Quick editing in Ableton Live’s Arrangement View

In our last tutorial, we covered recording a Session View jam using clip launching, mixer adjustments and effects manipulation to create an arrangement. Now it’s time to tidy it up and smooth its rough edges.

In our last instalment, we recorded a Session View jam and ended up with a structure laid out in Live’s Arrangement View timeline. This is a necessary final step before we export our finished stereo mix. But final doesn’t always mean final – that recording process isn’t the end of things. Because we’re recording clip launch and device information as automation, rather than audio, everything is still up for grabs. You might have to make a philosophical decision here; you can retain your pure and untouched recorded take or you can dig deep and turn the editing into another stage of the creative process.

Scene two

If we’re picking up exactly where we left off last time – after having recorded a Session View performance with clip and scene launching and device-control movement – we would use the computer tab key to switch from the Session View to the Arrangement View. There, you’ll see the clips, colours, and names from your Session clips but laid out on a timeline from left to right, with tracks organised top to bottom.

You can delete clips from the Session View without affecting what’s in the timeline. However, delete a track and it’ll disappear from the project entirely. At first, the timeline is greyed out because the last clips you launched in Session View are still active, and Live prioritises Session View. To remedy that, there’s the orange Back To Arrangement (BTA) button at the top right of the timeline, as well as individual BTA buttons for each track.

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Click the top one and the Session View clips will be deactivated, meaning your arrangement will play properly. This is a flexible system but it’s annoying that the buttons only appear on-demand. It’d be better if they were always visible. It’s not much of an issue if you’re working with shorter pieces but, with longer tracks, navigation becomes more important.

The H and W buttons are the fastest way to fit your project to your display and, by default, these are assigned to the H and W keys on your keyboard. You can use Z to zoom in on your selected clip and X to jump back out, as well as + and – to zoom in and out too. Locators aren’t only markers, they’re also navigation tools.

Clicking the left and right arrows under the Set button skips through them in either direction, and those arrows can be MIDI-mapped too. If you forgot to include a clip during your recording, you can copy and paste it between views, using Cmd-C and Cmd-V or drag and drop it. Click and hold on a clip in Session View, tap tab while still holding the clip, then drop it into place in Arrangement View. If you move a clip with automation between views, the automation will be included, and converted into clip or track automation, depending on which way you’re travelling.

Your own boss

It’s so easy to add further material to a Live Arrangement recording that you may have to create some limitations for yourself. In a professional environment, you’ll usually be working to a deadline, which can be a huge help with that. But, when working on personal projects, there’s always a risk of you struggling to get over the finish line. Shift-click to select multiple clips on different tracks, which can then be lengthened or shortened together. All audio clips have fades ready to go, just click the handles that appear on their sides. There’s also a central one in each curve, which can be dragged to alter the shape of its fade.

That these fades are always available is a real time-saver when it comes to creating more organic changes between clips or sections in a timeline. Additionally, unless you turn it off via the preferences panel, there will be a four-millisecond fade applied to the start and end of each audio clip by default. Shift-click on vertically stacked clips and hit Cmd-E to split them. To join clips, hit Cmd-J. Joining audio clips is one of the few functions Live can’t do while it’s playing.

No matter what die-hard users of other DAWs tell you, Live is capable of dealing with complex arrangements and, looking ahead, mixing and mastering too. Using Session View to capture a jam as the basis of a fixed timeline is a gift for anybody who doesn’t want to plan ahead too much and map the exact bar lengths of their tracks. With Live, building the structure of your tracks can yield the same excitement and freedom as a live performances.

Quick editing in Ableton Live’s Arrangement View: step-by-step

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1. We’ve provided an example Ableton Live set, based on our work from last month’s tutorial, made up of a recorded improvisation. Use your own project if you prefer. If required, download the fully functional Ableton Live 10 demo from ableton.com

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2. Navigate to Session View via the Tab key or the small Arrangement View Selector near the top right of your screen. Click the orange Back To Arrangement button to enable the timeline content.

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3. There are also separate BTA buttons for each track, which let you punch individual tracks into play mode. Live prioritises active Session View clips until you tell it otherwise, so much of your tracks may still be greyed out.

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4. Mastering navigation in Live will save you a lot of time. In Live 10, you can use the H and W buttons to auto-size your audio to fit your screen’s height and width. These buttons are MIDI mappable.

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5. The Overview is also great for navigation. Select the magnifying glass tool, then click and drag up and down and left and right to zoom in and out of, and traverse the arrangement. Double-click inside the rectangle to reset the view.

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6. Locators are especially useful if you’re working with long arrangements. Right-click over the scrub area above the arrangement and choose Add Locator. Alternatively, use the Set button to the right of the scrub area.

PUSH OFF We think of Ableton’s Push as a touchstone when it comes to Live hardware controllers. But its uses are limited once you leave Session View. That’s not Ableton’s fault – this style of pad-based controller is largely irrelevant when it comes to timelines. Push will give you a mixer to look at, as well as transport controls, but nothing else for Arrangement View.

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7. The Arrangement Loop is handy if you want the section you’re working on to keep looping. Highlight the area you’re interested in and hit Cmd-I to engage the loop. When you’re done, hit Cmd-l again to exit and resume playback.

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8. If you’ve used other DAW software before, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it is to work in Live’s Arrangement View. Even after recording, new clips, instruments and effects can be dragged into place.

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9. If you forget to move a control during recording, you can draw new envelopes afterwards, and edit those you did capture. Hit A to view Live’s automation lanes, and look out for the red dots that show where automation has taken place.

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10. Editing automation is the same as when you’re working with clips, except now you can edit it across the entire track. Within the master track, you can change the tempo during a song, and enter time-signature changes in the scrub bar.

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11. As well as manually entering any additional parts or automation after the fact, you can also do overdub recordings, for which everything in the set is preserved but you can overwrite specific tracks and add new automation moves. Press record and make sure the MIDI arrangement overdub switch is on.

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12. Extending and shortening looping sections can be done by dragging the small brackets at start or end of your clip. You can select multiple clips and adjust them simultaneously too.

MIGHTY MOUSE With regard to hardware controllers, you may be better putting Push to one side and relying on your mouse to do much of the fine-tuning. It’s not quite as fun as using pads but you’ll be able to make arrangement adjustments significantly quicker.

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13. Click anywhere on an audio or MIDI track and use Cmd-E to split the clip at that position. Conversely, select two or more clips and use Cmd-J to join them. Ableton call this the Consolidate command.

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14. To see the contents of multiple MIDI clips at the same time, shift-click on the chosen clips and you’ll be able to access them from the MIDI Note Editor via the loop bar at the top.

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15. Live’s editing options are located within the Edit Menu, in which you’ll find paste and duplicate options, and more, as well as the Create Menu, in which you’ll find the option to insert silence. Just drag to highlight a section of your song and execute the command.

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16. One of our favourite Arrangement techniques is creating breaks. Drag to highlight the final bar of a section – let’s say, a verse. Hit the delete key to erase that bar, then drag one or two of the clips out to cover the gap – instant break.

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17. The Delete Time command is useful too. If you find yourself having been caught up in a jam and now have a 10-minute take of a three-minute song to reckon with, use this to trim, juggle and retain your best bits.

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18. Thanks to these editing tools, you can be fearless while recording your jams into the Arrangement View. Ableton Live has your back; everything can be undone, edited and fixed, and it all feels organic and spontaneous.

For more Live workshops, check here.

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