Today Danny J Lewis creates a rack in Ableton Live to add stereo width to your mix.
This post was originally published in DJ Magazine’s free online edition DJ Weekly issue 105
“With earbuds being the lowest common denominator when it comes to monitoring is it any wonder people want a little bit of extra width in their productions? There are a variety of methods out there for getting more girth out of your sounds and most rely on some form of delayed copy of the original sound. This delayed copy is placed at a different position to the source to create an illusion of an enhanced stereo panorama but this can cause problems when the track is heard through a mono system. You might be thinking that this won’t be an issue because mono disappeared in the sixties but some club systems are actually in mono.
What can happen to the sound? Cancellation is the main issue – where two sounds that are similar but slightly out of phase are played at the same time. This can result in a thinning out of the sound. It’s always best to check in mono to be sure and if there is cancellation to make an adjustment of the parameters used to bring things back into solidity.
So taking all this into account we thought we’d build a custom effects rack in Ableton Live that you can use to spice up certain elements in your mix. This is a complex effect with two separate chains for the left and right signal paths and features nested racks with a single set of Macro controls. It has individual pitch controls as well as a low and high cut along with a mono to stereo control to help you avoid phase issues. Watch the video and you’ll see a demonstration of the effect first followed by a step by step construction of the device. It is quite a lengthy video but this level of technical detail needs time to demonstrate.”
Learn more techniques such as this on our Ableton Sound Design course, an 8 week module that involves the creation of many bespoke effect and instrument racks.
Watch free exclusive tutorials on Point Blank’s sample course page.
Free Ableton Live ‘Spreader’ Rack Download
We are sure you are itching to get your hands on Danny’s ‘Spreader’ rack to use it in your own tracks. Well here’s the good news… We have decided to give it away for free!
Load the rack into Ableton, assign the macro controls to any midi control and you will be ready to go.
Hi. This is Danny Lewis, Course Developer and Tutor, here at PointBlank Online. This week’s video is basically going to involve constructing a custom FX rack in Ableton Live. It’s been designed for creating stereo width in a safe and flexible way. This is the kind of thing that you do a lot on the Ableton Live level-2 Sound Design course, but on this video, we’re going to take you through step-by-step. I’m going to do a demonstration of what it sounds like first, and then we are going to look at actually building the rack so that you can keep it for yourselves.
I’ve got a [inaudible: 00:43] deep house idea on the go. One of the things that is really making this track is a custom FX rack that I’ve built. It’s going to show you. I’m going to solo the pad. This at the moment is running through my custom FX. I’m going to open the filter. Let’s take the send- off. This is the sound before applying the effect, now feeding through to the effect. It’s a stereo widening effect. We’ve got the ability to adjust the pitch of the left side, the pitch of the right side, even just to test it in 102, and to filter away some of the highs, and some of the lows, so we got full control. What I am going to do is take you through building this effect, so you can use it for yourselves, as well. It’s quite a complex effect but it’s going to be worthwhile because you are going to have it, it’s something you can add to your collection.
This FX rack, I built it shortly before I recorded the video you just seen. I didn’t actually make any notes of what I was doing; I was just kind of doing it on-the-fly. I’m going to keep it open, and we’re going to go through the steps as much as I can remember them. It’s going to be a really nice experience for you guys because you are going to find out some of the decisions behind the effects and the placement in the chain, and so on. I’m going to keep this here. I’m going to setup a new return track. We are going to do this. Onto this, I’m going to set up the audio FX rack. This is all a blank canvas, we can put a whole bunch of effects inside here. What we are going to start off with is a delay effect. This is because a lot of widening techniques start with a delay, a copy of the original sound. What I’m going do is just explain a little bit why I chose a filter delay. I was looking within the complement of delay FX inside Live for a delay that allowed me to discreetly position the sound in the stereo picture. That was my reasoning behind choosing that.
Let me show, if we go through the delays, the simple delay. If I bring this through here, we’ve a dry and wet mix control. I can’t actually pan the individual delays there, so let me take that away. The ping-pong delay; let’s find that and bring this through. This is once again, dry wet mix, no pan control. That was my reasoning behind picking the filter delay. It’s a bit of overkill because of the fact you have 3 delays. I don’t need the others. I’m going to take these away, and it’s going to be nice and clear. This chain is basically going to be my left delay. I’m going to rename.
What I want to do, this is very important, turn the filter off. I just want a normal copy of the sound. I’m also going to take the tempo sync off, because what I want is a very short delay, something about 7 milliseconds is a good tried-and-tested amount. We are going to take the feedback down to 0 so there’s only one echo. You can see that the pan is 50 Left. I’m also going to take the dry to silence so we’ve got nothing, so it’s only the left channel. I’m just going to take this down to 0 DB, as well. That’s the starting point. We’ve got the left side sorted.
What we can do is add the other effect that I’m going to use which is designed to shift the pitch. I’m going to do this now. What we’ve got is a couple of options: We could potentially use the grain delay because that’s got the ability to shift the pitch in there. To be honest with you . . . let me show you, if I place this after. The problem with this is that there is a noticeable kind of flavor to the sound that I would say is detrimental to this with enhancement effect, so I’m not going to use that. I have chosen to use the frequency shifter, which also can actually really, radically change the tone of the sound. It is much more of a sound design technique. There is a fine control that I am going to use, and that’s going to be a better way to work with this; just very subtle shifts in pitch. What we want to do is have the original sound where it is, but then using the return, add something at the left and the right that is different in pitch to the original so that we get a nice amount of stereo width without the risk of any kind of phasing, where it’s going to basically take away some of the energy of the sound.
The frequency shifter is here to do the job of adjusting the pitch. We can use a fine control to do that. Dry width makes it 100%. Essentially, what we’ve got is the left side. I’m going to name this so you can see it, Left Delay. Then we are going to say Rename, so Command+R, or Ctrl+R if you’re PC. We are going to say Left Frequency Shift, so it’s very clear as to what’s going on. What I am going to do is duplicate this chain, Command+D, or Ctrl+D. This is going to be Right Delay. Let’s take away that. What we can do is just take this off, turn this on so it’s nice and clear, and take the filter off again. Take this off, and this time, we’re going to go for 14 milliseconds; it’s double the 7 over here. Let’s take the feedback down. Of course the dry mix is nice and low. Let’s just take this and set that to 0, like we did with the other ones. This is literally showing you that this is the right-hand side. We got the controls here. What I can do is show you how this sounds. Let’s take something that is very clear to hear what the sound is. Let’s solo the block. I’m going to do it mono first. We are going to show you how it sounds as it is at the moment.
Can you hear that? We can hear this little difference in the earphones now. I’m going to turn it up my side. Let’s take it off. If you’re listening on headphones, you can really hear that there is an extra stereo width there. Let me show you something. Let’s adjust this, and let’s do the same with the left. Let’s go a bit further. You can hear the tone re-shifting there, but solo, just the effect return. You can really hear that in your left ear going down very low. Let me solo this one. We got a nice stereo image from the original pitch, also copy, but pitch shifted down on the left and the right, independently. This is kind of the raw foundation of the sound.
Let me just remind myself what else I did. Coming back, we can see this going on. We’ve got the left delay and the right delay. What we’ve got also, afterwards, we have an EQ, a filter, and a utility. These are important ingredients. After that, it’s a case of setting up the actual macro controls. Let’s take a look.
We have the EQ3, auto filter, and utility, afterwards. Let’s bring these in, but these are coming in afterwards. Let’s drop in the EQ3 after this audio FX rack. We’re going to nest them together [inaudible: 08:01]; that’s there. We are going to go to the auto filter, and then we are going to go to Utility. I’ll tell you the reasoning behind this: It’s nice to get some control because we can adjust the actual EQ settings of the FX, so we could do that. This is the control. It has value in both inter and also return configuration. We can roll-off some of the bass; we can roll-off some of the highs. In fact, what I did in my original was just to use the EQ3 for the lows and I used this filter for the highs; just really a bit of variation.
I’m going to take the Q down. I’ll open this up. That is going to be what we are going to start off with. We are going to map these controls. I’ll tell you the reason for the utility: When you are adding these stereo effects, they can sometimes have an issue if you were to actually listen to it in mono. I know not a lot of people are listening in mono these days, but some club systems, for example, could be mono, so you want to make sure your sounds are not disappearing in the mix. You can do a width check. You take this down to 0. We are going to map that as a macro control.
Before I do that, let’s select these. I’m doing Shift+Click; they are all selected. Right-click. Group. You can see now that we’ve got some macro controls, and we’ve also have some macro controls here. We will need to setup these macro controls for the actual devices contained within this audio FX rack, but we can also then get these to be the master controls, and to remote control these, here. All we ever need to see, really, is the whole thing condensed down like this, so we can just literally have those 8 controls, and we can map these. I didn’t use all of them. That’s a nice tidy way to be working. We are going to is rename this Stereo Widener, call it whatever you want. That’s the initial setup. Let’s just expose all the information again so you can see what is going on. Let’s bring the macro here, expose this too so you can see what is going on. In the next section, what we’ll do is set this up with the macros so we get that nice hands-on control.
I did a little bit of housekeeping in the gap. You can see the left delay all sorted out. The actual FX afterwards are shared, so that’s why I’ve named them Shared EQ. Both of these chains are running into these FX: The right delay, right frequency shift into shared EQ, shared autofilter. What we’re going to do is setup the share elements first, that includes the width. I’m going to map this onto a control; I’m going to stick this on to Macro 8. Also what I’m going to do is map onto . . . this is a low-cut, by the way. I’m going to place that to the left, on Macro 5. Then my filter, I’m going to place this next to that, so we’re going to have the frequency on 6.
We need to do a little bit of work on this because the default parameters are not what I would be looking for, to be honest. We are going to come over to the Map Mode. My Stereo Separation, I want to make the Maximum to 100%, so I’m going to take that down. There we go. You can see on the macro, we can only go to 100%t or 0%. 0% is going to make it mono so we can do the check. Then we have 100%, which I would say is the default.
The next thing to do is to work on the frequency. This is off the EQ3, this is the low-cut frequency. The maximum, I’m going to take the maximum to a slightly different value. We don’t want to be having this to be too thin, really. I think maybe just something like 1K would be good. The minimum value, let’s just leave it at 50. You can see we’ve got a range for the low- cut anywhere from 50 Hertz up to nearly 1K. That is going to give us a low- cut. I can’t remember the default value that I had set there, but I’m probably going to take it to about 150, or so. I’m going to rename this Low- Cut. This is the low-pass filter. We are going to take away the highs. This is like a high-cut. The minimum value I’m going to take a lot higher. Let’s maybe take this to about 4K. The maximum value on there is fine. I rename this High-Cut. The default value, I’m going to open that just to keep it nice and clear. This is remote controlling the auto filter that’s inside. That’s what is happening with that. These 3 are set. You can color these, as well, so we see what’s working.
Now we need to set these here, but we can only do that when we set these inside, because we’ve got this nested within. What we are looking for is to adjust the frequency, but we’re going to go for the fine-tuning frequency. I’m on the left, I’m going to right-click on this control, and we’re going to map to Macro 1. We are going to go to the right chain, go to the fine on here, and go to Macro 2, so this becomes Left Pitch; that is what I am going to call it. Then this is Right Pitch. The values, the default setting, I’m not happy with that. The maximum I’m going to take down, because I found when you increase the actual frequency to a positive value, it can sound a little bit wobbled. It sounds too futuristic. I’m aiming for something quite subtle and natural. Anything from the 0 Hertz-point down to -500 is going to work nicely for this context. You can see, we can adjust this up to 0, anything less is going to create that nice pitch shift down. We want these controls to be over here, so what I do is right-click on this one. I’m going to say map to Macro 1. We can see that over here. This, I’m going to say to Macro 2. There we go. We’ve got a replication remote controlling that. Let’s get the colors sorted out. That’s looking good. We’ve got that functionality.
Let’s tuck everything away. We’ve now got this set of controls to be working with. We can set it up so we can work with the sound. Let me go here with this clap, I’m going to solo. Let’s increase this so that we can hear the effect coming through. I’m going to make some adjustments. Can you hear that? Independent control of pitch, left and right, to create that nice width and separation. Rolling down the highs, a bit of low-cut. Let’s take that solo off. It’s already got the original effect there. That is with no width enhancement, dotting it in now. It doesn’t need to be a lot. That’s really, actually quite nice with that subtle amount there. It’s a great stereo width effect. It’s got lots of flexibility. You can follow the steps to build that for yourselves. Click on Save and save it into your library.
I hope you enjoyed that tutorial. As I said, it’s very similar to the kind of stuff that we explore on the Sounds Design course, for Ableton Live. After the break, you’re going to see some information about the unique feedback that we provide to our students at Point Blank Online.
At PointBlank Online, you’ve got 2 methods of interaction with your tutor. Firstly, you’ve got the weekly Online Mastersclass, which is in real time. Then also, we’ve got feedback on your assignments, and that’s known as DVR.
The Online Masterclass is a 1-hour session you get with your tutor every week. You can ask questions about the lesson content. You get instant feedback, and also, demonstrations on-the-fly, from their computer desktop, with our streaming technology.
DVR stands for direct video response, and the concept is really simple: You upload your Ableton, Logic, or Qbase project file to your tutor; he downloads it, and then pushes Record on the screen-capturing software and evaluates your work, basically giving you one-to-one feedback. You see all of the mouse movements and any parameter changes made by your tutor. It’s kind of like sitting in the studio, over their shoulder, watching what they’re doing whilst they work. We have found the DVR process is truly revolutionized the way that we teach you online, and the results speak for themselves.
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Editor’s Note: This is an old article and things have moved on considerably since the original publication date 🙂
For more information head over to the Point Blank Music School website to learn the very latest about our school.