Ableton Live is a program with serious depth – armed with the right knowledge it can be your all-in-one writing, production and performance tool, using only what comes in the package. It can also host other software effects and virtual instruments, as well as capture physical instruments and environments and control the equipment in your studio.
How it works is really up to what works best for each artist because it’s so flexible in its use, and so universal in how it integrates with other things.
What an artist uses it for is also a question – for some it’s a jamming tool for creating ideas, others a performance tool for stage use only, while many use it as an end-to-end tool for the whole process of creating, producing and performing.
To illustrate the range of uses, we got the lowdown from some of our Liveschool Trainers and Contributors on how they’re using Ableton Live:
Doug Wright (Ten Brains, Hed Ardennes)
We generally use Live as the main MIDI sequencer for external synths/drum machines, and we’re running an audio interface with a stack of inputs so we can record all our instruments at the same time, jam out on hardware and have the flexibility to edit each part separately later to whittle things down into songs. We do a lot of sample based stuff in the box though, cos chopping and processing audio in Live is just so fast and flowy.
Live is with me the whole way. I usually program a bed rhythm and then begin to record endless ideas jamming on instruments in Session view until I lock-in. From there, it’s straight to Arrangement and I stay in there editing, programming, rerecording and arranging right through until the mastering stage. Ableton Push adds a whole extra dimension, especially at the writing / beatmaking stages because it means Live becomes a whole instrument I can touch and play. And then Live lets me take it all to the stage, either as a solo act, sometimes with Push, or as a central element in a band context.
I use it from start to finish for everything. I work with mostly audio though, rarely MIDI – so recording my voice, recording my synths or using samples. On the MIDI side my only plugins are Soundtoys for FX and Omnisphere as a backup if I can’t find the sound I’m after on my hardware synths / gadgets.
I’m using Ableton pretty much from start-to-finish for everything. I’m not really a hardware person, I often use my computer keyboard to write chords and my mouse to program MIDI. I think this is mostly because I’ve never had a designated music workspace and I learned to produce with just a computer, so now I feel like it’s all I need.
As a mix engineer for multiple acts I need to be multi-platform. I mix in Pro Tools and use Live as a Rewire application for additional production (extra drums, basses etc). With Rewire, the transports are locked so when you press play in one program the other plays too. I find it way easier in Live to test out different sounds and do vocal manipulation/ fx so it’s super convenient to have both programs running simultaneously.
And because I move from studio to studio, I need a portable but powerful rig, so I settled on a new Mac Mini – I carry it in a little silver briefcase that also houses a UAD Octo Satellite, my trackball and cables. That way when I get to a studio I just hook into their screen and keyboard and I’m ready to go.
Ableton is where everything starts and ends for me. I use a lot of third party plugins, but it’s still all in the box.
I generally start a session by jamming around on a few bits of gear, maybe a drum machine or a synth just to get a little groove going, sometimes it might just be a certain sound that inspires me or takes my mind somewhere else. Then once I have something basic going I generally record these parts separately into Ableton so I can manipulate them or use effects to process them, chop them up, basically sampling my own recordings.
Sometimes I might start by creating a midi sequence and sending it out to my hardware to begin, so I can focus more on how it interacts with the rhythms or other elements. Ableton really then takes on a strong editing role for me, considering sound design and blending samples with my hardware to allow the creative process to take new twists and turns and find new ways to push genres.
I always start in Session view to make things more groove based and then record out to Arrangement view – so I can fine tune and work on the structure.
Made In Paris
Ableton is my one and only DAW. I use it for the creative parts of my music in conjunction with my Push 2 and hardware synths etc, as well as arranging and mixing my music.
For the past couple of years I’ve used a pretty minimal set up. I used to be really into analog gear but since I started touring I got used to using soft synths for everything. I even use the built in keyboard on my laptop for most of my midi.
When I play a live show, my goal is to replicate the excitement i feel in the studio on the stage. And when I’m in the studio, I try to capture the unpredictable nature of a live show. So it’s important for me to work with gear that can translate easily between these two environments. I use the same delay pedal, reverb unit, synths and software FX in the studio as i do on stage. Ableton is what allows this two way street to flow effortlessly. Jumping from studio to stage and back again without having to totally re-think my approach is super important.