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Ableton Live 9: Six Follow Action Tips

askaudiomag.com May 8, 2015

If you've never used Ableton Live's Follow Actions before then be prepared to
have your mind blown with these 6 ways to use them by Ableton Certified
Trainer, Noah Pred.
Did you know you can program instructions into Live's Session view clips that
will tell those clips to play for a specified period of time before playing another
carefully specified clipor a randomly selected one? In this tutorial, we'll explore
six exciting usages of Live's under-utilized but highly powerful follow actions for
use in both performance and production.

Configuring Clips for Follow Actions


First thing you need to know is that follow actions can only be programmed to
control a group of clips on a single track. What do I mean by a group of clips? A
group of clips are vertically contiguousin other words, direct neighbors above
and below one another, not separated by an empty clip slot. In the picture below,
we have two groups of clips on a single audio track: the purple clips are in one
group; below, separated by an empty clip slot, the blue clips constitute a separate

clip group. Before going further, it's worth mentioning that follow actions behave
identically for MIDI clips as they do for audio clips.

Two clip
groups on an audio track.
Now that we've got these clips organized into groups, we can set about
configuring our follow actions. It's important to set these up before any clips in
the group have been triggered, or the follow actions may not take hold as
expected. In theory, you could set follow actions up on the fly so long as you
haven't triggered any of the clips in question yet, but as you'll see, it's advisable
to set them up in advance.
A clip's follow action properties are located in the launch panel of a clip's
settings: in a clip's detail view, click the L button in the lower left corner so
that it lights up. You should now see a Launch properties pane, the bottom third
of which is devoted to follow action settings.

The Launch
properties pane of a one-shot clip, without follow actions configured.

At the top of the follow action settings are three boxes that allow you to specify
how long the clip, looping or not, will playin bars, beats, and sixteenth notes,
respectivelybefore assuming the specified follow action.
Beneath this are two drop-down menus with an identical set of options. The first
is to take no action, which is the default settingmeaning the clip will continue
to play as normal. You can tell the clip to stop, or to play itself again. It can be
made to play the previous clip, or the one above it in the group; the next clip,
which is the one below it; to play the first or top clip in the group; the last or
bottom clip in the group; any random clip in the group including itself, or any
other random clip in the group, excluding itself.

The follow
action menu.
This already opens up a world of possibilities to program intricate sequences,
randomize playback, or create a balance of the two by injecting randomized fills
into steady patterns. But why are there two identical follow action menus side by
side?
Beneath each of these menus is a numerical field that determines a probability
that the follow action selected above it will be takenso rather than leave

selections to be completely randomized, you can create your own weighted


gambles between two specific options.
When either of the action menus' probability is set to zero, it will never be
triggered. If the left action is set to two and the right action is set to one, the left
action will occur twice as often. However, each numerical field can be set from
zero to 999, allowing for all sorts of odd fractional ratios worth experimenting
with. Let's get to it then, shall we?

Cascading Clip Sequence


To quickly configure the same follow actions for an entire clip group, first select
all the clips in the group using the Shift key; now you can program your follow
actions for all selected clips simultaneously.
For this first example, I've simply taken four drum clips and told them each to
play the next clip in the group after two bars. When the bottom clip of a group is
playing, the next clip instruction triggers the top clip of the group again, which
means that each clip in this group will play for two bars, completing an eight bar
cycle before starting over.

Cascading clip sequence follow action settings.


Naturally, each clip could be told to play for any length of time and you could
include more clips in this way as needed.

Weighted Fills
To create probabilistic drum fills, I'll have the top clip in a group of three clips
play for 3 bars and 3 quarter notes. Below this are two fill clips, each a single
quarter note in length which have both been programmed to play for one quarter
note before playing the top clip in the group again. The top clip will play either
the next fill clip immediate below it, or the second fill clip at the bottom of the
group, but I'd like it to play the first fill clip more often than the second, so I'll
weight the ratio accordingly.

Weighted fill settings from the top clip.

Randomized Fills
To create fully randomized fills less often from a wider selection of clips, I'll take
a main drum loop and ten half-bar fills. The top clip will be set to play for 7 bars
and 2 quarter notes before playing any other clip in the group. Meanwhile, I'll
select all the fill clips simultaneouslybeing careful not to select the main drum
clip up topand set them all to play for 2 quarter notes before the first clip in the
group, setting playback to the top clip again.

Settings for the main clip at the top of the group.

Settings for the randomized fill clips.

Beat Juggling
For this next example, I'll take a set of five breakbeat loops and have each of
them to play for either 2, 3, 4, or 5 quarter notes before playing any other
random clip in the group. The important thing hereaside from them all being

warped properly, of courseis to have the Legato box below the Launch Mode
drop-down menu enabled. This makes it so that each breakbeat, once triggered,
picks up playback at the current playback interval rather than starting on the
first downbeat as it would by default. The result in this case is that while each
drum clip is being triggered for playback at odd intervals, they'll all stay locked
in rhythm with the main clock, resulting in beats being juggled at odd intervals
while maintaining their core rhythmicity.

Legato switched on for a beat clip that will play for five
quarter notes before playing another clip in the group.

Unwarped Looping
While Ableton's warping algorithms are better than ever and in many cases
sound pristine, some people prefer to not warp their audio clips at all. If you
want to have a clip play back at a repetitive interval, such as sixteenth, eight, or
quarter notes or even three sixteen or eight notes for a hemiola feel you can
easily configure this using follow actions. For a basic example I'll take a bass
drum sample and turn the warping off so there's no time-stretching whatsoever.
Then I'll use the follow actions to tell it to play itself every quarter note, resulting
in a pulsing 4/4 kick without any looping enabled.

Retriggered
quarter note unwarped kick drum.

Randomized Patterns
You can also use follow actions to randomly generate new loops from one shots
or longer clips. Simply select all the clips in your group and tell them to play a
random clip from the groupincluding or excluding itself, as either work can
work in this set up depending what you're going forat whatever interval you
need. To create rhythmic patterns out of drum or other short one shots, you'll
want to select one, two or three sixteenth notes; to trigger, say, dubby effect
shots, you might only want them to happen every four, eight, or sixteen barsor
even further apart, or at less standard intervals.

Eight oneshot clips configured for randomized rhythmic playback with a chance of
retriggering.
PRO-TIP: Create unique clips out of thin air by recording randomized patterns into a new audio
track: record the randomization until you've heard a few segments you think might be useful, then
select the desired section for playback with the recorded clip's loop brace.

Follow actions will be recorded into the arrangement as discrete clips, triggered
as programmed. Whether generating unique patterns in the studio or injecting
some randomization into otherwise repetitive loops to spice things up on stage,

follow actions are a powerful feature built into Live's clips that every Live user
should know how to use.