Ableton Live – Worship, Subdividing the Click

Alrighty Kids, here’s some info about our journey switching from Pro Tools to Ableton Live for running click, loops and tracks for live performance, specifically in our worship services.

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Up until a few weeks ago, we used Pro Tools as our on-stage software to create and run loops, sequenced programming and a click track. I do most of my music creation via Pro Tools – whether a simple loop for a worship song, or a full, complex video score. So using Pro Tools to play some or all of those audio elements in conjunction with a live band was totally natural. ESPECIALLY since you can create a click track using the “Click” plug-in and route it to a specific audio output, apart from, say, a stereo loop track.

Pro Tools also allows “Markers”, which we would use as the start of the next song. You can tab to them, or select them with the mouse in a special Markers Window. There is also the powerful ability to input tempo changes, time signature changes, and click subdivision changes at those markers, or anywhere in a song’s timeline.

If you’d like more info on running loops via Pro Tools in a live performance situation, check out: Gear Questions: Pro Tools running loops

So Pro Tools is very powerful in many cases – but not all…

While I see myself using PT as a main Digital Audio Workstation for song creation, video scoring, and audio recording, it still falls short in many areas that we need, specifically our live performance / worship services.

Enter Ableton LIVE…

While I was not unfamiliar with Live and its concepts from years past, there were still some things that fell short for me. But many of those have been addressed/changed/tweaked and generally improved over the last few versions.

However, the biggest dislike I had – and still have – of Live is its internal click.

I mean, it’s horrible.

First, the click tone is obnoxious, and cannot be changed without highjacking the root library in your computer’s Operating System (NOT advisable for the faint of heart). And second, you cannot subdivide the click PROPERLY.

Sure, other sites or videos show someone manipulating the song’s tempo and/or time signature, but that’s not the way it should be. I SHOULD be able to enter the proper tempo and time signature of a song, and have the ability to choose a click tone and subdivide it.

Why do I want to subdivide a click? Because if you’re playing a song at anything less than about 110 bpm, your ability as a singer or instrumentalist to “lock into the groove” of a song is GREATLY increased when you can hear/feel the subdivisions of a measure (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &).

So for me, even now, Ableton Live is a great program, we WANT to use it for all that it can bring to a live performance (MIDI mapping to external pads/triggers, easy song tempo change without messing up other songs later down a “timeline”, etc.), but it still has this one giant FLAW – the click.

It’s kind of like dating the best person in the world – but they smoke.

PROBLEM = SOLUTION

So this was my Everest. I wouldn’t switch to Ableton until we could figure a way around this click issue.

Well, after lots of research and brainstorming – and a few trials, errors, and less-than-satisfactory solutions, Jared Hamilton and I came up with a winner.

Or at least the winner until something better comes along or Ableton gets their act together…

IMPULSE + SAMPLE = WINNER

If you’ve used Redrum in Reason or Boom in Pro Tools 8, or any pattern-based drum machine, you’re already ahead of the game….

Basically, we created an instance of Impulse, Live’s drum pattern sequencer, imported a desired click tone, and created MIDI notes in the sequencer to trigger the sample as desired (quarters for fast songs, quarters and 8ths for slower songs). We even increased the velocity (thus volume) of the downbeats to help define where the “1” is…

Then we saved the instance of Impulse (with the desired sample and MIDI data) as a clip to the clip library. That way, in the future you can just drag that Click clip into an audio column in about 2 seconds – never having to create a click clip from scratch again!

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STEP-BY-STEP:

OK, here’s are the steps…

#1 – TURN OFF the horrible internal click of death.

From this:

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To This:

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Ahhh, much better…

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STEP #2 – Create an instance of IMPULSE:

Impulse can easily be found by clicking on the Live Device Browser (yellow icon on LEFT underneath the arrow). Click on Impulse and drag it into a MIDI track or “Clip/Device Drop Area” (big grey area that says “Drop Files and Devices Here”.

So that’s totally easy. 🙂

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STEP #3 – IMPORT DESIRED CLICK TONE (Audio File)

For us, we love using the MPC click tone from the Pro Tools click plug-in. We’ve used it for years now, and all our players are fans. It’s distinct enough to establish tempo, but subtle enough to not drive you crazy or interfere with the sound you’re trying to create as a band.

But that’s just us – you can use a cowbell, woodblock, or car horn for all I care 🙂

So now drag that sample (audio file) into the first “audio sample slot” in Impulse. Below, you can see my MPC Click sample in the far left sqare. It’s greyed-out to show that an audio file has now been assigned to that slot.

NOTE: You may wish to change the DECAY or other parameters to suit your taste.

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STEP #4 – ENTER MIDI DATA in Impulse’s Sequencer Window

Just double click on the grid where you want the click sample to activate.

Here’s an example of a sub-divided click (1 & 2 & 3 & 4 &):

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And here’s a simple quarter-note pattern:

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Note the VELOCITY increase for the downbeat of the bar (lower half of the window). You can play around with this until you get what tones / volumes you desire for the downbeats.

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STEP #5 – RENAME and SAVE CLIP(S) for future use

OK, now the hard part’s done. And by saving this clip, you can then easily drag and drop desired Click Clips into a session as you desire.

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STEP #6 – SETTING TEMPOS for Songs

If you’re already using Ableton for a multi-song set, you’re probably familiar with how tempos are set for the different songs using the Master Scenes.

Using the Rename feature (click on a box and type z-R), you can then type the name of the song, its TEMPO (be sure to add “bpm” after the tempo), and its time signature. (Press RETURN when you’re done!)

Now, when you click on that Master Scene box in the future, the click (and any other audio files/loops/programming, etc.) that you’ve imported along that horizontal scene will start at the exact tempo you’ve typed in.

Here’s an example of a recent Ableton Live set used for a live worship service performance.

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All of those scenes had Click clips, while only some of those scenes also had count-offs, loops, and programmed tracks as needed.

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While you can manually activate the scenes by clicking them, you can also map them to either keys on your computer or – more effectively – by MIDI-mapping them to an external controller. Products like M-Audio’s Trigger Finger and Novation Launchpad are widely used, while we currently use the Akai Professional LPD8 due to its smaller footprint.

But that’s a different story…

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There you go, kids! Have fun – and here’s a special treat: A download of the Click Clips and MPC Audio sample!

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/596672/CLICKS.zip

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Sunday Summary – Music: September 28, 2008

Middle of the Road.

Certainly not bad in any way. Yet not really anything to write home about.

That was yesterday – at least for me.

Yeah, I was playing – which is usually a real charge – but I think I know why I was kinda ho-hum about it:

First of all, we didn’t do any specials (opener or closer), which can make a Sunday a lot more interesting.

But the biggest culprit, for me, at least, was PARTS.

Some songs lend themselves to great, naturally flowing parts – meaning what you play and when. They fall under the fingers with ease, and quickly become second nature. And that allows your conscious mind to focus more on worshipping God than worrying about what to play.

Unfortunately, not all songs are like that – and it differs from instrument to instrument! What is great and natural for, say, the rhythm guitarist might be a nightmare for the bassist. Again, each song is different.

So yesterday, while the rest of the band chugged merrily along, I was in “parts stress land”. Songs that other people love were causing me frustration. Again, not because I couldn’t play them, but that they just didn’t, how should I put it – “flow” from the subconscious.

I know that sound weird, especially if you’re not a musician. But trust me – think of something that’s part of your job that is easy and comes natural, then think of something that isn’t natural and that you really have to spend energy and brainpower on. Yeah, that was me for 2 of yesterday’s 3 songs.

Don’t get me wrong – they’re not hard tunes. It’s just the subtle things that no one else would notice – but we as players do…

BUT…. Todd and Kristian did do a great job leading the people, so kudos to them!

WORSHIP:

Beautiful One (culprit #1)

Let Me Sing (NOT a culprit – one of my faves!)

Son of God (culprit #2)

East Band – Todd Fields, Danny Grady, Karyn List, Pat Malone, Ashley Appling, Me

West Band – Kristian Stanfill, Alex Nifong, Matt Melton, Joe Thibodeau, Brad Gage, Jared Hamilton, Chrystina Fincher

And now, everyone’s favorite segment: Candid shots from stage during the Welcome (being fed from the other auditorium)

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What causes YOU to use too much brainpower on stage?

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Sunday Summary – Music: September 7, 2008

You know when you see these parked out front, that it’s going to be a good day…

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But if you see this, run away!!!

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Fortunately it was a real bike day 😉

Sunday morning was one of those really fun, enjoyable mornings. Jon Williams and Mike Tamborello did a KidStuf promotion, complete with parody of the immortal Bon Jovi classic “Living on a Prayer”.

You add some brilliant comedy with incredible musicianship, and you’ve got yourselves a winner.

The schtick was great, including a standing ovation in a couple services.

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Now here’ what we didn’t expect (or had at least forgotten). When people laugh and engage with a live number right off the top of the service, it seems to set up worship to be way more participatory.

I think it’s kinda like comedy clubs having a 2 drink minimum – it loosens up the crowd!

(Yes, I know that was a horribly inappropriate analogy to a church service…)

Anyhoo, Todd and Mike were able to play off of that energy and set up worship as a participatory event, and from the first lyric of the first song, the crowd was totally into it!

It was also a strategic effort this week to really continue what we’ve been talking about with the Worship Leaders, in engaging the crowd, encouraging them to participate, and giving them subtle and continuing encouragement throughout the set.

We’ve also been focusing a lot lately on transitions between songs – really getting them as seamless as possible in order to eliminate any “dead air” – which, as we all know, is a prescription for “worship-flow-killer”…

In order to accomplish that, we’ve even adjusted the keys of songs by a half-step or two in order to stay in the same key, or a relative key (like the 4 or 5), or whatever eliminates capo changes, etc…

When the whole band is reminded of that and is conscious of it during the service, I think they’re all then on board with making it flow. Each guy this week added their own unique element at different times, like a guitar swell, keyboard pad, or even drum fill or cymbal swell…


WORSHIP:


You Are

Mighty To Save

Help Me To Find You

East Band: Todd Fields, Steve Thomason, Scott Meeder, Richard Meeder, John Carrozza, Rosie “Roxie” Pinkerman

West Band: Mike Gleason, Daryl Lecroy, Ben Snider, Joe Thibodeau, Earl South, Keith Thomas, Rachael Gillis

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What made YOU laugh this week?

Sunday Summary – Music: August 10, 2008

Hey everyone – before I get into today’s summary, I hope you take a few minutes (ok, lots!!) and check out my response to the “Set Bands” debate (click HERE). Ironically, today’s summary actually addresses one of the issues I address in that post.

OK….

So we’re all watching the Olympics religiously, right? I mean, we even had it on one of the TV’s today in the Green Room. Don’t worry – it was during the second service and Andy was on video. (We’ll sometimes drop the HD screen in the East and play back the first service to save Andy’s voice. The West doesn’t know the difference, and the East gets used to it in about 30 seconds, so there’s modern technology working well!)

I bring up the Olympics because it’s a great reminder of just how good something is: You can really only tell when they’re directly compared to something else.

That’s an advantage I have when I’m “floating”, meaning I’m not on stage, and travel back and forth between the East and West Auditoriums during the course of a Wednesday rehearsal and Sunday morning services, acting as a floating music producer.

We’ve talked before about the importance of Music Staff being off stage to evaluate and produce, so I won’t go into that here…

But it does allow a direct and immediate comparison between sides – to see what’s working, and to see what’s not. We can then take knowledge and share it with the opposite side.

For example, Eddie and I talked about freshening up “Blessed Be Your Name” this week. We heard a version by The Newsboys in which they had bumped the tempo a bit, while doing the 1st verse with a cool half-time feel.

The Newsboys version as a whole got a little weird, especially towards the end, and the tempo seemed harried, so we decided to do a bit of a hybrid of the Newboys’ intro, and our familiar version on the back half.

Or at least that’s what sounded good as we talked it out.

As the bands went to their separate stages Wednesday night, the West struggled for a bunch of the rehearsal really trying to gel, while the East seemed to ease right in. Yet, as they worked out the “Blessed..” arrangement, it was the East that ended up frustrated, while the West ended the evening with a great arrangement – so much so that we shared with the East guys that West recording as reference.

That’s not something we often do, but it’s so cool to be able to swap and share knowledge, virtually instantly. Knowledge that these players can chalk up as experience and take with them wherever their music career may take them.

I think that’s one of the reasons I’m such a fan of musicians playing around, not only at our different campuses, but wherever they can. That’s the experience and knowledge that they then bring here and share with us, our campuses and our community.

I know it sounds like I dogged the East, but dude – they were fantastic. One of the best worship experiences I’ve witnessed in a long time. A complete harmony of incredible musicianship and spiritual passion. Just great!

WORSHIP:

All Because of Jesus

Blessed Be Your Name

Lift High

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And yeah, I think that dude right in front of me was in handcuffs.

Ohh – maybe spiritual handcuffs…. 😉

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East BandEddie Kirkland, Bill DeLoach, Danny Howes, Brad Long, Richard Meeder, Scott Meeder, Rosie Pinkerman

West BandChrystina Fincher, Jayce Fincher, Doug “Slug” Mitchell, Danny Grady, Mike Bielenberg, Daryl Lecroy, Ashley Appling

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What knowledge have YOU learned and shared lately?

Sunday Summary – Music: July 20, 2008

This was not a Sunday that will go down in the History Books as a defining moment for me as a worshipper.

Sure, I’d like to blame it on some things: A wonderful mixture of Claritin and Zyrtec for my allergies, a near sleepless night as we’ve poorly timed the removal of Cooper’s 3:00 AM feeding the same weekend that he’s teething, and only 2 songs – one of which having an ever-changing form and Worship Leaders playing “Beat-The-Clock”.

But I’m a big boy, so I’ll take the blame. I just didn’t CHOOSE to worship.

And sometimes I think that actually being a “mature” Christian, on staff at a church, and being at least partially responsible for the Service is the biggest hinderance to really entering in and worshipping God.

It’s a whole lot easier to sit back and judge, isn’t it?

Shame on us for when we let that happen.

So for you “Professional Christians” out there, let’s make a Fun Seekers’ oath:

“On Sunday mornings, I promise to be a grown-up Christian first, and a Church Staffer second.

I will not let my job get in the way of my God.”

There – that feels better.

OK, on to what was good.

Kristian Stanfill led in East this week. Now if you’ve ever witnessed Kristian lead worship, you know he’s the real deal, and will lead a group with passion and fervor with a revealing humility and transparency. He leads every service like it’s his last on Earth, which is stinkin’ awesome.

The byproduct of that, however, is sometimes scary as we try out best to synchronize 2 auditoriums. I can honestly say that I was sweating – big time – as he got inspired talking between songs and started the second of our two tunes with only 3:30 left on the countdown clock. And it’s a 5:00 song, plus we planned some tags!

I watched this happen from West (on a little TV screen at Front Of House). Mike Gleason and Company were right on time, so by my calculations, we were getting ready for 2 extra minutes of something – keyboards? Prayer? Verse on screen? Knock-knock jokes?

Well, the West producer and I waited with baited breath to see the progress of the East before we made the call to put a message on the cuer for Mike (the TV screen that prompts the words and has the countdown clock).

Long story short: Mike wrapped up song tags, prayer, and set up baptism right at 0:00 (which is perfect), and Kristian – seeing the clock – skipped a verse and the pre-planned tags, ended the song and quickly set up baptism – at 0:00 !!!! Right on the money!

So here’s what’s cool: no one in the crowd on either side had any clue, and each Worship Leader made it a seamless, intimate, and totally legitimate worship experience, and we’ll give them each a great review tomorrow.

But I’m telling you – these are the types of things that go on behind the scenes that go on every week that no one knows about, but will send us all to an early grave 😉 Sometimes it’s music, sometimes, lights or audio or video or graphics or well – whatever!

I guess the key is to find and use good people in all areas of Sunday AM production that are flexible, not easily flustered, and can solve a myriad of problems on the fly… And then laugh about it in the Green Room!

MOST means MOST – NOT ALL…

This week was interesting on West. I was a bit worried after Wednesday’s rehearsal, but was reminded of the importance of great musicianship after today’s services.

We’ve got a deep pool of great musicians, and most of them have played with each other, and most of them have played most of the tunes we do. So that typically removes most of the learning curve they might encounter here.

Well the chips fell funny in West this week. Most of the guys had played with only one or two other guys on stage – which was rare.

And none of them had ever done one of this week’s tunes, which is also rare – even if it is a new tune. Usually someone’s played it before… But it wasn’t even a new tune!

And one guy had played a bunch at one of our other campuses, but not here.

(You can see where I’m going with all this, can’t you…)

So all that cumulated in one of the weirdest rehearsals we’ve had around here in a while. A stage full of incredible musicians, but no incredible music. Yeah, it was good – but I was expecting more out of these guys. After all, each of them are pretty high up in my books! (And lots of other books, for that matter!!)

I can only imagine that it might have been like the first practice for the US Olympic Basketball “Dream Team”. A world of potential. An engine full of horsepower – but not all cylinders yet running in synch.

Well, kids… Again, this is why we have mid-week rehearsal, as well as record the rehearsals and distribute copies of it to the musicians. So that they may listen back to themselves with a critical ear, and adjust (or woodshed!!) as needed before Sunday.

And that’s exactly what happened.

From the first beat of this morning’s tech rehearsal, the West band went from being a bunch of talented names to a really great band. Guys had gone home and woodshedded parts and tones, and were able to approach the songs with greater command and confidence. It also meant that Mike had a greater freedom to lead without worry.

Sure, each guy brought his own unique style and abilities to the table, but was rehearsed, refined and cohesive. I was really proud of them!

WORSHIP:

Louie Giglio is speaking for two weeks (today and next week), and always has lots of great, passionate stuff to share. That, plus baptisms, meant that we had the choice of either cramming in 3 short tunes and racing the countdown clock, or doing 2 tunes, with more freedom for tags and some speaking “ministry time” from the Worship Leaders. We opted for the latter, and I think that was the right call.

Faithful

Although we recorded this (with Kristian leading) for the Louder Than Creation album, we have since revised it to the tempo and version that Steve Fee does on THIS version. We all – including Alex Nifong, the writer – think it adds a greater “singability” and celebration, which better reflects the song’s topic.

Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone)

This is the Chris Tomlin version that lots of folks are familiar with. We also tagged it with a chorus of “How Marvelous”, another great hymn, and back into a last “my chains are gone” tag, just vocal and acoustic guitar. I love those moments when you can really hear the crowd sing. Sweet.

East Band – Kristian Stanfill, Scott Meeder, Chris Arias, Earl South, Rosie (Iraheta) Pinkerman, Mike Hines

West Band – Mike Gleason, Dan Hannon, Ede Wright, John Carrozza, Karen Bitzer, Brad Gage, Brad Bretz

What led YOU to worship this week?