Ableton Include Return And Master Effects: Common Issues (solved)

Ableton Live is a widely popular music production software that has different features and effects to enhance the sound of tracks. Some of these features include Return effects and Master effects.

  • Return effects are applied to a track, but controlled through a different track to add effects globally
  • Master effects are applied to the end output of your mix to add a final polish, commonly including EQ, compression, and limiting.

When you export your mix in Ableton Live, you can include these return & Master effects in the final bounce.

In this article, we’ll help you through this feature, as well as troubleshoot some common issues you may have.

Laptop open with screen light illuminating keyboard. Headphone rest on keyboard.

Include Return and Master Effects Not Available When Rendering

Let’s set the scene. You’ve just completed your Ableton Live track, and are looking to export it into a final, great-sounding bounce.

But unfortunately, the Return and Master Effects option isn’t available when you’re trying to export.

Let’s dive into why this could be, and how you can solve this annoying problem.

The “Include Return and Master effects” option is, by definition, already included when your export option is set to “Master”. This means that when you’re exporting your rendered track through the “Master” channel, all your Return and Master Effects have to be included in the process.

If you’re looking to use a different option to export your rendered track, such as “All Individual Tracks” or “Selected Tracks Only”, you” find that the “Include Return and Master effects” option becomes available again.

This means that when you have the option toggled on, whatever individual stems you export will include all the effects from the Return tracks, as well as the Master track.

Let’s get a quick understanding of what stems are:

In Ableton Live, “Stems” refer to individual tracks that are exported from a session containing different elements of a song. By exporting stems, music producers have greater control and flexibility over each individual element of the song.

This can be helpful for group stems, which are often used for backing tracks when performing live. These stems can be grouped into different parts, such as Vocals, Guitars, Synths, Bass, and Drums. Now when each of these groups is exported, each render will include effects like reverbs and delays, or even compressors and EQs that are on the Master channel.

The “Include Return and Master effects” option is also helpful for exporting stems which can be provided to a Mixing engineer or even a remix artist.

  • When you export individual stems with effects included, it keeps the song’s sonic interest that the producer originally intended.
  • Effects like reverbs and delays from Return channels enable a song to have congruent sonic elements throughout.
  • When included on the exported stems, these enable the mixing engineer or remix artist to better understand the feel of the song.

It’s important to note that the “Include Return and Master effects” button isn’t available by default, meaning if you don’t want to include these effects, you’ll have to disable them before exporting your track.

Include Return and Master Effect Grayed Out

If you’re trying to export your track in Ableton Live, and the “Include Return and Master effects” button isĀ grayed out, you’ve come to the right place. Luckily, the reason for this is quite simple, so it won’t be long before you’ve rendered your next big hit!

There are multiple options available when exporting in Ableton Live. Let’s get a better understanding of each rendering option:

  1. Master: This option exports the entire mix through the Master channel. This is the most common option and is used to export a finished mix of your project.
  2. Selected Tracks: This option allows you to export only the tracks that you have selected in the Arrangement View. This is useful if you only want to export certain parts of your project, such as a specific instrument or vocal track.
  3. Individual Tracks: This option exports each track in your project as a separate audio file. This is useful if you want to export stems for mixing in another program or for further editing.
  4. Group or One Individual Track: This option allows you to export any Group or Selected Track that has been created in the project.This can be done by simply soloing the group or track.

The “Include Return and Master effects” option isn’t available for all the rendering options above, which is why it might be greyed out when trying to enable it.

When the “Master” rendering option is selected, Ableton won’t allow you to include Return and Master effects.

The simple reason for this is that the Master rendering option already has all the Return and Master effects included by default. When you export a bounce using the Master rendering option, it will include all your Return effects like reverbs and delays, as well as any effects that were on the Master chain, such as Limiters or EQs.

If you’d like to export a bounce with the Master export setting without all of your Return and Master effects, you’ll have to turn off or mute these effects manually.

The other export options like “Selected Tracks” or “Individual Tracks” do however allow you to toggle “Include Return and Master effects” on and off.

Returns Won’t Render With the Song Export

Exporting in Ableton Live is usually a quick and painless process, but every so often, problems can occur.

One of these issues is that the return tracks aren’t rendering when you’re exporting your song. Let’s dive into why this could be happening, and help you find a solution to this problem.

First things first, we need to make sure that all the routing in your Ableton project is correct.

If your Return tracks aren’t being included in your Master export, there’s a good chance that the routing could be problematic:

  1. To make sure that a Return track is routed to the Master channel, select the return track
  2. Then, check the “Audio To” section of the mixer panel to ensure that the “Master” button is selected

Another common mistake you can make is setting the rendering selection to the wrong option.

  1. In the Export menu, ensure that the “rendered Track” section is set to “Master”.
  2. If this setting is on “Selected Tracks” or “Individual Tracks”, the Return tracks won’t render with the export innately.
  3. You can toggle on “Include Return and Master effects” to make sure that the Return tracks are included in the export.

Another common problem is problematic third-party effects and VST plug-ins in your Return or Master tracks. There have been instances within Ableton Live of songs being bounced without including Return tracks due to a troublesome VST plug-in.

Once you’ve isolated the problematic effect or plug-in, the simplest solution is to replace it with one that is less CPU intensive and less likely to cause issues with an export.

Often problem VST plug-ins on the Master channel can cause malfunctions in the exporting process, even freezing Ableton or your computer.

Export Takes More Time When Include Return and Master Effect is Selected

Exporting in any DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) can be a time-consuming process, especially if your project includes a host of CPU-intensive VST plug-ins and effects or lots of different channels to work through.

If you’re exporting a track from Ableton Live and you choose to include the “Return and Master Effects”, it might take a bit longer to complete the process. This is because the software must process all those effects in real-time before rendering the final audio file.

But don’t worry, if you’re finding that the export time is taking too long; here are a few things you can try:

Try disabling some of the effects on the return and master channels, or just export without them altogether. Although this will affect the tonality of your stems, and possibly sound too different from your initial intention, it will still be a good idea to check to see if it helps aid in exporting your tracks quicker.

Another thing I have tried is increasing the buffer size in the Ableton Live preferences, which might help reduce the processing load on your computer.

It’s important to keep in mind that the export time can also be affected by other factors like:

  • The length of the track
  • The number of tracks in the project
  • The complexity of the arrangement
  • The processing power of your computer.

So if you’re experiencing unusually long export times, it might be worth checking for other things that could be contributing to the issue.

Note that there have been instances in Ableton 11 when the “Return and Master Effects” button is toggled on, and exports for the “Individual Tracks” rendering selection take significantly longer than when the button is off.

Unfortunately, there is no immediate fix for this, as it seems to be a bug that Ableton is dealing with.

Try to contact Ableton directly to notify them of the fault, as dealing with Ableton may help you to find a solution.

My Individual Stems are Being Affected Differently to the Master

If you’re looking to export using the “Individual Tracks” or “Selected Tracks” rendering selection with the “Return and Master Effects” toggled on, you may have noticed that your individual stems are affected differently to a “Master” Export.

Let’s jump into why this is happening.

When you export individual tracks from Ableton Live, you’re not exporting the master track along with them. The master track is where all of your tracks are combined and mixed down to a single output, along with all added effects and automation.

If you’re exporting tracks to be mastered in another application, it’s important to note that you should not include a master limiter or compressor on them.

Instead, you should export the tracks without any limiting or compression but rather apply those effects once you’ve bounced out your individual tracks.

Return tracks in Ableton Live are just like any other tracks and can be exported in the same way.

If you plan on doing detailed mixing in another application, I suggest keeping the return tracks simple is a good idea. You can always add returns in your master project for effects like overall reverb or echo, which can be adjusted as needed.


Importing and Exporting Stems