Ableton Live Mixing: Better Volume Automation Using The Utility Plugin

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Ableton Live Tips on Volume Automation, the Utility Plugin, and Mixing. When creating your final mix of a song, it is very important that all of your tracks have the best possible volume levels. This means that you should always adjust the volume level of your tracks at each major change of your song. Additionally, in many songs you may want to fade a track in or out over time. Most producers will automate the track volume envelope to achieve these effects. However, there is much better way! This tutorial will make you a faster producer and will improve your mixing ability. To follow this lesson you will need:

  • Ableton Live

The Problem

Like every major music software package, Ableton Live allows you to control volume automation using an envelope. (If you are unfamiliar with envelopes, first see Chapter 17 of the Ableton Live Manual.) Ableton Live makes it very easy to automate the track volume envelope. Unfortunately, this is almost always a bad idea. You should not automate a track’s volume envelope to produce fades, compression-style effects, or transition adjustments. If you do, then it will be harder than necessary to create your final mix.

When creating your final mix, you will often need to subtley adjust each track’s overall volume level. The easiest way to do this is to use the track volume slider. But, if you automate the track volume to produce fades or effects, then you can’t adjust the slider. If you want to adjust the overall volume of the track, you will need to select the entire envelope and carefully drag it up or down with your mouse. Alternatively, you could add a Utility plugin to the track and adjust the Utility’s volume level. However, neither of these solutions are fast when you want to create your final mix.

The Solution: Use The Utility Plugin For All Dynamics

The best way to create volume dynamics is to use the Utility Plugin and automate its Gain control. This frees up your volume slider for use during the final mixing process. In other words, this technique provides you with the easiest possible final mixing phase. Here’s how to do it:

  1. When you want to add volume changes to a track, first insert the Ableton Live Utility Plugin at the end of the track’s signal path.
  2. Draw / Record your volume changes to the Utility’s Gain Envelope.
  3. Adjust your overall track volume using the volume slider.

If you already have track volume automation, then you need to copy the track volume envelope to the Utility’s Gain envelope using the following steps:

  1. Insert the Utility plugin to the end of the track’s signal path.
  2. Click on the track volume slider to view the track’s volume envelope on the timeline.
  3. In the timeline, highlight the entire volume envelope with your mouse.
  4. Press Ctrl + Alt (Option on the Mac) + C to copy the envelope.
  5. Click on the Gain knob to view its envelope on the timeline
  6. In the timeline, click your mouse on the beginning of the track.
  7. Press Ctrl + V to paste the volume envelope into the Gain envelope.

Conclusion

This technique will make the final stages of your music production much faster, and therefore, more creative. Volume automation is used in nearly every song. So, this tip will save you tons of time during your entire music production career.

Click here to download an Ableton Live set that demonstrates this technique.

Happy Producing!

Matt Sonic