So, a lot of our students ask me about how and where we can use the audio effects rack of Ableton Live. And this question always stupefies me. But again, it is the interpretation of the things that we perceive. When I see the audio effects rack, I could see myriad use cases but then again, unless you don’t see something in action, you don’t believe it. Just to make a point on how we can use audio effects racks creatively, I am writing this blog post, so that everyone can benefit from this and make your production/mixing/mastering step up a level. So, let’s get started.
What is Audio Effects Rack?
Audio effects rack is a tool for us to apply multiple chains of effects working in parallel in sequential (this again is dependent on the settings we apply in the plugin) and helps us achieve better results by reducing the complexity of routing into different busses. It’s not just this Ableton Live audio effects rack is good for, there are so many things like I said, which the audio effects rack can achieve if you know exactly how to use it. Let’s see what the features of the audio effects rack are:
In the above picture, we can clearly see that there is more than one chain working simultaneously. So, if you do parallel processing on any of these elements, you can create two chains, the first chain is not going to contain any audio effects, in the second chain, you can add any parallel effects that you wanted to apply to the audio signal.
For instance, let’s say if we want to apply parallel compression on our drums group. There are two ways of achieving the same thing, firstly by creating a return track and sending the signal to the return track and then adding any of the effects right in the return track.
So, there are two signals which are summed at the master channel, one is the main signal, the drums audio, which is dry and devoid of any effects, and the second signal is the wet signal from the return track, which is sending a copy of the signal to the master channel. On the return track, we are going to use CLA-76 from Waves Audio, because we already know that FET compressors work like a charm on the drum sounds in all-ratio button mode and that it doesn’t have a dry/wet knob.
Another way to go about it is by using the Ableton Audio audio effects rack. In the audio effects rack, create two chains, in the first chain add nothing and keep it as it is. In the second chain, add a compressor and make the necessary settings. By using the volume control of each chain, now you can control the wet percentage of the audio signal. You can also create two parallel processing chains at the same time. For instance, you want to add a tube saturation and tape saturation differently, like both saturation plugins shouldn’t affect each other and should work in parallel. The audio effects rack is a go-to plugin for the same.
Okay, this may sound like something new to you guys, but you can also create a multiband chain in the audio effects rack. The way to this very simple and straightforward. Add the EQ Three plugin from the audio effects section of Ableton Live in the audio effects rack and select any disabled M and H (Mid frequency band and High-frequency band). Now you will only hear the low frequencies. You can choose to change the crossover settings here, by moving the FreqLow knob. To completely isolate Bass frequencies I usually the crossover point around 120Hz to 150Hz. Then right-click on the chain and duplicate it. In the last chain, turn off the low-frequency band of the EQ three plugin and turn on the high-frequency band. Then use the FreqHigh knob to adjust the crossover point of high frequencies accordingly.
I choose to keep it somewhere around 2Khz to 2.5Khz. Lastly, duplicate the second chain of high frequency and turn off the high band of EQ three plugin in it, and turn on the mid-frequency band. You don’t need to adjust the crossover points for this band because it is already set. And now you can do processing on any of these individual bands. Multiband saturation, reverb, delay, and even compression.
If you ask me, personally, I use this multiband chain a lot, like for treating an 808 or sub-bass. Usually, the sub-bass is supposed to be kept in mono. But keep an 808 completely mono doesn’t sound very compelling. This is where I play a trick, where I use the audio effects rack in conjunction with EQ Three, and then on the low end (typically sub-bass range) I add the utility plugin and make it completely mono. At the same time, I use the mid-range frequency band to add some stereo width and here I choose to either add the Haas effect using a conventional delay plugin or I add a chorus.
You can also add a frequency shifter and click on the wide knob to add stereo width in the audio. After doing this, the 808 sounds a lot better, as if, it is present in the mids as well as sides. I also use it conveniently for vocal reverberation. Because, adding it on the return track is a lot of effort, guilty as charged.
Macros for me doesn’t work much, because while mixing or creating automation, it doesn’t have much to offer. But it is extremely helpful when playing a live set. One use case in production would be to add a dry/wet knob to a plugin. So, you can map any of the knobs inside a plugin to the macros. This is helpful when a plugin doesn’t have a dry/wet knob and you want to assign one on it.
The best way to do it is by using the Macro knobs of the audio effects rack. If a particular parameter is not visible in the configure section of Ableton Live, all you need to do is click on the configure option and then click on the parameter and you’re done. Remember, not every parameter from a third-party plugin could be configured so it differs from different plugin manufacturers. Now that you have configured the parameters, you can now assign these parameters to any of the macro knobs. The macro knobs were specifically made to control more than two parameters by using a single knob. To create a dry/wet plugin chain, you need to assign the levels of both the chains to a single macro knob. And then comes the tricky part, the mapping of these macros.
The minimum and maximum values of the macros can be decided here in the mapping section of the audio effects rack. The moment you assign any parameter to any of the macro knobs, this menu is visible once you click the map option on the title bar of the audio effects rack.
What is going to be the minimum value of the parameter when the macro knob is kept at 100% counterclockwise and vice versa for the maximum value, could be decided in the mapping section of the audio effects rack.
This way, by adjusting the levels of both the chains, that is, for dry, the minimum value is going to be -inf and the maximum value is going to be 0, for the wet chain, it’s going to be quite the opposite, which is, the minimum value is going to be 0 and the maximum value is going to be -inf. This way you can create a dry/wet for any given plugin. There is another alternate way of doing this, and we’ll see it later in the chain crossfade section.
Chain Crossfade and Region Split:
In the picture shown above, you can see, there are two options, the first one is a chain and the other one is hidden. The moment you click on the ‘chain’ option, a window will pop up on the right-hand side of the plugin, which will show the chain selector windows.
Here in the chain selector window, we can now extend the range per chain and distribute different ranges equally. The light blue color strip above all the ranges is the chain selector knob, which can be assigned to any of the macros as well. To create a dry/wet knob here, we can also give crossfades to these chains.
By selecting the entire region for both the chains and adding crossfades, you can now map the chain selector knob to any of the macros and use that as a dry/wet knob. By using this chain selector, we can achieve so many things, the possibilities are simply endless. For instance, a lead could sound a lot saturated and compressed in the drop, but in the rest of the part of the song, it could just have subtle saturation and could be more dynamic. This can be achieved efficiently by using the audio effects racks’ chain selector option. You can also automate the chain selector knob which enables you to have much greater control over it.