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Use Found Sounds for Percussion

13 Aug

I’ve gotten a lot of questions through the Academy (and through good ole email) asking for tips on making drum racks more, well, interesting. In this excerpt from the Ableton Cookbook Academy office hours, I show you a method that I’ve found really helpful: Using found sounds for percussion, in lieu of or in addition to high hats.

By “found sounds”, I mean any non-percussive sound. In my example above, I use the sound of wood being scraped, but in the past, I’ve used contact mic sounds, water burbling, ping pong balls, etc. Using these sounds will introduce textures that you never would have thought of, as well as some rhythmic variation that will make your beats slightly more off-kilter and “human.” Check it out and leave me any questions in the comments!

P.S. A great resource for unconventional sounds is the Freesound project Freesound.org

Getting Started with Ableton Sampler: Loading Multiple Samples

1 Jun

In many ways, the Sampler in Ableton extends the functionality of the Simpler. In fact, if you are at all familiar with using several Simplers in one Device Rack, you will find much of the Sampler workflow familiar, so take heart! In this short tutorial, we’ll discuss some peculiarities that arise when attempting to load several audio samples into one Sampler instance.

One benefit of the Sampler versus the Simpler is that the Sampler makes it very easy to keep your sample playing back at its original Root Pitch, regardless of where you position the sample on your keyboard. Anybody who has tried to use Simpler and had their snare sound come out as a belchy rumble knows what I’m talking about.

The first step is to drag an empty Sampler instance into a MIDI track and navigate to wherever you have the group of samples that you’d like to load. In my case, this is a folder full of snare samples.

Now, select all of the samples that you’d like to load. Remember: You can’t just drag the folder (I have no idea why), you have to select the samples en masse by using Shift-Click. Drag into the main Sampler window.

You should, at this point, have a small message in the Sampler window that indicates how many samples you’ve loaded. Huzzah! Remember this number, as it will come in handy later.

Now, for the fun part. Open up the Zone tab and note how the green bars extend all the way across the keyboard graphic. That is almost certainly what we don’t want, since it will mean that every sample will be played simultaneously on every key of the keyboard. We must change this.

Decision time: Would you rather have the samples laid out across the keyboard, or would you rather be able to scroll through the samples with knob? If it’s the former, then stay in the Key tab of the Zone editor. If it’s the latter, then you’ll want to go to the Sel tab of the Zone editor.

Either way, select all of the samples by Shift-Clicking again in the sample list of the Zone editor. Now, drag the bars (all of them should move) so that they cover as many keys as there are samples. Doing this will make sure that there is only one sample per key (very useful if you haven’t loaded exactly 128 samples). Remember that there are 12 keys per octave.

Now, right click and select “Distribute Ranges Equally” from the menu. This will distribute the ranges equally across the largest range in the samples. That is why we made the range a little bit smaller.

If you’ve done this correctly, you should have one sample per key which is played back at its original pitch. Or, if you’ve decided to use the Sel tab, you should have one sample per notch on your MIDI controller knob.

Make sure to holler at me below or on the Twitter if you have any questions!

Get Patching: Make a Simple Clip Launcher in Max for Live

31 May

Not all of us can afford to have some sort of custom-made, MIDI command center alá Daft Punk or Ableton swami Robert Henke. Some of us are plebes who are trying to make these beats while squatting in a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on La Cienega. And, for us, maybe it’s a good idea to maximize the input capabilities of the most irreducible part of an Ableton setup: Ye Olde Keyboarde. By using Max for Live, we can make the keyboard do pretty much anything imaginable. And, in future installments, we’ll talk about using the trackpad (which on a Macbook, can track 10(?!) independent input points! Take that, Lemur.

In this video, we’ll cover the “key” object, which accepts keypresses from the computer keyboard (there’s actually a much more swank version of this object called “hi”, which will allow you to access the trackpad, mic and IR inputs, but be patient Daniel-san). We’ll then take that input and use it to trigger different clips, making ourselves a kind of clip matrix with the keyboard. We’ll do this by assigning keys a-f to scenes 1-4 and keys j-; to tracks 1-4. In the process, we’ll also cover how to use variables in Max for Live and introduce the “select” object, which will help us manage our keypresses. So, get ready, because this is going to be too awesome for words.

Quick MIDI Mapping Tips for Clip Focus

24 May

So, there you are in the DJ booth. You’re cueing up tracks, you’re twiddling knobs with indefinite purpose, you’re adjusting your headphones and spraying Cristal onto the crowd, all without messing up your hairdo.

Then it hits you: you have no idea where you are in the track.

Is this the second verse or the third? Wasn’t there supposed to be a breakdown midway through minute 27? Panic ensues. The track screeches to a halt, the disco erupts in chaos. You get trampled.

Hairdo: ruined.

Luckily Ableton, in their infinite wisdom and benevolence, has given us a way to assign a MIDI button to automatically focus (bring into view) a playing clip. Oh thank you, Sages of Berlin!

How to MIDI Map for Clip Focus

The actual button, though, is somewhat difficult to find. First, enter MIDI map mode and you will see that there is a blue box below the Clip Slots for each track. Select this blue box and press a button on your MIDI controller (or keyboard) to map it. Now, if you press that MIDI button, you’ll see the playing clip pop up right away, no matter where you are in your set. This is a great feature to have when you want to switch between manipulating effects and manipulating clips really quickly. Since many FX autoselect, meaning that, when you turn a knob on a given effect, that effect will pop into view, having a quick way to get back to the playing clip is essential.

Context-Dependent Clip Controls

Another perk to using this mapping is that many mappings to Clip Controls (like Loop Length, Transpose, etc.) are context-dependent. This means that, if I map a MIDI button to set the loop length, it will perform that action on whichever clip is currently selected, not necessarily the one to which I made the initial mapping. Using this Clip Focus mapping, plus these context-dependent Clip Controls will really go a long way towards making your mappings more efficient.

Make sure to leave me a comment and tell me how this tip works out for you!

Get Patching: Introduction to the Live Object Model

22 May

If we want to do anything worthwhile in terms of controlling Ableton (and by worthwhile, I mean things that are impossible or difficult to do with conventional MIDI mapping), then we’ll have to delve into the Live Object Model (LOM). The Live Object Model is a like a map to the mystical forest which is your Ableton Live Set. It will allow you to navigate to (almost) any element within a Live Set and, in many cases, manipulate it, make changes based on it or just retrieve parameters for the fun of it (weirdo).

In this video, I explain the basics of the Live Object Model (through the magic of drawings!) and then I show how to use the live.path and live.objects objects to fire clips in Max for Live, as well as another tip on monitoring your outputs in M4L. While we don’t build anything snazzy in this video, it is the first step in our next project: Building a better clip launching matrix, this time with pretty colors!

You can check out the online documentation here.

P.S. Thanks to the Ableton Blog for the idea for the new series title!

Intro to Max for Live: Making a Simple Arpeggiator Pt. 2

27 Apr

If you watched the last video where we shook hands with Ableton’s Max for Live, you might remember that the device we left off with was functional, but far from optimal. Our main goal was just to get the darn thing working. So, in this video, we are going to discuss a few ways to optimize our arpeggiator. First, we are going to discuss how to make the unit interact more closely with Live’s global tempo (since that is the reason most of us use Live). Then, we are going to talk about making our User Interface, if not nice, at least comprehensible and “Ableton-like.” We’ll do this by using some of Max for Live’s built-in interface objects. And, last but not least, we’ll make sure that our poor little device has some sort of labels to explain what it is and what it does.

Make sure to tune in next week, when we discuss how to extend any MIDI controller with the power of MaxforLive!

Intro to Max for Live: Making a Simple Arpeggiator

21 Apr

Max for Live is quite a confusing piece of work for the average human being like me and you. But Max doesn’t lack for documentation. It is actually very well documented, but I’ve alsways found that the documentation seems to be written for people who are already a Live ninjas/gurus/yogis, whatevs.

So, I (along with some help with my homie Nate) decided to embark on this tutorial series to show you how to get down the very basics of Max 4 Live. And I’ve decided to do it by focusing on a number of small projects, after the completion of which we’ll have a pretty good handle on the necessary components of Max 4 Live. But what that means is that we’re going to skip the preliminaries and jump right in by starting to build a simple MIDI arpeggiator!

In this video, we’ll cover: How to get MIDI in and out of an M4L device, How to monitor what’s happening in M4L, Simple math in M4L, Using sliders and the unpack objects.

Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!

Performing Generative Music with Ableton Live

17 Apr

Friends! As most of you know, I’m into somewhat infatuated with generative music. Generative music is exciting to me because it allows us to do things that would be almost unimaginable with conventional instruments, but it does so without getting rid of the excitement of live performance: it is truly technological music.

But getting a consistent live setup for my generative sets has been tough, since it has to fulfill two criteria: Maximum control over musically pertinent parameters and enough randomness to make new things possible. It also must be optimized for radness. But after months and months in the lab (my bedroom), I’ve been able to whittle the setup down to what I demonstrate in this video.

I’m really happy to share this with y’all because it incorporates several different MIDI FX and demonstrates some cool routing techniques. It also employs a technique that I explored here. Enjoy!

Make sure to let me know in the comments if you have any questions!

How to Use Multiband Compression in Ableton Live

11 Apr

One of my favorite uses of Multiband Compression is to use it to add a little extra punch and clarity to the low end of my mix. I’ll show you how I do that in the video below. Multiband compression is an effect that allows you to isolate and compress different “bands” or areas of the frequency spectrum. This means that you can compress, say, the bass and the kick drum together without squashing the entire signal. While this won’t be the end of your tricks for mastering audio, it’ll be a good start!

To understand why we’d want to do that, it might first be important to remember what Compression does. It allows you to raise the perceived volume of a signal because it attenuates the volume spikes that might cause distortion. With compression, you can raise the average volume of a signal, but often at the expense of dynamics, since the distance between the quiet and the loud sections of the signal will be closer together.

One way that we can have our cake and compress it, too, is to apply more compression to areas of the signal that may not have that much dynamic variation, such as a kick drum. Usually a kick drum is playing or not. There’s very seldom a reason, in electronic music, to have quieter and louder hits of the kick drum. So, squashing this frequency range and leaving the rest untouched, will allow you to raise the perceived volume of these parts without sacrificing the overall dynamics of the track.

In this little video, I show you how to do just that. I also illustrate (unwittingly!) some common missteps when applying this kind of compression, so be sure to look out for these and not to fall in the same traps that I do!

FDT: Tune Them Drums with Ableton!

26 Mar

I very rarely claim that one thing will automatically make all of your music better, but tuning your drums is one of those things. A lot of times, you’ve got a lot of bits that sound cool, but you can’t get them to gel. Some of this can be solved by a little tuning of the kick drums.

In this post, I specifically talk about tuning your kick drums to match your bassline, but the techniques that I discuss here can be applied to all kinds of drums.

Key to making this process easier is to make sure that your kick drum (or drums if you’ve been smart and layered those muthas) are on their own track. This is mostly a workflow thing, but it comes in very handy, since kicks should have their own signal chain. This will prevent you from trying to slather your kicks with delay or something gross.

Once you’ve gotten the kicks on their own track, solo them one by one against the bassline. At first, it will be difficult to tell if they’re in tune or not, since the kick drum is so low. Here is where my “tip” comes in.

Pitch the kick drum way the eff up. Like, over 12 half-steps. This will make it easier to hear whether or not the drums are in tune. Don’t sweat that the drums sound unnaturally high. Once you’ve found a good tuning, lower the transposition by a multiple of 12. That will drop the drum by an octave, keeping the tuning intact.

Repeat with the rest of your drums, if you’ve layered them, and wait for the adulation of groupies to roll in. Or probably get back to work.

Do you have any other tips to finish off your drum clips? Share em in the comments!