It’s common knowledge that Ableton Live’s famed non-linear approach to the songwriting process has changed the way music is made. Endless musicians have used the free-form arrangement techniques of Ableton’s Session View to spark inspiration.
Ableton’s dummy clips take this even a step further.
On a basic level, dummy clips are just plain ol’ audio or MIDI clips. The big difference is that they are not meant to play or sequence audio – instead – their envelope settings are used to control and automate the effects and sound of other tracks in Ableton Live.
If you’re unfamiliar with how dummy clips work, it may help to see the basics action. So, let’s get started:
Creating Our First Dummy Clips
Step 1. Load up the first Audio Track with an Audio Loop. For this example I will be using “Hiphop.wav” which can be found in the Device Browser under “Library > Lessons > Samples”.
Be sure to rename the Track to “Originial” by clicking where it says “1 Audio” and pressing Ctrl+R (Cmd+R for Mac).
Step 2. Click on our track titled “Original” while holding Ctrl (PC) or Cmd (Mac) and drag it to the right to create a copy of it. You should have two Audio Tracks, “Original” and “2 Audio”.
Once again, rename the “2 Audio” track to “Dummy Clips”
Step 3. Click and drag (while holding Ctrl or Cmd) the clip file of “Dummy Clips” to the clip slot below to create a copy of it.
Step 4. Rename the first clip on “Dummy Clips” to “Dry” and the clip below it to “Beat Change”.
Step 5. Change the output of our “Original” track to “Dummy Clips” in the “Audio To” section.
Step 6. Change the “Monitor” section of “Dummy Clips” to “In”.
Step 7. Drop Ableton’s Beat Repeat onto our “Dummy Clips” Track.
Step 8. Click on the clip we labeled “Dry” and hit Shift+Tab on your keyboard to switch over to Clip Waveform View.
Step 9. Under the Clip Box in our Clip Waveform View, hit the small “E” Picture icon to open our Envelope section.
Step 10. Under our newly opened Envelopes box, Select “Beat Repeat” from the first pull down menu, and leave the one below set to “Chance”.
Step 11. Drag the red horizontal line at the top of the Waveform all the way down to 0%. This, in essence, will create a dry clip, not affected by Beat Repeat.
Step 12. Back up in Session View, click on the clip we labeled “Beat Change”. The Envelope Section and Waveform View for this clip should still be visible at the bottom of the screen, if not, follow steps 8 and 9.
Step 13. This time, still in the Envelopes box we still want Beat Repeat left selected, but underneath that, change the pull-down menu to “Offset”.
Step 14. Drag the horizontal red line in the middle of the waveform up to “5”. You will see the number appear in a small white box next to the start marker.
At this point you can launch the dummy clip labeled “Dry” (be sure to also launch the original “Hiphop.wav” clip for the audio) with no change to the original sound, but things start to get interesting when you click on the clip titled “Beat Change”.
By affecting Beat Repeat’s parameters with the Envelope of the clip titled “Beat Change”, we have automated an effect’s settings by simply activating another clip.
Notice the slight stutter on the bongos? This is a subtle change, easily made with the press of a button through the use Ableton Live’s dummy clips.
Try experimenting with different effects, parameters, and multiple clips to see what inspiring sounds can be automated using dummy clips in Ableton.
Automating Effect Chains With Dummy Clips
For this next exercise, we can delete the dummy clip “Beat Change”, but keep the clip named “Dry” on “Dummy Clips” as well as “Hiphop.wav” on track labeled “Original”.
Also, don’t forget to delete our Beat Repeat effect unit on “Dummy Clips” Track. We will keep the same routing setup for both of our existing channels.
Step 1. Create 3 more copies of the clip named “Dry” on the Track titled “Dummy Clips”. You should have a total of 4 clips.
Step 2. Rename the 2nd Dummy Clip “Reverb”, the 3rd Dummy Clip “Flange” and the 4th Dummy Clip “Chorus”.
Step 3. Drop an “Audio Effect Rack” from the Device Browser, onto the “Dummy Clips” Track.
Step 4. Click the “Show/Hide Chain List” button on the left side of the Audio Effects Rack.
Step 5. Right click to create your 1st chain and call it “Dry”. Right click underneath the newly created “Dry” chain, and create 3 more chains. Rename these to “Reverb”, “Flange” and “Chorus”.
Step 6. With the “Reverb” chain selected, drop a copy of Ableton’s Reverb onto the “Audio Effects Rack”. Do the same with the “Flange” and “Chorus” chains selected by dragging in the appropriate effects.
Step 7. Click the button titled “Chain” on the top right of the “Chain List Section” of our “Audio Effect Rack”. With the zone window opened, drag each zone one step over. Starting with 0 on “Dry”, 1 on “Reverb”, 2 on “Flange” and 3 on “Chorus”.
Step 8. With the “Reverb” clip selected on our “Dummy Clips” Track, lets go back to “Waveform View” by pressing Shift+Tab on our keyboard.
Step 9. Under the Envelopes Section of our “Reverb” clip, choose “Audio Effect Rack” from the pull down menu, leave the menu below it at “Chain Selector”.
Step 10. In the Waveform Display, drag the horizontal line up 1 step to switch this clip’s chain to “Reverb”. Select our “Flange” clip and raise the horizontal bar up 2 steps, and on our “Chorus” clip, raise it 3 steps.
Do you see a pattern emerging with the power of using these dummy clips to automate parameters in Ableton Live? Experimentation with a Ableton’s myriad of effects and envelopes are key to utilizing dummy clips to their fullest potential.
Consolidating Multiple Dummy Clips
In this exercise, we will be recording our dummy clips from the last exercise into Ableton’s Arrangement View, then consolidate them into one large Dummy Clip and drop it back into Session View.
Step 1. Starting from where we left off on the last example, arm the record button on Live’s transport panel. Arm the “Dummy Clips” Track’s record button as well.
Step 2. Launch the “Dry” clip, let it play thorough, then do the same for all of the clips below it.
Step 3. Once all of the clips have been launched, hit the Stop button on the transport panel.
Step 4. Switch over the Live’s Arrangement View (Tab) and delete all of the information recorded onto the Track we renamed “Original”.
Step 5. Select all of the dummy clips recorded onto our “Dummy Clips” Track, right click, and choose “Consolidate” in order to merge all of the clips together.
Step 6. Click and drag the clip onto the Session View icon and drop the newly consolidated clip below all the other clips on our “Dummy Clips” Track. Right click and rename it to “All FX”.
Step 7. Launch the newly created dummy clip along with with original “Hiphop.wav” clip to hear all of the dummy clips you recorded to Arrangement View have been consolidated as one.
Clips To The Rescue
As mentioned earlier, mastering dummy clips can breed new ways of Arranging songs. There is almost a sub culture of dummy clip fiends out there who map out new techniques, and think up new templates to further exploit this creative tool (just check the Ableton Forums for some interesting dummy clip templates).
Have fun with dummy clips, and remember to always experiment with routing options, effects, parameters and any other area of Ableton Live.