APC40, Ableton and CDJs
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    Default APC40, Ableton and CDJs

    I'm new to the world of Ableton but what i have learned is that the FX's racks are amazing. My idea (if possible) is to route my CDJ's through my audio interface into ableton and with some custom midi mapping on my APC40 to us the APC40 as both a DJ mixer, a FX's rack and clip launcher. I've seen some awesome tricks with filters instead of volume control and effects chains with one knob etc. I hope this post makes sense and any advice is welcome.

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    Tech Guru happydan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LeighJanes View Post
    I'm new to the world of Ableton but what i have learned is that the FX's racks are amazing. My idea (if possible) is to route my CDJ's through my audio interface into ableton and with some custom midi mapping on my APC40 to us the APC40 as both a DJ mixer, a FX's rack and clip launcher. I've seen some awesome tricks with filters instead of volume control and effects chains with one knob etc. I hope this post makes sense and any advice is welcome.
    Just be aware that routing audio through Ableton will add some latency.
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    Tech Guru mostapha's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LeighJanes View Post
    I'm new to the world of Ableton but what i have learned is that the FX's racks are amazing. My idea (if possible) is to route my CDJ's through my audio interface into ableton and with some custom midi mapping on my APC40 to us the APC40 as both a DJ mixer, a FX's rack and clip launcher. I've seen some awesome tricks with filters instead of volume control and effects chains with one knob etc. I hope this post makes sense and any advice is welcome.
    I've done that. It works. I still think about using Live just as an effects host but don't largely because of the complexity involved for (IMO) very little reward (for how I play now).

    One of the "issues" is that it's actually not trivial to beatmatch Live to the CDJs. As far as I know, there's no convenient way to translate Pro DJ Link to Live Link or a MIDI clock (please correct me if I'm wrong), so you'll need tempo controls somewhere, and the APC-40 and mk2 are a little lacking there. If you're just using effects, tap tempo is good enough. If you're also launching clips, it winds up a little harder than just running a 3rd deck IME, largely because it's on so much of the time. Being able to monitor a click can help. Using Serato or Traktor as an intermediary solves this problem (as long as you beatgrid your tracks), and Serato gives you a decent view of Live's session view on the same screen...just clips, not the channel strips. If I wanted to do what I think you want to do, that's probably how I'd use it.

    Be sure you're careful about gain staging. You can (and should) run the channels in Live pretty quiet to get the most out of it. Remember...when the internal meters turn red, that's the equivalent of absolutely slamming the crap out of the top of the meters on a DJ mixer. And there is virtually no penalty for running things quiet in the software channels as long as the final output gets turned up to something reasonable before the DAC (still with a little headroom to avoid intersample modulation distortion). A lot of the people DJing with Live back when I was into that had Gain plugins at the start of each music channel set to like -16dB just to build a little headroom and another Gain plugin on the master output, usually followed by a limiter set to do nothing unless you screw up. Everything from summing to plugins works better with your channels peaking pretty low (-15 to -20 or so). Don't worry about signal to noise ratio like that...Live's internal noise floor is virtually nonexistant. I did an experiment to see how far I could push that at one point, and I'm pretty sure I remember it's summing engine run with channels at -5 and -100 output and tested nulled to silence. But as soon as you start peaking loud enough to get intersample modulation distortion or (god forbid) actually hitting 0dBFS with your signal...the whole thing goes to shit immediately.

    Headroom is your friend. Period. And you absolutely cannot treat Live the way most DJs treat their mixers.

    When I did DJ with live, I started with it next to CDJs or TTs...after a while, I just ended up using Live for everything. Track browsing was the only real hangup. But, depending on your style, it can do everything. I just had every single track I'd have in a record crate already in the session view, cut up a little bit with follow actions, laid out more or less how I wanted to play them, spread across enough channels that I could find what I wanted and still see what was going on. Launching the first clip for a track would mostly play through the track, but it gave me the ability to skip to sections in a musically relevant way as well as hold on certain loop points, which I could activate or deactivate at will. Cutting them up like this also let me warp songs with live drummers in such a way that they mixed perfectly but breathed well when they were playing alone.

    If you do it that way and want to cut things up and re-arrange them, learn clip follow actions well. They're basically magic. It's a way to get around the horrible feeling of "okay...I want this to happen, but I need to do seven things at once, and there's no way to do that". Finding the right clip quantize value also helps with that immensely. I found it better to use a relatively long value so that I had time to set up the changes and let them happen when the phrase changed as opposed to trying to do everything quickly right before/at the change. Part of that was the controller I used...part of it is just dealing with how much you can do. But, you'll have to experiment with it to figure out what works for you.

    And, make sure you have realistic expectations for what your computer can do. If you load it down with plugins, effects, synths, etc., a lot of computers will require you to turn the buffer up to the point latency becomes a real issue. When Sasha was using Live, he ended up touring with an iMac because the laptops of the day weren't fast enough to deal with what he was doing. That's gotten better over the last few years, but Live is powerful enough and open enough that you could still run into problems. The big thing that lead to me dropping the physical decks was needing to run at like 40ms of latency....on a top end MBP with 16GB of RAM and one of the fastest laptop SSDs on the market at the time (before SSDs were common). By comparison, Traktor and Serato never caused anything resembling a problem with that computer, no matter what stupid shit I did (like leaving web browsers open).

    And with Live being the core of your setup, that creates a somewhat fragile single point of failure (relative to a hardware mixer with multiple inputs). Make sure the system is rock solid reliable doing more than you ever would during a set before you trust it for someting that matters. Keep the computer setup clean, and quit/disable anything you don't absolutely need to perform.

    All of that being said, and understanding I no longer DJ that way...I look back at that time fondly. I DJ'd for about a year with just a VCM-600 and Live. The setup started more complicated than it ended. I kept removing things because they didn't add anything over what Live could do on it's own....same with my initial effects chains and all the little things I added. If nothing else, being able to do anything taught me what I really cared about doing.

    I will also say that DJing like that, with so much pre-planned (in terms of what I was going to be able to do to tracks, not the set itself), and with such a potentially-complicated setup that has basically no limits (except a certain type of spontaneity)....it taught me more about the finer technical points of DJing (both in system setup and DJ technique) than anything else I've done.

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