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Correctly configuring and connecting the equipment in your home studio is essential to working effectively, and enjoying making music using a computer. Let's talk about setting up your system, and the best way to power your system on and off. If you're setting up your home studio for the first time, you want to start by installing Ableton Live on your computer. You also want to check the Downloads pages at ableton.com to make sure that you have the latest version of the program. The first time you start Live, you'll be asked to authorize the program through Ableton's web site, where you can create an account and register your serial number.
In addition to program updates, you should also check the Downloads page for free Live packs, which include device presets, samples, and clips. After turning your computer off, you can begin connecting the various devices in your system. If you're using an audio interface, connect the device to the computer. Most interfaces connect via a USB or FireWire cable. If available, use the cable that came with the interface. You may need to power the interface by plugging it into the wall, using an AC adapter. But in many cases, the interface will draw the necessary power from the computer via the USB or FireWire cable.
Next, connect any external hard drives you're using to the computer. Check your drive to see whether it connects to the computer via a USB or FireWire cable. If you've purchased a FireWire 800 drive, it uses a different cable than the older FireWire 400 drives. You may need to use an adapter cable that will allow you to connect a FireWire 800 drive to a computer that only has FireWire 400 connections. Note that some computers only have one FireWire connection. If you're using both a FireWire drive and a FireWire interface, connect the drive to the computer, and then connect the interface to the second FireWire port on the drive.
Today, most MIDI controllers connect to a computer using a USB cable. If you're using an older MIDI keyboard that only has MIDI ports, check to see if your audio interface has an integrated MIDI interface. If it does, connect the MIDI out port on the keyboard to the MIDI in port on the interface. If the interface doesn't have an integrated MIDI interface, you'll need to purchase a stand-alone USB MIDI interface. If you're going to record vocals or instruments into Live, you'll need to connect a microphone to one of the inputs on your audio interface.
You'll need a microphone or XLR cable, and I'd suggest that mic cables are an item where you don't want to economize. Properly cared for, a good mic cable will last a long time, and will noticeably improve your recordings. Mogami or Canare cables both offer excellent products. Plug the female end of the mic cable into the microphone, being careful not to squeeze the grill on the mic. Plug the male end of the cable into the preamp input on the interface. If you're using a condenser microphone, remember that you'll need to power the microphone.
Find the Power button on the interface, usually labeled + 48V, and enable it. You can record live instruments by connecting them directly to the audio interface. Connect guitars or basses to the instrument input using a quarter-inch cable. If you have an external synthesizer or drum machine that you want to use as a sound source, plug them into a line input on the interface using a quarter-inch cable. If the device has a balanced output, use a quarter-inch TRS cable. Last, connect your headphones to the headphone output on the interface, and connect your speakers to the monitor outputs on the back of the interface.
If you're using power speakers, you can connect the speakers using balanced cables--depending upon the available connections, either a TRS quarter-inch or XLR. If you have passive speakers, you need to first route the audio outputs on the interface to a power amp, and then to the speakers. Now that you have everything connected, you're ready to boot your system. In order that your computer recognizes your devices, and that you don't damage a device, it's recommended that you turn things on in the following order. First, boot your external hard drive, turn on your audio interface if necessary, turn on your MIDI controllers, turn on your computer, and last, turn on your speakers.
Shut down your system in the opposite order: speakers first, computer, controllers, interface if necessary, then hard drives. If you need to remove a hard drive from your computer while it's still running, first eject the drive, turn it off, then unplug the drive from your computer. Now that you have your system connected and powered up, you're ready to start making music using Ableton Live.
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