Ableton Live Tutorial: Effects Processing for Live Instruments – Bass Guitar w/ Dan Freeman

In this Ableton Live tutorial, Dubspot Instructor and performer Dan Freeman shows you how to route live instruments through Live’s Audio Effects Rack. 

Ableton Live Tutorial: Effects Processing for Live Instruments

Hi, my name is Dan Freeman, I’m a bassist, producer, Ableton Certified Trainer and a Dubspot instructor. What I’m going to do today is to show you how to set up Ableton Live to use as a live effects processor for a guitar or bass (or any other instrument that you can plug or mic into your sound card) The minimum set up you’ll need to get yourself going is a laptop, sound card and as a bassist, I use a MIDI pedal board, in this case the FCB 1010.

First I want to go over the basic flow for taking audio into Ableton Live. The first thing that you’re going to have to do is set up an audio track (Command-T).

Once I have my audio track set up, I’m going to go to Ableton’s preferences. In the preferences you want to go to the audio tab. There you want to set the audio input device, in this case my MOTO MK3 Ultralite Soundcard. You want to click on the button for input configuration. Activate only the channels you need. I try and keep them to a minimum because it taxes the CPU. Especially for live performance, it’s important to keep your CPU low. Now, I’ll also set up the channels to get audio out from the soundcard. When I perform live, I usually use several output channels for signals out to other band members etc.

The other important thing which you’ve got to set up is the buffer size. It’s really important in live performance to keep the buffer size low. I generally set mine at 128 Samples, you can go lower if you have a more powerful computer. The thing to keep in mind is that a low buffer size taxes your CPU, so that’s something to keep in mind, especially if you’ll be using external plug-ins. My experience having done this hundreds of times in live performance is that you want to avoid any external plug-ins that drive your CPU over 50%.

Once we set up Ableton’s preferences, we’re going to go back to the track. Down on the lower right corner of session view which is the i-o button which stands for ‘input/output.’ Hit this and it opens up a menu above the fader. What I want to use for live performance is the Monitor set at “in”. Usually it’s set to auto as the default. Once that happens, I’ll be able to play the instrument through it.

Now that you have Ableton set up to take in audio, you can start using Ableton’s audio effects. Ableton has 34 built-in effects that will enable you to slightly manipulate your sound or completely mangle it. Plus you have access to a huge number of Max for Live patches.

I’m going to show you how to build a simple audio effect within your bass or guitar – a simple Wah Wah. I’m going to open up the Audio Effects tab on the left and take and Auto Filter and drop it into the audio track. I’m going to set it to a band-pass filter. To get my Auto Filter to move, I’m going to use the LFO device found in the Max For Live devices that you get with Ableton Live 9 Suite. It’s found in the Max Audio Effect tab. What the LFO effect is doing is it’s going to modulate whatever parameter I tell it to. So I’m going to hit the ‘Map’ here on the LFO and I’m going to map it to the frequency of the Auto Filter. I’m going to hit the ‘Freq’ button and change it to ‘Sync’. Now it’s going to be with the global tempo and I’m going to change the rate to 1/4. Adjust the depth so that the filter only moves slightly. That’s a basic Wah. Now create an Audio Effect Rack by grouping it together. This basic Wah is downloadable on this blog post. Save it to your own audio effects.

Audio Effect Racks are super useful because they allow you to map different parameters to a Macro and then control them using a MIDI device. The way you do that is to go into the ‘MAP’ section of the Audio Effect Rack and here in the Map section I’m going to pick a parameter and I’m going to hit Control-Click or Right Click on a mouse over the ‘Depth’ knob of the LFO and I’m going to pick ‘Map to Macro 1′ from the scroll-down menu. Once I do that, the knob is mapped.

If I want to use a MIDI device to control this, in this case my NuMark Orbit, plug it in and hit Command-M to put Ableton in MIDI Map Mode. Click on the macro you want to map and just turn the knob on the Orbit. You’ll see a little number appear over the knob that shows that it’s mapped. Now turning the know on the Orbit also turns that Macro and the Macro effects the LFO effect. It’s a powerful tool for live performance because you can map 10 – 20 parameters to a single knob.

I’m going to show you a demo live set with another powerful feature of Ableton Live 9 – clip automation. In the set is a basic beat that I can play along to. In the audio channel that has my bass sound, I have two audio effect racks – a Wah Wah and a bass vocoder. In the audio track for the bass, I have a couple of clips of audio. These clips serve as “Dummy Clips” Any audio clip can be a dummy clip when the Monitor is set to ‘in’.

To set up the clip automation, double click on a clip and then make sure the button that says ‘E’ is lit up. ‘E’ opens up the envelope section. In the envelope section, I’m going to go to Wah Wah 3 which is the name of my Wah Wah effect and in the sub-menu, I’m going to select ‘Device On’. Now when you trigger the dummy clip, you won’t hear the audio coming through the bass channel, all the clip will do is turn the Wah Wah effect on. By triggering different dummy clips, you can trigger different effects in Ableton Live. For example, in the clip below, I have the bass going through a vocoder. I can switch effects by firing off different clips which are mapped to different pedals on the pedal board.

Where this can get more interesting and involved is that within a single clip, you can have multiple effects firing off. So in this clip I have the Wah off for the first beat and turning on and then off right at the end. The Vocoder is on for the first beat and then turns itself off. The one dummy clip moves between effects automatically. I’m going to do a quick performance on that one scene going between different effects.

So that’s how to set up Ableton Live as a basic guitar effects processor. – Dan Freeman

Free Download: Dan Freeman's 'Basic Wah' Ableton Live Template

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