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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Gear Questions: Pro Tools running loops

KC asks a question about running loops and programming:

“Are you running these (loops and programming)from your laptop on stage or from front of house . . .

We have been using Reason a lot, but you can’t run them in sequence . . . and we use alot of loops and tracks. . .

Any thoughts . . . we record our services to ProTools, any way you can simultaneously run your tracks and record at the same time . . . ?

KC”

Well KC, thanks for the question, and I hope the rest of the Sunshine Band is doing well.

(Sorry – had to… 😉

Theoretically, playing and recording at the same time out of one system is possible. Desirable? No. Possible, yeah. I’ll explain how at the end of this post. But first, let me give you a look at what we do…

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We’ve got 2 separate Pro Tools rigs, both with entirely different tasks.

One is the STAGE LAPTOP, the other is the Front of House VENUE system.

Let me talk about the (Digidesign) Venue console and Pro Tools system first, since it’s not necessarily the answer to your question. Digidesign makes a Front of House (FOH) mixing console that is completely digital, complete with plug-ins for all your desired effects, compressors, EQ’s, delays, etc. that you desire at FOH.

If you choose (and why wouldn’t you!), you can add the functionality of a Pro Tools recording system to the tracks you’re receiving at FOH. The purpose is to RECORD the dry, unaffected tracks of a rehearsal or performance, and then, after the band’s done, PLAY BACK those tracks from Pro Tools. The dry band tracks are fed into the Venue, and you can tweak your FOH mix until your ears fall off without the band present.

For us, that means recording rehearsal on Wednesday night and getting a decent start on a mix, and then during the day on Thursday, Friday or Saturday, our Audio guys and/or volunteers can spend as much time as they want working on their mix.

And like most digital consoles, the Venue also adds the functionality of scenes and snapshots, which – with the touch of 1 button – can instantly change all the desired levels and effects from one song to another, including delay tempos, EQ’s, etc…

For more FOH talk, check out http://goingto11.com/

OK, now the STAGE LAPTOP

There are lots and lots of ways to run and/or trigger tracks and loops for a performance. But what has, and continues to work best for the North Point campuses, is a Laptop on stage running some form of Digital Audio Workstation software.

A lot of that comes down to personal preference.

For example, here at North Point in both the East and West Auditoriums, we have an Apple Mac laptop running Pro Tools 8 LE (their latest version) through a Digi 002R (a rack-mounted unit with 8 separate outputs).

During the week, I’ll program any new (non-existing) loops and/or programming on my laptop using Pro Tools 8 LE, usually using a bunch of plug-ins (some of them are included with Pro Tools 8, and some of them are third party, such as Stylus RMX). I’ll then bounce those individual loops and/or tracks to basic stereo Wav files.

I then create a “master” Pro Tools session each week and import all the needed files for the entire day (set list). I also create a Click Track using a mono audio track and the included “Click” plug in.

Next, I insert song markers, tempo changes, meter changes, and click subdivisions in chronological order of the set.

After that, it’s just a matter of lining up each Wav file to the appropriate song marker.

Lastly, it’s a matter of assigning the files a desired output:

Output 1 & 2 – Stereo (percussion/drum based) loops

Output 3 – mono click & count-off (note – you need to record and create your own verbal count-offs when/where needed)

Output 4 – specialty mono track, such as an extra acoustic or electric guitar

Output 5 & 6 – Stereo Tracks, such as strings or synth programming

Output 7 & 8 – whatever is yet to find a home 🙂

Now we do use click every week, and almost always have a loop or two (or three). However, channels 4 – 8 are not used nearly as frequently.

Here’s a screenshot of a pretty normal week. There’s a click track routed to output 3, two songs have loops, and I included the original recording (“DEMO”) of one of songs for reference (to be soloed as needed).

Songs can be selected by clicking on them in the Memory Locations window. Advanced users may choose to click on the Markers timeline and tab between markers (option-tab for going back).

  

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And at North Point, we’ve found the most success having the drummer control the laptop – that way they know when the song is starting, and there’s room on their risers for the rack with the 002R and the laptop on top.

BUT!!!

At Buckhead Church, they have the same gear, but with the capability of the laptop being on the keyboard riser, giving the keyboardist the start / stop task. So that’s a nice, added flexibility that we don’t have at NP.

And at Browns Bridge, it’s a whole different ball game. They’ll create whatever needed files ahead of time and then trigger them (start/stop) via a laptop beside the drummer using Ableton Live software and an M-Audio Trigger Finger. Great gear and a powerful piece of software. However, in my opinion, there’s a much higher learning curve with Live and the Trigger Finger. But that’s OK, because it works great for them since there’s only 2 or 3 drummers that play at that campus on a regular basis.

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So, KC, hopefully that answers some of your questions….

Also, if you’re still using Reason, I’d strongly suggest the following for your live performances, assuming you’re using your laptop’s stereo output:

Create a “song” that is 6 minutes of nothing but your loop panned all the way to the right and a click track (quarter or 8th note cowbell pattern) panned all the way to the left.

Then bounce out the song and play it using Quicktime or iTunes. Simply start/stop with your spacebar, then double click on the next song when you’re ready for it.

The outputs from your laptop then need to go through a simple stereo 1/8″ to L and R 1/4″ splitter cable (under $10 at your local Radio Shack). Those 1/4″ ends simply each go into a direct box and are treated as two separate channels. Feed the loop channel (right) to FOH, and both channels (loop and click) to the band.

Voila!

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OK, so here’s my theoretical solution to playing tracks and recording a stereo track of the band at the same time.

First off, you’d need a DAW (like Pro Tools) that has an audio interface with multiple inputs, such as a 002R or the newer 003R.

Steps:

#1 – Set up a session like I showed above, with click, tracks, loop, etc – but leave at least one stereo output pair open (so nothing out of, let’s say, 7 & 8).

#2 – Plug in a stereo pair of inputs that are coming from the Front of House mix. How you do that is up to you, such as a Tape Out of the master mix, or an aux out or send out from the FOH. Something like that – it all depends on you FOH console and your ability / creativity. 🙂

#3 – Record enable those inputs from FOH – but make sure you route their outputs to the unused outputs, like 7 & 8. You don’t want to hear the FOH mix of what you’re recording while you’re playing – that’d mess up your brain, big time!

#4 – Instead of pressing PLAY, press RECORD and play along. The tracks and click should play back through the desired outputs, fed to the band and FOH, while the FOH mix gets recorded to the record enabled tracks and are routed to a different, unused output.

#5 – See if it worked! Route the recorded FOH tracks to a used output (1 & 2) and give a listen. You can then splice the FOH stereo track into individual songs (cmd-E) and export the regions as tracks. Drag those into iTunes, burn a CD, listen on the way home, sleep well… 🙂

Now that’s just a theory – I have no idea if it will truly work as you desire – but it’s a good guess! I would not, however, even think of doing that during a live performance with a real crowd. You never know what can go wrong. CPU’s love to override at the most inconvenient times…

Royalty Free Music

Fun Seeker Jon writes:

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Hey Reid,

I’m assuming you guys compose your own music for bumper videos. But I’m on a volunteer creative team similar to the entire SP Dept. at NPM. Do you know of resources that would have some quality royalty free music that would be good for sermon bumpers?   

Thanks, Jon”

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Dear Jon

(Sorry, I didn’t think I’d ever write a Dear Jon letter. Insert wild laughter here…)

Here are a few links to what our Media guys have used / are using…

Blue Fuse Music

Firstcom Music

Royalty Free Music.com

iStockAudio

bbm.net

StudioCutz

Crank City

However, your assumption is only partially right. In fact, maybe only about 10-20 % right. We actually use royalty free music for the vast majority of our video segments and just over half of our Title Packages.

First, let me explain the differences between the two…

If you’ve attended North Point anytime over the last couple years, you’ve probably see “The 10B4” (the ten before…). It’s a series of video announcements, aka “commercials”, as well as a few fun pieces, complete with a video host shot on a green screen.

The vignettes are usually under a minute in length, and are branded very specifically to the particular ministry or series. AND it changes each week. Sometimes the 10B4 is short (only a video or two) and other times it’s a full 10 minutes, complete with host.

Check out www.northpoint.org/home and click the “News & Announcements / 10B4” button to see it. Remember – this changes almost every week, so check it often!

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ANYHOO… Most of these are done with royalty free music, while the odd one is a custom project done in-house, usually by yours truely…

Title Packages are the video “bumper” that are about 60-90 seconds in length that happen right before the message. It’s a chance to do a set change (get the band stuff off stage), bring out the speaker’s table and stool, and a chance for the speaker to get to center stage.

The TP sets a mood, both visually and audibly, that corresponds with the theme or vibe of the current message series. It’s also a chance to title both the series and that week’s individual sermon title.

Here are a few of the ones that we created in-house that you can check out at www.northpoint.org/site/messages

(NOTE: PLEASE listen through something better than your laptop speakers!!! These have low notes, too!!)

Listen And Learn:

I created this one using a bunch of quirky old-school synth plug-ins using Pro Tools, such as TimewARP 2600 Lite and Analog Factory SE, as well as Xpand and Reason.

Picture 6.png

Five Things God Uses to Grow Your Faith:

This soundtrack was created in just over an hour – a total rarity. I used Stylus RMX for the drum / percussive stuff and Structure’s Pizzicato and Legato strings for the, well, strings!

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Footnote:

This was a joint venture between Eddie Kirkland and I. Eddie used Reason 4.0 for the beginning and end pieces, while I used Pro Tools with Structure, Stylus and Xpand for the middle historical sections.

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He’s Still Got The Whole World In His Hands:

We did a song called “Storm” the first week of this series. I actually took the Wednesday night rehearsal multi-track and used the bass, drums and guitars of the song to carry over the vibe to the Title Pack. I used Xpand for the haunting pianos, pads and triplet pulse synth, and Stylus for some of the sound FX.

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Most of the rest of the Title Packages currently on the site are from royalty free libraries.

Ok, there you go….

Song Markers in Pro Tools for Live Performance

Fun Seeker John asks:

I have recently started using ProTools for loops/programming and click tracks for several of our songs. I’m using ProTools on stage with my Mbox 2 Pro. Sending my loops/programming out 1 & 2 and my click out 3.

The difficulty I’m having is the time it takes to close one file and load the next song – takes too long and makes it impossible to do two songs back to back with Pro Tools.”


John,

Thanks for asking… We actually put all loops / programming for an entire worship set in one single Pro Tools session, and simply (and instantly) move from song to song with only click of the mouse!

It means adding Markers for each song along the length of the session, and appropriate tempo and time signature changes at those points. You can also customize your click subdivision when you add a tempo marker.

Here’s an excerpt from our North Point Music Multi Tracks Users Manual – included free with every North Point Music Multi Track!

Steps 5 & 7 are what you’re looking for.

Hope it helps!

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Pro Tools – Step 5: Creating New Markers, Tempos, and Meter Changes

At bar 1/1/000 you will see a yellow “Marker” (a.k.a. Memory Location) with the name of the first song you imported, along with a tempo (e.g. quarter note = 120 bpm) and meter (e.g. 4/4).

You will need to create new Marker, Tempo and Meter markings for each subsequent song.

1. Marker (Memory Location): Make sure you have selected “Grid” mode (button in the upper left hand of the main screen). Line up the cursor with the bar you wish the second song to begin (e.g. Bar 154) and simply click OR type the desired bar number in the main locater window (top middle of the main screen). This will indicate where you wish the new marker to be located.

Next, click the “+” sign next to the word “Markers” found near the upper-left side of the main page. This will open a new window in which to name the new song.

2. Tempo: Click the “+” sign next to the word “Tempo” found near the upper-left side of the main page. This will open a new window in which to select the tempo of the new song. The tempo is found as part of the song’s Mono Click & Countoff File”

3. Meter: Click the “+” sign next to the word “Meter” found near the upper-left side of the main page. This will open a new window in which to select the meter of the new song. Most songs are the default 4/4 time, but you may need to change to 6/8, or whatever the chart specifies or song requires.

Here are a few screenshot examples:

#1 – Session with multiple tracks per song:

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#2 – Just a few files per song with track heights on “medium” – 1 loop on Song 1, Loop and Tambourine on Song 2, 1 Loop on Song 3, multiple programmed files on Song 4:

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#3 – Same song as above, but with track heights on “small”

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#4 – Close-up of Tempo, Meter and Markers timeline:

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Pro Tools – Step 7: Using Markers / Memory Locations Window for Live Playback

The Memory Locations window is accessed through the “Windows” drop-down menu. This window is essential for ease of live performance playback.

During a live performance, each song is immediately accessed by clicking on the song title in the Memory Locations window.

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Try it now using the following steps, and listen along using the headphone jack on your Mbox 2 or 002R unit.

– Click any song title in the Memory Locations window

– Press Spacebar (Start); the song will start playing

– Press Spacebar again (Stop)

– Click on another song in the Memory Locations window and press Spacebar (Start)

(You can even start a new tune by clicking on its Marker without even stopping via the spacebar!)

NOTE: You can also click on the blue Markers line and Tab between Markers (opt+Tab for backwards). Some guys prefer to use that once they’re comfortable with the software.

It’s that simple during live performance!

Pro Tools 8 is NOT my Friend

Yesterday I started the now-seemingly-endless task of upgrading our Stage laptops to both Leopard and Pro Tools 8.

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OK, back story…

We’re still rockin’ 3 Apple Powerbooks (yes, G4 PowerPC chips…) to use Pro Tools on our 2 North Point stages – East and West, with the third used as a spare/backup.

FYI – In each Auditorium we run Pro Tools for loop / programming playback and click track, fed through a Digi 002 Rack. We route loops and any other percussive programming through outputs 1&2 as a stereo pair, Click and any recorded verbal count-off’s as a mono track through output 3, and the remaining outputs only occasionally get used for alternate programming (strings, tracks, etc…).

The Powerbooks have been nearly flawless for at least two years now, so what better time than the present to mess around with them?!

Well, this was the week, since our two drummers this week could bring their own laptops (Ashley Appling and Brandon Coker).

So yesterday, I started the journey of first installing the new Leopard operating system and Pro Tools 8 – all on outdated, now discontinued computers.

NOT FUN!!!

Thank the Lord for the Digi Users Conference – an online forum of Pro Tools users that has been a life saver on more than one occasion!

Bottom line is that at 10:30 PM last night, I finally got one machine to successfully install and open Pro Tools 8.

And boy, was I disappointed.

I’m not digging the General User Interface (GUI) – it’s really dark with an abundance of black and grey, with lots of neon greens and oranges as lettering.

The volume lines are microscopic, the colored lettering on the black backgrounds is fatiguing, and the grey edit window would give eternal optimist Dolly Parton a severe case of Seasonal Affective Disorder!!

And that’s just what I noticed in the first 2 minutes…

Anyhoo – we’ll see how it goes… ( IF I can ever finish the other two machines!)