In this article, you'll find out 7 reasons why grouping tracks in Ableton Live (or any DAW) will make your life much easier.
There's also a step-by-step tutorial on how to do it.
- Are you overwhelmed by a large number of tracks in your projects — feeling unproductive?
- Did your projects start looking like a mess and you can't even find things anymore?
- Is your CPU screaming for help because it can't handle the number of plugins and effects you have loaded?
If you said "Yes" to any of these questions, maybe it's time to start grouping your tracks.
What is a Track Group?
Grouping tracks means taking the multiple audio outputs of different tracks and sending them to one special track to mix them together.
So whenever it makes sense to process two or more tracks together, you can group them up.
For example, I usually have:
- A drums group, with a bunch of drum tracks;
- A vocals group;
- A back vocals group with many back vocal tracks;
- Instruments group;
- Bass group if I have more than one bass layer, and so on.
I even create groups inside of groups like the snare group for all my snare layers inside of my drums group. Even a strings group inside of my instruments group.
There are 7 excellent reasons to group them together. Let's start with the most important reason.
Reason #1: Grouping tracks is a time saver
As music producers, time-saving is the most important thing.
So if you have instruments that play a similar role in your arrangement — like a guitar, a piano, and some synthesizers —, you will probably apply effects to these instruments together, right?
There's probably going to be a compressor that compresses only the drums, another compressor that compresses only those instruments, then another compressor that compresses only the vocals.
So if you notice that you'll add the same equalizer or any effect on several individual tracks (like making copies of that equalizer), why not just group them together and load a single effect that applies to all of them at once?
You can even use a single fader to adjust the levels of all those tracks together, without changing their internal balance.
For example, if you notice the drums are too loud at some point, you can just lower your kick track, snare track, hi-hats track, cymbals track — all that with just one fader.
That not only saves you time but also CPU.
Reason #2. Grouping tracks saves CPU
Your computer won't have to run multiple copies of an effect on several instruments. Instead, it will run just one instance of that effect.
That will require less CPU power, and you'll be able to keep working at a smaller buffer size, which introduces less latency. So it's a win-win.
Reason #3. Grouping tracks keeps your project organized
Keeping your project organized is also very important and often overlooked. If you have trouble finishing your tracks, it could simply be a lack of organization.
A messy project tires you up and discourages you from finishing. Look at this arrangement view with over 90 tracks.
Managing lots of tracks can quickly get overwhelming.
If you don't have a system to stay organized, there's a big chance you'll find so many obstacles you'll give up and never finish what you started.
Notice that when you group tracks, that allows you to fold and unfold to hide and reveal the contents of the group which helps a lot with staying organized.
It saves visual space and I definitely don't want to have all those 90 tracks on my screen at all times.
Reason #4. Group Tracks for sound cohesiveness
You can make your instruments work together if you apply effects together.
That helps with making them sound like they're one big wall of sound instead of many different disconnected elements.
I know this is a common problem for beginners in music production.
Sometimes their sounds seem to not work together like music and that can be fixed by processing them as a group.
Equalize instruments together, compress to glue them together — there's even a Glue Compressor in Ableton Live which serves this purpose very well.
On top of that, you can send an entire Group to a Return Track with a single knob — for instance, to apply the same reverb to your drums.
That's guaranteed to make them sound like they belong together, even if you hand-picked samples from very different sample packs.
You can still make them sound cohesive as a whole.
There are still three more reasons for grouping your tracks that will help you become a better producer today.
Reason #5. Group tracks to find mixing problems with ease
Most producers have gone through this situation at least once:
You're working on a song that started sounding good. Then you play it back and suddenly hear a weird noise — something doesn't sound right.
You replay the section and hear the noise again, but you don't know where it's coming from.
You have to delete or change it somehow, but there are so many tracks, you don't even know what that sound is.
Are you going to solo each one of those 90 tracks individually until you find that weird sound to finally remove it?
If you did a good job on grouping your tracks, you can just solo and listen to each group until you find the source of the problem in your mix.
Then you can zoom in to figure out exactly which track is the culprit. That's another time saver.
Reason #6. Group tracks for quick sidechaining
Electronic music producers sidechain lots of instruments to the Kick drum.
If you don't know sidechaining, it's a technique used to decrease the volume of any sound source whenever another sound happens.
For example: when the kick hits, the bass gets ducked by a few decibels — and that can keep them from clashing.
Or you can use it to create that classic EDM pump effect.
I've been using lots of sidechain compression on instruments to open up room for my vocals — if they're in the same frequency range — so they don't compete for those frequencies.
Since I make pop music, I just want the vocals to cut through everything else and get the spotlights.
So I group instruments together and place a dynamic spectral equalizer that ducks all those instruments whenever there's any singing.
Reason #7. Group tracks to easily export mastering stems
If you ever send your song for a mastering engineer to give it that final polishing and they ask for the stems, you're going to want to group your tracks.
You will export your groups as individual tracks, usually about 6 or so. Vocals, Drums, Bass, Synthesizers, Effects.
All grouped together, instead of exporting those 90 individual tracks or, on the other hand, exporting just one Master track where all the sounds are already summed up.
That's because some mastering engineers like to have more freedom when mastering your song, so they can make adjustments that affect only certain tracks, instead of affecting the whole mix.
Grouping is the perfect solution for exporting stems.
How to group tracks in Ableton Live
Grouping tracks in Ableton Live is simple:
- Select the tracks you want to group;
- Hold "Control" on a Windows or "Command" on a Mac while you click on the individual tracks you want to group together.
- Hit "Control + G" on a Windows or "Command + G" on a Mac to create the group. Alternatively, right-click and select "Group Tracks".
You can also select multiple tracks by clicking on a track and holding "Shift" while you select the adjacent tracks.
Make sure to rename the Group so it makes sense for you. Color coding also helps with organization.
And you can still add or remove tracks from a group afterward. Drag and drop.
Track Grouping vs. Racks
Some people ask: is there a difference between grouping tracks and having your instruments like kick, snare, and hi-hat in one track?
Yes, there's a difference.
I like to have each instrument on its own separate track because that gives me more freedom to process them individually.
It's easier to send individual sounds to Return tracks if needed, while still allowing me to group them up and process them together. It's the best of both worlds.
Track Group vs. Bus
By the way, Groups in Ableton Live are what people used to call Bus. People that use different DAWs still have the Bus system.
Groups are Ableton Live's Bus system. In my opinion, it's a smarter way of arranging tracks.
It's simple and intuitive. You don't have to configure a lot of routing. Just group the tracks together with a keyboard shortcut.
Now it's your turn
Now you know 7 reasons why grouping tracks in Ableton Live or any DAW will make you a better producer.
I hope you're taking advantage of grouping tracks from now on.
Any questions? Ask me anything in the comment section below.
For other music production and Ableton Live resources, visit my website.