Join Daniel Mintseris for an in-depth discussion in this video Program change automation with Max for Live, part of Performing with Ableton Live: On Stage with St. Vincent.
As powerful a platform as Ableton is, no software is without its limitations. I want to show you one pathway, to what expanding Ableton's capabilities, that has enormous potential. Since Ableton Nine, Max for Live has been included with the Ableton suite. It's a program that runs inside Live, and allows you to build your own custom devices. In addition, there are lots of useful Max for Life devices out there, many of them free. If you've ever wished Ableton could do this one other thing.
You should explore what Max for Life has to offer and your wish might just come true. One problem I've come up against is sending program changes to external instruments in the middle of a song. In Ableton a program change message can only be sent at the start of a midi clip. If I need to change the sound again after the intro or I have measure before the course to accommodate a pickup. I have to have a different midi clip for each of these instances and timing them properly involves a potentially cumbersome workaround. It would be much more convenient if I could automate external program changes, the same way I automate patch changes within Ableton.
By using an automation envelope, in a single clip. Well, it turns out that a macs for live device called CC to Program Change by Mike Atwood allows me to do exactly that. Even those CC to Program Change is already included with the exercise files. Let me walk you through the process of downloading and permanently installing a Max for Life device. Open a web browser and go to maxforlife.com. This is a website and a community of people sharing max for life devices, which I encourage you to explore and support.
I'll search for CC to Program Change. Now click on the link. You can read about it, scroll down, and download device. Now find the downloaded device, and press CMD or Ctrl+C to copy it. Let's navigate to your user folder < Music < Ableton < User Library < Presets < MIDI Effects < Max MIDI Effects.
Paste the copied device here, and that should make it visible in Live. Switch back to Ableton and look in the browser in the max for life category. Under max midi effect, you now see two instances of cc to program change one from the exercise files and the newly installed one. At any rate, this is where available max for life devices will show up when you download them for the first time. Now back to the midi track from which I want to send program changes. First, I'll delete the program change midi clips I already have here and start with an empty midi track.
I will now drag CC to Program Change into the track. It's a very simple device that does one thing. Convert a continuous controller value, CC for short, into a program change message of the same value. I'll create a new midi clip in this slot. Un-loop it, and make it the length of this song. Continuous controllers are available in this envelopes pop up menu, to be automated. Select the Controller number. It can be arbitrary since this midi track has no incoming controller and there is nothing to make things confusing.
I will leave it on number one. Then use Shift tab to shift to device view and then specify that you want values from controller number one. Convert it to program change messages. Switching back to clip view, I'm now ready to create CC automation to be converted. Create a break point at the beginning of the envelope and set the value at ten, since that's the first program change I want to send out as the song starts. I know that the second section of the song starts at measure ten. Let me zoom out so we can see the whole song.
I want to select the next preset on my external instrument two measures before the second section. So, I'll create another break point at measure eight. I'll set the value at say, 21. Finally, the song enters the third section at measure 18. And maybe theres an external effect that trails off right there so I want to switch to my next preset and measure leader. I'll insert a break point at Measure 19 and set the value. Let's have it go back to ten. I'll name the clip after the song.
And there you have it. Program change automation as easy as any other parameter automation in Live, thanks again to Mike Atwood.
First, Daniel provides a tour of his setup, starting from his keyboard riser—the hub of communication on stage. With Ableton and a series of MIDI controllers, he's closely connected to all the other instrumentalists. Then he demonstrates the process of building a show file and creating sound presets for every song. Daniel also explains how to use the Drum Kit as a MIDI controller for drum sounds, and how to make program changes on the downstage Moog and guitar stations. Finally, in our interview with Daniel, he closes down the course with insights on what it's like to be a musical director, and how he balances technology and musicianship to bring ideas to life.
- Setting up the keyboard and Ableton Live
- Creating and using click tracks
- Creating song presets
- Switching sounds within songs
- Automating presets
- Working with Ableton drum racks
- Sending program changes
- Preparing audio stems for playback
- Audio routing
- Keeping things in check with line-check files and backups
- Insights on music and technology