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Creating song arrangements with randomized Follow Actions

From: Ableton Live 9 Tips and Tricks

Video: Creating song arrangements with randomized Follow Actions

Arranging your song can be a very time-consuming process. This is where follow actions can be of great help. This entire arrangement was created using follow actions and with only a single click of my mouse. Let me show you how. Here's my song project. I have created a bunch of elements-- melodies, chords, drums, and a bass line-- each on their own track. I love Session view for its ability to audition various clip combinations. It transforms Live from a DAW into a performance instrument.

Creating song arrangements with randomized Follow Actions

Arranging your song can be a very time-consuming process. This is where follow actions can be of great help. This entire arrangement was created using follow actions and with only a single click of my mouse. Let me show you how. Here's my song project. I have created a bunch of elements-- melodies, chords, drums, and a bass line-- each on their own track. I love Session view for its ability to audition various clip combinations. It transforms Live from a DAW into a performance instrument.

(music playing) It's easy enough to make some choices about a potential arrangement and move, copy, and paste, or otherwise organize clips to reflect the sequence I want them to play in. But all of the possible combinations of clips can quickly overwhelm me. I can keep making changes and making changes and making changes. It gets to be too much. And it means that I put off making decisions, and not making decisions is the best way to never finish a project. So, I am going to let follow actions make some of the decisions for me.

Let me show you how. As you know, follow actions are instructions you set within clips that tell Live what to do after a clip is triggered. Essentially, you're going to tell it what to do. In this case, I want to know which clip combinations sound the best, and I want to hear a variety of options when it comes to transitions. What are the best segues between the different combinations of my elements? All of these clips are variations of an element. (music playing) Some are different patterns; some have different effects; some are different length, etcetera, etcetera.

Now normally most users would just hit Record and start launching clips or scenes, which are transferred to the arrangement timeline. follow actions can be set up to accomplish the same thing, but in that case, Live is making all of the clip-arrangement decisions. This doesn't always yield great results, but it does introduce a fantastic random element to the arrangement process, which can lead to unexpected moments of brilliance. To make this happen I am going to select all of my clips in Session view. Then I'm going to instruct Live to play any clip 4 measures after a clip is launched.

So, when I hit Play, follow actions will play back the clips on each track in random order. (music playing) If I were to hit Record, this process would create an automated arrangement, and it would be captured on the timeline. I'd usually let this go on for a long time-- maybe even 10 minutes or so. But for the sake of time, I'm going to stop and show you the arrangement I've already created.

Here's where I think the process gets really interesting. I can start moving my way to the timeline, listening to different areas in different transitions. (music playing) This way I can see what I like or don't like. At this point, my job title kind of changes from composer to editor. For now, I'll simply delete the sections I don't like and combine the sections I do like.

For me, the advantage here is two-fold. The first is increased objectivity. If I were to create my own arrangement combinations, I end up editing my own actions and decisions. Because I am the one who did the creating, I might not have the necessary objectivity to make the hard editing choices. Having Live generate it automatically means I could be comfortably critical when it comes time to evaluate the arrangement. Secondly, this process is random and generative. It's quite possible that it will yield a combination or a transition that I would not have tried or even come up with on my own.

Looking at this arrangement again, you might notice something unusual. Look at these clips named Empty. If I take a look inside, I can see that they are named appropriately. There's no audio present within. I purposely created these and placed them within each grouping of clips within Session view. The reason is this. I don't think it makes much musical sense for a variation of every single element to be playing back at all times. Parts usually need to drop out and come back in throughout a song to make the track musically effective.

So, I put these in as placeholders to ensure that silent clips get dropped in periodically too. Remember, clip envelopes only work on groups of clips that are adjacent to each other, so they must be placed right with the audio content. The more of these empty clips you use within a group, the more often it will be likely to come up in the random playback queue Live is generating. So, if you have a musical element that you feel should be featured often and prominently, use less empty clips and vice versa.

So, there you have it. This is a great way to use Live to help inspire you in the song- arrangement process. You're still creating the musical elements and making the final choices as to when and how those clips will be played, but you are getting a little help from follow actions along the way.

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Ableton Live 9 Tips and Tricks

17 video lessons · 3869 viewers

Michael Kiraly
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