Songs in Session View
In Ableton Live, you have two work-flow choices. You have Session View and you have Arrangement View.
If you come from a history of producing music on your computer, or video, etc., then you’re probably used to the concept of the Arrangement View. It presents you with a very familiar left-to-right timeline with multiple tracks, and it’s excellent for doing one thing: Arranging. Go Figure.
Session View serves a different purpose and is a bit different in concept, so you’ll need to play with it to wrap you r mind around how it works in relation to the same song in Arrangement View. In my experience, the major benefit to using Session view to perform songs is that it takes up less space in your brain, and on the screen, and allows you to store a vast library of songs pre-set to play whenever you trigger them. Session view is a grid. Horizontal rows are “Scenes” and vertical columns are “Tracks.”
In both Session and Arrangement view, it’s possible to set trigger points to start a song at a specific section, such as the Chorus. In Session view, it’s a scene triggered in the Master track. In Arrangement view, it’s a Locator (little flag that divides the timeline) triggered above the timeline at the top of the Arrangement.
Our Session View Setup for Songs
We have been utilizing Ableton in accordance with Kristian Ponsford’s Ableton Live Template (there’s a new one now which we haven’t jumped into yet) which is basically just a layout that he came up with that solves a myriad of problems for worship leaders who need the versatility of in-ear cues, clicks, and the ability to rehears and play specific sections of a song on the fly.
Each song has sections. Intro, Verse, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Bridge, Tag, Interlude…whatever you want, you’ve got them in your song, or maybe you don’t. Maybe it’s a hymn with 4 verses and no chorus. It doesn’t matter. There are clear divisions between sections.
Those divisions are all on their own unique scene in Ableton Live’s Session View. Scene one: Intro. Scene Two: Verse 1. Scene 3: Pre-Chorus…etc.
Each track in a given scene may or may not have specific pre-recorded parts that play in time with each other when the scene is triggered.
When you trigger the first scene, “Intro,” all of the clips on that scene (across the entire set) begin playing in time with the tempo of the set and on track with the quantization of the set. In other words, if you have a 1 bar quant, when you fire a scene while the transport is ticking away, the scene will start at the next downbeat of the next measure. If the transport is reset to 1.1.1 (double click the stop button) then when you trigger a scene, it starts immediately.
If you need the tempo to be adjusted for the scene when you fire the scene, make sure that the tempo is in the description of the Scene in the Master track. In this case, a label of “Intro 4/4 100BPM” in the Master track in the scene that triggers the song would set the tempo and the time signature accordingly when the scene is triggered.
As the song plays, when it reaches the end of the section, the idea is to have the next section trigger off at exactly the right time. This can be done using Ableton Live’s native Follow Action in which case each clip in a scene needs to have the same Follow Action set to maintain timing for all clips in a scene. OR, an even better option is to utilize a 3rd party add-on called Isotonik’s Follow Scene. It’s a Max 4 Live device which means you need to have Max 4 Live (Ableton Suite) installed or you need to purchase it separately.
The reason we set up our songs in Session View is because it makes it easier to store a large library of songs in one set. As I scroll down through the scenes, I have many, many different songs setup to be played.
Some of those songs have full arrangements with different sections that are played in sequence and other songs we play only have a description, tempo, and time signature and they simply cause the built-in metronome in Ableton Live to click until we’re finished with the song.
In session view, a clip is a sort of “window” into the underlying audio file that it’s playing. It’s a snapshot of a specific start and stop point along that audio file which is usually an 8, 16, or 32 bar section of the song. Sometimes it’s other lengths, etc. The point is that the underlying audio file is only loaded once and the clips determine what portion of that file is played when the clip is triggered.
There are many different ways to arrange your set list in Ableton, but there are only two major views; the Arrangement View and the Session View. Each serves it’s own purpose. When we put a song together, we use Arrangement View to create a linear representation of the song over time, which is completely natural. Only after we’ve completed the arrangement with all automation and cues and parts laid out do we move it to Session View to store it in the “library” in scene sections.
This is a lot of information to take in. If you have any questions about this topic, please comment on it and I’ll be happy to help you understand how we do things.