AfroDJMac’s Drum Tracks [Free Weekly Ableton Live Rack #16]

The AfroDJMac Control Center

This week I’m excited to show you how I treat my drums in my live performances.  I like to keep things under certain limitations and uniformity when I play live, so things don’t get out of control.  I don’t want to have a zillion different clips of variations of drum parts or a zillion different fills, so I created this rack that allows me to really mess with the drums and create unique, somewhat random variations, that always come in and out right on time.   The rack I’m giving you is the one I use in my shows and is capable of creating nice variations and effects, all with the press of a button or turn of a knob.  Also, I’m showing you how I use things like Follow actions and changing the Launch settings of my clips to create interesting and always changing fills.

Here’s a track from my performance at the BrickHouse Brewery Friday night that makes use of the ideas discussed here.

“Got No Time” (live 7.8.11) by AfroDJMac

So, I explain it all in the video, but let me write out some instructions that may be of use to anyone trying to get the most out of this rack or develop it into something new… (PS this info is included in the download in the “Read Me” file with pictures).

Mapping the Rack to Your Midi Device

1.  Map the Beat Repeats on/off switch to a momentary button on on your midi device.  This will allow you to press a button to engage a Beat Repeat of a certain time (1/16, 1/8, 1/4, and variable) and as soon as you release it, your original beat comes back in.  The Macro Knob “Variable BeatRep.” allows you to change the timing of the fourth Beat Repeat while it is repeating.  These make for great quick fills and instant variations.

2. There are four chorus effects, each identical.  I map one of these to each Beat Repeat.  I find that this sort of smoothes out the Beat Repeat effect and reduces any pops or clicks.

3. On the Utility Plug in, there is a mute switch.  I map that to another momentary button on my controller.  This allows you to mute the drums for however long you hold the button, great for quick drum drop outs.

4. On the Looper plug in, I map the Giant Multi Purpose Transport Record Button to another momentary button.  The Clear button gets mapped to another momentary button.  The Reverse Button gets mapped to a toggle button.  The speed control is mapped to the Macro Knob “Looper Speed.”  This allows me to capture a loop of drums, reverse it, and do a vinyl power down type effect (by changing the speed of the loop).  This can be a really fun effect to throw on a master track as well.  (I have another one in my set that effects everything except my vocals, and live synths.  I use it to end songs by “powering down,”  but I can still say whatever I want on the mic or play any of the live instruments I have running.

Using the Drum Fill Clips

In the Live Set, I included a bunch of drum clips the first one called “Beat” is a normal beat, from one of my songs.  Underneath are my drum fill clips, the exact ones from my set, you can replace these with any drum patterns you like (I find a bunch of toms or snare sounds lined up work best).

Under the Launch Tab, these clips are all set to Legato mode and 1/16 quantization.  This means when you press a clip, it will trigger at the next 1/16 note (practically instantly), also, the clip will not necessarily start at the beginning of the clip, but in relation to the global song position.  That way when you trigger a particular drum fill clip, it won’t start in the same place every time (Read: Variations).

For the clips that are all clustered together, their Follow actions are set to have the clip play for 1/8 note and then randomly switch to any other clip in the cluster.  So when you hit one of those clips, it plays a random assortment of drum sounds, all on time.  When you want the fill to end, simply trigger your original beat and it will come back in on the first beat of the next bar (assuming you have your global launch quantize set to the default 1 Bar).  So, In my set, I have my snare drum roll mapped to a button, and a few of the clips from the cluster mapped to other buttons.  If I want a snare roll I trigger that clip, but if I want something a bit more random, I trigger one of the clips in the cluster.  I love this technique :)

I hope that and the video explains it all well enough.  This rack has been evolving since I first threw together its first couple of components.  I find it works very well in my set, but wouldn’t be surprised if there are more effecient/smarter ways to do some of this stuff.  If you find another way, change this thing around,or  add functionality, please send it along!

PS I opened The AfroDJMac Store.  I hope to put out my next album on Vinyl, visiting the store will help make it happen :)


It’s pretty rewarding to hear back from everyone and hear what is being done with these Ableton Racks.  Here’s a couple tracks I’ve been sent this week… Thanks for sharing!

“Sugar Coated” by Bodo

“Sometimes” by JM-DG