Crash Course: Ableton Live in Worship at North Point

Hi Kids!  Welcome to the “Using Ableton Live For Worship” crash course.

DISCLAIMER: This is NOT the be-all-end-all on how to use Ableton – there are a lots of ways.  This is simply a look at how we at North Point use Ableton for Click, Count-Off, Loops and Auxiliary Tracks playback.

Backstory:

Years ago we used to use Pro Tools for live playback of click & auxiliary tracks because of the ability to route to various outputs via external hardware. However we abandoned Pro Tools a few years ago and started using Ableton Live.

Ableton Live has abilities for live playback that are unparalleled in traditional Digital Audio Workstations (DAW).  For the reasons we’ll discuss below, Ableton Live has become our new standard in playback of click & tracks for a live performance setting.

Although I do still use Pro Tools as my primary vehicle for creating loops, tracks, aux programming, composition for film, song editing, etc.  Some other guys are fond of creating in Apple’s Logic, which is also a great program.

But you choose the DAW that is most comfortable for you to use for creation. Then after completing the aux tracks & programming that will be used in live performance, just bounce the tracks to a WAV file, then import them into that week’s Ableton session.

While it is possible to create using the Arrangement view of Ableton, as it is relatively similar to the traditional linear-based DAW (Pro Tools, Logic, etc.), most of us feel it is still inferior in regards to creation.  Although I will admit, Ableton’s Arrangement view has come in handy as a quick edit or pitch-shift tool while sitting in a creative meeting.  There are some features Ableton has in Arrangement view that the other DAWs wish they could do half as well…

BUT, for live performance playback of click, count-off cues and loops, there is no equal to Ableton’s Session view.

FIRST, before we dive in, feel free to download our NPCC Ableton Template, the file I start with each week to build that service’s session.

 

NOTE: There are two different files linked, depending on which version of Ableton you’re using.

 

NPCC Ableton Template – Regular, Full Version

 

NPCC Ableton Template – Ableton Intro (aka “Light” version)

Hopefully the Template will help you make more sense of Ableton and its abilities.

(What are the differences between the REGULAR version and INTRO version, other than cost?  See here: Ableton Version Comparison)

But be warned!  Ableton’s functionality is high, but so is the learning curve!  It does not follow the thought process of most traditional DAWs, and the reigning in Warp feature has caused many to stumble in their faith… 😉

Fortunately there are lots of helpful training videos out there. We’ve learned a lot from YouTube!

And Ableton offers a free 30-Day trial, so go ahead and download it, open the attached Template and follow along with this crash-course tutorial.

http://www.ableton.com/download-live-trial

Ableton Advantage:  Session View is non-linear, which means your click and loop can play for eternity.

Ableton Advantage: In Session View, a song’s tempo can be changed without affecting the other songs in your set-list.  (HUGE bonus versus traditional linear DAWs)

The Session view consists of Scenes, Clips and Tracks.

Scenes are the master “go” control for each song. It’s also where you customize each song’s tempo.

Clips are the actual audio files associated with the song that you have created (loops, aux programming, count-offs, etc.). Clips for each song are arranged HORIZONTALLY in line with the song’s Scene.  (Not vertically, like traditional DAWs!!)

Tracks are the vertical “channel strip” down which the audio signal travels, and can be routed to the Bus or Output of your choosing.  Clips from multiple songs can travel down the same Track.

Under the Master column are the list of Scenes. Ableton’s programmers assume folks will use each session for just one song, and that these Scenes are just parts of one song (Vs, Cho, Brg, etc.).

But the worship & live performing community have discovered that these can be not only parts of one song, but completely different songs altogether.

So in our case, each Scene is a different song in the set – each with its own custom tempo. Triggering the Scene will launch all the associated horizontal Clips.

To change the name and tempo of a song, click on the Scene and type Cmd-R, or “Rename” under the Edit drop-down menu.

BE SURE to include the letters “bpm” one space after the numerical tempo!!  Other wise it will not change tempo.

Ableton Scenes

We then trigger these Scenes (aka Songs) using an external USB pad controller, and assign Scenes, Stop, etc. via Live’s MIDI Mapping feature (Ctrl-M).

There are dozens of USB controllers on the market. We’ve used the Akai LDP8, Akai MDP18, and Korg padKontrol.  Choose the price, size and features that are right for you.

Ableton and Akai MPD18

Controllers can be set up to be used as remotes via the Preferences / MIDI Synch window. Be sure to enable the Remote feature to make Ableton open to receiving messages from the controller.

Ableton Advantage:  Enabling the Warp feature (described later) in conjunction with your desired tempo will speed up or slow down your loops & tracks with little-to-no discernible change in the audio’s quality or pitch.

That is huge!  And it process the audio in real time, so if you want to speed up or slow down your song, just re-type the tempo and everything adjusts – instantly!

Clips:

You can drag-and-drop your audio files into the horizontal clips. You can always add additional Tracks in which to add your files.

Ableton Clips

We do many songs that have no programming at all (nothing but Click), a bunch with just an open-ended loop that cycles infinitely, and a small handful of songs that have dedicated linear programming.

That means we may range from no Track channels used on one song, to 4 or 8 or more on another song!

As a rule, we try to avoid linear programming (aka. Pre-Recorded tracks) on worship songs if at all possible.  Linear programming means you NEED to start at the right time, which can unfortunately stifle a Worship Leader.  Instead of saying something meaningful between songs, they are paralyzed, listening for the count-off.

For this reason, out of all the worship songs we that are in our current repertoire, only 3 songs have actual linear tracks. In those cases they are some programmed strings, etc.  That’s an extremely low percentage! Just 3 worship songs!

Special songs, like Openers or Closers are a bit different, and we’ll add linear programming – but only if the song really, really needs it.  Again – slave to a count-in and aux tracks means more room for error… 😉

If you have multiple Clips traveling down one Track and desire a volume change to normalize the Clip volume levels, do NOT use the Track’s level. Instead, each Clip has a window with a ton of customizable controls, including that particular clip’s volume.

Ableton Clip edit window

Ableton Advantage:  This window also allows you to TRANSPOSE your audio file in real time without negatively affecting the speed of the audio file (when Warp mode is enabled).

Ableton Advantage:  This window also allows you to LOOP an audio file, so it will play, well, forever!  This is perfect for open-ended loops and a custom click track.

NOTE: Always label your programming’s file name to include the original tempo.  eg: “Mighty To Save LOOP 81”

Ableton’s Warp and Loop features can be very difficult to learn, and knowing the audio file’s original tempo will be extremely helpful.  The original tempo should automatically show in the Seg. BPM window, but may occasionally need to be manually corrected.

This is especially important when importing linear files without strong waveform transients, like pads & strings.  Ableton was originally designed as a DJ’ing tool, so it seeks spikes in the waveform – called transients – to determine an audio file’s source tempo.

When this goes awry, it can lead to a horrific warp experience. Trust me – it took us a LONG time to figure that one out!

One ESSENTIAL way to avoid most warp nightmares is to change your Preferences / Record Warp Launch to:

Loop/Warp Short Samples: AUTO

Auto-Warp Long Samples: OFF

Default Warp Mode: COMPLEX  (Live 8 full version only, not available on Live Intro)

Ableton Warp Preferences

Also, whenever possible, import WAV or AIFF files – not MP3 files – for your audio programming.

Unfortunately, when files are encoded to MP3, an extremely small amount of silence is placed at the beginning of the waveform, which drives the Warp function crazy.  To overcome this, you need to zoom into the beginning of the clip’s waveform, find the first transient, then right-click on the marker above the transient and chose “Make this 1.1.1”.

Total pain… Avoid if possible.

Finally, the click track….

NOTE: This Click track is already created in the NPCC TEMPLATE file.  The following is an explanation of what we did and how it works…

One reason we avoided Ableton for a long time was the horribly annoying click sound, and the inability to sub-divide it without falsely manipulating the tempo and time signature.

But then we had a brainstorm.  We loved the MPC Click sound from Pro Tools, and so we sampled one beat of it, and trigger that sampled file using Ableton’s drum machine, Impulse.

First, create and insert a short, silent WAV file into a Clip. Then drag an instance of Impulse on that Clip.

Then drag your desired click sample into one of the blank slots on Impulse.

Ableton Impulse Plug-In

The click audio file is then triggered as a MIDI event, complete with desired velocity, which can adjust the volume & timbre if you desire an accented downbeat.

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Ableton Impulse MIDI Note On Info

Another easy way to do this would be to record two different bars of your desired click sound at an average tempo, about 90 bpm – one bar regular quarter notes, and one with sub-divided 8ths.  Then insert that audio file with Warp activated, and it will warp to the tempo you entered in the song’s master Scene, just as though it was playing back a drum loop.

The only disadvantage to this method is the inability to adjust MIDI velocities, and thus add / eliminate / adjust the downbeat volume.  But that’s totally up to you!

Tracks:

The Tracks can then be routed to your desired output on just about any audio interface.

We first route all tracks to a Master Bus for each hardware output. This is especially helpful for us as we bring the Masters down -20 dB since we are balanced output from our MOTU hardware, and not using DI’s.  Kind of a pain, but an easy solution.

Ableton Tracks

Price = Features:

There are three different levels of Live:  Intro, Regular and Suite.

Suite ($700) includes a massive amount of plug-in instruments and effects, which are probably not needed if you already have other DAW software.

Regular ol’ Live ($450) is what we use. It has a few instruments and effects (again, that we don’t use), but does have the ability for infinite external hardware routing (imperative!) and the ability to Warp in Complex mode, which is most effective for tonal audio files (vocals, pads, strings, etc.)

Live Intro ($100) has most of the needed functionality of the regular version, except that it does not have Complex Warp mode, and is limited to just two outputs (one stereo pair) and only 8 scenes.

Again, hereis the Ableton Version Comparison

We know some drummers that have bought the Intro version to use on their own independent gigs for all of Live’s functionality, and just split the lines coming out of their laptop’s headphone jack. Click is routed to Left, and Loops to Right.

Alrighty – there’s your intro crash course – hope it helps!  Please feel free to ask any more questions as you learn and experiment!

And again, if you’d like the NPCC TEMPLATE, here you go!

iBand Hits 1,000,000 Views

So you’ve no doubt seen the North Point iBand video.

And so have One Million other people!

 

(OK, we know that’s not true.  I mean, I count for about 50 of those hits, just in checking the counter.  And you’ve seen it a few times as well, gathering friends and family around the computer. And my mom probably counts for 65,000 views…)

 

But, the absolute coolest thing about the buzz this video and performance has to be the fact that people have been able to share it with people they care about that might not go to church, or have a pre-concieved distaste for church – people that have been hurt in the past by Christians, or think that church is an outdated, stuffy place full of judgmental hypocrites. (Unfortunately, in many cases that’s correct.)

Around here, the verbage is “Invest and Invite” – a chance to be a positive influence in the life of a non-Christian, and when the time’s right, invite them to a church that is engaging, informative and helpful. And that maybe they’ll take a baby step towards placing their faith in a God that loves them, and has abundant grace for whatever their situation in life is.

 

I was interviewed by  The Toronto Star earlier this week. Sure, we talked about all the story behind the iBand, but the one thing that stopped her short was when she asked “why” we did it in the first place. I told her,

“We love to do stuff at the beginning of a service that engages people. Maybe it’s a familiar song that makes them smile, or a humorous bit that makes them laugh.  It’s all in attempt to soften people’s hearts to better receive the  message they’ll hear later in the service.”

 

That’s a filter we program our services through.  Just like any good communicator starts a talk with an engaging of funny anecdote to get the audience on board, the same goes for a 65 minutes church service.  It’s not overly religious or moody, convicting or sappy – just 5 minutes of something to brighten your day.  And, with any luck, the rest of the service is so impacting and their faith journey is one step closer to God, that they’ve actually forgotten the Opener when they leave.

So for critics that condemned us for doing something in church that wasn’t “Godly” or “Christian”, or that we should be busier saving souls than practicing on iPads – they obviously weren’t in attendance for the other 60 minutes of that – or any – North Point service.

But, again, you knew that 🙂

 

PS – I’ll work on getting those Bebot settings from Jared…

 

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:

Picture 7.png

To This:

Picture 6.png

Ahhh, much better…

– – – –

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. 🙂

Picture 8.png

– – – –

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.

Picture 3.png

– – – –

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 &):

Picture 2.png

And here’s a simple quarter-note pattern:

Picture 1.png

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.

– – –

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.

Picture 9.png

– – – –

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.

Picture 10.png

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

Picture 11.png

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…

– – – – –

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: May 17, 2008

It’s amazing how your physical body can affect your experience of, well, anything!

Between pulling something in my lower back on Thursday, then totally overexerting myself Friday and Saturday, I was a wreck come Sunday morning. Literally – like a Mack truck hit me. I felt 90 years old. At one point that morning I didn’t even think I’d be able to put my socks on. Lame, I know…

So playing in East ended up being more of a chore than a pleasure. Which stinks, because it was an absolutely amazing band doing fantastic songs.

So there I was, doing one of my absolute favorite things to do in the whole world, with some of my favorite people to do worship and music with, in one of the most desirable situations and locations to do it – and all I could think of was how much I couldn’t wait to get back to the Green Room and lie on the floor!

So that brings up a thought…

No matter how perfect a scenario we create for those on stage or in the audience – sound, music, monitors, gear, lights, quality, content, professionalism, etc. – there will almost always be something in each person’s life that acts as an obstacle for enjoying their experience and ultimately connecting with God on a deeper level.

I’d say that it’s up to us to address those obstacles – give them a name. Then we can carefully enhance a scenario when possible or eliminate as many of those obstacles as we humanly can.

But obviously we, in our human strength and flawed minds, can’t do it all, or even always do what we do properly, so we always need to pray hard that God blesses our efforts, that they would be honoring to Him, and that He would take care of the rest.

– – – – –

WORSHIP:

How Great Thou Art

Glorious (new Todd Fields tune)

It Is Well (new Todd Fields arrangement)

The second two tunes are on Todd’s new CD!

200905191032.jpg

– – – – –

East Band – Todd Fields, Brad Avery, Jason Hoard, Ashley Appling, Pat Malone, Rosie Pinkerman, Me

West Band – Ryan Stuart, Jen Carrozza, Mike Bielenberg, Mike Hines, Ben Snider, Scott Meeder, Earl South