3 Essential Ableton Live Techniques to Help You Be a Better Producer

Here are 3 incredibly useful techniques to use while working inside Ableton Live that will help you make music better, faster, and more efficiently.   

1. Utility Device for Channel Volume Automation

This is something that might seem tedious during the production stage, but if you do it enough it will become second nature and save you from a ton of headache when you get to the mixing stage. It is common for new producers to want to add automation to the channel’s volume control.

A problem arises when you want to use the volume faders to change the overall channel volume relative to the other channels in your project. As soon as you move the volume fader on a track with automation the automation gets bypassed. You will notice the automation line will become greyed out and its changes won’t be applied to the signal. The “Re-enable Automation” button becomes activated at that point, but if you click it the changes you made go away and automation takes over again. 

If you only have a few simple automation points that won’t be too big of an issue. However, if you have more than a couple of channels with intricate automation lines it can be a hassle. Copy and Paste takes time and energy that would be better spent on creativity. The best way I have found to avoid this type of situation is to add the Utility device to any channel I want to add volume automation on. Then I automate the Utility’s gain parameter.

Then, when it’s mixing time, I can still use the main channel volume faders to adjust the entire channel volume and all the automation points are retained. 

2. Randomize Quantization via Grooves

You have probably heard of the Live’s Groove library. It is used to change the timing and “feel” of your clips. However, you might not know that grooves can be used to randomize quantization as well. I don’t always want to add any additional swing to my MIDI. Sometimes I just want to randomize the MIDI note starting points to add that little bit of character which comes from human non-perfection. Luckily, the good people over at Ableton have added a few “grooves” just for that!

This is how to find and apply them to your clips.

First, make sure you can see the Groove Pool panel. Then the quickest way to see the Groove Library is to right click in the Groove Pool area and select “Browse Groove Library”. That will pull up the available grooves in Live’s browser.

Find the “Quantize” folder and open it. Then take whichever you would like. “32 Quantize.adg” will add the least, while “4 Quantize.adg” will add the most variation. If you are going for the human error feeling I suggest 32 or 16.

For this tutorial, I am going to use the 32 Quantize. Simply click and drag it from the browser panel into the groove pool. 

Let’s review the Groove’s options before applying it to the MIDI.

  • Base: This determines the timing resolution. In fact, if you want to try out any other quantize sizes you can just change this setting rather than pulling a new preset from the library.
  • Quantize: This is like a pre-quantize amount. If you played your MIDI via a keyboard, this will quantize the notes before the groove is applied. You can choose to what degree this is applied here.
  • Timing: How much the timing of the groove will be applied to the clip.
  • Random: Adds random timing fluctuations.
  • Velocity: How much of the velocity information stored in the groove will be applied to the clip. We don’t need this one here, because these quantize presets don’t use velocity information. 

Now let’s add the groove to our MIDI. You can do this by clicking and dragging it from the groove pool to the clip, or by using the dropdown menu in the Clip Panel.

For demonstration purposes, let’s boost the Timing and the Random parameters up to 100%. Now, the Groove is already being applied. If you want to actually see the changes to the MIDI you can hit the “Commit” button in the Clip Panel and the MIDI notes will move to reflect the changes.

Here is a MIDI chord before the Quantize Groove.

Here is that same MIDI after the Quantize Groove has been committed.

You can add this to varying degrees to everything, not just chords, and your music will sound more authentic because of it!

3. Main Reverb on a Return Track (bus)

This is a quick and easy technique, but if you use it you will be happy you did! Reverb is an incredibly useful tool. It is something that adds so much to a piece of music when done right, but can quickly ruin a mix when it’s not treated with care. Here I want to talk about what I call the “main reverb”. This is different than “creative” reverbs, which is a topic I will save for another time.

The main reverb sets up the artificial room for the instruments to “occupy” in a piece of music. That’s why a lot of reverb units have presets titled things like small room, large room, stadium and so on. You want to be careful not to add too many different reverbs to any one piece of music, because it sets up an impossible room and might not sound right to a listener. 

That is why I add my main reverb to a return track. Sending elements at varying degrees to the same reverb avoids the “strange room” problem. Also, another benefit from having one reverb is that good reverbs, like convolution units, can use up a lot of CPU, especially when the high-quality setting is enabled. More realistic reverb experience while using less CPU is a WIN-WIN!!

To add a Return Track in Live you can go to the Right-Click in the “Mixer Drop Area” and select “Insert Return Track”, or hit Ctrl+Alt+T, or go to the main menu – create – insert return track. To make hide/view the Return Tracks you use the R radial button in the bottom right of Live’s GUI. Once the Return Track has been created it will appear next to the Master channel. 

Next, drop the Reverb on the Return Track. Make whatever adjustments you want to the Reverb. The only thing that should always be done is to make sure the Dry/Wet parameter is set to 100% Wet. 

Then you use the Send Controls to add the reverb to any channels you want. 

Another thing I always do is put a mid/side EQ after the main reverb with the side audio’s low end cut off to avoid any problems. Also, it might not hurt to roll off the ultra-low end of the mid audio as well. 

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Joshua Casper is an accomplished live performer, DJ, producer, and music educator. His specialties are centered in and around Ableton Live and Native Instruments. His educational material has been featured on Ableton.com and Maxforlive.com as well as a myriad of large music production websites. His music has been featured on Dubstep.ne... Read More


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