A few weeks ago I made an excellent discovery: ABLETON DRUM RACKS ARE AMAZING. They’re super versatile and very easy on your CPU, meaning you can load up tons of them into an instrument rack for a whole set of joyous, live, pad-mashing action. In a nutshell, here’s what I do:

I load up a Drum Rack onto a MIDI track in Ableton. I’ve created a template that I use as my starting point that I call “00 BASIC” – the zeros are there so it’s the first one in the list of Drum Racks in my Ableton Library. The basic one is just a regular drum rack with all 6 possible Return Chains added. I do this to get multichannel output.

Next I populate the Drum Rack with samples, phrases, synths and whatnot. If I’m just building a tune it’s anybody’s guess what I’ll end up throwing in there to get going. If I’m creating a rack to perform a song already written, I’ll chop up stems from my track and organize them into the rack.

A key component to the awesomeness for me is that you can put an Instrument Rack into the Drum Rack as a chain, set it’s input to “all notes”, then use the Instrument Rack’s Key Selector to choose a range of notes (AKA Pads from the Drum Rack) that will play that synth. Throw some MIDI FX in there like an Arpeggiator or Chord and you’re making lots of great noise, and you’ve only loaded one instrument in. It can get complicated, quickly, but there are some amazing possibilities. Racks within Racks within Racks…

Next I assign awesome parameters to the Drum Rack Macros for tweaking. I use a Native Instruments MASCHINE to control this hot mess, so those 8 knobs get lots of action.

Finally I name this drum rack the name of my song as well as assign it a unique number between 0 and 127. I then save that to my library – ready to use whenever I need it! For a live show, I have an Instrument Rack on a MIDI track, then I load my songs (as in Drum Racks) as individual chains in the Instrument Rack. I use the Chain Selector to put each Drum Rack on it’s own, you guessed it, unique number between 0-127 matching the one in it’s title.

This is a great workflow if you like performing on MASCHINE, but are not sure how to overcome the limitation of having to load a new project for each song you’d like to play in a set. And it really is low CPU – I have 14 of them loaded into an Instrument Rack, all of them with plenty of samples, synths and FX (mostly Simplers and Samplers, though) and my CPU idles around 15% – not too shabby! Happy programming.