Ableton Live Tutorial: Clips & Scenes

Martin Delaney explains how to use scenes to organise clips and then capture them into Live’s Arrangement View, ready for editing…     Last time, we worked on applying audio effect devices to our Live project. That was the final step in the process of creating and compiling our content prior to organising it into […]

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Martin Delaney explains how to use scenes to organise clips and then capture them into Live’s Arrangement View, ready for editing…

Last time, we worked on applying audio effect devices to our Live project. That was the final step in the process of creating and compiling our content prior to organising it into some sort of structure for a more ‘traditional’ production routine.

Right up to the point of getting everything into a workable timeline, and setting everything in stone, Live gives us options, we can always rethink structure, try new ideas, and introduce new instruments and effects. And that’s where we’re up to. We have a small number of clips, a few audio effects, and now we need to knock them into shape.

As I said, Live gives us options; if you really want to – or if for some technical reason, you have to – you can use Live in a totally linear fashion.

You can spend all your Live time working in the Arrangement View, laboriously dragging clips around on screen, and perhaps working with your eyes more than your ears. Used in this way, Live behaves more like other DAWs, such as Cubase and Logic. However, it lacks the refinements and focused user interfaces of those applications.

I’d go so far as saying if you don’t aim to use Live’s Session View, it’s not really worth using Live at all – it’s all about the Session View! So, for this tutorial, we’re looking at how we can use Live’s Session View and global recording functions to totally short circuit that old-school way of working, creating our arrangements in a way that’s more like recording a live take – Live is an instrument, after all!

So we’re launching scenes and individual clips to build our structure. You don’t have to do it this way – you don’t have to use scenes at all. You can just hit record and start triggering those clips; a technique which works better with Push and Launchpad-type devices, although they do scene launching as well.

The ideal is to create a hybrid method where you’re using scenes for the ‘big picture’ changes, and clips for other, less global, activity.

When you’re using scenes to switch song sections, you can create more organic transitions by employing the Clip Stop buttons.

If you have a long clip that you want to continue playing across two or more scenes, click in the empty slot below the long clip, and use Cmd>E to remove the clip stop button. Now, when you trigger the following scenes, the clip in the first scene continues playing.

This sounds good because it’s no longer just the sound of eight clips going on or off simultaneously, there’s a bit more ‘bleed’ between parts when you want it. Use Cmd>E to restore these buttons, too. You can also help expand that organic vibe by playing around with the various clip launch modes, which we talked about in part 1.

Scenes can be triggered with the triangular launch buttons in the Master Track, or mapped to MIDI control, or the computer keyboard. They don’t have overall launch or quantisation characteristics; that’s still set at clip level.

Scenes can re-ordered by dragging them up and down in the Master track, and you can also delete or copy them from there. You can use the Context Menu to rename and colour-code your scenes. Renaming is interesting – as well as helping you label your song sections, it gives you a way to make more dynamics changes. You can use scene names to tell Live to change project tempo and time signature throughout your set.

This is good for small tempo changes, and equally awesome for mad speedups and slowdowns. It doesn’t matter if you use ‘bpm’ or ‘BPM’ or if you insert a space after the digits. The ability to embed tempo changes within scenes is one of the greatest features in Live and is a great asset for live shows.

We want to move our Session View clips into the Arrangement View, so we’ll have a linear timeline to enable the last stages of song arrangement and mixing. We use the Session View and Global Record to do this, so we can create a song structure in a spontaneous way, that also includes audio effect and mixer changes, which will be recorded as automation that we can edit afterwards.

Recording begins in different ways according to your settings in Live’s Preferences. If count-in is enabled, you’ll hear a count-in of your chosen length before the transport begins rolling.

If not, it’ll just go straight into action, unless you right-click on the record button, in which case it waits until you launch a clip or scene before recording starts. You can also enter record at any time, when Live is already running. It’s a good habit to get into double-clicking the ‘stop’ button before recording, which sets the counter to 1.1.1 and avoids you getting any bars of silence at the beginning of your take.

Now that we have our arrangement mapped out, next time we’ll go on to look at our editing options. In the meantime, I suggest you keep playing around with Scenes, explore Live’s automation recording, and experiment with your hardware controller.

Focus On Hardware Launch
Live is very spontaneous to use, that’s why we’re working with the Session View here, to jam and capture everything we do. You can work wonders using just your computer keyboard to control Live, with a combination of keyboard shortcuts and the Key Map Mode, but for advanced (and fun) clip launching, you’ll be better off using a hardware MIDI controller.

For the tasks in this issue’s tutorial, I’d recommend something like Push, Launchpad Pro, APC40, or TouchAble on iOS. All of these let you trigger clips and scenes, and control effects, and they all show correct clip colours too.

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