So, many of our students ask me about how, and in what scenarios can we use the audio effects rack in Ableton Live. This question always stupefies me. Then again, the way we interpret things depend on past experiences and knowledge of the subject. When I see the audio effects rack, I could imagine a myriad of different applications. Then again, you won’t believe something, unless you see it in action. I am writing this blog post, to show you how we can use audio effects rack creatively, and how it will help you to level up your production/mixing game. So, let’s get started.
What is Audio Effects Rack?
Audio effects rack is a tool used to create more than one chain of effects, that are working in parallel. It is used to achieve greater control over the signal, and eliminate the need for routing the audio into separate buses. Let’s see a few application of the audio effects rack:
Stacking multiple parallel effects:
In the above picture, we can clearly see that there is more than one chain working simultaneously. So, if you want to use parallel processing on any element in your track, you have to create two chains. The first chain will not contain any audio effects, it will be dry. In the second chain, you can add the effects that you want to apply to the audio signal.
For instance, let’s say if we want to use parallel compression on our drums group. There are two ways of achieving this, First by creating a return track and sending the dry signal to the return track, and then adding the compression effect to the return track instead of the dry track itslef.
So, there are two signals which are summed at the master channel. One is the main signal, the drums track, which is dry and devoid of any effects. The second signal summed at the master comes from the return track, which is sending a copy of the signal to the master channel. We are going to use CLA-76 from Waves Audio on the return track, because we know that FET compressors sound freat on drum sounds in all-ratio button mode. However, this mode doesn’t have a dry/wet knob. So, in most cases we avoid using this on our main track. We create a parallel bus and blend this signal with the dry signal instead.
Another way to go about it is by using the audio effects rack. We can create two chains in the audio effects rack. Add nothing in the first chain and keep it as it is. Now, add a compressor in the second chain, and make the necessary settings. Now you can control the dry and wet percentage of the audio signal by using the volume control for each chain. You can also create two parallel chains at the same time. For instance, if you want to blend both tube and tape saturation with the main signal, but in such a way that neither of the saturation plugins will affect each other and work independently in parallel. The audio effects rack works amazing for this application.
Okay, this may sound like something new to you, but you also have the ability to create a multi-band chain in the audio effects rack. The method for doing this very simple and straightforward. Add the EQ Three plugin from the audio effects section of Ableton Live into the audio effects rack and enable either one of the L (low), M (Mid) or H (high) frequency band, and disable the other 2 bands. Let’s start with the L band. Now you will only hear the low frequencies. You can change the crossover settings with the FreqLow knob. To completely isolate the bass frequencies, I usually set the crossover point around 120Hz to 150Hz. Then right-click on the chain and duplicate it. Follow the same steps and setup 2 more chains for M and H bands. 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. A slope of 48 can be used to isolate the frequencies with more precision Now, you are ready to process these 3 bands individually.
Personally, I like to use multi-band chain a lot. Sometimes, for treating an 808 or sub-bass. Usually, the sub-bass is supposed to be kept in mono. But a completely mono 808 doesn’t sound very interesting. This is where the multi-band trick comes in handy. I use the audio effects rack with EQ Three, which is set to 80-90 hz on the L band chain that is typically the sub-bass/low bass range. Then, I add the Utility plugin which is found under audio effects in Live, and make it completely mono. At the same time, I use the M band to add some stereo width by either creating a Haas Effect using a conventional delay plugin or use a chorus effect.
You can also add the frequency shifter, that is found under the audio effects section in Live and click on the wide button to add stereo width in the audio. Now, The 808 should sound a lot more interesting, as if, it were spreading out from the mid into the sides. I also like to use it for adding vocal reverb. It is a much more faster and convenient way. Because, creating a return track is a lot of effort. Guilty as charged!
I’m not a big fan of the Macros, because it doesn’t have much to offer while mixing or creating automation. But, it is extremely helpful when playing a live set. One useful way to use macros for production would be to add a dry/wet control to a plugin. You can map the parameters of the plugin or a chain of plugins to a single macro. So that if a plugin doesn’t have a dry/wet knob, you can still be able control the intensity of that effect with a single knob.
The simplest way to do this is by using the Macro knobs with the audio effects rack. If a particular parameter is not visible in the Live, all you need to do is click on the configure option and click on the parameter and you’re done. Remember, not every parameter from a third-party plugin can be configured, so it differs with different plugins and manufacturers. Now that you have configured the parameters, you can now assign these parameters to any of the macro knobs. The macro knobs are made specifically to control more than two parameters 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. Then comes the tricky part, Mapping the macros.
The minimum and maximum values of the macros can be set in the mapping section of the audio effects rack. The macro mapping menu is made visible, the moment you assign a parameter to any of the macro knobs. It can be viewed anytime by clicking the map option on the title bar of the audio effects rack.
The minimum volume of the wet chain can be set when the macro knob is turned completely to the left and the maximum volume can be set when the macro knob is turned completely to the right, and the opposite settings can be assigned for the dry chain. The range between the maximum and minimum values can be configured in the mapping section of the audio effects rack.
So, the signal gets wetter as you turn the knob clockwise and drier as you turn it counter-clockwise. In this way, we have assigned a single knob to control the dry and wet balance. There is an alternate way for achieving the same effect by cross-fading two chains.
Chain Crossfade and Region Split:
You can see that there are two buttons on the top right corner, in the picture shown above. The first one is Chain and the other one is Hide. A window pops up on the right-hand side of the plugin when you click on the Chain button. This is called the chain selector window.
In the chain selector window, we can extend the range for each chain and distribute different ranges equally. The light blue color strip above all the ranges is the chain selector. This can be assigned to any macro. We can also create cross-fades to these chains to create a dry/wet balance knob here.
By selecting the entire region for both the chains and adding cross-fades, you can now map the chain selector to a macro and use it as a dry/wet knob. The chain selector has so many applications, that the possibilities are simply endless. For instance, a synth lead can be treated to sound really saturated and compressed in the drop section of the song, and have subtle saturation and more dynamics for the rest of the song. This can be achieved efficiently by using the audio effects racks’ chain selector option. You can also automate the chain selector with a macro to have better control over this effect.