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28. Using the APC40

The APC40 (Ableton Performance Controller) is a dedicated controller for Ableton Live, co-designed by Ableton and Akai Professional* This chapter will help you set up your APC40, and introduce its capabilities.

28.1 Setup

The APC40 is one of Live’s natively supported control surfaces (see 26.1.1), so setup is easy. Once the APC40 has been powered on and connected to your computer’s USB port, it will be automatically configured by Live. If it does not configure properly you can manually select the APC40 in Live’s Preferences:

  1. Open Live’s Preferences from the Live menu in OS X, or the Options menu in Windows;
  2. Go to the MIDI/Sync Tab;
  3. Select the APC40 preset from the Control Surface chooser. Then select the port that the APC40 is connected to in the Input and Output choosers:
Setting Up The APC40.

28.2 Clip Launch Matrix

The APC40’s matrix of buttons gives you physical access to the clips in your Session View (see Chapter 7). The matrix has 40 three-color buttons arranged in a five-scene-deep-by-eight-track-wide grid. The color-coding system lets you know exactly what is happening in each clip, and directional controls let you move around inside your Session View.

Session View Clip and Navigation Controls.

Pressing a Clip Launch button triggers the clip in the corresponding clip slot in Live. If the track is armed to record, pressing the button records a new clip.

The buttons in the matrix light up in different colors so you know what’s going on:

  • Amber: this slot contains a clip.
  • Green: this clip is playing.
  • Red: this clip is recording.

Many aspects of the Live interface are replicated in the APC40. You can stop all music in a track with its Clip Stop button and fire horizontal lines of clips with the Scene Launch buttons. Stop All Clips does just that.

The controller tells you what’s going on in the software, but, importantly, the software also reflects what’s happening on the controller. The clip slots currently being controlled by the APC’s button matrix are shown in Live with a red border.

The directional arrows and Shift button increase the scope of the eight-by-five grid:

  • Pressing Up or Down moves you up or down one scene at a time. Hold the Shift button while hitting Up or Down to move five scenes up or down.
  • The Left and Right arrow keys move you left or right one track at a time. Hold the Shift button while hitting Left or Right to move eight tracks at a time.

28.3 Session Overview

The APC40’s Session Overview lets you navigate through large Live Sets quickly without looking at your computer screen. Hold down the Shift button and the matrix zooms out to reveal an overview of your Session View. In the Session Overview, each clip launch button represents a five-scene-by-eight-track block of clips, giving you a matrix of 125 scenes by 64 tracks. Hit a button to focus on that section of the Session View. For example, hitting the Shift button and then pressing the button in row three, column one will put the focus on scenes 11-15 and tracks 1-8. Furthermore, while Shift is held, each scene launch button represents a block of 25 scenes (if they are available in your Set.)

In the Session Overview, the color coding is a little different:

  • Amber: indicates the currently selected block of clips, which will be surrounded by the red border in the software.
  • Green: there are clips playing in that block of clips (though that may not be the block of clips selected).
  • Red: there are no clips playing in that range.
  • No color: there are no tracks or scenes in that range.

28.4 Mixer Section

The APC40 features eight tracks, each with its own fader, solo/pre-cue, activator and record arm buttons. A Master fader controls the master volume and a Cue Level knob controls cue volume (see 15.6), so you can pre-listen to a clip or the metronome without your audience hearing it.

Mixer Controls.

You can shift these eight tracks around the Session View using the directional controls. Press the right or left arrows to move incrementally, one track at a time. Hold the Shift button and press the right or left arrows to jump in blocks of eight tracks at a time.

28.5 Device Control

The APC40 features eight endless dials and four control buttons that map to your devices automatically (see “Instant Mappings”) for flexibility and speed on stage or in the studio.

Device Controls.

The Track Selection buttons route the eight endless encoders to the first device or Rack on that track, with LED rings to automatically show you the levels on the selected parameter.

Four buttons below the dials give you additional control options. Clip/Track lets you switch between viewing the devices on a track or the properties of a track’s clip in the currently selected scene. Device On/Off turns the currently selected device on or off. Device Left and Device Right (indicated by two arrows) shift you one step sideways along a track’s device chain.

Some effects or virtual instruments have more than eight parameters. When holding down the Shift button, these eight buttons let you select eight banks of eight device parameter controls. For more information, see the Control Surface Reference Lesson.

28.6 Transport and Global Buttons

Live’s Play, Stop and Arrangement Record buttons are all easily accessible, and four global buttons access Live’s functions, cleaning up your screen view onstage and freeing you from the mouse in the studio:

Transport and Global Controls.
  • Detail View opens and closes the Clip/Device View, so you can see more of your clips.
  • Record Quantization lets you toggle input quantization (see 16.5) between “none” and the last selected quantization setting.
  • MIDI Overdub lets you overdub (see 16.3.3) on a MIDI clip.
  • Metronome turns the metronome (see 16.4) on and off.

28.7 Track Control

The Track Control section covers pan settings or send levels for whichever eight tracks are currently selected. It consists of eight endless dials with LED rings and four buttons: Pan, Send A, Send B and Send C.

Track Controls.

The buttons let you select what the encoders are controlling, while the encoders control the amount or depth of the pan or send levels.

28.8 Tempo Control

Tap Tempo and Nudge Left/Right buttons are essential for live performance, helping you to stay in sync with turntables, other musicians or a live band, and correct timing issues quickly.

Tempo Control.

As you hit the Tap Tempo (see 9.1.2) button once every beat, the tempo of the Live Set will follow your tapping.

You can also use tapping to count in: If you are working in a 4:4 signature, it takes four taps to start song playback at the tapped tempo.

On stage and in the studio, you may find yourself in situations in which you need to adjust to sources that aren’t locked to one tempo, such as live musicians or turntables. You can use the Nudge buttons (see 9.1.3) to temporarily speed up or slow down Live’s playback to match what you hear.

28.9 Crossfader

The APC40’s replaceable crossfader is an essential DJ control, and is also handy for controlling effect, volume and modulation curves.


In Live, you can set any track as an A or B destination, and then crossfade (see 15.5) between the A and B selections.

Normal wear and tear can render a crossfader obsolete. The APC40’s crossfader is fully replaceable from the bottom of the device, so you can extend the lifetime of this already durable unit.

28.10 Customizing the APC40 Controls

You can change the assignment of all of the knobs, faders and buttons on the APC40 by enabling the Remote switches in the MIDI/Sync Preferences, as described in the section on manual control surface setup (see 26.1.2).

Setting Up The APC40 For Custom Assignments.

Now, by entering Live’s MIDI Map Mode (see 26.2.1), you can override the pre-assigned functions of all of the APC40’s knobs, faders and buttons. The eight Track Control knobs can be assigned in four banks, which can be switched with the buttons below them. Likewise, the Device Control knobs can be assigned in eight banks by holding down Shift while pressing one of the eight buttons below these knobs.

Tip : If you have overridden the APC40’s default mappings with manual mappings, you can easily switch back to the defaults by deactivating the Remote switch of the APC40’s input port. Activating the switch again will re-establish your manual mappings.

28.11 Combination Mode

The APC40 controller becomes even more powerful when combined with additional APC40s or the Akai Professional APC20 (see Chapter 29).

When you connect more than one APC unit to Ableton Live, the controllers will automatically work in Combination Mode. You can use up to six total APC20s or APC40s side by side. The topmost controller selected in your preferences will control tracks 1-8, the second controller selected will control tracks 9-16, and so on. When an APC40 and an APC20 are connected at the same time, the APC20’s buttons will default to Track Selection, and its faders will default to volume, allowing swift access to an expanding array of clips and tracks.

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