Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Set up Ableton Live 8 to perform live using just one button/footswitch

Imagine yourself as a solo performer or part of a band, where you use Ableton Live just like a workstation. Where you have a song consisting of different parts. Where you want to switch from a rhodes in the verse to a synth in the chorus -  both played with the same keyboard. And you don't have to have multiple tracks for this, so you are light on the CPU. But best of all you can do this with a single button or even better a footswitch.

Set up Preferences

First you have to set up Live.

Enter Preferences and go to the Record/Warp/Launch tab and activate "Select On Launch" and "Select Next Scene On Launch".

Now close Preferences and enter MIDI map mode. On the master channel below the scenes four new buttons appear. Map the black triangle to a button on your controller or a footswitch. Exit MIDI map mode. Now every time you press the button/footswitch the currently selected scene gets triggered with global quantisation and then the next scene gets selected. So with a single button/switch you can step through your whole set.

Click Track

You probably want to use a click track. For this your audio device needs an additional output. On the master channel set the "Cue Out" to this additional out of your device. The built in metronome automatically gets sent to this (don't forget to activate it). If you don't like the sound of the click or only want to get it sometimes, you can create your own click track. For this create a midi track and a clip. Select an instrument of your choice (Impulse/Simpler/etc) and program the click. Or drag a loop of your liking in an audiotrack. Now you can copy this clip to every scene you want to hear it on. Set the "Audio To" on this track to "Ext. Out" and select the additional output on your audio device.

Tempo and Time Signature

Your songs most likely have different  tempi. You can tell Live at which tempo a scene should play. Just add a semicolon followed by "x bpm" to the scene's name. Now if you play that scene the tempo gets switched to the BPM you specified. You can do this with time signatures as well. For this add "x/x" e.g. "3/4" to the scene's name.

Organise your set

Now you should decide how to organise your set. You might probably have at least a scene for every song. But it can be more convenient to split your songs into different parts like intro/verse/chorus/break. Create a scene for each part of the song. Remember: You step through the song, so the scenes should follow the song structure. Additionally I prefer an "init" scene per song, where I set the song tempo. And i seperate the songs with a "stop" scene.

Your set could look like this:

I like to colorize tracks, clips and scenes as to to have a visual cue of what is happening.

Swap instruments

As you can see above I have different drumracks, keys and synths on every other scene. This is convenient as you can play say a rhodes in the verse of one song and an organ in the chorus, both with the same controller and without manually switching (besides scene start). And you can deactivate the instruments you don't need at the moment so you save CPU.

So with the drumracks I dropped a 606 on the track and grouped it. Now I added an 808 and a 909. Clicked "chain" to show the zones. Then I selected all three chains and dragged the right bracket of the zones to the far right. Then I did a right click on them and selected "Distribute Ranges Equally". Now it looked like in the screenshot below. I entered "Map Mode" in the device title bar of the instrument rack. Next I clicked the little "Chain Select Ruler" above the zones and mapped it to the first macro knob. Then I selected each chain's device and mapped the on/off switch also to the first macro knob. Now I went to the mapping editor and matched the ranges of the on/off switches to the zones of the chain selector. Done.

Now you can move the macro knob and dependend on its position a drumrack is selected and activated while the others are switched off.

But we want this to happen automatically. You have to turn the macro knob to it's highest value. Then you create a MDI clip at the position you want to use the instrument. Double click it. Now you want to draw in an envelope for macro knob one. Make sure the envelope's tab is visible in clip view. If the last touched parameter was this knob it already is selected, else you have to do it via the drop down menue or go back to trackview. Now decide which drumrack/instrument you want to use and drag the line to a position representing the zone of this drumrack/instrument in the instrument rack. Copy this clip to other positions and alter it accordingly.

Of course you are not limited to drumracks or Live's instruments, you also can use VSTs.

If you want to use the same VST on a track, but with different settings/instruments you can automate switching via patch select, so you don't have this VSTs hogging your RAM. This depends on the VST you want to use, some allow patch selection while others don't. Consult the manual of the VST or use trial/error.

So how does this work: create a MIDI clip at the postion you want to swap patches. Enter clip view and make sure the "Notes" tab is visible. Now select Bank 1 and the Program you want to use. Copy the clip to other positions and alter the Program as you like.

You can mix both methods of instrument swapping.

That's it for now. I'll append the post eventually, if I have some ideas or questions come up.

Now have fun and make some music!


  1. Incredibly usefull guide!
    Only one question: "Then I selected each chain's device and mapped the on/off switch also to the first macro knob. Now I went to the mapping editor and matched the ranges of the on/of switches to the zones of the chain selector. "
    Why is this nessecary? Doesn't it work only by using the macroknob controlling the ruler?


  2. By deactivating the devices they should take up less CPU. They are not turned off by default, because depending on the zones you specified you could also stack the devices so they play simultaneously. But if your CPU is powerful enough you can skip this.

  3. thanks a lot for this, it was just what I needed and I haven't made it through the entire blog entry yet!

  4. Can you please make a video of how to do this for noobs?

    1. The part I'm really needing help on is having abelton arm a new track when I switch the scene to the next song.