In this article we welcome guest contributor Chris Schmid to Production Expert. We first met Chris in the cue at London Heathrow Terminal 2 boarding the flight to Los Angeles for our yearly pilgrimage to California for NAMM 2019.
Chris is an audio engineer and guitarist based in Germany. He has been doing various audio work for well over a decade and he runs his own studio in the beautiful Bavarian countryside since 2011.
Chris lives for everything that's loud, distorted and heavy. This is reflected both in his guitar playing and his production style. If you are playing songs in drop A tuning and wanna throw a fuzz in there? He's your man! He is a gear nerd and is always in search for new uses (or misuses) for everything that has an input and an output jack.
PACE announced iLok Cloud for iLok-free working on the go quite a while ago. And albeit iLok Cloud does work with Pro Tools, most people still can't use it properly because it is not supported by every plug-in manufacturer. And iLok-free access to a Pro Tools session is not helpful if you only have half of your plug-ins available.
Have you ever been in a situation where you needed to do a minor change to a mix or quickly access a session to check something but you weren't in your studio? I frequently run into this problem, because my studio is located a few kilometers from where I live. I have a powerful MacBook with all my audio software installed and my current project files in the cloud. Every so often, a customer wants a small change like to bump the vocals up 0.5 dB and I don't have my iLok with me. Two options: either I tell the customer I'll do it in a few hours or even days when I'm back in the studio or I'll immediately get in my car and drive 10 minutes to my studio to export the song. Sound familiar?
Alternatively, do you know the uneasy feeling when you take your iLok with you? I'm not a guy that frequently loses things, but the risk of losing your iLok is dramatically increased by taking it with you all the time. I have literally thousands of Euros worth of licenses on this tiny plastic thing and my studio would be rendered unusable for days if I lost it or it got stolen. And we haven't even talked about the constant stress of plugging and unplugging on the dongle itself. What if it breaks? iLok Cloud seemed like a good solution for this problem. But not until it is supported by all the plugin manufacturers.
An Alternative To iLok Cloud
What if I told you that I've been using my own personal, fully working "iLok Cloud" for years now? I use a SEH myUTN 50a dongle server. It's basically a device that has two USB ports and a network port. Only one user can connect to a device at a time, so it's acting like a really long USB cable. There are more products like this by different manufacturers, I just happen to use this one. And I got it used for cheap.
With this device you can make your USB devices visible and usable in a network and even over the internet. All you really need is the dongle server and a static IP address. You can get the former one for 100-150 € and the latter one for free by a multitude of dynamic DNS providers, like Securepoint, No-IP or DuckDNS. You'll need the static IP address to have one never changing address for your router so it'll always be discoverable in the ‘same place’ on the internet. The dynamic DNS provider will send you the login credentials for your router. You’ll also have to open a few ports in your router configuration. Since the dynamic DNS setup and the port forwarding is different for every router, I won't get into more detail here. You should find all the information you need in your router’s manual.
The connection to the USB devices is encrypted and you can use the comprehensive security features of the SEH server to further secure your network. Another approach for added security would be to connect to your home network via a VPN tunnel, but that's a whole different topic.
How To Set It All Up
The setup is easy. Connect your dongle or dongles (in my case a iLok and a dongle for my Waves plug-ins) to the server. You can even use a hub to connect more devices if you need to. The configuration is accessed through the myUTN Center, which you can enter by typing the IP of your dongle server into your browser.
After the devices are connected you can discover the USB devices on any computer with the provided UTN Manager app and connect to them.
The only workaround I needed was a little trick to circumvent this message.
PACE added a security mechanism which dictates that an iLok must be physically unplugged from the port before it can be connected to another computer. With the dongle server the iLok receives power all the time and therefore trips the mechanism. Some larger dongle servers let you connect and disconnect the power for single ports, but the small one I use does not offer this feature. Instead I just use the myUTN Center to do a quick restart. This unpowers the iLok for a few seconds, which is enough to get rid of the dreaded error message.
And there you go, all your plug-ins running on your MacBook with no strings or cables attached.
So what do you think? This strikes us as an interesting alternative to iLok Cloud and while similar to using Virtual Here, you don’t need a second computer to run it. Are you interested in trying out a dongle server for your studio or are you using iLok Cloud successfully already? Let us know in the comments section below.