groupsandclips

If you’re using Ableton Live 8, you’ve hopefully already discovered the joys of Track Groups. Track grouping is a welcome feature in any DAW, but in Live, the mixer-centric Session View can easily get unruly with endless columns of vertical tracks.

I wanted to share some discoveries about Track Groups, including what I thought was a big realization about how they worked with clips that turned out not to be as exciting as I thought.

To group tracks, select multiple tracks first (click one, then shift-click the last one), right-click (ctrl-click on Mac), and choose Group Tracks. The result – what’s basically a submix:

  • You can save space by collapsing tracks in your view, clicking the triangle at the top of the Group
  • You can add insert effects to the whole Group, and signal will be routed through that entire chain (making them like a quick send)
  • You can control the whole “submix” Group at once using the Group’s mixer parameters

No surprise there. Here’s the surprise.

You’ll see when you create a Group that the Group track has actual clip slots – unlike the Returns, which have none. (Check out “A Return” and “B Return,” created by default, to see what I mean.) You’ll also see a colored pattern for each clip slot that is adjacent to grouped tracks with clips in them:

groupclipsline

You can use that slot (seen here on the left) to trigger groups of clips. So, if you’ve grouped four tracks, and the first three of clips, triggering the clip in the Group track will trigger all of those clips at once.

It works just as Scenes do, but with a couple of twists. Unlike Scenes, you won’t trigger everything else in your Session – you have some control over what gets triggered. Also, you’ll see if you click one of the slots for the Group, you get a Clip View for editing.

At this point I got really excited, as I thought we might finally have Scenes that had the same editing parameters as Clips. No such luck. If you click one of the Group slots, you’ll see Clip, Launch, and Notes boxes. This includes things that Scenes lack – Launch Mode options, Quantization override, and Follow Action. So, initially, you might think as I did that we finally had the ability to have Scenes (albeit inside Groups) with more control and Follow Actions. Unfortunately, these actually behave as “wildcard” editing for the Clips. So what you’re actually doing is changing the Follow Actions for all the clips to the right of the Group slot.

launchbox

That said, you can still use this as a hack to quickly create chains of Follow Action events, so it still could be useful – just not as useful as if Ableton finally gave us more control over Scenes or other groups of clips.

One last note: as further illustration of this principle, you can’t rename the slots in the Groups. That’s too bad, because it would allow you to create effectively grouped Clips that controlled Subclips. If you try to use the Clip Name box, you’ll actually rename all the Clips in the Group – and you still won’t see any text in the slot in the Group.

To me, it would be more consistent if both Scenes and Clip slots for Track Groups behaved exactly the same way individual clips did, enabling the quantization and follow actions that clips do. But that’s just my take.

There are people who are bigger Ableton gurus than I am who read this site, not to mention various people who work for Ableton, so I’m curious to hear what you think about this, and if you have other ideas for how to use Groups. I do remain a little disappointed, because you get track groups in lots of DAWs, but you only get Clips in Ableton Live.

  • regor

    i woulds love it if there was clip envelopes for group clips too…..

  • http://www.janusnovak.com Janus Novak

    I would really like to have groups within groups – the same way as we already have racks within racks.

  • http://music.cornwarning.com chaircrusher

    You neglected to mention one thing, that I found valuable last night — if you group tracks, you can put insert effects on the whole group. So you can, e.g. group a bunch of percussion tracks and then compress the group.

    This is useful shorthand for the old trick of routing a bunch of tracks to a single audio track and then applying fx on that 'group bus' track.

    Group tracks interact with the APC40 in interesting and potentially confusing ways, too. If you expand a group, the clips inside the group get spread across the buttons. When you collapse the buttons, then just the group gets trigger buttons.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    @chaircrusher:

    Absolutely! (I did mention that, but it's worth mentioning again!) Hugely, hugely useful. And I'm sure the DAW makers are reading this and saying, hey, old news — but the difference is, the workflow in Ableton creates a different need for this, and having a Session View with groups is different than having them in a conventional DAW.

    Speaking of which…

    I hadn't tried with the APC40. Now that's actually exactly the behavior I would want. That could be really powerful, and it means you can manage large numbers of clips both vertically (with the APC's ability to scroll through groups of clips) and horizontally (using groups).

  • cubestar

    I guess I never expected (or was disappointed by the lack of) features that many seem to expect in group tracks. With the exception of naming the slot.

    Mostly,(for 4+ years) I just miss the ability to record modulation to clips in session for 1st party devices.

  • http://twitter.com/abletonfreaks james@abletonfreaks

    groups only came about in live 8 but definitely open up additional 'creative possibilities' we find not to mention keeping our live sets much more tidy and easier to navigate!

    they are especially useful for adding audio effects across a group of tracks in addition to offering group sends. tip: try sending both individual audio channels within any group and the group channel itself for some interesting results…

    some future features/hacks we'd love to see include unlimited nesting of groups, better controller handling of groups for apc/monome/other users, grouped sends/returns, follow actions and as you said of course more 'clip-like' editing capabilities. ;)

    abletonfreaks[at]gmail.com

  • http://www.yellowwoodmusic.com AMRAyw

    only thing lacking for me is as Janus Novak said, you can't have groups within groups. For instance, I group an acoustic drum kit into a DRUM group, but the when I want to submix the snare top and bottom trakcs within the group, I can't group them again. Still doing it the old way (track set to no input, monitoring IN then set submix tracks output to the new track… bla bla bla). It's a small workflow thing, but it'd be nice to see in an update.

    ALSO, in session view if you have a mix of group tracks and normal tracks, and you CMD+A (select all), Live does not select the slots inside the collapsed group tracks. I found this annoying at first, but actually have started using it to create "protected" tracks (for things like dummy clips) where I can select all and delete without deleting the clips within the collapsed "protected" group tracks.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, yes, of course — this is what happens in development. The introduction of one feature suggests a chain of additional features. :)

    I think it's probably a healthy sign when that happens in Live, as it suggests that the concept they're introducing here *is* intuitive and needed, and suggests logical extension. That says good design to me.

    And there's no question in the meantime this is useful for organizing clips — even if it'd be even nicer with subgroups.

  • http://www.pocaille.com Jerome LeBel

    I use it for "crates" when im djing. You can drag in drop a group to save it on your hd. So I have different crates with different BPM, keys, styles…

  • Angstrom

    re: groups within groups.

    'a source close to Ableton' told me that they are averse to this sort of thing and actually regretted allowing racks within racks.

    Yep, I know that sounds crazy.

    The thing is it does make a crazy kind of sense because they don't really have an established system to manage deep racks OR deep groups. If that management system were to appear then I think they might change their minds on this.

    I think only 3 Ableton users know where the hierarchic navigator for the racks is. ;)

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Well, having that kind of hierarchy can cause problems. And there are questions in terms of resource management, etc.

    I'm sticking by my critique; at the very least, you might want to be able to label those different groups of clips, because it's the ONLY kind of slot in a Session that can't be labeled, and it's not terribly useful looking at a bunch of colored stripes when things are collapsed.

  • http://antisound.net stk

    Re: groups within groups.

    Reaper handles this in a really cool and powerful fashion with its (infinitely nestable) folder tracks.

  • http://www.createdigitalmusic.com Peter Kirn

    Right, but in fairness, this is why Live isn't the same as other DAWs. Live is typically loading samples into those slots, and instantiating plug-ins so that they're instantly available, so there are implications of nesting that there may not be in other hosts. Not saying one is better than the other, just that it demonstrates there isn't one "right" way of doing things – it depends on the task.

  • http://www.fauve.info Fauve

    The most annoying thing to me is the fact that you can't copy/paste group clips. If you want to duplicate a group clip, you'll have to select all the clips in the group… silly, innit?

  • Paul N

    This is a great trick. I often work with four subgroups in live and discovered this feature of 8 straightway. I am well relieved to no longer be bussing things over and keeping the group bus armed all the time.

    My step further with this technique is kind of a homespun digital take on Michael Brauer's self-dubbed "Brauerization." What it works out to be in my case is that I use my liquidmix (32) on my four main busses w/ various stereo comps and eqs for bus compression/ overall definition eqing. I run the whole deal in 88.2 and it just sounds brilliant.

    One thing I am curious about- I know there was some amount of partnering between focusrite and ableton- but had wondered if the fact that my liquidmix seems to be performing even better in the new version was a coincidence of general improvement or the fruition of said partnership… Anyone know?

  • garyboozy

    @Fauve

    just select the adjecent scene and 'duplicate'

  • organofqwerty

    so, angstrom, i am not one of the "3 Ableton users know where the hierarchic navigator for the racks is." care to share your knowledge?

  • Stu

    3 little things that I agree could make a big difference =

    follow actions for whole scenes/groups,

    midi map fold/unfold group (unfold all function),

    Label a group launch cell

    I hope these appear in a minor update.

    sub groups could be cool but I imagine a resource headache, I can live without I think.

    BTW Thanks god the did decide to do sub racks, thats a killer feature!!

    PS re:follow actions I wish we could specify no of loops instead of bars.