Ableton Live rack: Track Control!
2012/12/13 3 Comments »
Tame your track levels in Ableton Live!
A compact one-in-all device to gain full control of your tracks.
Download the file right away, or read my instructions/rant below.
This is a device I’ve been using for years, continuously modifying it as I’ve found more sensible ways to lay out the macros. I think I’ve landed on its final revision now, and I want to share it. The idea has been to enforce good mixing habits, by making it impossible for individual tracks to go “into the red.” Ableton boast about their huge headroom on track level, which means that the individual tracks won’t clip, even if you go well into the “red zone.” This is all fine and dandy, but I find it a very poor habit to “mix in the red,” as it kind of necessitates raising other tracks too.
1: EQ cuts. 2: Test for mono compatibility. 3: Compressor. 4: Limiter. 5: Pan+gain automation.
This device – as mentioned – makes it impossible to go beyond 0dB: it has a limiter with a ceiling at -0.30dB, supported by a Utility set to -6dB. What these two devices do, is 1) make sure that your signal is brick-walled at -0.30dB and 2) drop the final output by 6db (as Live’s mixer channels have an upper limit at 6db, as opposed to 0). The “Limit gain” knob can be used to raise the volume of your signal before it hits the ceiling, but should be used with caution, as it will start distorting your signal as your transients start hitting the “brick wall.”
You can do plenty of things to your signal before it reaches the limiter, though: there’s a low-cut and a high-cut parameter, and a compressor; mind you, these are all very basic controls, so for finer adjustments, you need to leave them untouched, and insert dedicated EQ and compressor devices before Track Control. There is also a “Mono test” rotary, for quickly identifying phase cancellation in your sound (typically occurs when you are using synths with several detuned oscillators and/or chorus and flanger effects) – you may choose to disregard this if you don’t care what your mix sounds like when summed to mono.
The final two rotaries are intended for pan and volume automation. Automating the track’s pan knob and volume fader is not recommended, as they should be used to set the overall level of the channel, not for automation.
I’d just like to come back to my main “mission” with this rack – avoiding “in-the-red” mixing. The gain rotary can only lower the volume – not raise it (I’ve set its max limit to 0db, so that it’s easy to see how much you’re lowering the volume when automating). The reason is – again – that you should strive to have a level mix, and the worst possible starting point is to start mixing around a track/sound that’s already in the red. With this device at the end of your chain, you’re forced to start thinking differently: rather than boosting another track, you must lower the volume of the “dominant” track. Why is this important? Because it has a huge impact on your master output. Mastering engineers recommend that your master mixdown should never exceed -3dB, and many would request a peak at -6dB! Personally, I aim for the latter, and try to make sure I stay at around -6dB on my master channel. This leaves plenty of headroom for post-production and mastering. It gives you more options with your mix: you can gently process it with compressors and other mastering effects, to give it a comfortable average level for home listening, or you can brickwall the shit out of it with a limiter or your preferred “OMFG-it’s-so-awesome-loud!!1!” mastering VST, if that’s your game.
Download the rack here, and put it in an easy-to-remember location in your Live library! Feel free to ask me questions or comment in the comment section below!
By the way: in the upcoming Live 9, there’s a new feature which lets you save “default” tracks, so that any time you create a new track, it will be loaded with content and settings to your taste – so make sure to put Track Control on your default audio and MIDI tracks when Live 9 is released! 😉