Quick Tip: The Opposite of Studio Conventions

One of the most common traps of a creative professional is the emergence of a routine. We rely on processes and organized workflows so we can do what we do best — create — but do more of it in less time, making us more prolific.

This is good for two main reasons. First, it allows more art to be created. If you can structure your processes well, it means that the art you create in the more efficient workflow isn’t at all inferior to the art created before you used a standard workflow. Second, it causes standards to emerge in art. In certain fields — like painting and photography — this can saturate the world with a bunch of repetitive, unoriginal work. But in more technical artistic fields — like architecture, web design, and, I would argue, music production & recording — standards help keep everything compatible.

Music studios have rules or methods that make things a lot easier for them, just like gardeners have rules of thumb like “harvest plant X in month Y.” You don’t have to think about the reasons behind these rules each time they’re applied, because you already spent the time to figure that out. Or you read a farmer’s almanac. The rules are there to be blindly accepted, because that makes them easier to digest and easier to apply. You only have to question, analyze, and optimize them once, and then they’re good to go.

Rules are not forever

However, these rules often overstep their boundaries, and cause us to forget about creative things we might otherwise do. The example I’m going to use is Reverb.

Reverb is a great tool for adding space. That’s what it’s typically used for. It makes instruments sound fuller, like they’re playing in a room. It makes drums sound a little less flat, and guitars sound alive. It’s perfect for making any electronic sound instantly “bigger.” Anything you’ve heard and thought, “that has a big sound”, probably has a lot of reverb.

So if the studio convention is to use reverb for enhancing sound, I’m going to suggest you go in the opposite direction. Now, in the case of reverb, we can’t totally reverse direction. It’s difficult to make something sound smaller with reverb, and even if it were possible, there are better ways to do that (compression, volume, equalizers). However, instead of enhancing sound with reverb, why not create sound?

Instead of setting reverb wherever you usually set it — probably up to 60% wet — push it way past. Make the decay many seconds long, and cancel out the dry signal. Make the chorus and “Early Reflections” section extreme. Reverb can take a tiny sound and make it enormous. Destroy the incoming signal and make your own.

Do the same with delay, erosion, saturator, and vocoder.

Start using these tools to do things they weren’t designed to do, and you’ll end up with some amazing sounds.

2 Minute Tips from AfroDJMac

The Ableton Live community is a great one and we’ve made some good friends with other artists and bloggers who share our love for Live. AfroDJMac is one of them. Known for his free racks and quick tip videos and frequently featured on the Ableton Blog, AfroDJMac is spreading cool knowledge and always sporting his cool shades.

Cool Shades

Here’s one of his 2 minute tips on how to customize your workflow with Drum racks. Thanks AfroDJMac.

Subscribe to his YouTube Channel

5 Ways to Fatten Bass Sounds

Maxwell Bass

Bass is a tricky fish. It’s an integral part of a track’s ecosystem — yeah, okay, I’m going to cut the line and stop the metaphor here. I just can’t keep it up.

Bass lines are some of the most important and memorable parts of dance music — since drum and bass, and (more recently) dubstep, we’ve been showing off bass as the main element of a track. This is an idea that was virtually nowhere to be found in all previous popular music (and most other types of music). So now that bass has become so important to the music we listen to, we need to give it special attention — everyone could use a little bass education.

One of the biggest problems with synthesizing bass sounds is that you naturally lose the fat, heavy, deep tone a bass is supposed to have. It’s not enough to have low frequencies — other resonant frequencies have to accompany the bass sound so it will kick. Here are a few ways to do it. Continue reading →

Free Download: Frequencies of Notes Table

Notes and frequencies table screenshot

I spent a few minutes putting together data I found on the MTU Physics website into a table. This will be super useful for those of you that want detailed control over your sound spectrums. The table is hosted on Google Docs and you can download and print it from there — it fits on a single 8.5″ x 11″ sheet of paper.

It includes all Western scale notes in equal tempered tuning based on A4 = 440 Hz and the speed of sound through an air medium being 345 m/s. It’s not guaranteed to work underwater or in space!

If you just want the PDF, download it right over here!


Make a default template for your Ableton productions

Sidechain Compression

Warning: Free Live set inside!

I used to use a template for all of my productions, back when I was making house music. It was easy to work with a template because my tracks all had a few predictable elements: a heavy kick drum, a snare + closed hat + open hat drum rack, a percussion rack, a bass synth (which was usually outfitted with the same bass EQ & compression rack), a few pad synths (which came preloaded with optional sidechain compression), and standard delay and reverb sends. In addition, all my tracks were at least at -10 dB, and my master channel had a limiter and Mid-Side EQ that brought everything up to level.

I was thinking about this template the other day, and realized that with a few minor tweaks it could become versatile and work with all of the genres I now like to work with. So I recreated the template and thought I would walk you guys through it. If you just want to download it, skip to the end! Continue reading →

HUGE Ableton Productivity Hack: Sibling Mapping

Copy value to siblings

This is the biggest timesaver I’ve discovered so far when it comes to making tracks in Live.

Are you ever frustrated when building drum racks, and setting the same value for every sample in the rack? I know I was. I used to have all of my drum samples at 70% velocity, and -18 dB volume. This meant changing two parameters on every sample.

Eventually I found I could just make one sample, set its values, duplicate it (hold down alt and click and drag the sample to another spot), and then drop another sample into that slot — as long as the new sample is dropped onto the waveform, it doesn’t reset the volume & velocity values.

What about effect rack building, when you have several chains of effects in the same rack, and you want to map all of them at the same time? If I were to build a delay rack with multiple types of grain delay in each chain, I would still want to control Dry/Wet of each chain from a single Macro. I can do it manually, by mapping each Grain Delay’s “Dry/Wet” parameter to the same macro, but that takes forever! Continue reading →

How to Find Strange & Unique Sounds

Although I’ve spoken in the past about how sound design isn’t a necessary part of electronic music, I will contend (or concede, if you like) that sometimes, you just need a crazy awesome sound. You want to make a noise that has never been created before, a sound that no one has ever heard. Something so alien it blows people’s minds. You probably look up to people like Amon Tobin:

Well, I’m not half the sound designer Amon Tobin is, but I do think Ableton Live offers a great way to stumble upon random mutant sounds you might not discover in another DAW. In this article I’ll give you a few tips not on how to make these sounds, but how to discover them for yourself. Continue reading →

Quick Tip: Glitch Control

With the introduction of Max For Live’s LFOs, along with numerous plug-ins like Glitch and Stutter Edit Pro, or for you hardcore analogue junkies, boutique random CV generators, there are many different ways to go about creating random glitchy audio goodness.

The only problem is that randomness doesn’t always groove, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t. Today’s Quick Tip will show you how to harness the glorious and surprising world of randomness to give your tracks a taste of glitch while maintaining a solid groove. Continue reading →

Quick Tip: Group Device to Drum Rack

Instrument context menu

Here’s a nice little shortcut for you that I discovered last week. If you right click on the title bar of any Live Instrument, the context menu will give you the option of Group To Drum Rack Clicking this automatically creates a drum rack and drops the device in the C1 slot. Nifty!

Instrument in drum rack automatically!

Ctrl+G (Cmd+G on OS X) adds whatever device you have into an Instrument Rack, MIDI Effect Rack, or Audio Effect Rack depending on which device you select. You can even select multiple devices (or racks) and combine them into groups.

When selecting tracks, Ctrl+G turns them into a Track Group.

Brush up on all your keyboard shortcuts in order to become a more productive Live user!

Ableton Productivity Tip: Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts, as any experienced computer user will know, speed up things immensely. You can train your muscle memory better, and your hand doesn’t have to move so far to the mouse to change something — and these tiny seconds saved add up, saving you a lot of time in the long run.

I was actually going to write an entire article about this, but it turns out someone already did the hard work and put all of them into a PDF. Go and check it out! There are two versions — one for OS X, and one for Windows. Print it out and post it up in your studio and you’re good to go!

Max out Session View with these quick tips

If you’re looking for Free Sound Friday, check out Kendall’s free rack from earlier this week.

On my last post, What’s your biggest problem when working with Live?, I heard from our little community here and was able to get a better idea of what many Ableton Live users need direction or inspiration on.

Anyway, one of the comments we received was from reader techbuzz:

My biggest hurdle right now is arranging session view in a way that I can PLAY live. When I start a tune from scratch I end up with 20+ clips and it feels like I am wrestling with the clips instead of making music…How do other people set up their session view to play it easily?

This is a difficult question to answer, since performances with Live can differ dramatically, from a simple Deck A-Deck B DJ set to a 25-track set where you’re creating MIDI loops on the fly. (for more on how to DJ with Live, see this article)

In this article, I’d like to share some basic tips for getting the most out of session view, and making it easy to jam out without the tediousness of arranging everything. Continue reading →

Quick Tip: Get BPM and Loop Without Warping

Here’s a guest post by Josh Spoon, a hip-hop and electronic producer out of Dallas. Spoon is a recent winner of the Dallas Laptop Deathmatch and has been a Live user for 3 years. You can follow him on Twitter and find some of his tracks on SoundCloud.


Sometimes I don’t want to warp loops. It gets too difficult sometimes and you end up warping something that doesn’t need to be warped, creating artifacts, and wasting your time. With this tutorial you are sure to not do that — we’ll be covering a new method for setting BPM of a loop without bothering with warping.

Materials needed:

  • A song or audio clip with something you want to loop
  • Ableton Live or equivalent DAW (I’ll be in Live ;))
  • Ability to count beats

Let’s go!

Step 1: Find something you want to loop.

Step 1

I’ll be using the Amen Break for this example.

Step 2: Find the section you want loop in the song.

Step 2

I’ll be using the famous 2 measures. Find the 1 (downbeat). Count for how many measures you want. 1-2-3-4, 2-2-3-4, and set your beginning and end points.

Step 3: Drag your BPM up or down

Step 3

Do this until the loop meets the desired length in the Arrangement View. Mine is till measure 3. Then you turn on the Arrangement loop button and listen to see if it flows well.

Step 4: Marvel at how easy that was!

Step 4

You don’t have to deal with any warp markers or setting it to Beats, then Complex, then realize you suck at warping for a simple loop. Crop it, set the clip loop, then drop that out and groove.

Also: see below, I’m only 2 BPM off just off from eyeballing; think of what would have happened if I zoomed in to the audio. Though I like my loops less mechanical, so 138 sounds good to me. It kind of jumps when the loop comes back around, like ’70s DJs cutting — not precise but with feeling.

Amen break notation

I’ve used this a lot for getting basslines out of old jazz songs. I didn’t want the whole song — just the bass — and this is a quicker method to extract it. Find the 1 on the the bass groove, count out the beats, then cut it and scale BPM until it fits the desired length. Then if the song I was going to sample it into was a different BPM I could then warp with ease.


Josh Spoon

Zen of Live: Re-Think, Re-Appropriate, Revitalize

Many Ableton performance controllers these days come equipped with one of these:

But, if you have begun the journey proposed by the introductory article of this series, to take your electronic music performance beyond the world of DJing, then you may have noticed that there isn’t really much use for the traditional crossfader.

Here’s a little Quick Tip for the controllerists out there: Try using your crossfader as a Master Wet/Dry control for your Send/Return Effects. Here’s how it’s done. Continue reading →

Forget everything you know about electronic music performance: The Zen of Live

Creative Commons License photo credit: twicepix

Live can be used to do many things. You can DJ, you can make tracks, and you can use it as a loop pedal on steroids. None of these things are bad, in fact, Live does all of them quite well. But none of these things are uniquely and intrinsically Live. They are all methods of music which existed prior to Live. I’m here to argue that Live offers more than that. Just as Ableton took all of the rules and designs from the standard DAWs and threw them out the window, with Live, you too have the opportunity to forget all of your concepts about music performance and embrace something completely different. With all of the dedicated MIDI controllers and iPads out there, the boundaries of music performance are being set farther and farther away. Continue reading →

Quick Tip: Shape your MIDI Performance with Live’s Velocity device

So you’ve got your brand new MIDI keyboard and you’re ready to record the most shredding synth performance ever. Only, after you’ve recorded your MIDI performance, you notice that the recorded MIDI velocities aren’t quite what you heard in your head when you were rocking out. Let’s face it, unless you shelled out some big bucks for a fully weighted MIDI controller, then you’ve most likely noticed that these aren’t the most sensitive and dynamic performance devices. Continue reading →

Quick Tip: Beat Repeat Mix Modes

Live’s Beat Repeat device is a powerful tool capable of creating some unique and interesting rhythmic effects. Today’s Quick Tip examines an often overlooked parameter of the device: The Mix Modes.


Beat Repeat has three different Mix Modes. The first is Mix. The Mix mode acts just as it sounds. The original incoming signal is always passed through the device and is mixed with the effected signal when repetitions are present. This mode is optimal for use as an insert effect or when you want the cuts and stutters to be more subtle and not detract from the original signal. To better achieve this effect, you may want to utilize the Volume and Decay parameters to further shape the  repetitions. Continue reading →

How to Fatten Your Kick Instantly

If there’s one thing you should always keep in mind when opening Ableton Live, it’s this: Don’t take this software for granted. Don’t reinvent the wheel when you have hundreds of pre-built racks and synthesizers. Sure, it may be “cool” to build your own synths, but why spend the time working on the perfect electric piano sound in Electric when a preset is right there?

In this tutorial, we’re going to take a lame, wimpy kick drum, and transform it into the kind of bass you expect in a few short steps, using (mostly) Ableton Live presets. Continue reading →