Convert MIDI to Audio in Ableton Live
Each DAW has its own lingo. There are so many discrepancies in vocabulary between DAWS, that it can be difficult to know exactly which terms mean what. Converting MIDI tracks to audio is one of the most important functions of any DAW, but each one handles the process differently.
In Ableton Live there are two main ways to convert a MIDI track to audio: Freezing and Flattening and Resampling. Each one has its benefits, downsides, and uses; let’s check it out!
Resampling is one of those Ableton terms which can be a bit misleading. Resampling is the act of recording the audio output of a MIDI track into the input of an audio track. One downside to Resampling is that it is only possible in real-time. On the other hand, Ableton also provides a feature called Freeze and Flatten, which allows users to convert a MIDI track to an audio track, overriding the MIDI data and replacing the track with an audio track.
To resample audio, simply create a new audio track and select Resampling as the track’s input. Now, when you start recording, this new audio track will capture anything that is going to the Master. To resample a single MIDI track, simply solo the instrument track you want to transfer to the audio track and record enable the audio track. Then, start recording!
There are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to Resampling.
- Remember that this function captures whatever is going to the Master. This means that it will record any audio effects, sends, and group effects if they are enabled. If you want to record the output of the track without sends or effects, these need to be disabled before you start resampling.
- Keep in mind that this function allows you to record as much or as little as you want onto a new track! This means you can record groups, return effects, and more, into a new audio track. This is a fabulous way to easily convert reverb tails from your return tracks to audio or turn grouped synth layers into a single audio track for processing.
- Resampling and disabling MIDI tracks, groups, and sends is a great way to save CPU. If you know you are done manipulating your MIDI data and instrument settings, resampling the track outputs and disabling those tracks saves computer resources! You can always return to your MIDI track if needed!
Freezing and Flattening
Freezing is a super important function in any DAW. When a track is frozen, it temporarily renders the PRE-FADER output of the track to audio, keeping the MIDI data, instrument data, and plugin data stored in the track. A frozen MIDI track looks like this:
As you can see, when a track is frozen, plugins and effects become greyed out, as well as MIDI data. However, sends, panning, and volume can still be adjusted. This is another great way to save CPU, even if you don’t need to flatten the track! It is also great for sending projects to people who don’t have plugins or software instruments included in the project, but who still want to see what has been done to create a track, or who want to examine the MIDI data. Frozen tracks can be unfrozen at any time, and you can go back to editing your plugins and MIDI sequence.
When a track is frozen, the track then has the option to be flattened. When a track is flattened, it is converted to an audio track with any on-track effects written into the audio, but with its volume, panning, and send data preserved for further adjustments.
One little “life hack” you to remember is that you can always duplicate a frozen track before you flatten it. This is a great way to quickly create an audio copy of your track with sends still intact, but without losing the MIDI data and plugin settings.
But which one should I use?
Use resampling if you want to:
- Capture sends, panning, or volume automation in audio form
- Record multiple tracks into one audio file
Use Freeze and Flatten if you want to:
- Replace your MIDI track with an audio track
- Convert MIDI to audio quickly rather than in real-time
- Keep sends, panning, and volume data intact for further adjustments