Ableton for Hip-Hop, Part 1

In part 1 of this series on producing Hip Hop in Ableton Live, G. W. Childs explains the process and shows how to build the initial loop. Stay tuned for part 2 in this series coming soon!  

My numerous encounters with other Hip-Hop artists and producers has taught me many things about music and the genre, itself. The biggest things I've learned: They are a very savvy bunch. 

There have been certain tools that have come and gone, over the years. When one tool has been proven, given the thumbs up, and passed along, the rest of the community would adopt this tool, and it would become a mainstay. In some cases, like the Roland TR-808, it would become legendary. 

As software has become more prominent, plug-in suites, DAWs and soft synths have also become virtual tools that others might adopt. Pro Tools, I've noticed, has been one of the longest running DAWs to be used within Hip-Hop production, and with good reason. It's a package that has been the main tool in creating many of the biggest albums over the last decade for the Hip-Hop genre, and several other genres. 

This has also confused me on a few levels, when I look at a package like what has been put together forming Ableton Live. Hip-Hop, since its beginnings, is a sound that has always relied heavily on rhythm. Ableton Live is a package that does amazing things with rhythm. Hip-Hop, currently, and for some time, has greatly utilized (though not exclusively) recorded audio loops. Ableton Live has always been more loop oriented than any other DAW available.

In this series of articles, it is my mission to show you how Ableton Live could, and possibly should, change your entire music creation system if you're producing Hip-Hop. From creating beats of your own, to importing beats from others, we will go over how Ableton Live is a one stop shop for Hip-Hop. 

We'll also be going over additional tools that come within Ableton Live that can be just as handy as having an old favorite around, like an ASR-X. 

Some Things You'll Need...

To follow along with this tutorial series, you actually don't have to spend any money... At least for 14 days. Any of Ableton's packages for Live can be downloaded free of charge, and will run for 14 days. During this time, you can save, record, and everything you'd be able to do as a purchaser. 

Aside from any Ableton demo version? Just the commitment to open your mind to learn a new way of doing things that is, not only, very simple, but refined in terms of the speed that you can get things done!

Step 1 - What Does Ableton Have to Offer Hip-Hop?

Before we get into everything Ableton does, which is plenty, I'd like to outline the key points to keep you enticed, and to give us a nice road map on what we have ahead. 

So, back to the initial question, what does Ableton have to offer Hip-Hop?

  • Instant beat tempo analysis and beat matching of anything you import into Ableton to include WAV, AIF, and MP3. 
  • A user interface suitable for audio production, music composition and DJing all at once. 
  • Tap Tempo built in to the host clock, so that you can easily beat match with anything that's thrown at you. 
  • Rewire Host Capability: Actually, Reason and Ableton Live are an amazing combination. Reason has been very popular in the Hip-Hop community for years because of all the loops, drum kits, synths, and more that come in the package. Try mixing it up with a program that makes recording and looping easier than you've ever imagined, and you have a system that is not to be trifled with. 
  • Rewire Slave Capability: Ableton can also be slaved to Logic Pro, Cubase, Pro Tools, and more. If you already have a defined system for production, but envy the loop capabilities of Ableton... Try using Ableton with your favorite DAW at the same time!
  • Quantize, and Groove Quantize Audio- Yep, this has to be one of my newest best friends. If you're rapping, or you're recording someone else who is, try Grooves. This function will not only tighten up your rhymes, but will also give your rhymes a swing. Try adding an original MP3 shuffle on to your voice!

Okay, I've laid it all out! Now, let's start taking a look at importing audio files. 

Step 2 - Importing Audio Files

There are tons of drum loops, guitar loops, synth loops, and song loops that are just waiting to be used out there. Ableton is amazing at letting you use them! Built-in to Ableton is a very handy browser that allows you to access Ableton devices, AU and VST plug-ins, and audio files, loops, and samples. 

Do you have to use the browser, though? Absolutely not! In fact, you can drag and drop audio files right into Ableton. 

I had an AIF file of my song floating around in a folder, and decided to just drop it in. Immediately, Ableton began to analyze the entire song to determine its original tempo. Because my host tempo was at:

135 BPM

135 BPM... And the song that I just imported in is at:

84.86 BPM

84.86 BPM... Ableton has a few things to do. It does the aforementioned mentioned task of beat matching, but because Ableton warps audio as it beat-matches, the imported audio file is automatically ready to run along side my host tempo at 135 BPM. 

That's it! There was no work!

Step 3 - Create the Loop...

Now that we have the song in to the project that we're working on, let's define the area of the song that we want to loop. In the Sample display editor, I'll move my loop points, Start Point and End Point to the section of the song that I want to loop.

Start and end loop points

With smaller clips, audio that is imported will, in most cases, automatically be set up as a loop. But, because Ableton is also used as a DJ tool as well, full songs are brought in warped, but not looped. As this is the case, we'll need to also indicate that this is to be looped by pressing the loop button...

Loop button

Now, my imported audio file will now loop seamlessly. And, it was absolutely no work. Try this in Pro Tools, Logic, or Cubase without knowing the original BPM of your audio file, it may take longer than you think.

From here, I'll actually turn my host tempo down to 90 BPM, something a little more suitable to the genre, and move forward. 


So far, we've covered a very important operation of Ableton and Hip-Hop. That being loop creation. In the next tutorial (coming VERY SOON), we're going to add a beat over the imported loop, with a drum rack in Ableton Live. See you there!

Quick links to the jump to each article in the series:

Hip Hop in Ableton, Part 1 (you're here!)

Hip Hop in Ableton, Part 2 

Hip Hop in Ableton, Part 3

Sound Designer, Musician, Author... G.W. Childs has worn many hats. Beginning in the U.S. Army back in 1991, at the age of 18, G.W. began learning electronics, communications and then ultimately audio and video editing from the Department of Defense. Upon leaving the military G.W. went on to work for many exciting companies like Lu... Read More


Is the lite version as good for hip hop production?

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