How to Warp Songs (in 3 Simple Steps)

So what exactly is Warping?
In Ableton Live, you can warp clips, so that they will always play in-tempo along with the grid. For most general composition and mixing tasks, you don’t want to do this, as it degrades audio quality, but for live performance it’s super amazing, since you can basically combine together any audio clips you want like legos. It’s also useful for transitioning between songs in more typical “dual deck” DJ-style setups, wherein the outro of one song can seamlessly blend with the intro of the next one, with a tempo ramp between them happening along the process.

Below the Warping Guide is a video of me warping the song “Put Down That Weapon” by Midnight Oil, one of my favorite songs which i used to listen to on cassette tape as a kid. Ideally you’ll want to read this guide as you watch that video in another window, if possible.

Warping Guide

Preparation: Drop in the Song Clip and enable “Warp”, if it’s not already.
Use the metronome or drop in some warped drum loops to use as a metronome (my preference).

Step 1: “Set 1.1.1 Here”.
Select “Set 1.1.1 Here” at the initial onset of the waveform. If the song has an amorphous intro, set it at the first obvious solid one beat.

To do this, right-click on the grey area just above the waveform in the Sample Editor. Make sure to right-click the darker grey area below the lighter-grey Loop Brace and Scrub Area, otherwise it will just give you “Loop Current Region”. You’ll want the big context menu:

Step 2: “Warp From Here”.
Right-Click on the Transient Marker that was just created and choose “Warp From Here”.

The warping options are just below “Set 1.1.1 Here” in the context menu. Usually the first option, “Warp From Here”, is sufficient.

After you do this, you’ll be able to see the Seg. BPM value for the clip that Live detects (just under the “Leader/Follower” button in the Clip View). If you want, set the session tempo to this value. Or not. That’s a personal preference. Setting to it will result in the most natural playback of the song, but on the other hand playing back at a stretched tempo can be more enlightening.

Step 3: Fine-Tune yer Warp Markers.
Getting good at this comes with experience. At first you might feel the urge to position EVERY SINGLE transient you see EXACTLY on a warp marker (i know i did this for awhile), but this is not recommended for a few reasons. One, it robotically stiffens the natural groove of the performers, which tends to not sound better. Two, it tends to unpleasantly maximize the amount of signal degradation by constantly stretching the audio to different degrees moment-by moment. And three, it’s time consuming and boring to do.

DON’T FORGET TO SAVE THE CLIP AFTER YOU DO ALL THE WORK!

0:07: Warp On
0:18: “Set 1.1.1 Here”
0:24: “Warp From Here”
0:32 on: Fine-Tuning Warp Markers



TIP: Use as few Warp Markers as you can get away with.

You’ll notice in the video that i’m trying to strategically place warp markers to align whole groups of nearby transients. I’m not worrying about each of them being absolutely perfect individually; it’s more about overall feel, looking out for areas where the tempo of the instruments has drifted forward or backward in time, and gently pulling it into place.

TIP: Onset of Transients, not Peaks.
Something i picked up from warping and DJing hundreds of songs over time was to set the warp markers to line up just before the onset of most transients, rather than at their peaks. You’ll notice this in the video when i zoom in closely. This tends to sound more natural when stacking various clips with different timbres, frequency spectra, and grooves, i’ve found. Positioning transients for multiple clips to zenith at the exact same moment can create unnecessarily loud momentary peaking as they all hit in unison, whereas smearing them a little bit, analog-style, may result in more headroom and a less harsh sound.

TIP: Use your Ears above all else.

Sometimes a transient might look like it’s positioned perfectly, but it just doesn’t sound right (or vice versa). Always trust your ears above the visuals on the screen, and nudge the thing back and forth, replaying that segment, until it sounds right. In the video, the main thing i’m doing over the course as i play the song and fine-tune the warp markers is to listen very carefully, so that the blend of random drum loops combined with the song just plain feel good.

Intros?
If a song has an intro with a hard-to determine tempo, i recommend setting the 1.1.1 point to the first obvious “one” hit, rather than at the very start. Then after warping the song like usual, you can move the clip start position to the left, to include the intro if desired, setting it to line up in a sensible fashion… for example so that the intro lasts exactly 2 measures before the “one” drops.

Outros?
A cool way to segue between two songs in a DJ set is to let the outro of the first song loop while you slowly crossfade and tempo-shift to the new track (perhaps with some spicy FX for flair). If you use the loop marker strategically, once the song gets to that point, it’ll keep looping indefinitely until you stop the clip. Setting up your clips with some of these loops points pre-loaded is handy when preparing for DJ sets.

Organizing Your Ableton Browser Like a Boss PART 2: Custom Categories!

You might have already checked out the post about organizing your User & Plugin Presets like a boss using Ableton’s built-in folder architecture.

Well, now we’re ratcheting it up a level to give you ultimate control of your own personalized device organization structure, with the ability to decide exactly what those categories will be.

Modified Audio Effect Categories

If you’re like me, you’re obsessed with systematizing your production tools and resources into a cohesive configuration, making it easy to access what you want when you want it, for maximally optimized workflow when diving into creativity.

While working along with the default categories for years, i was never quite fully satisfied by Ableton’s built-in selection of available choices, so i did some research and testing and determined that it’s not only possible, but actually fairly easy to set up your own custom categories. The trick is to plan things out logistically.

If at this point you have no idea what i’m talking about, please check out the above-linked blog post for background on how Ableton’s category structure works. Then come back here and continue on. The gist is that by including devices in folders of particular names, you can get them to automatically show up in Live’s Core Browser. Normally, we’re relegated to using the default built-in categories that Live comes supplied with. All PerforModule Premium Packs are set up with devices like this, so they install and devices show up in the Core Library for anyone who purchases them. But now, should you want to, you can modify those actual categories. Sweetness.

Virtual Folder Config

The trick to setting up your own categories lies with the VirtualFolders.cfg file.

VirtualFolders.cfg Locations (for Ableton Live 10, similar for Live 9)…

PC:
C:\ProgramData\Ableton\Live 10 Suite\Resources\Core Library\Ableton Folder Info

Mac:
Ableton Live Application (show package contents) > Contents/App-Resources/Core Library\Ableton Folder Info

Always Back Up!

When starting out on this mission, firstly save a copy of the original VirtualFolders.cfg file in a safe place in case you make a mess out of things and need to restore the default state. You can always reinstall Live to do so as well, but that’s not necessary if you back up the file.

In addition, you definitely, absolutely will want to save a backup copy of your own custom-crafted VirtualFolders.cfg in a safe place, because every time Ableton updates Live, it will get overwritten and you’ll need to replace it (just like with Themes aka Skins). Maintaining a backup of your custom configuration is essential in order to continue using it in the future, so do not forget to save a copy of it after you complete it.

Your Custom Configuration

If you open up the VirtualFolders.cfg file in a text editor (such as the recommended Sublime Text 3) and gaze around at it for a while you’ll get an idea for how things work.

Virtual Folders are arranged in Groups. Each Group can include an arbitrary number of Virtual Folders, which will be the names of the folders that show up in Live’s browser. Each Virtual Folder allows two parameters: the Name (a single string of text that will show up as the category title), and the Patterns, a list of text strings which will trigger search results for devices in that category. Neat!

To set up your own system, simply alter the existing entries, and/or add your own new ones. I would recommend starting slowly, perhaps by adding in one new category to one group and testing it out, before planning a major overhaul to the entire scheme. Be extra cautious about deleting existing options, since while doing so won’t affect any devices directly, it may reduce your ability to easily access certain existing patches.

In the image below, see how on the right i’ve added the “Chiptune” Virtual Folder to the Drum categories. Now i can find chiptune-style drum hits easier. Radical.

After you backup both the original and your new configuration, replace the original with the new one, restart Live and check out what happened. Chaos? Euphoria? Now ponder whether you made a wise decision.

PerforModule’s Configuration Strategy

I’ve found Ableton’s default categories for the Sounds group to be mostly adequate, and so i haven’t altered much there. Notably, i’ve removed the “Booms” entry (new with Live 10), which i find useless and annoying to exist as its own folder, since anything i’ve found that could be classified as such could instead fit into a more appropriate category.

Because i was already invested in having sorted thousands of patches into the existing categories, it made sense for me to keep them, but perhaps in your case it might be a good idea to reassess the default categories and use ones instead that make more sense to you. Perhaps you would prefer to have multiple categories of basses available, for example—coordinating your clean, distorted, and wobbly bass patches separately. I might change “Synth Misc” into “Chiptune”, since that’s basically what i use the category for anyways…

Note that the Drums group is for drum hits, not drum racks. (Unfortunately, i’m still not sure of a way to suavely organize drum racks by type, so for those i still use User Library folders.)

The AudioFx group is where i’ve shifted stuff around a bit more.

The “Analysis” category is added, and it is much welcomed.
“Distortion” has keywords added so that degradation effects show up there.
Various effects previously crammed within “Mixing & Mastering” have been granted their own categories…
I’ve added a “Compression & Transients” category to align with the Elemental Mixing Template.
“Gating & NR” category for dynamics-increasing and noise reduction effects.
“Console & Saturation” has been added as a category, since i tend to use those for different purposes than more overt distortions.
“Delay” (previously placed inside “Modulation & Rhythmic”) now has a dedicated category.
“Enhancement” category added for exciters and other special-purpose, hard-to-categorize processors.
“EQ” now has its own category apart from “Filter”.
“Generative” category added for audio effects that generate sound.
“Channel Strip” category added for multi-effect chain plugins.
“Loudenating” category (shoutout to chris from airwindows for that term) added for limiters, maximizers… things whose purpose and result is to make stuff louder.
“Multiband Dynamics” category added, because those beasts are unique and special-purpose enough to have their own demesnes.
“Parameter Control” category because all those MaxForLive gadgets are so damn nifty to have on-hand in an accessible fashion.
“Routing and Playback” for all the odd toys that do strange things with channel routing, signal sending, and et cetera.
“Verb” because why the heck is there not a reverb category to begin with? They used to live in “Space”, which now i can designate only for things to do with stereo panning, perceived positionality, phase, and depth of field.
“Drums” and “Instrument” still exist as effect categories, and are used for instrument-specific plugins (examples: eddie kramer DR, bass professor).

Should you use the same custom categories as me? Probably not. But you can use these examples as thought-food to inspire your own devious system planning that suits your particular preferences.

But Why?

“I can just custom organize stuff however i want in my User Library, and ignore the Core Library. What’s the practical point of this?”

I dunno… i guess if you’re an anal-retentive nerd. It just streamlines stuff and feels like a cleaner, more unified experience. If you can’t see the appeal, then this is not for you. Have fun with your disorganized midden heap of chaotically-organized junk. Just kidding. It’s all love. Well, mostly.

Limitations

As swagtastic as implementing a custom system in this way feels, it’s still far from perfect. There are various improvements that could certainly be had.

Being able to classify individual Samples, Loops, and Clips might be kinda neat. As mentioned above, drum racks don’t count as a group like the other device types, and that’s kinda dorky.

Being able to access things with a sort of tag-style metadata system might be more elegant than folder trees. I know some DAWs can do this.

What would you add or change?

Nifty Ableton Option: Auto Adjust Macro Mapping Range

-AutoAdjustMacroMappingRange will make it so that when you map a parameter to a macro control, the current value becomes the minimum value of the newly-created mapping (rather than 0).
I prefer enabling this option because it streamlines workflow by helping to map macros faster, saving the step of typing in the minimum value when it is already in place.

With -AutoAdjustMacroMappingRange off, when mapping a parameter to a macro control, it will always result in a range of “min” to “max”, ragardless of the current position.

Say i want to map a parameter to a macro, and i want it to range specifically from 37 to 127.

With -AutoAdjustMacroMappingRange set to off, i would first have to map the parameter, click “map”, and then edit the minimum value to be 37.

However, with -AutoAdjustMacroMappingRange set to on instead, by mapping it, the minimum value will automatically be set to the current value (in this case 37), while the maximum will default to 127.

For cases where the maximum is meant to be 127, this reduces the mapping process to a single quick step, without even needing to open map mode. Other types of mappings might still require turning on map mode to adjust the values, but will still save a step of action if you map it while the current value matches one of the target values.

The unprocessed screengrab below demonstrates various mapping strategies, depending on what you want the minimums and maximums to be.

. . .

NOTE: i believe that a recent update of Live 10 enables AutoAdjustMacroMappingRange by default, whereas in previous versions it was off unless you enabled it manually. Either way, it’s handy to know that you can change it around when desired. Just remember that if you do change it, you’ll have to restart live for the change to take effect (i think).

“How the heck do i implement this?” you might ask. To answer that and for more swag info about Ableton Live’s mysterious Options.txt, Madeleine Bloom’s series on the topic is highly recommended.

Visualizing Bus Compression As… a Bus.

You may have heard many varying descriptions of the difference between track compression and bus compression, usually including vaguely-defined, mysterious terms like “punch” and “glue” which don’t really help us understand anything.

Well, i have a kinda dorky yet effective way to think of the difference between track and bus (aka buss) compression for you.
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A Simple Rule for When to Use a Dynamic vs a Static EQ.

So you’re working on a song and you’ve found a frequency which you want to adjust. Let’s say you want to nudge down 4.4k a little bit to reduce a bit of harshness. Now you ask yourself: what type of EQ should be used?

As time passes by, there becomes more and more dynamic EQ plugins available. Besides, in Ableton, Bitwig, and other DAWs, it’s easy to make any automatable EQ plugin act as dynamic by the use of envelope followers. On the other hand, when using a dynamic EQ plugin, there may be times when you want to use the bands as typical, with no reactivity.
So, we have a pretty much open choice of whether to use a static or dynamic EQ on a track we’re working on. So what to do?

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Using LR Effects as MS (+ free Encoding/Decoding racks)

For this tutorial we’re going to posit an example scenario: a way to achieve the common practice of narrowing the bass content of a stereo track by scooping out the S channel’s low end—but this time, using analog gear instead of plugins. But what if we don’t have any M/S gear? Not to worry.

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An Alternative to True Peak Limiting: Not

True Peak Limiting is a method by which a limiter adjusts for how the digital waveform will be reconstructed by playback systems which can result in actual peak levels above 0dB even when the digital peak level is technically shown at below 0dB.

Implied Curvature

Basically the way intersample peaks occur is that the quantization points of a digital waveform can at times imply a curve between them which goes up a little bit higher than those actual sample points, resulting in a louder-than-expected actual peak level coming though.

To imagine it, just draw two dots in your mind, and then instead of drawing a straight line between them, draw a slightly curved line. The two dots are at a height of zero, and the curved line connecting them is bumping a little bit above zero. See?

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All About Ableton’s Gate—A Pragmatic Guide

I found some old notes i had taken (for my own reference) about the parameters of Ableton’s Gate audio effect plugin and figured others could use the info as well, so i’ve polished ’em up, expanded on them a bunch, and dropped them here for you.

I’ve found that getting to know exactly how each parameter works with gate plugins leads to attaining desired results exponentially easier, and in particular learning how the more exotic parameters such as lookahead and hysteresis work facilitates sophisticated gate optimization.

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Faster Freezing + Less CPU Usage: Avoid Processing Silence

This workflow enhancer is really simple.

Just disable VST plugins during times in tracks when they are not being used.

Activation Automation

Automate the nifty device activator (aka “on/off switch) of a device (or a rack of devices) to shut off during times of silence. Set the automation to switch on a little bit before audio starts, and to turn back off a bit after the audio is completely silent again.

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