Thursday, November 26, 2009

Day 330: How to Quickly Warp tracks in Ableton for DJing

So you wanna DJ in Ableton, or maybe you just want to make a killer mix tape. So you heard that using Ableton was what every DJ was doing these days and that it was easy right. DJing with a computer? Anyone can do that...

So why are your mixes sounding catastrophic? You thought it was just drag and drop right?


Don't get me wrong, DJing in Ableton, at least at a very basic 'blending tunes' level is easier than learning to beat match on conventional turntables etc. But that doesn't mean it doesn't come with it's own problems, and the most important of all is Warping.

Amazing as Ableton is, it's algorithm for calculating the beat locations etc on a track when you import it isn't 100% and sometimes needs some manual intervention (by you the DJ) to get it right.

There are a couple of methods of doing this, but this is the one I have found to be both the quickest, and most reliable. This is in Ableton 7, and tho warping has been revised in 8, the principle remains the same.

The first thing you need to do is open Ableton, and drop a track into the session view. Then click on it's clip icon so that the wave form shows at the bottom of the screen. Move along the track a bit and you will see some of the beat markers are slightly off.

So what you need to do is go right back to the beginning of the tract. Basically 1.1.1 as Ableton likes to call it, and you'll see the first beat marker there looking ok.

But if we zoom in (by clicking on the wave form and dragging down). We'll see that all is not as rosy as it first seemed.

Yowsers I mean look at that, it's almost half a beat off. Not to worry, now we get to do what Ableton is famous for... and that is 'warping' or as they like to call it 'Elastic Audio'. What we need to do first is grab the green square with the number one in it. This is the marker for the first beat on the track, and drag it over to where we see the first drum starts. Just click on the green square, and drag it over to where the sound wave starts.

However, it's worth mentioning that, much like before, the sound wave appeared ok, until we zoomed in a little, the same thing can happen here. So what I normally do is drag the marker over, and then zoom in on the first beat to a much higher level to make sure I am right on the money illustrated below.

Ok, so we're looking good. Now is the easy part. It seems crazy now, but the first article I read on warping tracks advised just going through various parts of the tune and lining them up one by one, sporadically through the tune. Two problems though, that method is both a ball ache, and unreliable, as still loads of your beats will be off. Then I learnt about the feature I am gonna show you now. Right click on the wave form near this first beat we have just lined up and you will see and option "Warp from here (Straight)". This is a life saver. Basically what this does is then realign all the beats based on the marker we just adjusted at regular intervals. This is perfect for digitally sequenced music (less so for humanly drummed songs).

Ok, so we're almost there. Now we just need to check along the track at one or two key areas to make sure the beats are spot on (in case there is something weird going on or whatever). The best place to check first is towards the end, as if there is any problem, it will be most evident here.

Well looky there, those crafty beats have drifted a tad again. Why this happens I don't know, but what I do know is that over 90% of all tunes do seem to have this (albeit minor) drift. As these are 16ths the difference might not be that audible, and you never know might give your mix that all important human feel. However we're serious about our trade aren't we, and no drift will do, so it needs to be squashed. We do this just the same as we did that first beat. Just simply double click on of the offending beat markers (just one mind, as that will bring the rest in-line) and gently drag it into place again.

Ok cool, I'm slightly obsessive so I like to give the track one more check further down the waveform (also this is most likely where you will actually be mixing with another tune) to make sure those beats are still in-line.

Et voila, hey presto, sorpresa, it's all done and looking water tight.

That might seem a lot of work, but in reality once you've done it once or twice, you become a dab hand, and the whole process takes about 10 seconds. Once you've done that, you're ready to roll!




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