In this article you'll find 10 workflow tips for Ableton live. Let's get started!
1. Take advantage of session view
One of the best features of Ableton Live is being able to work in two modes: Session and Arrangement.
Ableton is the only DAW out there which allows you to freely mix and match different clips super easily. This is especially useful at the beginning of the production process. At that stage you’re just coming up with ideas - and it’s always useful to try different clips together to check how they sound. This is going to be very useful in any loop-based electronic music genre.
Session view also allows you to create different sections for your track - when you arrange your clips in rows.
To arrange your track you can either drag the clips over to the arrangement or “record” the session and have a bit of a live performance while doing so - which is a lot of fun.
You can also have more fun when coming up with ideas - you can work with a MIDI controller to start and stop clips, to easily record new ideas on the fly. It’s especially useful when you have something like a Launchpad, an Ableton Push, or an Akai APC.
2. Preview loops while the track is playing
Live is also really useful even for users of different DAWs for previewing loops. That’s because Live plays loops in tempo with your track when you play both at the same time. All you need to do is to go to the browser while playing back your track and scroll through the different loops you have. To enable previews, select the headphones in the lower left corner of the browser section. Now you should be able to browse through lots of loops very fast instead of having to load each one manually into the project.
3. Take advantage of native synths & libraries
Some of the most underrated features of Ableton Live are the native instruments and libraries. Even though the "Core Library" might be a bit lacking, actually Ableton offers quite a wide selection of samples and presets for every purchase of the Suite version. Plenty of users however don’t know that these packs are available. Ableton actually offers over 70 GB of packs for Suite users and over 10 GB if you own Ableton Standard.
The native synths are also underrated - in a lot of cases they are not as CPU-intensive as third party VSTs. They might have a slightly different layout than most hardware synths - but the sounds they are able to produce are really stunning. And also if you have the Ableton Live Packs, you’ll greatly expand the set of presets for these synthesizers.
In Ableton there are three main synths:
- Analog - which is a two-oscillator analog-modelled synth made with the company Acoustic Applied Systems (an alternative to classic synths like the Moog or Juno). Analog gives you simple subtractive synthesis with really warm tones.
- Operator - which is an FM synthesizer (a simplified version of the classic Yamaha DX7). It’s useful for interesting, harmonically rich timbres which cannot be synthesized in typical subtractive synthesizers.
- Wavetable - a new addition to Live, a wavetable synthesizer (a simplified version of Serum or Massive). It’s useful for creating both simple subtractive sounds like Analog, but also complex evolving soundscapes thanks to the wavetable oscillators)
4. "C and V" for Computer Keyboard Velocity
Even though you might be using a MIDI keyboard, there are times when you’re only using the computer keyboard. And that’s when you’re left with no velocity - the computer keyboard only gives the on and off information. To change your velocity all you need to do is press C (for lower velocity) and V (for higher velocity)
5. Use the capture tool
Since Live 10 the program offers an amazing tool called Capture MIDI. It constantly records all your MIDI even when the “record” button isn’t pressed. If when improvising you come across a pattern that you like, there’s no need to re-record it - simply press the “Capture” button and Live is going to save it onto a new clip. Live remembers over 16.000 “MIDI events” - so you’re sure that the entire pattern is going to be saved.
6. Drawing MIDI Velocity
When editing MIDI, one of the most important factors is the velocity of notes. However, dragging each velocity slider one by one can be time-consuming and frustrating for longer patterns. There are very handy shortcuts to help with that:
- Pressing B allows you to enter “Draw mode” - the cursor turns into a pencil and you’re able to “draw in” the desired pattern.
- When “Draw mode” is enabled, pressing Alt (Win) or Option (Mac) while clicking and dragging the mouse allows you to draw MIDI velocity in straight lines.
7. Automation flex points (editing recorded automations)
Flex points are very useful for editing entire sequences of MIDI automations without actually dragging the breakpoints. For instance - if you’ve recorded a MIDI automation by hand and it’s complex (made up of multiple breakpoints) - and you want to edit the height of the entire section, you can just drag the bottom or top of the selection. If you drag the corners of the selection, you can skew the selected area of automation. This works in both Clip view and Arrangement View.
8. Convert tracks to audio without flattening
If you’re working with CPU-intensive synths and effects (and most VSTs really drain the CPU) then you’re going to have to convert tracks to audio. The usual technique would be to freeze and flatten the tracks - but once you do so, you’re unable to go back. You might want to duplicate the track before freezing - but that takes a few seconds. What’s even better is simply dragging frozen MIDI clips to empty Audio Tracks. This way you’re working really fast - and you can always save the “frozen” track in a “MIDI Backup” group in case you want to use it later.
9. Using the audio effect rack
It’s common practice to process some elements (like kick drums) in “parallel mode” - separating low frequencies from the mids and highs. Instead of duplicating the track for each band, you might just use an “audio effect rack” and the “EQ Three” audio effect.
You can prepare such a “parallel processing” rack in advance. All you need to do is
- load up EQ Three, and set the bands,
- group the “EQ” (Cmd/Ctrl + G) and duplicate the “Chain” for new bands (expanding the “Chains view” first).
- for band 1 leave only the “Low” band, “Mid” for band 2, “High” for band 3.
Now you’re left with a 3-band parallel processing tool to use on any element you want!
10. Save defaults for audio effects and instruments
If you find yourself editing the same parameters over and over once you load Ableton’s effects and instruments, it might be useful to change their “init” presets. Right click on the device name and select “Save as Default Preset”. The next time you load up the device it’s going to open with these exact parameters.
For instance - in Wavetable, the envelopes are by default not assigned to the filter cutoff - and most patches need that. You might want to have Envelope 2 assigned to the cutoff from the start to avoid unnecessary tweaking at the beginning of designing a sound.
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