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Understanding Live's mixer


Ableton Live 8 Essential Training

with Rick Schmunk

Video: Understanding Live's mixer

The mixing console is the heart of any music production system, and understanding the function of the different devices and signal flow through the mixer is an important part of feeling in control of the music-making process. So I've got the Mixer section of the Session view window showing here, which is this area right here, and let's take a look at the different devices that we can see here. Now let me start by saying that on the right-hand side of your master track, we have buttons that are going to show and hide the different options that are here. So if I click on the IO, you'll see the inputs and outputs go away and come back.
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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

Understanding Live's mixer

The mixing console is the heart of any music production system, and understanding the function of the different devices and signal flow through the mixer is an important part of feeling in control of the music-making process. So I've got the Mixer section of the Session view window showing here, which is this area right here, and let's take a look at the different devices that we can see here. Now let me start by saying that on the right-hand side of your master track, we have buttons that are going to show and hide the different options that are here. So if I click on the IO, you'll see the inputs and outputs go away and come back.

I've also got a button here for the sends and R is for returns, and we'll see those return tracks come in and come out and so on so forth. Down here at the bottom I've got a couple of options that we will actually take a look at in a later video: those are for the track delay amounts and the track cross fader, and as I said, we'll take a look at those at a later time. So, let's take a look from top to bottom at what's happening on a track. I've got an audio track here next to a MIDI track, so that we can see and compare any differences that we might see here. But at the top we have a pair of choosers that allow us to choose where the audio is coming on to that particular track.

So, on an audio track it is going to show your interface, or Ext. In, in this case. And whatever we choose here will then get subchannels choices here below, in the chooser that's below that. So in this case I can either choose 1/2 as an audio or 1 singularly or 2. So if you are plugging in one microphone and not two, you definitely want to set this to one or the other. On a MIDI track, the MIDI From choosers then would allow you to choose where the MIDI input is coming from, and you can always choose All Devices.

That's always a good choice, unless you have multiple controllers that you're wanting to play simultaneously. So I'm just using this E-MU keyboard right now, and I can set it to that, but it really doesn't make a difference having this set at All. And below that I see my subchannels, which are either All Channels, which means it will take MIDI coming in from any device and any MIDI channel. Or I can choose a single channel. Now if I am only recording one track at a time, it doesn't make a difference, so I'll leave that at All Channels. On both audio and MIDI tracks below that, we see our monitoring options.

And this is how Live decides where it is going to monitor the audio. So if I put a track in Input, Live will only monitor that particular track from the input of the device. If the track is an Auto Monitoring mode, Live will monitor the input of the track when it is in Record, or the audio coming off the hard drive if you're mixing or editing. And I can also set the track to off. Below that I have our output choosers, where the audio is going to.

In this case, we see that they're all routed to the master track. I could also set that to External Out, and I would then be able to choose a subchannel on the output. Some interfaces are going to have multiple outputs, more than just 1 and 2. You can use that for a variety of reasons. Now in this case I can't choose 1 or 2 as a single output. But let me advise you at this point that if you do that, your Pan knob is not actually going work. If I choose 1 signal on that track, it is only going to be on the left side, and if I choose 2, it is only going to be on the right side.

Let me put that back to Master. Below that, I have the Sends area, and we'll talk about this in more detail in an upcoming video. But let me just preface that by telling you right now that sends are a device that allow us to copy a portion of the signal from that track onto a virtual wire that runs behind the scenes and then dumps that onto the associated Return track. So, for example, you can see that I've got these knobs turned up on these tracks, which means that I'm copying a little bit of that signal onto a wire that is then going to dump on to this A return track.

Below the sends, I have a couple of fields that give me information on what's happening with the track volume here. The first of these two fields actually gives me a readout on the peak levels that are happening on that particular track. So we can see that we've got differences there. The next field below that shows the actual position of where the track fader is at. So if I pull that down, you'll see that readout changing. So that's just telling me how much I'm turning down the audio that's coming into that track.

Below that, we will see the Pan knob, and I can pan right by pushing up, and pan left by pulling down with that. If I want to Reset that, all you need to do is carefully click here in the triangle that's at the top of the Pan knob. Below that, these numbers number the tracks, but they also act as Track Activator buttons, or Mute buttons. So if I click that, the track is now muted. Below that is the Solo button.

Note at this point that the Solo and Record Arm button, which is just below that, both are affected by a preference. So if go Command+Comma--that would be the Ctrl+Comma on a PC--and go into Preferences and then the Record Warp Launch tab, we'll see that I have this Exclusive category, and I have these two buttons right here that have to do with the Record Arm button and the Solo button. Now, with those enabled--let me close that-- I can only solo one track at a time.

If I click another Solo button, notice that it disables the other Solo button. Now, I can override that by holding down the Command key and adding a second track. And I can clear that by then clicking that Solo button again. I will just go back in and change that preference, so I'll take off the Solo button. I am going to close this by hitting the Escape key, by the way. Now I can click a Solo button, and I can add them without having to Command+Click or Ctrl+Click these, and I can take them off one at a time.

Now by the way, I can affect multiple tracks with choices. In this case, so I've got four tracks soloed, I can simply go up and Shift+Click their track nameplates and then come down and click any one of those, and it will clear all of them. It's the same thing that now that those are selected, I could also disable the track activator switch, so on and so forth. So that's handy. And you can make those choices, once again, by either Shift+Clicking a range or by Command+Clicking or Ctrl+Clicking to add noncontiguous selections.

I can record-enable a track by clicking Record button and add another one, again, by Command+Clicking or Ctrl+Clicking a second track. And if I want to change that, I can go back into Preferences again and unclick the Arm button, and now I can record-enable multiple tracks without having to do that. So, two different ways. Okay, now that we've talked about the items that are on each track, let's talk a little bit about the signal flow.

The track ordering of these devices down here at the bottom is not necessarily related to the actual signal path. Oftentimes, these things are organized more by the frequency of use and not by their actual order in the signal path. So, at the top of everything is the audio on the track--either your MIDI, or your audio--and then you'd get your clips, and then after that we would actually get any devices that are added onto that track--either virtual instruments or any audio devices--and those would be down here in your track Details area.

So, in this case, let's take a look, for instance, at Pad-Iono. So, I've got everything here that's related to the virtual instrument. And then if I pull over here to the right, we can see that I do have a reverb and a delayed phaser device on those as well. So the signal was then coming into the MIDI input on that track; then we get our Clips, which then trigger this virtual instrument to make sound; and then these effects--in this case the reverb and phaser-- are inserted into the signal path on that device.

The path on that particular channel then would continue down through these devices. And when we get to the sends, we would either copy the signal at that point. The send over here, you'll notice I've got a button that says "Post." If I click that to Pre, the signal will actually be copied at that point. If it says "Post," the signal will continue and past the sends down to your Volume slider and then your Pan knob and then hit the sends on the way out, before hitting the track output.

If it's set to Pre, again, it's going to go to track input, to devices, then to your sends, and then to your Volume slider, and Pan knob. Let's take a quick look at the master fader track. And I am going to close that for a second, so we can see a little bit more there. So we have our master track, and note that there are some things missing from the Mixer area that we obviously see over here on the audio and MIDI tracks. So first of all, I don't have a track input that's available, and that's because master track takes its input from whatever the output that is selected here in the Output chooser.

By default, most systems are going to use 1/2 as your main outputs--and once again, I do have choices for 1/2, or if I had a multi-output device, we would see those available here as well. But 1 2 is your typical choice. I also don't have sends on the master track. And we can see that I have the Post and Pre buttons that relate to the sends, but I don't actually have a send that I can route out to a return track. As well, I can't put clips on the slots up here because these are actually scene launch buttons.

Now, I can put an effect on the master track by simply going over to my devices, in the browser, and grabbing one of those and either dropping it on the Title bar at the top of a track or in the Mixer area here at the bottom of the track. If I'll let go, you'll see that limiter, in this case, appear down here in the Details view. Let me close that. And before we finish, I'm going to tab over to the Arrangement view, and let's take a look at the Mixer controls that are available there.

So on this Onna Drums track, I've got the track Unfold button opened. If I click that again, you can see that open and close. On the right here, I've got all the buttons that were available also in the Session view mixer. So I have got the Track Activator button, and I've got Solo and Record Arm buttons. Now this is the Volume knob, and I want you to notice that when I click on that, you'll actually see the name of that appear over here in the automation envelope control, so that you know what you're doing.

So if I click on that, I can also change the volume. And if I click on the one here that says C, that's actually your pan position, and I can drag up or down to change that value, and we see the envelope changing in respect to that. And then I've also got 2 buttons here for sends. So if I click on that, I can set a level by dragging up or down. And currently, I'm not seeing the IO because that button is not enabled. So if open the up, I can also see my Input choosers and Output choosers and Monitoring section.

It should be noted that you can use either of these controls in Arrangement view or the ones that are in Session view where you are playing back the session from whatever is actually showing here in Arrangement view, and you'll actually see those values change. So if I go over on the Onna Drum track here and change the fader amount--which currently says -3--and pull that down and take a look at that same thing in Arrangement view, you will see that those values will change. And we'll talk more about that in upcoming videos.

Okay, you should have a much better understanding of what's going on in the Live mixer. In the next lesson, we'll take this to another level and learn how to use sends and return tracks to add delay and reverb to your songs.

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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