January 03, 2015  

10 Hidden Gems in Ableton

Ableton Live is a versatile DAW, and one of its biggest strengths is how quickly you can manipulate audio and MIDI within it. However, there are still some things in the program which aren’t so straightforward. That’s why we’re here to help and give you a nudge in the right direction with our ten hidden gems in Ableton!

There’s plenty more where these came from and our Ableton Live Diploma is the ideal course for anyone wanting to become a Ableton power user and make amazing music faster than ever! It’s comprehensive, with everything from composition and mixing to sound design and mastering, and everything in between. We’ve had artists like Claude VonStroke and Plastician study Ableton with us and they’ve gone on to dominate the Beatport charts and clubs around the world. Find out more about our Ableton Live Diploma course here.

Warp to Master Tempo

You can apply the tempo fluctuations of a specific file to the master tempo automation, and every sound in the project will then follow these variations. This can be used to score to picture whereas the timeline of the movie will dictate the tempo of all your sound effects, or even if you are dealing with a piano solo with rubato phrasing. This can be done in arrangement view only. Warp the fluctuating file at first, straighten its tempo (simply mark all the downbeats and drag them to the appropriate bar increments) and then hit Slave/Master switch in clip view. You’ll see tempo variations in the master track.

Multi Warping Drum Recordings

When editing multi drum recordings, Ableton will let you warp all the different microphone takes simultaneously. You can then easily fix some of your drummer’s timing errors. To do this, disable the Auto-Warp function in your Record/Warp/Launch preferences tab. You can now load all your drum takes at once into the arrangement view while holding the Command key to place them all on their own tracks. Select the take you want to use as a guide for your warping (make sure you are in clip view mode so you can see its waveform) and then press Command+A to select all the files. Finally, hit the Slave/Master switch in your clip view. Now when you warp the guide file and all the others should follow.

Double Audio Editing

Ableton has two distinct editors; the warping editor and the audio editor. The latter can only be used in arrangement view, while the first can be seen at the bottom of your screen in both views. When in arrangement view, you can open an audio track to edit its waveform. You can cut, delete, move or duplicate fragments of your clip like most audio editors. However, you can also manipulate these fragments in the warping editor at the bottom of your screen. There you will stretch, reverse, compress the waveform and change the warping modes. Using both editors simultaneously will let you achieve the best audio edits.

Mix and Match Different Projects

You’re looking for a tasty bass sound for your new composition, but you’re struggling to craft the texture you’re after. Suddenly, you remember you designed a great bass texture on an old project you never finished and it might’ve been what you were looking for. Ableton will let you drag and drop an entire track from any other Ableton Live set. It will also copy all the effects, instruments and their automations. Open your browser, and navigate to the .als file of your other set. Open the small triangle next to its name to reveal all the tracks its made of. In session view, double click on the desired track to load it to far right hand side of your project. In arrangement view, you’ll have to click, hold and drag onto the project you’re working on.

Modular Environment

Any composition requires a fair amount of sound experiments. Ableton will let you route virtually any signal to any destination within your computer and to the external world. From with its I/O section, which can be accessed through a small icon next to the master track, you can send and receive from any source or destination within the program. This has huge implications on stage and in your studio. The complexity and flexibility of the systems that can be put in place is staggering!

Max For Live

Whenever you think, “I wish I could do this in Ableton Live”, you should look at the Max for Live options. Ableton comes bundles with a fair amount of extra devices that can be accessed from the Max for Live tab of your browser. However, it’s on the MaxForLive website that you’ll find the real gems. There, an ever-growing pool of free devices is waiting to come and save your day. You will find instruments, MIDI effects and audio effects to cater for all your needs. You’ll find odd little gadgets to the most useful devices such as the ‘Envelope Follower’ and ‘Convolution Reverb Pro’.

Track Delay

Initially designed to compensate for the timing differences between external hardware units and Ableton Live, the Track Delay is a great way to achieve a groovy drum beat. By moving the ‘Track Delay’ setting of your individual drum tracks, you will find your groove shifts drastically. I like to move my hats and snare tracks ahead of the kick to give a ‘rushed’ feel to my drum beats. However, there are no fixed settings here and you will need to experiment and treat every beat differently with this technique.

Feedback

By re-injecting the sound back into the return track it came from, you can design everlasting delays. Dub producers who like to give an organic feel to their structures favour this technique. The send dials located on the return tracks are disable by default to prevent sudden bursts of sound that could potentially damage your equipment. You can enable them with a right click and choose the ‘Enable Send’ function. If you load time-based effects such as delays and reverbs on your return track and then send a sound from your regular tracks into it, you will be able to raise the send dial on the return track to create this feedback. Be warned though, the signal will rapidly rise in the return track so be ready to lower your send dial quickly.

Nudge Tempo

Ableton’s tempo can be nudged backward and forward, just like a turntable. This function is perfect to sync up manually to any external source. This could be the DJ playing before you or the band you’re jamming with! This technique works best when mapping the nudge switches located at the top left corner of Live to your external controller. Used together with the tap tempo function, you will be able to manually sync your live set to any steady tempo.

File Dropping

So while experimenting with your sounds in session view, you have crafted an interesting series of clip envelopes using effects coupled with unlinked envelope lengths. Why not apply all the complex automations to another sound in your tune? This will often create a strong symbiosis between your sounds. You can drop a file from the browser directly on top of the waveform of another clip so that all the existing envelopes are retained and apply to the new file. Make sure you drop the file at the bottom of your screen where the waveform is displayed or it won’t work!

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Editor’s Note: This is an old article and things have moved on considerably since the original publication date 🙂

For more information head over to the Point Blank Music School website to learn the very latest about our school.


This post is included in Ableton Tutorials, Tutorials