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This lesson is assuming you have a mid-to-advanced knowledge of Ableton Live. If you’re a beginner there are tons of really great tutorials in the help menu of Ableton. I’m hardly an expert but it would take entirely too long to layout the groundwork for most of this. I’m using version 6 by the way. I’m pretty sure everything here can be done in version 5 and up.
Ok here’s the basic concept. I can run analog tracks in (as well as MIDI) and loop them live on the fly. I have 2 microphones, an electric guitar, acoustic guitar, electric drums, cello, and a MIDI keyboard all going simultaneously into Ableton Live via my Edirol FA-101 audio interface. I use a Behringer MIDI Foot Controller FCB1010 and a M-Audio Axiom 49 to control everything. I’ll explain more about how I use those in another post. I can also have pre-recorded audio in any one of the looping tracks so I can mix them up with the one’s I’m recording live.
I’m sure this will continue to evolve over time but I think I’ve settled into a good base point.
I created a rule that I call THE RULE OF 8′S. It just so happened that almost all my gear does most things in 8′s. There are 8 analog inputs on my Edirol interface as well as 8 faders and 8 buttons on my Axiom keyboard. I have 10 buttons on my Behringer foot controller but I had to use 2 of them to scroll scenes, thus bringing me back to 8. I might have been able to work around it and squeezed out 10 controllable tracks from the Behringer, but I decided to keep it uniform. Besides when I tried using more than 8 tracks for looping it just got confusing. 8 seems to be the magic number here.
Here’s the basic signal flow:
– Audio and MIDI go in to their individual tracks
– Their output is sent to a track I set up called "Bus"
– I have 8 blank tracks set to have audio-in from that Bus track only
Here’s a closer look at each element…
All of these tracks are set to go directly to the Bus track. Their monitor is set to IN. That way you can still hear audio even though you’re not recording.
Each instrument has it’s own track. I have a few effects (such as reverb, delay) on the Return tracks that I keep hidden. So if I want to add reverb to any of the tracks I just turn up that return knob. I also have certain effects I know that I’ll need for specific instruments loaded directly onto their tracks, like compressors or noise gates.
Now with this setup if you want to have an instrument running into Ableton but DON’T want it to be recorded into the loops, then you leave the output to Master. Since the looping tracks only receive audio from the Bus track then those tracks won’t go into the loop. For example my band mate might be playing cello that’s piped into Ableton with some really cool delay on it but I’m also playing a guitar part that I want to loop seperately.
All MIDI tracks output is set to go directly to the Bus track. Their monitor is set to IN. Same reason as Audio above.
I have the M-Audio Axiom 49 going in as a MIDI keyboard. Now I have 2 tracks set up for it. The first is a blank slate MIDI track. When I’m ready to change the sound I’m using I just look in the menu on the left (I have my favorite sounds in their own menu) and drag and drop it into that first MIDI track. The 2nd track is already loaded with an Ableton Operator synth in which I have certain settings controlled through knobs on the Axiom. Basically, so I can make fun synth noises. Now to make it easier to switch between the 2 I have one track muted and one not. Then in the Ableton Key Mapping mode I set the same key for BOTH buttons. So when I press that key on my computer keyboard then the one that is un-muted is then muted, and vice versa on the other. Love it!
8 LOOPING TRACKS:
Each of these track’s input are set to come directly from the Bus track. Their monitor is set to OFF. That is because you’re already getting their audio from the Bus track. If they aren’t off then you’d be hearing audio from all 8 tracks, plus the bus.
So all of those Audio and MIDI tracks we’ve been talking about are being corralled into a single track, the magic Bus, then the audio from that is being sent to these 8 tracks simultaneously. I can record a loop on every scene available for tracks 1-8. Since all the instruments are live, I can pick up the guitar and record a loop into track 1. Then pick up the acoustic and record a loop into track 2. Then play the keyboard and record a loop to track 3. For track 4 I want to get really cool and record guitar and vocals at the same time! Sweet. Now I have a band bigger than Pink Floyd’s stage show in a matter of seconds. I can also have pre-recorded loops on these tracks so if you like building up the loops one by one of the verse, but don’t want to lose momentum on the chorus you can have certain parts in the can.
Now each of these tracks record buttons are ALL ARMED. The reason for this is when I click on the controller for a particular track, it will immediately start recording in the scene that is currently selected. This way I don’t have to arm and then disarm each track every time I want to record. They’re already ready to go. And it won’t record over any pre-recorded tracks you might already have in there.
I added this track so I can record an entire performance including things that aren’t loops. Without this, If I want to record an entire performance and click the record button at the top of the Ableton screen, it will not record the Audio or MIDI tracks that are being played live, just the loops. The reason is those tracks are not armed to record, BUT their audio is still going to the Master. So I set up a designated track that stays record-enabled and ONLY receives audio from the Master. Since the Master is basically a mix of everything you’re doing (loops, and parts you’re playing live) then this track grabs it all. When you want to play back your performance you can solo this track out.
I have my own click track because the drummer needs to have the click blasted in his headphones. This way I have full control of the volume. It also grants me more control on what kind of click I want. Now in order for the click to not go out into the PA I have it panned hard left and only output hard right to the board. I can route the click to a separate output but that would require a designated mixer to get it to my headphones in a separate mix. Ultimately, for myself, the reasons to just go mono out to the board far outweigh what it would take to have stereo out.
So that is my Ableton Live set up. On my next blog post I’ll describe how I use my Behringer MIDI Foot Controller FCB1010 and a M-Audio Axiom 49 to control Ableton. Hope you enjoyed it!
Download my blank Ableton template here. Version 6+ (Mac)
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