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Feb 02, 2014 A pseudo DJ scratch effect created in Ableton by modulating the simpler pitch envelope and sample start time using dials on the Push controller. Ableton Live Scratch Techniques: In the Studio. May 23, 2013 Mapping for traktor keyboard (play button and turntable stop effect using transpose stretch effect) Use the button V on generic keyboard as toggle for play/pause in target deck and sync deck(can be remove in traktor setting/ controller manager/ delete Sync On).
The art form of scratching has been around for several decades and first came to prominence shortly after the birth of turntablism in the mid 1970s. With the emergence of digital DJing however, it seemed like scratching would die a quick death. Luckily this wasn't the case as many jog wheels on today’s DJ Controllers are more than capable of producing that vinyl scratch sound. So where do Ableton DJs fit in? Well if you have one of these aforementioned DJ controllers or indeed a turntable itself, then you can easily incorporate scratching into your Live sets. In fact for beginners, Ableton possesses a unique advantage over solely using a jogwheel or turntable type setup. Let's take a closer look.
Now we aren’t going to get into the ins and outs of scratching, but if you are a relative novice who wants to add professional sounding scratches to your sets then you may very well find this trick useful.
Mastering scratching take a lot of practice, most notably the ability to coordinate your ‘record’ hand (which does the scratching) and your mixer hand (which uses the crossfader to cut the audio in and out to tighten up your sound. Using the crossfader creatively also adds more rhythmical patterns to your scratches. If mastering this seems too daunting to start with, there is a workaround in the form of Ableton’s clip automation. By using a dummy clip in Live, you can draw volume envelopes beforehand to automatically act as the crossfader while you scratch live. Now before traditional turntablists shout insults at me, I’m not advocating this should replace the skill involved in using the crossfader. However it is a great way to achieve great sounding scratches by solely using your record hand, leaving your other hand free for adding FX, finger drumming or even waving at the crowd.
Firstly it is important to be set properly for scratching. On my controller I will have my hot cue set to the start of a clean isolated sound, usually a vocal accapella. It is also a good idea to set the other cue buttons on your controller to the start of other suitable sounds so you can switch between scratch sounds on the fly. (I use the Reloop Beatpad as its jogwheels excellently replicate the sound of vinyl manipulation when touched. Also its integration with DJay and Spotify means that I now have access to 20 million songs.)
In Ableton, along with my normal audio /MIDI tracks in my set, I like to create a separate track to host the live scratch sound. To route the audio from your scratching source to this track in Live you will need an audio interface with at least two inputs. Connect the outputs of your turntable/controller to these inputs and configure the I/O settings as shown below and record enable the track. You should now hear your scratch audio coming through to Live.
You will then need to route this audio to another track on which the ‘crossfader’ clip can be placed. Duplicate the track and set the new track to receive the audio from the original track. Set ‘Monitor’ to ‘In’ on the new track and ‘Monitor to ‘Off’ on the original. Next place a clip with no audio on the new track and set the loop to four bars.
Launch the clip and start to scratch. The audio won’t be affected as the clip’s volume envelope hasn’t been touched yet. We will soon change that. In the clip’s Clip View click the envelope button. From the Envelope pane choose Mixer and Volume from the relevant drop-down menus. We will start off by drawing in a simple pattern. Use the pen tool (the keyboard shortcut is B) to cut out the volume every 1/8th note. Launch the clip again and scratch in time with the beat (a forward scratch every 1/4 note is a good starting point) The audio will now drop out every time you move the jogwheel back to the start position as it would if you were to use the crossfader to cut out the sound in this way.
Next duplicate the clip but on this version cut out the volume every 1/16 note on the clip. Launch the clip and start to scratch, this time with a forward scratch every 1/8 note. You should be left with a very quick, tight scratch sound.
Same scratch with 16th note automation:
You can hear from the above examples that the second clip is a lot tighter and cleaner sounding.
In order to get the best sounding scratches in your live set, you will need to do some experimentation beforehand to see which envelope patterns work best with which type of scratches. For example, you could leave just the attack of every scratch so you get that stab scratch sound or perhaps let the sound last a bit longer to get a chirp scratch. You could also draw in combinations of scratches until you find the perfect fit. The world is your oyster.
Have a listen to your scratches without the dummy clip and try to determine which parts of the sound would be best left in and which would be chopped out. When finished you should have a list of clips that you can launch on the fly while scratching. Your crossfader hand has nothing else to do after all.
This is what a more advanced scratch sounds like with no automation:
This is what the same scratch sounds like with the automation as shown in the pic:
The possibilities are of course endless and with bit of practice and preparation, you can really use these ‘scratch’ dummy clips to add an extra dimension to your Live sets. As mentioned, it shouldn’t be used as replacement for the crossfader but could be thought of as a performance enhancement tool or learning aid to becoming a scratching master.
It’s no understatement that Ableton Live is an extremely powerful digital audio workstation fully capable both in the studio and on stage. However, when it comes to live performance especially, it’s not uncommon for users to find themselves pushing the limits of their system’s capabilities and maxing out valuable resources. In order to get the most out of our rigs, we need to address ways to optimize our components and settings to improve both stability and responsiveness.
1. Hardware Considerations
To start, I’ll dive into the more obvious hardware considerations. Number one… have the fastest computer with the most amount of RAM it can handle and you can afford. If your computer doesn’t have an SSD drive, get one as soon as possible as they’re worth their weight in platinum! This will greatly improve the loading times of applications, enhance overall system responsiveness and massively increase read speeds for such tasks as streaming audio from disc.
RAM (Random Access Memory) is just as important as your computer’s processor. The overall performance capabilities of your hardware come down to how well your CPU and RAM work together. If there’s not enough RAM to support running your software, the computer becomes sluggish. If the amount of available memory is exceeded, it’s likely to crash unexpectedly like a dating experience gone horrific.
For those of you running Mac computers that wish to monitor RAM usage, check the status by running the Activity Monitor located in your utilities folder. There’s also a super useful 3rd-party application, Memory Clean, that not only tells you how much RAM is being used, it’s also able to purge any inactive memory that’s still tied up.
2. Multicore Support
To help manage the CPU load, Live supports multicore and multiprocessor systems. In a nutshell, Multicore Support allows Live to distribute the processing load and application tasks amongst available resources.
Enable this option if your computer has multiple processors, as most do nowadays. Multicore support can be toggled off and on via the CPU tab in Live’s preferences.
3. Ins and Outs—Mono versus Stereo
Another significant source of strain stems from moving data to and from audio hardware. It’s not uncommon to encounter setups where the user has all available inputs and outputs enabled just in case they might need them. Such configurations are disadvantageous and only contribute to draining valuable system resources. Therefore it’s advisable to disable any unused audio inputs and outputs (Live’s preferences—Audio tab) as it will aid in decreasing your overall CPU load.
Another way to decrease the amount of audio channels playing simultaneously is to employ mono audio files where applicable instead of stereo interleaved counterparts. As a rule of thumb, I use mono files for any sonic content that doesn’t contain stereo information such as panning or spacial effects embedded in the audio itself. To create a wider image and sense of space, I recommend using mono files and sending them to return tracks containing time-based effects such as reverb or delay. Such workflow maximizes efficiency as you can send additional tracks to the same return effects and are able to share resources rather than redundantly create separate instances.
4. Sample Rate Differences
Sample rate settings for any given Live session significantly affect CPU usage. The higher the rate the more processing power is needed. It’s therefore recommended to use the lowest 44.1kHz setting for your performance session’s in/out sample rate unless there’s a valid reason to do otherwise.
A lesser know fact, sample rate conversion during playback and rendering in Live affects sound quality. Chances are that if you’re compiling audio files from various sources you run the risk of mixing and matching different sample rates within a single session.
Use pro-level tools to mix audio and video for live DJ performances, webcasts, or unattended playback.MixMeister Pro DJ software enables you to import thousands of audio and video files (in MP3, WAV, WMA, AVI, MPG, and other formats), analyze them, and then easily create the perfect mix.
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According to Ableton, “Playback of audio files at a sample rate that is different from the rate set in Live’s Preferences window will cause signal degradation. To minimize potential negative results during real-time playback, it is recommended to do sample rate conversion as an offline process, rather than mixing files of different sample rates within a single set. Once the samples have been exported at the sample rate that you plan to use in Live, the files can be imported without any loss of quality.”
Even though I occasionally work at higher sampling rates during my studio sessions, I’ll always convert to 44.1kHz for my performance setup. I do this via batch process offline through a 3rd-party converter which makes it fast and easy-peasy.
5. High-Quality Interpolation
Another benefit of using samples identical to Live’s session’s sample rate is that you can save additional CPU by turning off Live’s High-Quality mode. The HiQ feature improves sample rate conversion when matching an imported audio clip’s sampling rate to the system’s sampling rate or when transposing audio files but at the cost of higher CPU drain. If you’re converting your samples offline and not transposing the clip’s pitch during real-time playback, you can switch this off in one of two ways:
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- Globally—High Quality Interpolation can be disabled via Live’s Audio preference tab - Default SR and Pitch Conversion - High Quality.
- Clip by clip—If you only have several clips that need dramatic transposition, you can activate High Quality mode for those instances by navigating to the Clip View - Sample Box - HiQ.
6. Clip RAM Mode
If you’re still having CPU performance issues try loading audio clips into your computer’s memory rather than streaming from disc. By clicking the RAM button located in the clip’s Sample Box, Live loads the audio to your computer’s memory. This is a decent workaround when attempting to play back too many samples simultaneously.
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Be cautious when utilizing this method as you can easily overload your RAM. Live can handle disc overloads more elegantly. An overloaded disc mostly causes audio drops outs whereas overloaded RAM can result in audio arriving late, unwanted mutes and nasty “rhythmic hiccups”.
7. Disable Fades Option
While I’m addressing the Sample Box, another viable option is to disable the clip Fade-In/Fade Out button when not needed. This will also help conserve unnecessary processing. If you are, however, experiencing audible clicks and pops at the beginning and/or ends of audio samples, you can always turn the Fades option on for troublesome instances or manually create micro fades offline using a 3rd-party audio editor.
8. Collect All and Save
Ever get up on stage, look at your Live set and wonder why it’s telling you that a plethora of audio samples are missing? Where are they? Oh right, there’re back home scattered across multiple hard drives. This is where Collect All and Save comes in.
Not only is Collect All and Save a savvy quintessential function for gathering and organizing your assets into a nicely managed project folder, it’s also another way to conserve a bit of processing. When assets are strewn across multiple locations Live needs to keep track. If everything is nicely tucked into a single location, this equals less search time and increased power to allocate to more important tasks.
Bonus Tip: Deactivate Wi-Fi
This tip is probably the easiest to do and the hardest to remember. Especially when it comes to performing, turn off your computer’s Wi-Fi and disable any anti-virus software running. Additionally, close and quit any other applications not needed. You’d be amazed at just how many valuable resources these things take up. Once again consult your activity monitor and see if there’s anything running in the background that you might not be aware of and deactivate accordingly.
Less Processing Demands = More Responsiveness
Once you’ve optimized your settings and freed up that extra bit of power you can reallocate to tasks more important such as lowering your audio buffer. Reducing core audio buffer sizes results in less latency. Less latency equals a more tactile and responsive system devoid of sluggishness. All in all it comes down to a delicate balancing act between power and speed.
Note—For additional details regarding setting audio buffers and managing latency, check out this informative AskAudio article.
To learn more Ableton Live Tips & Tricks watch these video tutorials in The AskAudio Academy here.