How To Use Send/Return Tracks

Send/return tracks provide a great and precise way of adding a single effect to multiple tracks. Unlike using track routing to do the same job, this method allows you to control how much of the effect is applied to each track – sends/returns can be a very powerful tool if you know how to use them.

Here’s how to use send/return tracks in Ableton Live.

What A Send/Return Track Is

Any track in Live allows you to send audio to a return track (or tracks!). Creating a ‘send’ from a track does not effect the audio output of the track in any way, the send is on top of any audio present. A send gets sent to a return track (think of this as an effects track), and you can specify the amount/volume of each track that you want to send.

Say for example, you wanted some sort of reverb applied throughout your mix, but you don’t want every track/instrument to have the same amount of reverb. You could set up a return (i.e. effects) track with a reverb effect, and send a small amount from each track to the reverb track. You can control how much is sent from each individual track, meaning that some tracks can easily have lots of reverb while others have none.

How To Create A Send + Return Track

By default, Live should create two return tracks in every set – if you want more than two, just use the menu option Create > Insert Return Track to add more. To be able to see sends and return tracks, you’ll need to be in the session view. Also, make sure that the send/return switches are on as below (the switches are to the bottom right of the screen).

Now, you should notice that next to the master track, you can see your return tracks:

These tracks are where you’ll add any effects – for the purpose of this tutorial, let’s just say that we’ve added a reverb effect to return track A. Now, we just need to send audio to this return track, and if you look at the track controls, this step is pretty intuitive.

Adjust the ‘send’ dial for send A to the desired amount. This amount of the track will then be sent through the return track (in this case, a reverb effect) before going to the master track.

Keep in mind that this is on top of the original audio. If you’re adding a reverb effect as mentioned, it means that you’ll want the reverb to be 100% wet (i.e the reverb effect outputs 100% reverb, it doesn’t let any of the original track pass through). If you don’t do this, you’ll be inadvertently increasing the volume of a track as you increase the amount sent to the reverb track – in most cases this would just mess up your mix every time you adjusted the amount of send.

Quick tip: sends are very flexible – you can have more than one send from a track, or if you want you can even send from a return track. You can adjust the volume of a return track, letting you increase/decrease the amount of an effect present in the entire mix very easily.

Why Use Sends?

Why not just apply an effect to each track individually? If you’re working with a larger mix (10+ instruments) things can very quickly start getting out of hand. Say you want to decrease the amount of reverb in an entire track – you’re going to have to have to turn down the reverb on each track separately. With sends, one adjustment of a return track’s volume will adjust this with ease.

Why not use track routing instead? Although you can achieve a similar purpose, you can’t adjust the amount effect on each track individually. Sends provide much greater control and flexibility than track routing does.

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