Here I look at the Audio From settings for a track in Ableton Live.

You may be wondering why write an article about track inputs in Ableton. The reason is, for the newcomer to Ableton Live like myself, it can be confusing. The reason being, which I found out later, is that it takes on many different meanings depending on what you are trying to accomplish.

This is complicated by the fact that the value you choose can be actual hardware, tracks, or a bunch of other specially named “things” that do “something special”.

The Four Track Types In Ableton Live

In Ableton Live, there are four track types:

  1. Midi Track
  2. Audio Track
  3. Return Track
  4. Master Track

Ableton Live Input From

Return tracks and the Master track are for output only so we won’t be discussing these from the input source perspective. The other two, Midi and audio will be our primary focus.

As a Live user, you have a sense what “From” means by looking at it. However, there really is no clear definition in the user manual of what these are for. Nor is there a list of the items that fill these drop downs and their descriptions.

Audio From

Lets talk about input choices for an audio track. This is done with the Audio From drop down. There are a whole lot of them and many at first, probably do not not make a whole lot of sense at first glance.

No Input

This one is playback related only.

If you have an audio clip that you playback, there is no need for audio input, so get in the habit of setting the Audio From dropdown to “No Input” for good measure.

Recording wise, it makes no sense to have this value set if there is no audio input device to capture from.

Master

The Master is a special track. There is only one instance of it. It is not the actual hardware device output (Master Out). They are two different things and can be confused to mean the same thing. A Master track can be mixed and monitored before going out to the Main Out. The Master track is the union of all the tracks in a Live Set.

This leaves to question why would a track use the Master track as an Audio From input. Obviously, their Audio To (outputs) should not be Master. If you have an Audio Track whose Audio From is set to Master, and Audio To set to Master, that would seem very wrong. Recursive even. This would end up spiraling into a frenetic echoing exercise without escape.

If you know of the reasons, leave me a message.

Ext In

External Input is not a Live track. It is the physical hardware input from your audio interface. For example, one of your audio interfaces will likely have several analog ports on them to tie them into a microphone and guitar. You can record these analog instruments by arming the Record arm button for the track to capture their output (in analog to digital style).

When the track is used for playback, the External Input doesn’t mean anything as it is the clip that is the input source, not the external input device.

You cannot have multiple audio interfaces because Live does not support it.

One Audio Device Only In Ableton Live

Thus, if you plan on scaling up to more analog inputs, buy an audio interface that has more than what you think you need. For example, the USB FocusRite Scarlett series start off at the one Analog input Solo product. The product line graduates to more analog inputs (and more money of course) as you scale up in their product line. The Scarlett 18i20, their top of the line USB audio interface, supports 18 inputs.

FocusRite 18i20
FocusRite Scarlett 18i20 Audio Interface

Max 7

If you purchased the Ableton Live Suite or have Cycling ’74’s Max for Live, this option lets you use a Max for Live Device to be used as input.

Resampling

By setting an audio track’s Audio From to “Resampling”, the Master track will be routed to it.

You can gain more control over which tracks get sent to the Master, by using the mixer fader controls (solo, mute, pan, track volume).

Resampled tracks are useful for:

  • Reducing the clutter in multi track projects by replacing the resampled audio clip with the set of tracks that were used to generate it
  • Reduce exporting time to audio file by reducing the processing of CPU heavy tracks to arrive and reuse in their final form
  • Chopping a resampled track up and use it to layer against other tracks to add thickness to the sound
  • Creating your final master audio track

Other Audio tracks

You can feed other Audio tracks into an Audio track. By doing so, you will be able to choose whether you will grab the Pre FX (no effects processing), Post FX (effects processing) or Post Mixer (effects and mixer processing) signal from the source track.

Ableton Track Processing Flow
For the destination audio track:

  • Set the Audio From to the source audio track
  • Set the Monitor to In

For the source audio track:

  • If you set the source Audio To Master and the Destination’s Audio To is set to Master, you will get double output to the Master
  • You can turn off Track activation to mute the source track if desired. That will disable the Audio To setting as well.

MIDI From

Now lets talk about input choices for a MIDI track. This is done with the MIDI From drop down. This is the MIDI input source assigned to the MIDI track.

There are many different items to choose from including MIDI Control Sources such as:

  • MIDI keyboard controller
  • MIDI pad controllers
  • MIDI drums
  • MIDI digital pianos
  • MIDI digital workstations

This list can also contain your computer keyboard, other MIDI tracks, and MIDI instruments. Lets look at each type.

Computer Keyboard

Believe it or not, you can use your computer keyboard to make music with Ableton Live.

Live treats your computer keyboard as a pseudo MIDI keyboard controller. If you are a fast typer like me using one of those cool new mechanical keyboards, it works pretty good. However, what you lose is the velocity data that you would normally get on a MIDI instrument. With the lack of velocity data, you have to go back into the MIDI clip editor and modify the data. So its best to use this to create very small loops and clips.

MIDI Control Surfaces

This is the general category I am giving to all known MIDI Control Surfaces by Live. The MIDI From drop down will list each that it knows about individually.

A Control Surface is made available when it is detected. You can tell Live to use this MIDI device through the Options | Preferences | Link MIDI tab. It is important that you connect your MIDI device to your computer system before running Live. If you don’t, it may not be automatically detected.

Live supports many popular MIDI control surface devices and makes it much more easier to use by mapping the devices knobs, faders, buttons and keys to Live. This is what the Input | Remote button is for. If your control surface can be used to give real time status settings as well, set the Output | Remote button.

Here is a list of the more popular MIDI instruments being used today for music creation:

All the MIDI instruments above are supported by Ableton Live as a Control Surface. Save yourself a lot of time and hassle by using these instruments. You don’t want to sit there trying to make something work that isn’t easily integrated into Live. You just want to make music!

Older analog MIDI devices using MIDI cable should be attached to an audio interface/sound card with a MIDI port. You can also attach to your computer from a USB/Fireware to MIDI interface.

Affordable MIDI hubs/switches such as M-Audio Uno or MOTU Fastlane can do the trick. In cases where your “psuedo MIDI device” is connected through USB/PCI/Firewire/Thunderbolt, Live will treat it as a MIDI device and list it in the MIDI and MIDI Ports section.

All Ins

The All Ins setting won’t make a whole lot of sense at first but lets look at it in two perspectives:

  1. Recording
  2. Playback

Recording

What this setting means is that all MIDI instruments are fair game and can be used as input sources to generate MIDI notes when the recording arm is enabled.

Prove this to yourself by drag and dropping a MIDI instrument into a MIDI track.

  • Record arm the MIDI track
  • Set the MIDI From to “All Ins”
  • Punch some keys into your MIDI keyboard and notice it makes sound
  • Type some keys on your computer keyboard and notice it too makes sound
  • Now type in from both at the same time

To prove for exclusion:

  • Record arm the MIDI track
  • Change MIDI From to be “Computer Keyboard”
  • Punch some keys into your computer keyboard and it will make MIDI notes.
  • Try to make music with your MIDI keyboard. It doesn’t make any MIDI notes.
  • Type in from both at the same time. Only the Computer Keyboard should work.

Therefore, when recording, the All Ins setting means you can use any MIDI device attached to your computer as input for a MIDI track. This lets you have flexibility in choice. If you want a flute sound, you can play it with your keyboard, your MIDI flute instrument, your drums even!

If you have MIDI From set to the same input, that device will be used across all tracks. In the example below, I have two VSTs that are taking their MIDI From a Novation LaunchKey. When I hit the keys, it will be sent to both VSTs (Track 2 and 3).

Same input MIDI From

In this kind of setup, When you want to record from one instrument, you have two choices:

  1. Set one VST track to No Input and the record arm for the other on
  2. Set record arm for one VST track and Solo

Playback

The MIDI From setting has no use in playback. The input source is the MIDI track clip itself, not its MIDI device source.

Other MIDI tracks

This is another catch all category for the various MIDI tracks you may have in your Live Set. MIDI tracks can be routed into another MIDI track to be used as MIDI From input.

For a MIDI track to accept MIDI input from another track, you will see them listed in this format in the MIDI from dropdown:
X – MIDI

Where X is the track identification number that appears in the track title.

Using one MIDI track’s output to serve as input to one or more MIDI track may seem a bit odd. But remember, MIDI is not the actual audio wave data. It is metadata that expresses notes. So what is being sent from one track to the other is MIDI notes.

Lets play a bit.

  • Create MIDI track 1 and assign a MIDI instrument to it
  • Set MIDI From to No Input, for Track 1 (just to be rigid)
  • Create MIDI track 2 and leave no instrument assigned to it
  • For Track 2’s MIDI From, set it to the MIDI 1 track
  • Set Track 2’s Monitor to In
  • Play a MIDI clip from Track 1

What should happen is that the MIDI notes from Track 1 should go to Track 2 to be played. You now hear those MIDI notes played in a different MIDI voice.

If you don’t want to hear MIDI Track 1 on the Master, mute it. The output will still be sent to Track 2. With Track 1 audible or not, this is a way to do a one MIDI voice to many MIDI voice signal flow.

No Input

No input means just that. There is no MIDI input device for this track.

Set this to “No Input” if this is a MIDI clip.

Summary

This is pretty much what I learned while experimenting with Live’s Audio From and Midi From settings. Audio and Midi input sources are not necessarily hardware devices. They can be tracks and other things too.

If there is any discrepancies, please contact me so I can change it in this article.

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