How EXACTLY can my wife and I add backing tracks through Ableton? Please Help a noob!

Hi guys!

My wife plays keyboard and sings, and I play guitar and sing backup vocals for church events.

We want to create a full live sound, to create backing tracks with added instrumentation playing under our parts-- drums, some synth sounds, other virtual instruments to accompany the music we have written.

My wife wants to be able to control the start/stop of the tracks and the volume of the instruments in real time....preferably with a footpedal and/or little portable mixer like LaunchControl XL.

I know how to use a multitrack recording program, and do simple layering of sounds. I have Reaper, and have done some recording of my electric guitar.

We have SEEN performers using these little mixers and laptops running Ableton Live, but have NO other experience with it. For example, watching live streaming worship from Misty Edwards and others at I.H.O.P. (International House of Prayer, not the super pancake restaurant)

My questions then: How CAN we control background sounds for our duo in real time-- is Ableton Live the best choice?

For a barebones, cheap and functional set-up, what hardware would we need to accomplish our goals? Would an ipad suffice, or do we need a macbook or pc laptop to run the software? Do you recommend additional drum software for programming, and if so, what is a good budget option?

I am an absolute NOVICE at this stuff! I know electric guitars and gear, but our experience with running live loops and backing tracks is non-existent. Other relevant info: we have two of our own powered monitors (Alto TS110A) my guitar and pedals, running into a cheap Alto 8 channel Mixer. We would like to accomplish our goals using just OUR OWN gear at the moment, but we of course have access to our Church's big P.A. and mixing console.

Thanks very sincerely for any help you guys can give us!

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Well, since I kinda foresee this question falling off the boards with no answers, let me ask... does your wife have a keyboard that incorporates some sort of synth/sequencer?  If so, that might be the cheapest solution, to learn how to program drums, bass, maybe strings or something into that.  Play the keyboard part live over those recorded parts.  Probably wouldn't have all the flexibility of controlling individual instrument volumes on the fly or being able to add an extra chorus, but it might be a solution using entirely equipment you already own...

But your original question may be too specific, especially if you haven't already purchased Ableton.  There may be lots of ways to do what you want if you're able to think outside that particular box...

I have a friend who is working on being a one-man Steely Dan cover band (yeah, he's really good) by programming several instruments into the keyboard and then playing and singing on top of that.

Ok I've used abelton in a few different ways. At first I used a midi foot pedal set up start stop points and could do all kinds of crazy stuff, barely touched it's abilities. Didn't use it for several yeArs prefer live band biut got back to using it as I was training new musicians and also supplementing instruments for youth services and stuff. Before I used a pc, but now use MacBook. Set it up different and just use number keys to start each song. The proces I often do is to do a drum track using easy drums then build the tracks, I do it all in abelton and I actually have abelton 6 le and it still does what I need. I'll have to look back and find some of the tutorials that I found that helped me out. Like I said I've barely tapped into it. You can even record and playback live I think it's nuts. I've seen some people do cool stuff. Also there are a ton of multitrack a out there you can get to plug into abelton to keep you from doing all the leg work. And they actually have great tutorials for using abelton in worship on their site. Hope that helps point you in the right way and I don't mind talking or helping you more

Hi! I'm no expert when it comes to all the accessories and MIDI controllers available for use with Ableton, but I wanted to speak into it a little bit!

My girlfriend and I lead worship in a similar setup to you and your wife, except she normally does guitar and I do keyboard. I have made/ran backing tracks on several different DAW's including Ableton. You could make them on any DAW like Reaper you mentioned, but the advantage of Ableton is the ability to launch songs or sections in real time from the "session view," while you can still sequence like most other DAW's in the "arrangement view." 

In the session view, you have several channels/tracks in vertical columns like a mixer, with slots to insert clips into. Each vertical column is assigned to an instrument/sound and given a channel on the mixer with it's own volume, FX, and etc. Then each horizontal row can represent a song or section of a song. So row one you could name "Song 1" and then when you click play, it will play all the clips that you have in that row for "Song 1." Then you can insert clips onto row 2 and make that "Song 2" and so on. You can even do "Verse 1, Chorus, Verse, 2, etc." as well, if you want to break the songs down to give you freedom to change arrangements on the fly. Most of the time I stayed away from breaking them down that much aside from maybe making an alternate ending for a song or something, since I was leading worship and playing keyboard or guitar and it was a little harder to make that many switches. With that being said though, you can tell it when you want it to recognize your key stroke, mouse click, or MIDI pedal input, so if you hit it anywhere within a measure, the next 1 count of the next measure will be when it advances to the section you clicked.

You can either build your tracks in another DAW, as I did sometimes, and then drag them into the clips in Ableton's session view, so for example, you'd have a pad track, a drum loop track, a bass track, and a spacy organ track, and they were all the full length of a song, say 3:30. They'd all need to be exported starting on a 1 count of whatever tempo you made them at, say 120 bpm. Then you would set Ableton's tempo for that row of tracks (your song 1 for instance) to 120 bpm, and then drag pad into column 1, drum loop to column 2, bass to column 3, and spacy organ to column 4. You could use Ableton's built in metronome as your click to keep you in sync with the track, or you could make column 5 into a "click track" and use MIDI to make a simple looping click. So then when you click play on "song 1," all those tracks would play in sync at 120 bpm. If you do this, most of the time it makes sense to set those clips to where they will play until they end and then stop automatically. That way at the end of the song, you don't have to worry about rushing to hit the stop button to prevent them from looping and starting the song over again by mistake once you end it.

Alternatively though, you can use Ableton's arrangement view screen to sequence and create your tracks, and then drag them straight into the clip slots just like you did in my scenario above, but you'd be using another section of Ableton instead of another DAW to make them. This works pretty well. I've found the arrangement view of Ableton to be a great and quick little work space to make tracks for importing into my sets. You can even use that view to just play tracks back like you would on any DAW in sequence on the timeline until you get more comfortable with the clip view. You can create clips that are full song length like I described above, but you can also create looping clips that are say just 1 or 2 measures, then when you insert the clip, you can set it to loop as long as the song goes. An example of this would be for a click track, I would just make one measure of a shaker sample on the 8th notes, and a wood block sample on the 1/4th notes maybe a louder one on the 1st beat, and set it to loop.

For live use, I don't even have a controller and it's still been easy to advance songs and etc. I will have my laptop on my keyboard or beside it, and basically all I do it click play on song 1 when it's time, then it will stop at the end and the cursor moves down to song 2, so then I just hit the space bar and we're on to song 2, and so on. I've used primarily a Macbook to do this. If she has the keyboard or a MIDI controller though, she could program any button on the keyboard that's MIDI compatible to be a play or stop button, or to advance songs or etc.

Also involved with Ableton though is output routing flexibility. On that mixer that I described in the first paragraph, you have really unlimited flexibility on where you send the outputs from those channels (well, it would be limited by the physical limitations of your audio interface or etc.) So for instance, if you only had your laptop's built in sound card, you'd have to assign all your instruments and tracks to output to channel 2 and that would be the right (R) side of your headphone jack. Then you'd assign the metronome or click tracks to channel 1, the left (L) side of your headphone jack. So then when you plugged up a 1/8th inch to RCA chord into your laptop, you'd have the left side (after converting to a 1/4 plug) going into your direct box/snake/sound board as all your clicks that would just be sent to your in ear monitors, then the right side would be all your backing track signal sent to the direct box/snake/sound board as another channel for the house sound and etc. But if you have an audio interface with say 8 outputs, you could literally give the sound guy control of every instrument channel playing on your Ableton session. So if you had the tracks I imagined above, for channel 1 which would be your pad, you'd set the output to channel 1 of your audio interface, then send that to the sound board as channel 1 (or wherever the sound guy wants to put it). Then for channel 2, your drum loops, you'd set the output to channel 2 of your interface, then connect it to your sound board as channel 2, then etc. So then your sound guy would have a separate channel for all of your outputs, so he could control your pad, drum loops, bass, organ, click track, and etc. separately just like he was mixing a live band. Also, if you choose, you can even have her keyboard as a track through Ableton even though it's live. So then you'd add a channel for keyboard in your session, but she'd play it live instead of having a clip on it, but it would have an output too like the rest of the channels. You could also even add vocal cues (such as: Chorus 2 3 4..) to help keep your place in the track and put that as a channel out for only your in ears, like the click track.

I know this sounds like a lot, but it just takes time. I was sort of bewildered when I first got Ableton as well, but just stick with it and you'll get it. You can find in depth tutorials online detailing exactly how to do all the things I described above. You can take it a little at a time--start basic, and work your way into more complicated stuff. Eventually you yourself will have all the ins and outs setup so it would sound confusing to anyone else haha! To start out, you could even make tracks with the backing on the right side, the click on the left, like mentioned above, and bounce them down to high quality mp3's or WAV's and put them on an iPod, phone, or etc, and just play them back through two channels of the PA. You could even make a whole set and just let it play in sequence until the end when you stop it. Anyways, I hope this has been at least a little helpful and that you can digest some of it. Keep posting if you have more questions and I'll do my best to answer them.



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