With Ableton Live becoming one of the most commonly used DAWs over the past decade, it’s fair to say it changed the way many people produce music. Nevertheless, its unorthodox workflow meant that many producers transitioning from other platforms missed out on key functionality – while the many new producers Live welcomed were able to form bad habits without knowing any better. Here are some of the most common user issues in Live.
1. Poor Audio Warping
One of the most common complaints levied at early builds of Live was a perceived lack of quality in the summing engine. And yet, despite completely recoding this crucial element with Live 8, critics continued to assail the DAW for sound quality issues. While they may have had a point prior to Live 8, their vitriol was likely sent the wrong way. Why? In short: user error.
Live’s proprietary time-stretching algorithm, or Warping Engine, makes it very easy to loop audio far from its original tempo. When using a Warp Mode other than Re-Pitch, this can introduce rather unpleasant digital artifacts by creating gaps between the grains of audio being stretched to cover the extra time required when playing samples at slower BPMs than their origin.
However, a little research into Live’s multiple Warp Modes and the parameters they offer can significantly improve the sound quality of your efforts. Knowing which Warp Mode to use when and tweaking Warp parameters accordingly can help you squeeze the best out of any audio – whatever tempo you’re working at.
Read this article for an in-depth look at Live’s Warp modes: https://ask.audio/articles/effective-warping-tips-in-ableton-live-9
2. Not Using The Session View
When confronted with Live’s Session view for the first time, both new producers and those arriving from other DAWs alike are often terrified by what appears to be a spreadsheet, and quickly relegate themselves to the familiar landscape of Live’s linear Arrangement view timeline. In doing so, they miss out on a great deal of what makes Live’s workflow so powerful.
The Session view is where Live gets its name: by launching and stopping audio and MIDI clips – or grouped combinations of them in Scenes – at musical intervals set by the Global Launch Quantization menu, performers can improvise new arrangements in real-time without being beholden to any pre-arranged sequence.
In the studio, the utility of this is twofold. On the one hand, producers can experiment with combinations of ideas without commitment, and keep looping while adding or overdubbing new ideas until there’s an abundance of material to work with. Once there’s sufficient material to sketch an arrangement, you can enable Live’s Global Record to track your performance to the Arrangement view, providing a real-time, kinetic opportunity to get a rough composition laid out in the linear multitrack editor of the same duration it took to record. Mistakes may happen in the recording process – but there’s no need to re-record, as you can now of course make as many edits as you need.
Rather than the cerebral, considered process of copying 8- or 16-bar blocks in the Arrange view and then chipping away at them, globally recording a Session jam to the Arrangement provides a portal through which you can move from the purely creative phase of production to the more meticulous phases of editing, automation, and mixing. Think of the Session view as a painter’s palette, where you can freely experiment with colors and combinations before committing them to the canvas of the Arrangement view.
For a full walkthrough of this process, read this article: https://ask.audio/articles/ableton-live-strategies-from-session-to-arrangement
3. Using Mutes Instead Of Stops
Another easily correctable issue that remains surprisingly common is recording Mute automation during the live recording from Session to Arrange. The problem here is ending up with a lot of unquantized Mute automation and no visual feedback from the Clips as to the structure of your composition.
Instead, get in the habit of hitting a track’s dedicated Stop button – or any Stop button available on a track’s empty Clip slots. Not only will the Clip’s playback be visually reflected in the Arrangement, but Clips will Stop at the Global Launch Quantization interval, ensuring a higher degree of compositional coherence, and no fiddly automation correction later on.
Repeat after me: hit Stop, not Mute!
4. Why Duplicate When You Can Extend?
At this point, many producers may have a functional knowledge of Session view workflow and still choose not to use it. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that – to each their own. In fact, plenty of great tunes have certainly been made exclusively in Live’s Arrangement view.
However, a common issue encountered in this circumstance is the use of Live’s Duplicate command to rapidly copy Clips in segmented sections. The problem here is when you want to make adjustments to a larger section of the same Clip, it becomes rather inconvenient with them distributed in this way. This practice can also cause potential issues with the very first transients of a sample being unintentionally softened by automatic fades, depending on the audio content and how it’s been chopped.
So long as the audio clip is Warped with Looping activated, you can just hover over the upper edges of the clip edge to extend it as a loop as far as needed in either direction. Better yet, you can now adjust the volume, transposition, or any clip automations simultaneously for the entire segment – not to mention easily drag it by grabbing the top half, or copy by dragging with the Option key held down.
If you later need to isolate a smaller chunk for an individual edit or parameter change you don’t wish to apply to the longer segment, just select it and hit Command + E (Split in the Edit menu) to extract it from the surrounding clip sections. To rejoin an altered clip with its neighbors to reintegrate it with a looping phrase, select the full section you want to join and hit Command + J (Consolidate in the Edit menu); be sure to enable Loop mode in the newly Consolidated Clip, as this will be off by default.
All of these Clip looping segment edits in the Arrange view work identically for MIDI as they do for audio.
Of course, if you’re working with audio material that simply cannot under any circumstances be Warped – even in Re-Pitch mode – then the strategy of duplicating shorter un-warped one-shots does make some sense. But in the vast majority of cases – so long as Warp modes are optimized – you’ll speed up your workflow making use of these loop extension, contraction, extraction, and consolidation options.