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Running Reason And Ableton Live Together

Reason Notes / Ableton Live Notes By Simon Sherbourne
Published September 2009

Reason and Ableton Live work well together — we offer some tips on running the two programs in parallel.

Live and Reason running side‑by‑side. Live's tracks are colour‑coded to match the Reason instruments.Live and Reason running side‑by‑side. Live's tracks are colour‑coded to match the Reason instruments.

All the Propellerhead buzz right now is around the upcoming product Record, which will integrate audio recording and mixing with all the stuff we love in Reason. Of course, we'll be getting our teeth into Record in these pages as soon as the final release is available, but in the meantime, many Reason users have already had great results running audio alongside Reason using other DAWs. This way of working will continue to be advantageous to those who use third‑party plug‑ins and/or hardware MIDI instruments, or who prefer another DAW's approach to recording, mixing or arrangement.

Ableton Live is a particularly popular host among Reason users, and has a number of features that offer tight parallel operation with Reason. This month, we're going to look at some tips for combining Reason with Live.

How It Works: Rewire

Reason and Live can be used together thanks to Rewire, a clever bit of Propellerhead technology that is supported by most major audio applications. Rewire allows audio signals and MIDI events to be passed between two open programs. Audio signals from the 'slave' program (Reason) are routed to the 'master' (Live), where they appear in the mixer alongside other local audio sources. The Rewire link also synchronises playback position and tempo between the two applications. Either program's transport controls can be used, so you don't need to flick back and forth.

This idea can be used for glorified synchronisation, with two independent sequences running and a stereo mix routed from Reason into Live's mixer. However, Live and Reason can be integrated much more tightly, so that Reason acts more like a powerful plug‑in rack within Live.

Get Started & Get Organised

Each Reason instrument is routed to Live via discrete Rewire buses.Each Reason instrument is routed to Live via discrete Rewire buses.

Launch Live, then launch Reason. Reason will detect that Live is running, and will switch itself into Rewire Slave mode. Reason's audio outputs are now hard‑wired to Live via 64 internal buses.

To keep track of Project Files you'll need to save your song in both Live and Reason, so you will always have two project files. Before doing anything else, save the Live Set. Live always creates a project folder for a newly saved Set, providing a default place to store audio recordings and anything else. Switch to Reason and save your Reason Song to the same folder, giving it the same name. Now, you'll easily be able to locate the correct Reason Song that partners your Live Set.

Most modern computers and laptops sport a high-resolution wide‑screen display. The Reason rack is narrow enough that you can usually view it alongside the Live window, eliminating the need to keep switching your view from one application to the other. To maximise screen space in Live, hide the Browser and Help columns when you don't need them. You can also narrow the track widths in Live's Session View by dragging the track boundaries. Finally, as you can see in the screen on the previous page, you can colour‑code the tracks (and regions) to match the devices in Reason. Simply right‑click and choose a colour from the palette.

Monitoring Self‑sequenced Reason Instruments

The External Instrument device adds MIDI and audio links between Live tracks and Reason.The External Instrument device adds MIDI and audio links between Live tracks and Reason.

There are two types of instruments that we'll connect to in Reason: those running internal sequences, such as Redrum, and those that you want to play with MIDI notes. The first sort are very simple to set up. Create a Redrum device in an empty Reason rack. We're going to forget about Reason's mixer (one of the keys to integration is to bring up all your Reason instruments on discrete channels in Live's mixer). In Reason, press Tab to view the rear of the rack, and cable the Redrum's outputs to outputs to 1 and 2 on the Hardware Device.

Switch to Live and create a new audio track (or use the default one that appears in a fresh Set). Make sure the input/output routing options are visible using the I/O button to the right of the Master channel. Click the top pop‑up menu in the audio From section of the Audio track, and choose Reason. The pop‑up menu below then lets you choose from the 64 Rewire audio buses, so choose '1/2 Mix L, Mix R'. In the Monitor section, switch from Auto to In, to tell Live to pass through audio from the input source.

Add some trigger steps to the Redrum's Step Sequencer, and hit Play in either Reason or Live. Both Live and Reason's transports will start and you should hear and see the audio arriving at the audio track in Live.

Sequencing Reason From Live

To play a Reason instrument from within Live, and record your performance as MIDI, the approach is basically the same as when using instrument plug‑ins. First create a MIDI track, then go to the Live Devices browser (the first folder in the browser that holds Live's Instruments, MIDI Effects and Audio Effects). Open the Instruments folder and locate the External Instrument device. Drag this from the list onto the MIDI track.

The External Instrument Device (shown in the screen to the right) adds an audio path to the MIDI track, turning it into what most other DAWs call an instrument track. The device's panel extends the track's I/O controls with routing options for both MIDI output and audio input. The MIDI To section has two pop‑up menus for choosing the basic destination (Reason) and a specific device in the rack. The Audio From selector gives you the list of 64 Rewire buses so that you can route the audio back from Reason.

The final step is to disable MIDI keyboard input in Reason, to prevent notes being doubled up as MIDI is received both directly and via Live. The safest way to do this is to open the Preferences in Reason, switch to the Control Surfaces and Keyboards page, then un‑tick the 'Use With Reason' option for your controller keyboard and/or pads.

With these settings in place, you can treat the Reason instrument just like an instrument plug‑in. Record‑arming the MIDI track will allow you to play the instrument from your MIDI keyboard. Recording Clips on the track will record MIDI that sequences the Reason device.

Freezing & Flattening

A basic Reason Rewire template with routing notes in the device names.A basic Reason Rewire template with routing notes in the device names.

Live has a Freeze function (right‑click on a track and choose Freeze) which invisibly bounces tracks to audio Clips. To the user, a bounced MIDI track looks the same as normal, except that control of MIDI notes and device parameters is 'frozen out'. All the individual Clips are still available and can be triggered as normal. This means you can continue to trigger Clips live, or edit or record arrangements in the Arrange view.

Normally, when you freeze a track that has a hardware insert or controls an external instrument, Live does a real‑time record of all Clips, which may take time. However, Reason sources are bounced much faster than real time — just like a plug‑in — because Reason is sharing Live's audio engine.

Although originally conceived as a way to free up CPU power, freezing is equally useful as a way to capture your Reason sound sources as audio. In fact, after a MIDI track which sequences Reason is frozen you can use the track without Reason even being open, although of course you can't edit the contents of the Clips.

Frozen tracks can be used without Reason being present, and you can still have the option of running Reason at a later time and unfreezing the tracks to make changes. However, sometimes you want to convert your Reason tracks into actual audio tracks, with editable audio Clips. Again, this can be done in just a few seconds, with no manual routing or recording. Simply Freeze the track you want to bounce, then right‑click it again and choose Flatten. The track will be replaced with an audio track, with all the MIDI Clips (in both Session and Arrange views) converted to good old‑fashioned audio.

Template For Living

If you plan to work with Live and Reason in tandem on a regular basis, it can be really useful to create a Template in Reason, with your favourite instruments all ready to go. By including the output number(s) that a device is routed to in its name, you can avoid turning the rack around just to see the routing (as shown in the screen below). This name also appears in Live in the Reason MIDI device list. To make a Template, set up a Reason Song the way you'd like the Template to appear, then save it as something memorable. Then, open the Preferences, and switch to the General page. In the Default Song section, choose Custom, then click the Folder icon and navigate to the Song you saved.    

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