both using macbooks and syncing via ethernet with Audio File Engineering’s “Backline” app to generate MTC. This method has been about 95% reliable, but after reading the article on Ableton Tweets we are going to acquire the Motu Timepiece. We have a quick question for you - will an older Timepiece be sufficient? (as we are not able to shell out $500 at the present time.) It occurs to me that the Timepiece needs to be a USB version since we are sending a lot of midi to the external midi-ins of our audio/midi interfaces (Motu Ultralite and Presonus Firebox.) Do you agree?

On a slightly similar note, it’s my opinion that the situation with syncing laptops together with Ableton Live shouldn’t be so problematic in this day in age. The Ableton Live forum posts regarding sync are fraught with dissention and are excruciating to read to say the least. I feel I’m empathetic to the complexities of programming audio applications, but in my estimation Ableton tech support’s explanations toward this issue have been mostly open ended. Certainly there are enough customers who want a better solution.

I feel it’s time to launch a concerted effort to organize users and demand that Ableton addresses this issue once and for all. Perhaps this solution wouldn’t even involve midi at all. Ideally this would be an open protocol such as OSC, but I wouldn’t be opposed to a proprietary solution - just as long as there is a reliable one.

Perhaps we could get [dedicated individuals] involved with this mission? […]Clout could be helpful in garnering additional leverage to demand better sync ability between two (or even multiple) laptops running Live - even from unlike computer manufacturers. You guys have the Glitch Mob connection (awesome!) and undoubtedly [others] would know performers with valuable expertise in this area.

Also, it might be possible to query better known Ableton acts such as Underworld, Daft Punk and DeadMau5 and discover the solutions they have obviously refined.

Once again, thank you for the great info and continue the great work you’ve started.

Mark Kunoff and Patrick Petro of “Othership”

To answer Mark’s question in the first paragraph: Yes. There are many methods of syncing Midi clocks, and I see no reason to believe an older timepiece would be any less effective than a brand new Motu.

This might be where we need to start a feature request for a future version of Live. Perhaps a built-in sync function would allow reliable ethernet (or male-male usb) clock sync between computers.

I completely agree with the need to use some leverage to get this issue addressed. Whether it’s figuring out what the pros use or getting a software solution, it is so important that musicians who play in groups get a solution to this problem. After all, we are the ones who use and pay for the software.

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