Follow Actions are an often overlooked feature of Ableton Live but they can be a source of great inspiration and add an element of unpredictability to your Live sets.
[Editor's Note: This is a 2-part series, find the link to part 2 at the end of this article.]
What is a Follow Action?
A Follow Action is a clip property that defines what will happen, within a group of clips, after that clip has finished playing. A group of clips is any number of clips arranged in successive slots on a single track.
Follow actions work within groups of clips. In the first audio track here, we can see two groups: Clip01 - Clip07 make one group and Clip08 - Clip10 make another.
Follow Actions are unique for every clip and are found in the Clip View under the Launch tab.
There are three sections to the Follow Action properties.
- The first line is the “Follow Action Time control”. Here you can set, in bars, beats and sixteenths, how long after the clip is launched the follow action will take place.
- The next line is the “Follow Action chooser”. Two drop down menus which set two different Follow Actions, A and B. The actions are self-explanatory on the whole: Stop, Play Clip Again, Play Previous Clip, Play Next Clip, Play First Clip, Play Last Clip, Play Any Clip, Play Other Clip or No Action.
- The last line are the Chance controls. There are two fields, one each for Follow Action A and B. Together, the two fields calculate the chance of each Action being triggered. For example, if field A were set to 1 and field B to zero, then Follow Action A would always be triggered. If field A were set to 1 and field B to 4, then Trigger Action B would be triggered roughly four times as often as Action A.
Now comes the fun bit, let’s look at some practical examples of how we can use Follow Actions.
Randomly selected drum fills
Set up a group of four clips as follows:
- Clip 01: This will be the main drum pattern. Let’s say it’s 1 bar long.
- Clip 02: This will be the first fill, also 1 bar long.
- Clip 03: Another 1 bar fill.
- Clip 04: Another 1 bar fill.
On the track “808 Drums” we can see our setup, one main drum pattern and three fills.
We’re going to set this up so that the main drum pattern will play for three bars, after which one of the three fills will be randomly selected to play. After the fill has played for one bar, the main pattern will play once again for three bars and the whole routine will repeat.
Select Clip 01 and edit the Follow Action properties as follows:
Follow Action properties for the main drum pattern.
The first line of the Follow Actions section tells us that the Follow Action will trigger 3 bars after clip has started to play. The second line tells us that Follow Action A will be “Play Other” and Follow Action B is set to do nothing. Play Other means that any other clip in the group will be selected to play next (ie. one of our three fills). The third line gives us a 1:0 chance that Follow Action A will be triggered. So in this case we are only using Follow Action A. Follow Action B will never be triggered.
Now select all three fill clips. We can batch edit the Follow Action properties by selecting multiple clips because in this case we want them all to have the same properties. Set them all as follows:
Follow Action properties for the three fill clips.
The first line tells us that the Follow Action will be triggered after a single bar. The second line tells us that FollowAction A is set to “Play First” and Follow Action B is set to nothing. Finally we can see that, as before, there is a 1:0 chance that Follow Action A will be triggered. Let’s hear what is sounds like:
You can hear the fill being randomly selected after every three bars of the main drum pattern.
Fun eh? Let’s look at another example...
Create a group of MIDI clips that make up a single octave of any scale you like. Each MIDI clip should contain a single note from the scale. Start with the root note and go up to an octave above.
In the first track, we see the C Aolean scale with each MIDI clip containing one note of the scale. The Follow Actions will play the scale.
Now select all the clips. They’re all going to have the same Follow Action settings so we can do them all at once. Set them all as follows:
Follow Action properties for our generative melodies.
Each clip is set to trigger at 16th note intervals. We could simply set Follow Action A to play a random clip, but let’s use the Chance parameters to inject a little structure into the randomness. Set A to “Play Other” and B to “Play First”. Then set Chance A to 2 and Chance B to 1.
The result of this is that there is a 2:1 chance that a random other clip will be triggered next, but there is also a 1:2 chance that the first clip will be triggered next. Because the first clip is the root note of the scale, this gives the resulting melodies some pseudo structure. Here is an example of what this might sound like:
Our Generative melody made with Follow Actions:
As you can see, Follow Actions can be highly creative and a lot of fun. They are perfect for injecting some unpredictability into your compositions and are yet another way to come up with structures, drum patterns and melodies that you would never dream of yourself.
Join me for part 2 soon when I’ll be going through yet more examples.