Join Daniel Mintseris for an in-depth discussion in this video Using clip automation to switch sounds, part of Performing with Ableton Live: On Stage with St. Vincent.
If you're going to use click in a live show, automation is, to me, the best reason to do so. It enables human performance rather than replacing it. If you feel like you are spending too much of your focus on stage on switching sounds, adjusting levels and controlling effects, why not delegate those tasks to the computer? So you can be in the moment and connect with your audience. I'll focus on automated sound changes right now. This song preset has four chains, that are mapped for manual switching from my controller, using the Song Racks Chain Selector.
To have the sounds change automatically with the song sequence, I'll need the media clip in this track, that will contain a Chain Selector Automation Envelope. Clips like that that have no media or audio in them and, only exist to perform other functions are often called dummy clips. Double click on this slot to create one bar empty media clip. It's looped by default. I'll unloop since it will never repeat. In fact, it should be the length of the song, which you can specify here. In the Envelopes box, you can create automation for every parameter in every device contained in the track. As you see, the song's chain selector envelope that we need is already selected, because the Envelope box always displays the control that was last chosen in the device view.
You can toggle between clip view and device view using the Shift+Tab shortcut. There are a couple of ways to create this automation. The more intuitive way is to simply record your performance. Let's try that. First let me show you a couple of Ableton record preferences you need to be aware of. Press Cmd + or Ctrl + comma to open preferences. And switch to the record warp launch tab. Start transport with record should be off, because you'll want to enable record but control transport separately.
And start recording on scene launch should be on, because you'll want to launch the scene and start recording at the same time. Press escape to exit the preferences. I'll click on this session record button to enable recording into the MIDI clip, and arm the MIDI track. Now, launch the scene to start recording. And right away press your controller button for the first preset, so the setting is recorded. one, two, three, four I'll stop here. You can see that Ableton recorded the parts I played along with the automation that I was after. Playing the part is actually optional and could be good for context, but the automation is recorded, and that's what I want to keep.
I'll switch to notes and delete the parts. Another way to do it is to draw the automation in. In some situations it can be practical, faster, or can be done in silence while the band is working on something else. Let me delete the recorded envelope and start again. Ctrl+Click, clear envelope. Drawing the automation in works best if you know the number of measures in each section. The song fragment in this example has three sections. 8 measures each, plus 1 measure for count-in. So, on this grid, I want to select 8 measures, starting at measure 2.
Zoom in. If you watch the status bar down here, it shows the length of the current selection, so you don't have to count measures. And here's another pointer. Control click anywhere on the grid, and select the narrow option in the adaptive grid. Makes it much easier to select measures. So now here's the eight-measure verse. Watch the status bar. Under length, you can select eight measures. I'll zoom in at the end and create a break point, right before the start of measure 10. And then make another break point, and drag it up to 1, to shift the chain selector to the second chain.
I need to make sure the sound is switched before I hit the keys at the top of the pre-chorus. That's why I'm making the switch ahead of the beat. The break points are easily adjusted later as well. Now zoom out, select the next eight measures, zoom in at the end, and draw the switch back to the verse sound. Whichever way you do it, automation takes a bit of the load off your shoulders. However, rather than making it a default, I would suggest resorting to it when you really feel that whatever control you're giving up. Is a burden and takes away from your performance.
If twisting that knob or changing that sound whenever you please is part of the fun then definitely keep it old school.
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