Using Parallel Processing in Ableton Live

Spatial audio effects such as reverb and delay are essential for creating a good mix. Reverb brings sounds to life by creating realism, depth, and space. Delay creates movement and enlivens rhythms, while providing a sense of depth and space as well. There are countless uses of each, including treating individual sounds, enhancing an entire mix, or crafting special effects.

While bathing pads in silky smooth reverb or dubbing out a vocal with delays can certainly sound great, the buildup of the effects can quickly clutter or muddy up a mix.

Using the effects in a serial device chain causes clarity issues. Sending the signal directly through reverb or delay will cause the original signal to lose punch and can push the sound toward the back of the mix.

A common approach to remedy this in Ableton Live is to send the signal through a Return track loaded with a reverb or delay device. This method is great if you want to send multiple sounds to the same effects chain. However, this approach does not let you make specific changes for individual tracks.

One great way to get a cleaner mix and have more control over the individual elements is to use parallel processing.

Parallel Processing in Live

Parallel processing is a technique used to separate an audio input into different layers so that you can process those multiple signal paths independently.

Ableton Live’s Instrument, Drum, and Audio Effect Racks enable you to create multiple device chains that split the input signal into different channels. Splitting the signal offers many creative possibilities and allows for more flexible signal processing.

The best way to process audio in parallel for different tracks is to build an Effect Rack with multiple device chains and effects.

Let's look at setting up an Audio Effect Rack that splits the signal into two separate chains. The first chain will allow the original signal to pass through unaffected. The second chain will be loaded with either a reverb or a delay device and a compressor set up for sidechaining.

This technique will preserve the original sound while giving us more control over the amount of the effect applied, as well as the ability to tighten things up with sidechain compression.

Creating an Audio Effect Rack

Follow the following steps to create an Audio Effect Rack:

  • Drag in your favorite reverb or delay effect from Live's Browser to the track you want to address, and then adjust the Wet/Dry control to 100% Wet.

  • Group the device into an Audio Effect Rack by selecting it and clicking CMD+G [MAC] or CTRL+G [PC].

  • Load Live's Compressor after the reverb or delay device.

  • Enable Compressor's Sidechain feature and select the name of the track you're working in from the External Source menu. Sidechaining the effect to its input source will quickly reduce the level of the effect every time the input signal plays. This method helps clean up the signal and tighten up the effect.

  • Create a new chain by right-clicking anywhere in the Chain List area and selecting "Create Chain" from the context menu. This chain will allow the signal to pass through unaffected.

  • Rename the two layers and adjust the compressor controls to taste.

  • The volume slider for the chain with effect devices will control the amount of effect applied to the signal. Think of it as a Wet/Dry control.

The Power of Racks

The methods outlined above are just one example of using Live's extensive features to treat sounds with effects and is not limited to mixing reverb and delay.

This Audio Effect Rack will work for a variety of treatments and can be expanded to meet your needs. For example, you could create multiple chains and load an EQ on each channel with different frequency ranges dialed in to create a Multiband Effect Rack. Then, apply different effects to the isolated frequencies to independently treat the full range of the frequency spectrum with more precision.

Additionally, you're not limited to using only Live native devices—you can load up third-party plugins as well. Once you have a custom rack setup, save it to your User Library so it can be recalled in another project.

I encourage you to experiment with Audio Effect Racks and parallel processing. It's fun to build racks with clever Macro mapping to shape sounds in creative or complex ways.

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