How To Get Ableton’s Drum Rack To Act Like An MPC

The MPC is one of the most crucial pieces of gear in hip-hop production. The ability to load an audio sample, slice it to pieces, then re trigger the slices with 16 pads has become an art form. With Ableton Live’s Drum Rack, you can almost perfectly emulate this technique. Here’s how:

1. Drag And Drop The Sample

First, find a sample you’d like to flip, locate it in the file browser, and drag it into an Audio Track in Live’s Session View.

Dragging the file from Live’s browser into an Audio Track in Session View.

For this tutorial i’m going to be using a sample I found on the future producers forum. I have no idea who the artist is. All I know is that it’s a Japanese Soul group (probably from the 60’s or 70’s).

Here is what the song sounds like


Here is a link to the file.

2. Unwarp (If Auto Warp Is On)

Once you’ve dropped it into Live’s Session View, two things are going to happen.

If you have auto-warp turned on, Live is going to automatically try and determine the BPM of the sample. For this particular song, Live has figured about 150 BPM. A good try on Live’s part, but the sample is actually about half of that: 76 BPM.

Live’s Waveform Editor. Live does a good effort at setting warp markers, but we’re going to get the most control by setting them ourselves.

Live misread the tempo at double the speed.

So, under Live’s waveform editor, you un-warp the sample.

Warp On.

Warp Off.

Finally, after unwarping the track, it helps to move the start point in the wave form editor to the beginning of the song. Live’s auto warp had moved the start point forward.

The un warped start point set to the actual beginning of the song.

3. Find The BPM Manually

Time to find the tempo of the song. Like I said before, if you have your setting at auto warp, you’re looking at 150 BPM, if not, it should still read Live’s default (120 BPM).

To find the correct tempo of this file, we’re going to use Live’s tap tempo button.

Personally, I like to map Live’s tap tempo button to one of the keys on my MIDI controller (it beats clicking a mouse), just make sure you un map it after you’re done.

To do this Right click the tap tempo button and click “Edit MIDI Map”. Then double click the “Tap Tempo” button when it turns dark blue and press a key on your keyboard. Make sure you have the right control surface selected in your preferences.

It helps me to assign my tap tempo button to a key on my MIDI keyboard.

Now this next part takes practice. With your metronome off, trigger the song from the clip slot, and try to feel the count.

Don’t start counting until the first kick drum hit. It’s after the first couple (violin?) hits in the beginning.

Count 1 and 2 and 3 and 4 in time with each snare and kick. In this particular song you can hear it. The kick lands on the one, the snare on the 3 and so on. Follow the snare and kick.

The first kick drum hit is very important, start counting from here.

If your time keeping is decent, your tempo should read in the ball park of 76.

I got 75.50 BPM after counting along to a couple of measure, i’ll round up to 76.

Double click the tempo and type 76 into the BPM to now set the overall project to 76.

4. Start Adding Warp Markers

So, you’ve got the project set to 76 BPM, now is a good time to set some warp markers.

Remember that kick drum hit at the beginning of the song? This is a great place to set my starting warp point. I’ll do so by zooming in on the first kick hit and dragging my start marker as close to the beginning of the kick as possible.

The first kick is a good starting point for warping this track.

Now, right click on the start marker, and select “Warp From Here Straight”. This will give you a single starting warp marker without warping the rest of the track.

Now, drag your opening loop brace to the same position as your first warp marker (this should lock on now that a starting point is established.)

The first loop point is on the first kick of the song, a good start.

I mentioned I wanted this to be a 4 bar loop. Before we start warping this track, lets set up the loop braces. The opening brace is set perfectly on the opening kick hit, so lets finish the full 4 bars by clicking our loop button on and double clicking the loop length number below it and typing a 4 (bars), 0 (beats), 0 (sixteenths). It should look like this.

A 4 bar loop set up in Live’s Loop section.

Time to start setting the warp markers.

For this particular sample, i’m going to set a warp marker every kick and snare (remember the 1, 2, 3, 4?). To help us out we’re also going to enable our metronome, this will ensure tight timing.

Make sure Live’s metronome is enabled while warping, this will help with timing.

I personally prefer to not be locked to a grid while placing my warp markers, so I am going to set my grid to off by right clicking on the top part of my waveform and choosing “Off” under the “Adaptive Grid” section.

I prefer the freedom of no grid when placing warp markers.

Time to start warping. Lets place the next warp marker on the second beat of this loop, which is the first snare hit.

Start by finding the first snare transient, it’s a little bit ahead of the 1.2 on the beat ruler. Double click as close to the beginning of the snare as you can to set your second warp marker.

The second warp marker is set, but we still need to line it up with the second beat of this bar.

Click on the green part of the warp marker you just set, and drag it so it lines up right underneath the 1.2 on the beat ruler.

Optional: You can turn the grid back on to get it to land exactly on the 1.2, this may take away from the “human feel”.

The snare is now lined up with the 2nd beat of this bar, it’s pretty simple after this point.

At this point you’re going to repeat the same process for every kick and snare. Kick on 1.3, snare on 1.4, kick on 2, etc.

Here is a video of me warping the whole loop.

5. Slicing The Sample To 16 MIDI Notes

Our last step is to cut the sample into 16 slices that can be triggered from our MIDI device.

Start by right clicking the clip slot where the sample is located and choosing “Slice To New MIDI Track”

Slicing the audio file to a new MIDI track, your first step to MPC nirvana.

You will be presented with an options screen at this point. Choose “Create one slice: Per Warp Marker” and use the “Built in 0-Vel” slicing preset.

These options most resemble an MPC.

Hit okay and Live will automatically slice your track at the warp markers, ready to be played.

There are just a few more options left.

Once your track gets sliced, Live will open the new track in Ableton’s Drum rack. To really get the MPC feel, you’ll want to set the release at it’s fullest.

Setting the release all the way up in Ableton’s newly created Drum Rack.

Next open the chain list on the drum rack. The button is on the left side and looks like this:

After the chain list is open navigate down a little bit further to the I/O section of the menu that just appeared. It looks like this:

Your drum rack should now look something like this:

Our next step is to edit the choke settings of our recently opened I/O section of our drum rack. We’re going to set the choke to 1 on each channel. This emulates the choke action of an MPC. (One slice kills the other slices audio).

Setting the choke to 1 allows one slice to “kill” another slice.

Once you’ve set all of the channels in the choke section to 1. Try firing off a few of the slices with your MIDI controller. Pretty close to an MPC, isn’t it?

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