All you need to know about Automation

At odds with Automation? Still trying to figure out how to record your favorite effects on your tracks in realtime?


Check out this in depth look at Automation in Ableton Live.

An official reblog via.

... A big thanks to the team @ Ableton!

19. Automation and Editing Envelopes

Often, when working with Live’s mixer and devices, you will want the controls’ movements to become part of the music. The movement of a control across the song timeline or Session clip is called automation ; a control whose value changes in the course of this timeline is automated . Practically all mixer and device controls in Live can be automated, including the song tempo.

19.1 Recording Automation in Arrangement View

Automation can be recorded to the Arrangement View in two ways:

  1. by manually changing parameters while recording new material directly into the Arrangement.
  2. by recording a Session View performance into the Arrangement (see 7.5), if the Session clips contain automation.

During Session-to-Arrangement recording, automation in Session clips isalways recorded to the Arrangement, as are any manual changes to parameters in tracks that are being recorded from the Session.

When recording new material directly to the Arrangement, the Automation Arm button determines whether or not manual parameter changes will be recorded.

The Automation Arm Button.

When Automation Arm is on, all changes of a control that occur while the Control Bar’s Arrangement Record button is on become Arrangement automation. Try recording automation for a control; for instance a mixer volume slider. After recording, play back what you have just recorded to see and hear the effect of the control movement. You will notice that a little LED has appeared in the slider thumb to indicate that the control is now automated. Try recording automation for track panning and the Track Activator switch as well; their automation LEDs appear in their upper left corners.

Volume, Pan and the Track Activator Switch Have Been Automated.



19.2 Recording Automation in Session View


Automation can also be recorded to Session View clips. Here is how it works:

Controls for Recording Session Automation.

  1. Enable the Automation Arm button to prepare for automation recording.
  2. Activate the Arm button for the tracks onto which you want to record. Clip Record buttons will appear in the empty slots of the armed tracks.
  3. Click the Session Record button to begin recording automation.

It is also possible to record automation into all playing Session clips, regardless of whether or not they are in armed tracks. This is done via the Session Automation Recording switch in the Record/Warp/Launch Preferences.

The Session Automation Recording Preference.



This allows you to, for example, overdub Session automation into an existing MIDI clip without also recording notes into the clip.


Any automation in Session View becomes track-based automation when clips are recorded or copied into Arrangement View.


19.2.1 Session Automation Recording Modes


The automation recording behavior differs depending on how you adjust parameters while recording. When using the mouse, recording stops immediately when you let go of the mouse button. This is referred to in some editing applications as “touch” behavior. When adjusting parameters via knobs or faders on MIDI controllers, recording will continue as long as you adjust the controller. When you let go, recording will continue until the end of the clip’s loop and then will “punch out” automatically. This is known as “latch” behavior in some applications.


19.3 Deleting Automation


To delete all automation data, right-click (PC) / CTRL-click(Mac) on an automated control to open its context menu and select Delete Automation. The automation LED disappears, and the control’s value stays constant across the entire Arrangement timeline and in any Session View clips. You can also delete selected portions of automation by editing breakpoint envelopes (see 19.5).


19.4 Overriding Automation


In practice, you will often want to try out new control moves without overwriting existing automation data in the Arrangement. Well, nothing is forever in the world of infinite Undo (see 10.4.1), but it’s easy to disable a control’s automation temporarily to avoid overwriting existing data: If you change an automated control’s value while not recording, the automation LED goes off to indicate the control’s automation is inactive. Any automation is therefore overridden by the current manual setting.


When one or more of the automated controls in your Live Set are not active, the Control Bar’s Re-Enable Automation button lights up.

The Re-Enable Automation Button.

This button serves two purposes. It reminds you that the current state of the controls differs from the state captured in Session clips or the Arrangement, and you can click on it to reactivate all automation and thereby return to the automation state as it is written “on tape.“


You can also re-enable automation for only one parameter via the Re-Enable Automation option in the right-click (PC) / CTRL - click (Mac) context menu for that parameter. And in the Session View, you can re-enable overridden automation by simply relaunching a clip that contains automation.


19.5 Drawing and Editing Automation


In the Arrangement View and in Session View clips, automation curves can be viewed and edited as breakpoint envelopes.


Here is how automation editing works in the Arrangement:



  1. To show a track’s envelopes, “unfold“ the track by clicking the 25193.pngbutton next to the track name. (Note that, for Group Tracks (see 15.3), you may need to expand the track’s height in order to see its envelopes.)
  2. Clicking on one of the track’s mixer or device controls will display this control’s envelope on the clip track.
  3. Envelopes appear “on top of“ the audio waveform or MIDI display. An envelope’s vertical axis represents the control value and the horizontal axis represents time. For switches and radio buttons, the value axis is discontinuous.
  4. The Fades/Device chooser either selects audio clip fades (see 6.7), the track mixer, one of the track’s devices or “None“ to hide the envelope. It also provides you with an overview of which devices actually have automation by showing an LED next to their labels. You can make things clearer still by selecting “Show Automated Parameters Only“ from the bottom of the chooser.
  5. The Automation Control chooser selects a control from the device chosen in the Fades/Device chooser. The labels of automated controls have an LED.


Once an envelope has been selected on the track, several new buttons appear:


  1. The 25213.png button moves the envelope into its own automation lane below the clip. You can then select another automation parameter from the choosers to view it simultaneously. If the Fades/Device chooser is set to “None“, this button will be hidden.
  2. The 25229.png button hides its respective automation lane. Note that hiding a lane from view does not deactivate its envelope.
  3. If any automation lanes have been created for a given track, you can hide or show them all by clicking the additional 25247.png button that appears at the bottom of the track’s title bar.


Clicking right-click (PC) / CTRL - click (Mac) on a track name or automation lane header opens a context menu with additional options for viewing envelopes. This context menu also contains commands to quickly clear all automation envelopes for the track or any of its devices.


Automation editing for Session View clips is covered in detail in the Clip Envelopes chapter (see Chapter 20).


19.5.1 Drawing Envelopes


With Draw Mode enabled, you can click and drag to “draw“ an envelope curve.



To toggle Draw Mode, select the Draw Mode option from the Options menu, click on the Control Bar’s Draw Mode switch, or press B . Holding B while editing with the mouse temporarily toggles Draw Mode.

Drawing an Envelope.

Drawing creates steps as wide as the visible grid, which you can modify using a number of handy shortcuts (see 6.9). For freehand drawing, you can hide the grid using the Snap to Grid Options menu entry or the CTRL-4(PC) /CMD-4(Mac) shortcut. To temporarily enable freehand drawing while the grid is shown, hold down ALT(PC) /ALT(Mac) while drawing.

19.5.2 Editing Breakpoints

With Draw Mode off, the envelope display looks and works differently. The line segments and the breakpoints connecting them become draggable objects. Clicking and dragging in the envelope’s background defines a selection. Here is what you can do:

  • Click at a position on a line segment to create a new breakpoint there.
  • Click on a breakpoint to delete it.
  • Click and drag a breakpoint to move it to the desired location. If the breakpoint you are dragging is in the current selection, all other breakpoints in the selection will follow the movement.

To Move all Breakpoints Within the Selection, Drag Any One of Them.

  1. Your movement is constrained by the neighboring breakpoints unless you hold down the Shift modifier while dragging, which will eliminate breakpoints as you wipe over them. Holding down the CTRL (PC) /CMD (Mac) modifier while dragging switches to a finer resolution.


      and drag a line segment between two breakpoints to move it vertically, without affecting the breakpoint’s horizontal position. You can also hold the mouse pointer near (but not on) the line segment in order to move it vertically. If the line segment is in the current selection, the envelope moves vertically across the selected timespan and Live inserts breakpoints at the selection’s edges to make sure the move only affects the selected part of the envelope.

Dragging an Envelope Line Segment Moves the Segment Vertically.

  • Hold ALT (PC) / ALT (Mac) and drag a line segment to curve the segment. Double-click while holding ALT (PC) / ALT (Mac) to return the segment to a straight line.





19.5.3 Locking Envelopes


When moving Arrangement View clips, Live normally moves all automation with the clip. Sometimes, you might want to lock the envelopes to the song position rather than to the clips, and the Lock Envelopes switch does just that.


You can also choose to lock envelopes from the Options menu.

The Lock Envelopes Switch.

19.5.4 Edit Menu Commands

When working with automation data in the Arrangement View, the Edit menu commands behave differently depending on whether or not your selection is within the clip track or its automation lanes.

To copy, cut, delete or duplicate automation from a track, independent of the associated clip, make sure the parameter you want to work with is in its own lane. Any edit commands applied to an envelope selection within a single lane will only apply to this envelope. The clip itself will be unaffected. You can also work with envelopes in multiple lanes simultaneously.

If you want your edits to apply to both the clip and all of its associated envelopes, apply edit commands to a selection in the clip track.

Note that Live allows you to copy and paste envelope movements not only from one point in time to another, but also from one parameter to another. Since the parameters may be completely unrelated, this can have unexpected (but possibly interesting) results.

19.5.5 Editing the Tempo Automation

The ability to dynamically stretch and compress audio to track any tempo or tempo variation is one of Live’s specialties. In Live, the song tempo is just another automated control.

To edit the song tempo envelope, unfold the Master track in Arrangement View, choose “Mixer“ from the top envelope chooser and “Song Tempo“ from the bottom one.

The Tempo Envelope.


When adjusting the tempo envelope, you might want to scale the value axis display, which is the function of the two value boxes below the envelope choosers: The left box sets the minimum, and the right box sets the maximum tempo displayed, in BPM.


Note that these two controls also determine the value range of a MIDI controller (see 26.1) assigned to the tempo.



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