Ableton – Benefits of a Separate Vocal Return Bus

I just thought of quick tip I wanted to share with you. Unfortunately, I had to learn it the hard way.

The Problem:

In Ableton, I was finishing a project and I wanted to render an instrumental version from stems I had. Unfortunately, my vocal and instrument tracks were routed to the same effect return tracks together. So, when I muted the vocals I could still hear them slightly in on the return stems.

I had a delay return track with both vocals and instruments, and a reverb return track with vocals and instruments.

Combined Instruments and Vocals Returns Not Good for Stems
Combined Instruments and Vocals Returns (Not Good for Stems)

Now I could just mute the vocals and render out an instrumental mix-down. Which is fine and dandy, but a lot of the times I like to make stems at the end of the project. This way I can collaborate with other people, clean up the project, and have a good backup.

The Solution:

If I was planning on making stems, it would be best to have the vocals going to their own effect return tracks separate from the instruments from the start. That way when I am finishing up a project and am planning to make an instrumental version, I could just easily mute the stems of the vocal effects return tracks. Then I can render away.


Seperate Ableton Vocal Return Tracks
Separate Ableton Vocal Return Tracks (Better for Stems)

Unfortunately, Ableton doesn’t allow you to duplicate return tracks. If you have gotten to the end or a project and were planning to make stems, there is one alternative. You could group all your audio effects in one return track, into an audio effects rack. Then make a new return track, copy that audio effects rack into that new return track, and then route your vocals to that return.

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You would just have to adjust the send to the same amount as they were routed to the instrument return tracks. Then turn down the send of the vocals going to those instrument return tracks. This way you could separate the instrument returns from vocal returns before rendering stems. Sort of a pain, that is why it would just be great to have separate returns from the get go.

Ableton Vocal Return Tracks Audio Rack
Ableton Vocal Return Tracks (Using Audio Effects Rack to Reduce Return Tracks)

Wrapping it up:

Now if you’re just using a project and you don’t want to render multiple stems, then you can just easily mute the vocals to make an instrumental. You don’t have to worry about any of this, but like I said, I like to have stems at the end of the project. This way I can do some cool things with filter sweeps and buses and stuff. This is easy with stems, compared to a confusing full blown automated song. Also, they are good for collaboration, back-up and CPU resources.

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