Building Macro Racks for DJ Sets in Ableton Live

So you're performing live using Ableton? You're not using Racks? Really? Gary Hiebner has a treat for you with this tutorial on building Macro Racks when DJing in Ableton.  

In the midst of a live performance, an Ableton project can easily become cluttered and confusing. Ableton’s Racks are a great way to take control of your performances and simplify this to allow for easier navigating of your Ableton projects. By building up Racks and assigning multiple parameters to Macros gives you more freedom in your performances, and allows you to get a better overview of what you are doing in a live venue where jumping between different plug-ins and windows may not be viable. Let's take a look at how to build some of these Racks, and assigning them to Macros.

Step 1 –  Building a DJ Rack

Let's first create a simple DJ Ableton setup. I have created two Audio Tracks and have named them Deck A and Deck B. Deck A is set to the Crossfade Assign A, and Deck B set to the Crossfade Assign B. Now I can use my crossfader to switch between the two different decks.

DJ Deck Setup

On the Master Track, add an Audio Effect Rack (which can be found under Live Devices > Audio Effects > Audio Effect Rack). Click the Show Macros button to show the Macros. I am going to assign specific effect parameters to these macros. 

Audio Rack

I have renamed my Audio Effect Rack to RACK FX. Drag the following effects into the ‘Drop Audio Effects Here’ area: Redux (for some bitcrushing); EQ Eight (for some low cut and filtering); Phasor; Reverb; and Beat Repeat (for some randomization).

Step 2 – Mapping Parameters to Macros

Now let's add some of the parameters of the effects to the macros for easier control over the effects. Let's first work with the Redux plug-in. Set the Downsample to Soft so the downsampling is not so drastic on the sound source. Click on Map Mode on the Audio Effect Rack. I want to map the Downsample knob to the Macro 1. Click on the Downsample button and then click on Macro 1 to map it to this Macro. You can also rename the macros so they make sense to you. I have renamed mine to Bit Crush. 

Macro Assign

On the Phasor I have tuned in a setting I like. I then map the Dry/Wet control to another Macro. And with the Reverb I have also mapped the Dry/Wet control to a Macro.

Phasor Assign

This will allow me to add different amounts of Bitcrushing, Phasor and Reverb in my performance at will.

Step 3 – Multiple Parameters Mapped to Macro

The beauty of macros is that you can also set the range of how much the macro will control the effect. You can also control more than one effect at a time with a single Macro. This can all be done in the Map Mode view under the Macro Mappings.

Let's work with the EQ Eight. I want to map the Low Cut to a macro so that I can use it to sweep out the low frequencies, which is really nice for breakdown sections in live performances. I also want to increase the Q (Resonance) as the Low Cut sweeps up the frequency range. This will involve altering both the Frequency and Q. Let me show you how you can map both of these controls to a Macro. Click on Map Mode. Choose the Freq under band 1 (which is the low cut band on the EQ Eight) then click on a Macro, now click on the Q and click on the same Macro. Now both of these controls are mapped to the same Macro. I have renamed the Macro to Low Cut. But I am not too happy with how these two controls work together when I tweak this macro. This can be fixed by altering the Min and Max values of the Freq and Q in the Macro Mappings section. I have dialed in a Min of 72 Hz and Max of 4 kHz on the Freq, and a Min of 0.82 and Max of 2.90 on the Resonance. Now these two work together nicely with a subtle bump in the Q as the Freq rises.

Macro Mappings

The bypass button can also be mapped to a macro, which can come in quite handy. On the Beat Repeat effect I have mapped the Chance and Bypass button to a Macro. This way the Beat Repeat is in bypass mode until I use the Macro, then the effect is enabled. Beat Repeat is a nice effect to use in live performances as it adds the element of chance and randomization to your performances, which can keep them fresh and new sounding.

Beat Repeat Bypass

Step 4 –  Building Racks within Racks

Another thing you can do is nest Racks within Racks. I want to make use of this with delay effects. Drag the Ping Pong Delay into the RACK FX Audio Rack. Right-click on the Ping Pong Delay and choose Group. 

Group Racks

This will create a rack nested within the other rack. Show the Macro and Chain List. On the Chain List create two new chains (to do this simply right-click on an area under the first chain and choose Create Chain). On the first chain drag onto it a Simple Delay and on the second chain a Chorus effect. I have adjusted the effects and altered the volumes and pan of each chain. Each effect will act as a delay with differing delay times.

Simple Delay


Now to map this back to a Macro on the Rack FX. First click on the Map Mode on the Delay Rack. Map the Dry/Wet of the Ping Pong Delay, Simple Delay and Chorus to Macro 1 on the Delay Rack.

Then go to the main Audio Rack (RACK FX), click on Map Mode. Click on the Macro 1 on the Delay Rack, and then click on a Macro on the Rack FX. Now you have mapped a nested Rack to a Macro. Crazy hey!

Delay Mappings


See how you can make use of Ableton’s Racks to take control of your performances. By making use of nested Racks, multiple mapped Macros can really inject doses of creativity and spontaneity into your live performances. Try incorporating racks into your Ableton projects and see how these improve you live performances.

Take a look at the following tutorials for further Ableton tips and tricks:

Gary Hiebner is an enthusiastic South African Sound Designer and Apple Tech Head! Gary has been involved in the South African music industry for the decade, and in this time has also been involved in the sound design and music production for many advertising agencies and media houses. Gary is a devoted Logic and Ableton user, but he al... Read More


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