Okrzyki, przyjaciel! (chaircrusher) wrote,
Okrzyki, przyjaciel!

DJ-ing in Ableton Live

A guy asked me about my Ableton Live DJ-ing methods. Here's my answers to his questions, which I presume are Frequently asked....

1) You already answered my question about pre-warping. Thx. Kinda sucky, but oh well. It's just like pre-BPM'ing tracks in Serato or VirtualDJ.

It's a good way to get to know the tracks before you play them out.

1a) If there ARE variations in the warping, can you do the software equivalent of twisting the spindle / pitch bending to fix shit? Or is
it pretty much screwed, get out of the mix, and move on?

When you warp a track you're stretching and compressing the track to make it play back at a single tempo.  If you've warped it correctly, you never worry about synchronizing 2 tracks -- they always are.

Here's my warping method.

1. Find the first unambiguous downbeat. Drag the '1' warp marker there. Doesn't have to be at the beginning of the track. A lot of tracks have stuff at the beginning that make it unclear where the downbeat hits. Once you have a nice solid downbeat marked, you can move the track start arrow thingie before the downbeat to where ever you want it.

2. Set the loop to the first measure (where you've set the 1 marker). Drag the '2' downbeat until the first measure loops cleanly. Turning on the metronome can help.

3. Use the left arrow/right arrow keys to advance the loop region. This will go a measure back/forward. As you go forward, adjust the downbeats so that they line up with the measure.

4. Skip forward to bar 17 or 33, and align the downbeat. Now click ctrl-up-arrow 3 or 4 times. This doubles the loop region size every time you do it. Then skip forward using right arrow ( 16 bars if you ctrl-up-arrow 4 times), and drag the bar number to align exactly on the downbeat. Check the alignment every 16 bars until you hit the end of the track.

If you're dealing with tracks with some tempo variation, instead of just dragging the bar number to match the downbeat, you double click the bar number so it lights up yellow. Then drag it to align with the downbeat. This will 'pin' the bar to the downbeat. As you step forward in the file check the downbeat alignment, and pin the bar to the downbeat. There's no point in warping inside a measure -- it will be close enough even if the drummer is sloppy.

Some tracks -- notably those with edits done by tape splicing, or where the drummer wasn't playing to a click track -- will vary in tempo a lot and you may have to pin every downbeat. 'Is It All Over My Face' by Arthur Russell and 'Ring My Bell' by Anita Ward both have edits that drop a significant part of a beat, and you have to warp them very carefully. Most modern tracks that are computer sequenced can often be warped with only the downbeat of the first bar pinned.

Curiously, I've noticed that tracks with the TR909 as the master clock do this screwy thing where even bars are one length, and odd bars are another, by a couple of milleseconds. If you run into one of those, don't bother warping every bar, just make sure every other bar lines up.

2) Do you have to load songs up on Chan1/Chan2 prior to starting your set or can you pick and choose on the fly, so-to-speak?

I generally set up my Live Set with every track on two audio tracks, so that I can play the track on either side. You can drag tracks from the explorer onto an audio channel, but I am a dumbass, and if I do that sometimes I forget which track is playing and drop them on the wrong track.

3) How do you mix? Harware mixer or software? (This will lead to a whole line of questions either way...) I'm guessing, since you mentioned the software controller, that you do the latter. I'd really rather prefer to use hardware. With a Pioneer mixer, I'd have more control over the eq's and effects, but it sounds like you've got things pretty locked down with software effects, so I could really go either way with some practice....

I mix in the computer. If you want to mix on an outboard mixer, you just set the output of one audio channel to one stereo out and the other to a second stereo out. You can still use effects inside the computer as well -- either send effects, or insert effects.  You can map the wet/dry mix knob on insert effects to a midi knob in order to bring the effect in and out.

FWIW, I'll be using a Behringer BCD-2000 controller to start. I bought it used, and it has worked admirably with Virtual DJ for the last year or so. I'll probably be MIDI mapping by hand.

Never used one, but they look all right. What with warping, you don't need the wheels on each channel, but you can use them to control something else.

I've drooled over the Vestax MIDI controllers for a long minute, but they're pricey, and if I'm going to spend that kind of loot, I'm going to spring for Serato first. Industry standard and all that.

Like I said the M-Audio X-Session Pro or the BCD-2000 are likely all you'll ever need.

4) Do you do anything with looping of tracks? If so, is it track-specific (meaning, loop channel 1 while channel 2 is playing through) or does it have to be a universal loop over the master track?

Looping is per-track, and the loop region is per-clip. Sometimes I'll set a loop towards the end of a track and leave looping on, so that I can mix something else in during a looping region. Sometimes I forget to turn loop off when i'm done warping a track, and let the same loop
go for a few minutes by accident.

Setting loops on the fly is kind of fiddly, though it can be done. I don't even bother. You have to click on a clip, move the loop markers, then trigger the click at the beginning of the loop, then click the loop button if it isn't already lit. Then you can play out of the loop smoothly by turning off loop.

My goal is to have a set up where I can be expressive and spontaneous but still play a set without obvious disasters, even when drunk. I think having a way to set loop in and loop out would be a good addition to Live.

5) Can you skip portions of songs? (e.g. - Like setting hot-cue points on a CDJ, or in some software mp3 programs, you can have pre-defined cue points)

There are two ways to do this -- the non-spontaneous off-line method, and the scary on line method.

  1. Off-Line: Drag the clip into the arrangement view, and edit the track. this is non-destructive of the original file, unless you render a new version over the top of the old one.
  2. While the track is playing, double click the clip so you can see the track waveform. If you click in the lower part of the waveform with the mouse, it will start playing at that point on the next downbeat (or whatever you've set the grid to). This is pretty goof proof because anywhere you click it will actually start at the nearest grid boundary.
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