Ableton Live 8 Essential Training
Illustration by John Hersey

Building automation patterns


Ableton Live 8 Essential Training

with Rick Schmunk

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Video: Building automation patterns

The ability to change Mixer and Effects settings in real time is one of the most powerful functions of computer-based music production systems. Let's take a look at how you view and add both graphical and real-time automation to tracks in Live. So if you've never used automation, probably seems like a pretty big deal, but it's simply recording the movement of any one of the parameters on your mixer or any devices that you might have in the session, like virtual instruments or audio effects or MIDI effects. And you record those in real time, and then when you play the track back, you will actually get those changes.
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  1. 1m 30s
    1. Welcome
    2. Using the exercise files
  2. 8m 43s
    1. What is a digital audio workstation?
      4m 13s
    2. Choosing the right gear and setting up a system
      4m 30s
  3. 12m 59s
    1. Setting up audio preferences
      3m 54s
    2. Setting up MIDI preferences
      3m 31s
    3. Optimizing performance
      5m 34s
  4. 35m 42s
    1. Understanding Session view
      8m 7s
    2. Working with Live browsers
      5m 3s
    3. Working with Live clips
      7m 57s
    4. Understanding clip properties
      7m 52s
    5. Working with Live scenes
      6m 43s
  5. 28m 16s
    1. Building Live Sets and projects
      4m 25s
    2. Learning Live file management
      4m 2s
    3. Exporting content from Live
      7m 32s
    4. Importing and exporting Live Packs
      3m 17s
    5. Searching for and auditioning clips
      4m 58s
    6. Setting up frequently accessed folders
      4m 2s
  6. 23m 3s
    1. Preparing to record MIDI
      5m 51s
    2. Recording and overdubbing MIDI
      4m 32s
    3. Working with alternate MIDI entry methods
      6m 49s
    4. Using multi-output virtual instruments
      5m 51s
  7. 24m 26s
    1. The MIDI Editor
      4m 49s
    2. Quantizing MIDI data
      6m 6s
    3. Advanced MIDI editing
      6m 49s
    4. Setting up groove in editing
      6m 42s
  8. 9m 18s
    1. Preparing to record
      5m 0s
    2. Recording audio
      4m 18s
  9. 22m 37s
    1. Understanding Arrangement view
      3m 41s
    2. Recording in Arrangement view
      3m 51s
    3. Recording from Session view to Arrangement view
      5m 21s
    4. Reworking clips
      9m 44s
  10. 27m 57s
    1. Understanding Live's mixer
      12m 38s
    2. Using sends and returns
      3m 47s
    3. Building headphone cues
      3m 49s
    4. Grouping tracks
      7m 43s
  11. 43m 14s
    1. Working with effect devices
      4m 56s
    2. Understanding EQ and filters
      7m 14s
    3. Using compressors and dynamic processors
      7m 28s
    4. Building interesting effects with delay effect processing
      8m 18s
    5. Using reverb effectively
      8m 22s
    6. Setting up side chain effects easily
      6m 56s
  12. 15m 37s
    1. Creating rhythmic patterns with the Arpeggiator effect
      8m 38s
    2. Building background parts with the Chord and Scale effects
      6m 59s
  13. 25m 22s
    1. Building automation patterns
      8m 44s
    2. Editing existing automation information
      5m 2s
    3. Using fades to mask audio pops and clicks
      4m 10s
    4. Understanding the power of clip envelopes
      7m 26s
  14. 20m 17s
    1. Understanding the basics of looping
      6m 54s
    2. Creating tracks that loop smoothly
      7m 50s
    3. Using warp features to quantize audio
      5m 33s
  15. 17m 47s
    1. Using the computer keyboard to control Live
      6m 39s
    2. Mapping device controls to the MIDI keyboard
      4m 36s
    3. Using Live's instant mapping feature
      6m 32s
  16. 10m 43s
    1. Exporting audio
      5m 37s
    2. Freezing tracks
      5m 6s
  17. 20m 45s
    1. Building with the Impulse virtual instrument
      11m 35s
    2. Working with the Simpler virtual instrument
      9m 10s
  18. 36m 22s
    1. Overview of Live racks
      10m 13s
    2. Combining instruments and effects into a single device
      8m 22s
    3. Adding effects with Drum Rack
      11m 28s
    4. Assigning rack parameters to macros
      6m 19s
  19. 13m 53s
    1. Setting up ReWire with Pro Tools
      7m 3s
    2. Setting up ReWire with Logic
      6m 50s
  20. 33m 43s
    1. Preparing audio clips with the Warp tool
      14m 31s
    2. Triggering clips using follow actions
      8m 9s
    3. Using Live as a sound source
      11m 3s
  21. 7m 21s
    1. Working with video files
      7m 21s
  22. 37s
    1. Further Recommendations

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Watch the Online Video Course Ableton Live 8 Essential Training
7h 20m Beginner Dec 10, 2010

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Ableton Live 8 Essential Training with Rick Schmunk offers a comprehensive overview of Ableton's live audio and MIDI sequencing software and the techniques required to compose, record, and edit music, in real time, on stage, or in the studio. The course includes tutorials on compiling live sets from audio and MIDI clips, loops, or samples, applying MIDI effects, warping audio, and recording and producing songs in any number of contemporary styles. Exercise files are included with the course.

Topics include:
  • Putting together a DAW system
  • Setting up Ableton preferences
  • Importing and exporting content
  • Recording MIDI
  • Editing and quantizing MIDI data
  • Recording audio
  • Recording in Arrangement view
  • Using sends and returns in the Live Mixer
  • Grouping tracks
  • Signal processing
  • Creating and editing automation envelopes
  • Using fades to mask audio pops and clicks
  • Looping and warping audio clips
  • Mapping device controls to a MIDI keyboard
  • Working with virtual instruments
  • Integrating Live with Pro Tools and Logic
Audio + Music
Ableton Live
Rick Schmunk

Building automation patterns

The ability to change Mixer and Effects settings in real time is one of the most powerful functions of computer-based music production systems. Let's take a look at how you view and add both graphical and real-time automation to tracks in Live. So if you've never used automation, probably seems like a pretty big deal, but it's simply recording the movement of any one of the parameters on your mixer or any devices that you might have in the session, like virtual instruments or audio effects or MIDI effects. And you record those in real time, and then when you play the track back, you will actually get those changes.

So this area over here under the track title bar is where we see the controls that allow us to choose the parameters that we want to automate. The top of these two buttons is the device chooser. If I go in on the bass audio track, I'll choose the Mixer in this case, and then the bottom chooser allows me to choose the specific parameter that I want to work with. So I have got Volume and Track Panning, Speaker on, X-Fades, and other things like that. I can also choose that by clicking on the parameter over here in the Mixer area.

So if I click on the Pan field here, you'll see that it changes its Track Panning. And if I click on the Activator button, you see that it changes to Speaker On. So just note that that's a bit of an odd name, but Speaker On is the same thing as your Track Activator, or Mute button. If I go to the Volume field, we'll see that come back. So the automation envelope is actually superimposed over the audio or MIDI data on the track. And if you want, you can actually open up a separate lane underneath that, so that you can work without having to look at both of them.

So I click the Plus button here, and let's move Speaker On down below the actual audio. I am going to get rid of that by clicking on the Minus button, and I am actually going to choose Track Volume, click plus, and move that down. Now, I am going to add some automation onto that graph. So I can do that by simply double- clicking on the line in a couple of places and then adding some breakpoints in between and moving those to simulate the movement of the parameter that I want to change there--in this case, the Volume slider or fader.

Now I first add those breakpoints on the right and left of the areas that I want to change, because if I just click one and start moving in, I am going to move that envelope for the entire track. So now, if I start playback, we should be able to watch the Volume field change in real time. And note that we also see a red square in the upper left-hand corner of that field to note that there is automation on the associated envelope on the track now. So let's give that a listen. (Music playing.) So we see that value changing in real time, and that's really useful for when you have areas on a track where it's just a little bit too loud or too soft, but the rest of the track average is really good.

So in that case, you can add little bit of automation and either raise the level or dip it just a little bit. Now I can also add automation using Draw mode. I can enable that by clicking on my Draw Mode switch. So let me move in on another part of the track, and now when I move my pencil over that graph and click and drag, I can add automation. Now you notice that it's kind of notching based upon my grid, and this is one of those times where it's really good to remember your key commands for changing the grid resolution.

So if I go Command+1 on the Mac or Ctrl+ 1 on the PC, I can actually narrow that grid, and Command+2 will widen it. So you can choose a resolution that you want to work at and then click and drag, and now I can make much finer changes. But even better than that is to actually get rid of the grid entirely, and I can do that using Command+4 or Ctrl+4 on a PC. And that disables the grid, and now I can draw this in freehand. When I disable the Draw mode button, we can see that it has added breakpoints on the automation envelope.

If I zoom in, we can see that there is actually quite a few of those. So if I wanted to add automation to another graph on this track, I can simply click on that parameter, like Panning. Click plus, add that one, and now I could add automation to that particular parameter. Now if I want to close both of these automation lanes and get them out of the way to reduce screen clutter, I can click on the Minus button on each one of those, or I can simply down the Option Key and click one of the Minus buttons, and that will close all of the automation graphs on a track.

Another thing you might want to consider automating is parameters on your effect devices or virtual instruments. So I am going to come down to the Robo Scat track here and increase the track height. I'll click that top chooser button, and now I can see all of the devices that are available here. So in addition to the mixer, I've got the Impulse drum machine, I've got an audio effect compressor, and an audio affect PingPong delay. And I can choose one of those, let's say the delay in this case, and bring that up. And now if I click on the bottom chooser, I can see all of the other parameters that are available with that particular device.

Now let me suggest that one of the most valuable ones is the Device On switch. It's like a bypass. And so in some cases you may want to have that Device On, in another cases off. And with delay it's often really great to have them on during the ends of a phrase, but not during the middle of your phrase, where it might blur or muddy what's happening on the track. And so now I can simply add breakpoints that set when this device is on and off. Now currently, it looks like it's off. I am going to want to put it on at the end of this phrase. So I will add an automation breakpoint there, near the end of the phrase, and another one over here, and now I can simply click and bring that on.

And I can drag. That's where it turns on at the point where I want it. So that's very handy. Now, the last way that I can add automation to a track is doing it in real time. So let's bring up the volume on this Bass audio track again. And I am going to right-click here in the Automation area, and I'm going to clear the automation that I have already written, by clicking on the Clear Envelope function there. And now I need to set up my system so that I can record automation using one of the knobs on my controller. To do that, I am going to come up here and click the MIDI Map Mode switch, and anything that turns purple here are items that I can actually automate.

So if I go on the bass audio track and click in the Volume field and then move a knob on my controller, I should be able to assign that knob. And I can look up here in the right-hand corner at the MIDI Track In indicator, and I can see that there's stuff coming in, but I don't see any evidence that its actually mapped that. So I am going to quickly go into Preferences-- that's Command+Comma on a Mac or Ctrl+Comma on a PC-- and on my E-MU keyboard that I'm using, I notice that the Remote switch is not enabled. And I need to have that enabled if I want to do this kind of mapping and using my knobs on my controllers to send messages.

So I'll hit Escape to close that, click back in that field, choose that knob again, and move it. And now, you will see this 1/10 come up in that field to indicate that controller number 10 has been assigned to that particular parameter. Now, to record this, all I need to do is disable that MIDI Mapping switch. So now that I've got that set up, I am going to move that parameter down here to another lane, and I will click where I want to start writing automation. Now, I am going to go up into the control bar and enable the Global Record switch.

Now all I should need to do is start playback and then move the knob that's associated with that parameter. (Music playing.) So that's writing automation in real time. Before we finish, I want to show you just a couple of things that are available on the master track for automating that are not available on the other types of tracks. So I am going to bring the master track up, and again we see the Device chooser and then the sub-chooser, and we see that, yeah we have got Speaker On, and we have Track Volume, but I have also got Song Tempo and Global Groove Amount, which are very interesting.

So if I choose Song Tempo and draw automation, I can actually change the tempo of the song in real time during playback. And with Global Groove Amount, if I've got grooves that are being used on any of my tracks to add some kind of a feel to the track, I can actually control the percentage, or global amount, that's being applied. So now that you know how to add automation in Live, you will be able to fine-tune your mixes. In the next video, we will take a look at how to edit automation.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Ableton Live 8 Essential Training .

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Q: Can I use Ableton Live Lite to work through this course?
A: For the most part, yes. However, there are a few limitations. For example, there are some drum sounds that won’t work with the Lite version. Lite also has a limited track count, which may cause problems with some of the larger Live Sets in the course. If you do not have the full version of Ableton Live, you can download a demo of Ableton Live Suite (, which will run for 30 days. This will allow you to do everything in the course, and get a look at what the full version can do at the same time.
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