All DAWs have their idiosyncratic nuances that make them great for some things but not so much for others. Lots of producers may have grown up using one DAW and switched to another later down the line. Some stick to one and others flit between several.
One extremely useful development by Propellerhead and Steinberg in 1998 was a software called ReWire. Originally created to connect Propellerhead’s TB/TR X0X emulator ReBirth to Cubase, it’s now an industry standard method for connecting any two DAWs capable of using it.
A full list of what DAWs can be ReWired can be found here, but the big hitters are really Logic, Ableton, Pro Tools, Reason and Cubase. ReWire requires one DAW to be a host and another to be a slave (bear in mind you can run more than one slave DAW at a time).
Some DAWs can only be hosts (Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase) and some only slaves (Reason) where as Ableton Live can be both. In this post I’m going to take you through the steps in rewiring Logic X and Ableton 9; importantly, the latter needs to be running in 64-bit mode else it won’t work. If you paid for Live, you can download the 64-bit version for free from your account on the Ableton website in your account downloads.
All DAWs do things slightly differently. Some come bundled with tonnes of really useful plugins, like Logic; some handle time stretching in a really CPU-light way, like Ableton; and some have great ways to cross-modulate synths and drum machines, like Reason.
Combining the best of all of these DAWs can lead to interesting results. I am mostly an Ableton user these days but I was predominantly using Logic for about eight or nine years before that, so I am very clear about the advantages and disadvantages of both.
Many Reason users were extremely happy with the sequencing and modular options available in their DAW of choice but begrudged the fact you couldn’t record audio – ReWire made that possible by hooking it up with Pro Tools, Logic or Cubase.
ReWire can be heavy on your CPU so this isn’t always something I reach for. Know the limitations of your music-making machine and be prepared to freeze tracks or bounce down if necessary.
Probably two of the more popular sequencers for the average bedroom producer are Logic and Ableton (the latter being both PC and Mac). When rewiring the process is much the same whichever DAWs you are using, so we should be able to demonstrate the concept just fine with these two.
We’re going to be using Logic X which is 64-bit software. Ableton Live 9 can be run in either 32-bit or 64-bit and, if you’ve purchased it, both can be downloaded. It’s important that if you’re using Logic X you have the 64-bit version of Live to hand. If you want to use Logic 9 or another 32-bit DAW, you’ll need to have the 32-bit version of Live.
First things first open up Logic X, which is acting as the master DAW. I’ve just opened an empty project. In the Audio Preferences (cmd + ,) make sure that ReWire Behaviour is set to either Playback or Live Mode and not Off:
Close the preferences and hit x to open the mixer. Now click Options > Create New Auxiliary Channel Strip:
This will add a track in your mixer called Aux 1: set the input to Ableton Live > RW: Mix L/R:
Now anything that comes out of Live’s master channel will be inputted into Logic.
Let’s open up Live (again, ensure you’re running the 64-bit version or this won’t work).
You should notice some differences: although the tempo can be adjusted, it’s greyed out because it’s taking this information from the host DAW (Logic). All transport functions like play, stop, fast forward and record will be replicated too – both DAWs in sync with each other.
Saturday Night Live
Really, you could stop here. I would recommend using Live’s Arrange view, rather than Session, but if you’re an advanced Ableton user this won’t make a difference.
Pressing play in Arrange view will behave as you might expect in Logic – if you play from bar seventeen it will play from bar seventeen – however in Session view Logic will always play from zero.
This is okay if you have a four/eight bar loop from zero in Logic and you want to use Live’s Session view attributes to audition ideas, use clip launch actions or similar. When mixing or arranging it’s certainly worth dealing with Arrange view, though.
You can sequence MIDI and audio in both Logic and Ableton. One limitation is that you can’t use any third party plugins in Live so Sylenth, Massive, FM8 or whatever all need to be sequenced in Logic.
Logic is sadly restricted to Audio Units, so any free VSTs are out of the question unless you have some sort of plugin wrapper (which I don’t).
If you want to take this further, you can actually output Live’s audio onto different tracks in Logic; enable the I/O tab to and click the Audio To dropdown menu. Select ReWire out and then give it a dedicated output (Bus 3/4, 5/6, 7/8 etc. etc.). Be sure you create another Auxiliary Channel Strip in Logic to receive this though, otherwise that channel will appear silent:
Let’s add Reason to this project. Sticking with what we’ve got already, open up Reason. You will need to run Reason in 64-bit mode, too: this can be done by finding the program in applications and cntrl + click Get Info (or cmd + i if it’s highlighted). Here, disable Open in 32-bit mode:
Straight away you should notice all the transport functions behave the same. In Logic, create an Auxiliary Channel Strip for Reason > RW: Mix L/R. In Reason you can now reroute synths, drum machines and effects to your heart’s content by hitting tab and rejigging the wires.
The Audio I/O device at the top is where you can physically route devices into Logic on separate channels trips:
Our host DAW does not just have to receive audio from our slave DAWs, we can actually sequence MIDI (in Logic, in our example) and send it to both Ableton and Reason. You might want to do this if you prefer sequencing MIDI in this environment, or want to keep as much of the arrangement in one place as possible.
I’ve created a few instruments, an Analog synth in Live and a Thor in Reason. To send MIDI data to these, you need to an External MIDI track.
By accessing the Library (hotkey y) we can see Ableton and Reason have cropped up in our browser. Select the instrument you want to send MIDI to (Thor, in the case of Reason or Analog in the case of Live) and program away!
Saving Your Work
Obviously if you want to return to your work it makes sense to save the Reason, Ableton and Logic projects in a sensible place (I would suggest the same folder). You should also be aware that any slave DAWs need to be closed before the master, otherwise you’ll get an error message.