Enabling and Disabling Live’s Metronome with Automation
If you use in-ear monitoring to help you keep tempo during a live performance, you probably have either a dedicated track for pre-recorded audio clicks and cues, a dedicated MIDI track with notes that trigger clicks and snaps and pops, or you use Live’s internal metronome to keep time.
This article explains in detail how to control Ableton Live’s built in metronome through automation.
Ableton Live has a myriad of controls that can be mapped to various buttons and knobs. Those buttons and knobs can be controlled automatically as your song is playing.
Automation for a given parameter is typically isolated to the track in which the device exists. Automating controls in a given track with a clip in that same track is easy. For instance, you can easily raise or lower the mixer volume on a track over time with a clip on the track. It’s when we need to automate a parameter outside of the track that things get a little tricky. But don’t worry, it’s not that difficult to make happen.
One of the elements that we can control through automation is the metronome. We could map the metronome to a button on a piece of external hardware, or to a key on the keyboard, and quickly tap that button or key to toggle the metronome on or off, or we could draw the control into an envelope inside of a clip and let Live do it automatically. This works in both session and arrangement view.
(Note: Arrangement view is an easier view to use when composing and arranging because the entire timeline of a song is laid out before you, and clips haven’t yet been split up for use in session mode.)
In order to control MIDI parameters that aren’t accessible from a track’s clip, you need to trick Ableton into thinking it’s receiving MIDI data from an external source, or another application. You do this through the use of a Virtual MIDI port called the IAC Driver which needs to be enabled on your Mac through the Audio MIDI Setup, and configured in Ableton Live.
How to begin:
- Create a new MIDI track in Ableton Live. Set the track’s MIDI From to No Input. You won’t be needing to receive anything on this track. Set the MIDI To to the IAC Driver (IAC Bus X).
- Select a MIDI channel to transmit your MIDI data. It must be a channel that doesn’t interfere with any other devices that you use with Ableton Live.
- Create a new MIDI clip in one of the scenes. It doesn’t matter where.
- In Clip View, make sure the Envelope inspector is on. In the Envelopes inspector, you will have two options for Envelopes. Choose MIDI Ctrl. We’re going to use one of the arbitrary unassigned envelopes to send a signal out of Ableton Live
- Under MIDI Ctrl, there is another drop-down which lists a bajillion controller options. Choose one that’s unused and unassigned. This is your MIDI CC value (Continuous Controller.)(Note: Keep track of the MIDI Ctrl values you use on a given channel. You will ONLY know when a MIDI Ctrl has been used when addressing the clip that it’s used in. Clips don’t share automation information)
- In the Notes inspector, increase the length of the clip to 8 measures and set the End point to 9 measures. Disable looping. When you map MIDI Ctrl parameters through the IAC Driver, you need enough time to play the clip, enable MIDI Map Mode, and allow the automation to be assigned.
- At about measure 6 on the clip timeline, click the envelope line at the bottom to create a breakpoint. Ableton Live needs two points that differ in value when listening to CC values, which is what we’re recording.
- Insert another breakpoint to the right of the first one and drag it up to the top of the envelope. You should now have something that looks like the image below. You should also see two dots show up next to the envelope selections in the Envelope inspector, indicating that there is now recorded automation on this MIDI CC.
- Trigger the clip so it starts playing.
- Quickly click the MIDI Map Mode button in the upper right corner of the screen.
- Now, click the Metronome next to the time signature in the upper left corner of the screen.
- Watch the timeline. When the playhead reaches the curve that you’ve drawn, Ableton Live will assign MIDI CC X (number you chose) to the Metronome On/Off control.
- As soon as you see the mapping recorded, turn OFF MIDI Map Mode.
- You can now discard this MIDI clip, or save it for use at a later time.
Ableton Live, for this Live set only, will always be listening to whatever comes in on the IAC Driver. When it receives value changes on the MIDI CC number you programmed on the channel you originally transmitted, it will activate or de-activate the Metronome.