In this Ableton Live tutorial, Dubspot’s Dan Salvaggio aka curl up takes us through his approach to achieving stereo width for sounds in a project. Learn four great techniques used to make your sounds wide. Our all-new Ableton Live program at Dubspot LA, NY, and Online starts soon, Enroll Now!
Stereo space is a crucial and often overlooked factor when it comes to making our productions the best they can be. In this article, curl up takes us through four simple techniques used to widen our individual tracks utilizing native Ableton Live 9 devices.
The First Method: Utility
The simplest method of widening the stereo signal on an individual channel in Ableton Live is to use the Utility device. This wonderful little device is quite powerful and tremendously easy to use. Here, let’s focus on the ‘width’ parameter. By default, it’s set at 100%, which gives us an unchanged signal. When we reduce the width to 0%, we’re removing the stereo signal completely, leaving us with a mono signal. Setting sounds to mono is often used on elements that are intended to sound tight and solid in the mix (i.e.; kickdrums, sub basses, the bottom portion of a snare, etc.,). Alternatively, if we increase the width to 200%, we’re left only with the widened stereo signal. Typically, this is quite an extreme effect, and while you may have things sounding wide, it’ll be at the cost of your element sounding very thin and losing a lot of its meat. It’s recommended to use a light touch of stereo width (not straying too far above 100%). In addition, you could load a Utility on a Return Track with the width set to 200%, using (again) a very light touch with regards to sends, favoring select elements.
The Second Method: Auto Pan
Auto Pan is a device most commonly used for bouncing the audio signal on a channel from left to right and vice versa at different rates. Based on that bit of info alone, we’re able to use the device to trick the listener into believing that they hear a static, wide track. This approach to widening a sound is achieved by adjusting the Rate control on Auto Pan to send VERY rapidly the signal from left to right and back. However, the issue with this technique is that when listening to a soloed track with this effect on, the LFO action is often quite apparent. This technique is less noticeable within the context of a busy song, as you’ll hear at the end of this article (spoilers!).
The Third Method: Simple Delay
Using Simple Delay to achieve stereo width is by far my favorite method, and gets the most use in my studio. Ableton’s Simple Delay device boasts timing controls for both the left and right channels. What we’ll do here is change the delay mode from Beat Sync (yellow box that reads “Sync”) to time-based (orange box that reads “Time”) by clicking on it. Using time-based delays gives us infinitely more control over the speed of our delay. Let’s create a feeling of width here by offsetting the left and right channels, just slightly. In the example below, I’ve set the left channel to 23ms and the right to 59ms by adjusting to taste within the context of my song.
Quick, easy and sounds great!
The Fourth Method: Duplicate & Separate
Duplicating sounds to create stereo width is a technique I picked up ages ago from working with rock/metal engineers. Guitar tracks are often “double-tracked,” meaning they’re recorded twice (once for the left channel and once for the right). It’s preferred that the artist record two separate takes, as the differences in each, make them just slightly distinguishable from one another. This technique creates a similar feel as to what you get with the Simple Delay method. However, there are times when the mix engineer will have to make due with a singular (often mono) guitar track. With a bit of effort, the engineer can achieve a very similar effect.
First, we take the singular track, and we duplicate it. You may want to bring the volume on both channels down a tad. From there we ‘hard pan’ them, bringing one all the way to the left and the other all the way to the right. There is already some noticeable widening going on, but we can take this a lot further. Let’s start by offsetting the timing of each track. For this, we’re going to be using Ableton Live’s Track Delay, an often ignored but powerful tool. If we offset the Track Delay for each channel by a few milliseconds (one positive, one negative), we will have one track playing a few milliseconds after the other. This same concept is what we would be aiming for by having an artist record two takes. The farther apart these elements are, the less subtle the effect.
Another attribute we can change so that our result will more closely resemble something that was double-tracked is pitch. Even though you may be tuning your guitar before every take, it’s not unlikely that the two recorded tracks will be very slightly off-pitch from one another. If we’re working with audio, it’s as simple as offsetting the pitch of both clips (positive and negative) apart by just a few cents.
The beauty of this effect is that it’ll go as far as you take it. You can go even further by adding warp markers to each transient in the clip and manually offsetting each point from the corresponding clip in the other channel manually instead of using Track Delay. This technique will give you even more overall control.
Proceed with Caution!
Hearing a channel go from centered and dull to wide and beautiful can be instantly gratifying, and resisting the urge to widen EVERYTHING can be a challenge. I can personally attest to that. I recommend using a light touch in most cases (a little goes a long way!), as you do not want to lose sight of elements that are competing for space in your mix.
“There is no loud without quiet.” I don’t know who originally made that quote, and I probably butchered it (sorry!), but the same principal holds true here. Having centered elements makes your widened elements just that much more pronounced. For this article, I’ve crafted a short a tune utilizing all of the above techniques and elements to illustrate the effectiveness of widening certain elements within the context of a finished production. Enjoy!
Good luck and happy widening!
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- Ableton Live Level 1: Beats, Sketches, and Ideas
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This program is about learning Ableton Live by going through the entire process of being an artist, by developing your own sound through a series of sketches and experimentation. You will also learn the ins and outs of this powerful software through a series of exercises designed to help you master the steps involved in producing your own music. After a level of getting familiar with the tools that Ableton has to offer, you will then develop your sonic ideas into full-length tracks. You will be exposed to a variety of approaches to arrangement and composition, storytelling techniques, ways of creating tension and drama in your music. At the end of the day, it is the sum total of your choices as an artist that define your sound, and levels 2 – 6 will give you the experience of actually completing tracks to add to your portfolio.
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