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  1. Music & Audio
  2. Ableton Live
Music

A Guide for Creating Ableton Effect Racks

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Difficulty:BeginnerLength:ShortLanguages:
Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

Introduction

A couple of years ago I tried a lot of different VST effects for my music making process. I demoed plugins from major brands

After some time, I discovered that Ableton can make Effect Racks with the stock plugins. To explore further possibilities, I turned my attention to this system.

This technology is simple and easy to use. It can make almost any effect combination I want. The only limiting factor is my imagination.

With Effect Racks in Ableton you can create various effects. These effects can be made with simple building blocks. These blocks are the stock plugins or external VST or AU plugins.

The Rack Defined

According to the Ableton manual:

"A Rack is a flexible tool for working with effects, plug-ins and instruments in a track’s device chain. Racks can be used to build complex signal processors, dynamic performance instruments, stacked synthesisers and more."

"Yet they also streamline your device chain by bringing together your most essential controls. While Racks excel at handling multiple devices, they can extend the abilities of even a single device by defining new control relationships between its parameters." 

Signal Flow Inside the Racks

Signal Flow in the Racks
This illustrates parallel chains. Each chain consists of 3 plugins in series.
  • Parallel signal flow: from top to bottom, all chains are parallel
  • Serial signal flow: from left to right, the flow is serial

You will see in the following examples how it is made.

Examples of Effect Racks

Rack With One Chain

First Effect Rack in Ableton
A simple rack with two effects

This is the easiest Rack to start with. It has got an Auto Filter and a Simple Delay.

  1. Drag and drop an Audio Effect Rack from the Audio Effects onto a channel
  2. Place an Auto Filter into the Rack
  3. Put a Simple Delay after the Auto Filter

Before:

And after:

Rack With Two Chains

Second Effect Rack in Ableton
This rack features two parallel chains

This Rack contains two parallel chains. A little bit more complex than the previous one.

  1. Drag and drop an Audio Effect Rack from the Audio Effects onto a channel
  2. Primary-click inside the Rack then Create Chain
  3. Primary-click again, inside the Rack then Create Chain
  4. Place a Ping Pong Delay into the first chain
  5. Put an EQ Eight, then a Reverb into second chain
  6. Set each chain's volume to -3 dB to compensate the gain amplification
  7. Primary-click each chain and rename the text to: delay and eq-verb
  8. Primary-click each chain's colour and select green and blue

Before:

And after:

Rack With Three Chains

Third Effect Rack in Ableton
It is important to adjust the volumes of chains

For more flexibility consider using three chains in a Rack. This example shows how to do it.

  1. Create a Rack with three chains
  2. Put a Redux in the first chain
  3. Place a Saturator in the second chain
  4. Drag and drop a Multiband Dynamics and a Ping Pong Delay inside the third chain
  5. Primary-click each chain and rename the text to: redux, sat and comp-delay
  6. Primary-click each chain's color and select brown, green and pink
  7. Set each chain's volume to -9 dB to compensate the gain amplification

Before:

And after:

Macros

Macros are useful to simplify the changing of one or more parameters simoultaneously. 

For example I can map several parameters to one know. With each turn of the know it will modify the assigned properties.

Rack With Two Chains and Two Macros

Fourth Effect Rack in Ableton
Creating Macro knobs is an important feature in Live

This Rack consists of an EQ, a Reverb and a Delay. In of itself not so interesting, but the macros will bring some interesting play to use in the workflow.

  1. Create a Rack with two chains
  2. Rename each chain to delay and eq-verb
  3. Put a Ping Pong Delay into the first chain
  4. Place an EQ Eight and Reverb into the second chain
  5. Colour the first chain to green and the second to blue
  6. Set each chain's volume to -3 dB to compensate the gain amplification
  7. Create your own setting for the EQ and the Reverb
  8. Activate the third band of EQ Eight
  9. Primary-click on the Gain know of band three, then Map to Macro one
  10. Select the Reverb's Decay time
  11. Primary-click on the Decay time, then Map to Macro one
  12. Primary-click on the Ping Pong Delay's dry wet then Map to Macro two

Before:

And after:

Fine Tuning the Mapping of a Macro

These settings will prepare Macro One and Macro Two.

  1. Click on the Map button on the top of Audio Rack
  2. Set the EQ mapping from -7 dB to 11.5 dB
  3. Set the Reverb Decay mapping from 466 ms to 8.45s
  4. Set the Ping Pong Delay dry wet from 19% to 70%

Playing With Macros

Macros can add change, movement, life and happy accidents to music-making challenges. It is very good way to avoid searching for new external plugins and maintaining an interest in sound shaping.

Effect Combinations

There are no rules how to combine effects; start with anything and explore where it leads you.

Effect Ordering

The order of the serial effects are also another key factor in creating new sounds.

Automation

If you right click on any Macro know, you can automate it. This gives you great flexibility on how to use it.

Tips

Mapping for Macros
Setting and inverting the mapping range can help creating more interesting macros
  • Invert range: this command reverses the range. It will give you another dimension for using the macros
  • Colorising and naming: it is a good advice to colour and name each macro and parameter. This way it's easier to use them

Summary

In this tutorial about Effect Racks in Ableton. I demonstrated how to:

  • Create a Rack
  • Explained the difference between serial and parallel signals
  • Showed how to name and colorise elements
  • Showed how to set up macros
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