Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Ableton Tutorial - Cue/Master Mix

A common feature of many DJ mixers is a cue/master mix knob, which allows you to blend the cue-enabled signal with the master output within your headphones.  This is particularly useful if you find yourself playing in a club with poor monitoring conditions.   It's actually very easy to rig up a similar function in Ableton for for DJ'ing or Live PA setup if your audio interface has at least four output channels (two stereo pairs).  

I use an APC40, and its standard mapping includes a dedicated cue-level knob.  My audio interface already has headphone level control, and my headphones themselves have a volume attenuator, so it's not really necessary for me to have control of the que level within the software as well.  Therefore, I decided to convert it into a cue/mix knob.  You can use any spare knob or slider assignment you have available in your setup to do the same in a few easy steps.

1 - You need to make sure the stereo channel you are using for your cue-channel are enabled in Ableton's preferences.  Go to the 'audio' tab and select 'output preferences'.  Channels highlighted in yellow are enabled.  Here I am using channels 3 and 4 on my Presonus firebox:

Your audio interface may have its own software to correctly rout these outputs to the headphone jack, see your documentation for details of you are not sure how to do this.  

2 - Set the 'Cue Out' drop down selection on Ableton's master channel to the stereo pair you are using for your cue output.  Also, make sure you have 'Cue' selected instead of 'Solo'.

3 - Enter midi-map mode and map your chosen encoder to the cue mix dial to the left of the master channel mix fader.  (Even if your controller usually automatically maps a knob to this function, you will still need to assign it manual here, as the remote mapping assignment we will do in the next steps will override your control script)

4. Select a blank 'Audio Effects Rack' from your Ableton Device Browser, and drag it to your master channel.  This rack will be used to send the master signal to the cue-channel.  If you have any audio effects on your master channel that you also want sent to the cue-channel be sure to place the rack after them in the signal chain.  I place mine as the very last device so that I can monitor exactly what is being sent to the room.

5.  Un-hide the chain list on your new empty rack.  You'll need to create two chains in this rack, so right click in the empty rack space and select 'create chain' twice.  One of these chains will be used to send audio to the cue mix, the other will just pass the master mix through to your main output.

6.  Drag an 'External Audio Effect' from the Live Device Browser and drop it onto one of the chains.  Set the 'Audio To' to your cue-channel, and leave the 'Audio From' as 'No Input':

7. Enter midi-map mode and map the same encoder you used for your cue level dial to the gain dial on the the external audio output device.

8. Now you need to modify the min and max settings for these new mappings.  There can be some flexibility here depending on your tastes and needs, however the key point is that one of the mappings needs to have inverted min and max values relative to the other.  I chose to set mine as follows:

 Here, when the encoder is turned to the left the headphones receive the master output, and to the right they receive the cue-enabled output.  I've set the master maximum to 0db, to prevent nasty clipping, however I've left the cue output with a slight +6db boost.  This suits my live setup as most of my cueing involves single elements, such as a solo kick drum or synth; these can afford to have a little boost in volume, compared to the master channel which generally has little headroom left and is likely to be much louder in comparison.  In a DJ style setup however, where you are likely to be cueing fully mastered tracks, 0db might be more appropriate for your maximum cue volume.


  1. Oi get updating this blog! I was enjoying the output and learning experiences!

  2. I've been struggling with this for a couple of days. Thank you for this solution.

  3. Great tutorial. works like a charm

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  5. Thanks for this tutorial, works great in Live 9 and much better than having to use a Send bus like I did before.

  6. One thing I would like to do is find a way to alter the curve, as currently the volume is much lower in the middle of the pot's sweep than at either end.