Ableton Live 6 provides lots of user-friendly tools for solving production problems quickly. When it comes to comping (compositing) a final audio track out of several takes, though, you'll have to resort to one or two old-fashioned manual methods. But with a little patience, you can comp vocals or other audio tracks and achieve fully professional results.
Recording the raw material is easy. If you're working in Session view, the first step is to record your session into the arrangement. Next, set the arrangement loop markers to define the region where you want to do multiple takes, and turn on the Punch-In, Punch-Out, and Loop Switches. Now create an audio track, arm it for recording (see Fig. 1), check your audio input levels, put on the headphones, and record.
FIG. 1: The track input is set to channel 1 (for mono recording) and the red Record button is armed.
After recording several takes in Loop mode, stop the transport. You'll see an audio clip in the track. Only your last take will be visible in the clip, but never fear: Live has recorded all of the takes as one long chunk of audio. Now for the comping process (see “Step-by-Step Instructions” on p. 76).
Duplicate and Zone
Create an audio track to hold each take. With the mouse, grab the clip in the recorded track and drag-copy it down into each of the other tracks, being careful to drag vertically so that all of the duplicate clips start on the same bar line. Mute all but one of the tracks; you'll want to listen to only one at a time. You may also want to expand each track vertically to view the waveform.
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Select the clip in the first track. The Sample Display will show the entire audio recording. Your last take will be highlighted by the Start and End Markers. To get a separate take on each track, drag these markers manually to different points in the various clips. To ensure that the various takes don't get out of sync with one another, go to the Options menu and make sure Snap To 16th is active.
If your take is 16 bars long, for example, you may want to put the Start Marker at bar 1 and the End Marker at bar 17 in the clip in the first track; the Start Marker at bar 17 and the End Marker at bar 33 in the second track; and so on. If the takes start in an odd spot, such as bar 19, you may find it easier to use a pencil and paper to keep track of the start and end points while you work. At the end of this process, each clip will be assigned a separate zone within the audio.
Next, set the Arrangement Loop to enclose the first phrase that you have recorded. Mute and unmute the takes one at a time, listen to each take, and jot down a few notes on which phrases you might want to keep. Then move on to the next phrase and repeat the process.
If your song is divided into neat phrases, and if you want each chunk in the composite to comprise an entire phrase (often a good idea for musical reasons), it may save time to split each take apart now. This is done by selecting the clip, clicking on the waveform in the track (not on the clip rectangle itself) to move the transport to the right spot, and then using the Edit menu's Split command. You can split multiple clips at the same spot by Shift-clicking on their waveforms and then using the Split command.
Mute the clip segments you don't want by right-clicking on each of them and choosing Deactivate Clip(s) from the pop-up menu. Now unmute all of the tracks, and you can listen to your composite take from end to end.
Some Assembly Required
If the takes were somewhat free rhythmically, you may find that no matter where you split them apart, you'll hear an abrupt butt joint when one clip transitions into the next. The solution is to program crossfades using track automation.
When you're happy with the comped track, Live offers three ways to clean up the project. The easiest method is to drag the active clips up or down so that they all reside on a single track. This is practical only if you haven't done any crossfading, however. Alternatively, you can mute everything else and bounce the mix to a new audio track. This is done by setting the various comp tracks' outputs to the new track's input and then arming it for recording. If the goal is to apply effects to the comp track, you may prefer to route the existing tracks through a new effects track.
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After loop-recording several takes, only the last take will be visible in the track. Drag-copy this clip to as many additional audio tracks as needed.
The Start and End Markers within each of the copied clips will be set to the final take.
Zoom in and move the Start and End Markers within the copies so that each copy plays a separate take. Make sure the Markers snap to bar lines.
After the unwanted portions of the takes are muted using the Deactivate Clip(s) command, you''ll have a composite.
To smooth abrupt transitions, crossfades between clips can be created manually using the Track Volume envelope.
If you don''t need crossfades, you can combine the clips you want to keep by dragging them up or down to the same track.