Ableton Live: How to Turn Mistakes into Musical Gold Dust

Is it true that you can turn any sample or mistake into something beautiful or suitable in Ableton Live? G.W. Childs thinks so and wants to prove it to you in this tutorial.  

I often refer to Ableton as the most ‘forgiving’ of DAWs for a couple of reasons. The first is the simple fact that it’s one of the easier DAWs to get set up. The installation is quick and there are tutorials built-in to get you going before you begin watching video courses at macProVideo or AskVideo. But, another reason I label it as forgiving is the way that you can turn pretty much anything audible, regardless of how terrible it sounds, into something listenable... Very listenable. 

In this tutorial, I’d like to go over with you some great opportunities for when you’re tracking, programming, tweaking and playing... and you make a mistake. I'll show you how you can possibly turn it into something really cool.

Feedback, Line Noise and Hum... Oh My!

Nothing is more frustrating than getting line noise, feedback, or even ground loop in a recording. This is especially true when it’s a vocal take, and you can tell the singer really poured something unique and special into it. You go back and listen, and all you hear is nasty hum, or some nasty bit of sibilance, mixed with a mouth pop... Or, all the above. If a Gate and some extra editing don’t fix the situation, you might be able to make some lemonade out of lemons... Or, simply make a killer bass, lead, or effect from all that noise. Try this out!

During a drum recording, I got some serious ground hum. For the most part, unusable. Since I won’t be using these drums, let’s make a bass to go along with them, from the ground hum, take a listen:

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Gnarly, right? Rather than freak out and go out and buy new cables, I’ll just drag the clip that carries the audio, from the Session View into a Simpler assigned on another track...

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Once I drag the clip on to the instrument, the Sample Display shows a familiar image of bad wiring, made manifest, in the audio ether of waveforms. And, if I play a key on my MIDI Controller, I can hear a familiar hum, now, suddenly, much more playful. Especially when I play ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ with it, on my controller!

As the overall amplitude of the ground noise is low, I’ll raise the volume till it sits more audibly when I play a key. As the volume for your hum may be lower than mine, go ahead and raise it till it sounds like a bass should. Let your ears make the decision of the value for you!

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I’ll also, reduce the number of Voices that Simpler can play at once to 1. By having limited polyphony, your recorded keyboard parts can go a lot smoother if you hit a bad note.

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And, since we’re playing with polyphony, let’s go ahead and set Simpler to Portamento, too! This will give a slight bend between bass notes and keep things sounding a little more funky. I’ll also raise the Spread, so that I get a little note doubling and detuning in my bass part.

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And last, but not least, let’s add on some Low Pass Filter to hide some of the high frequency static in the recording that we really don’t want. I’ll reduce my Frequency Cutoff down to 208 Hz, and raise the Resonance to 3.19, which will severely push the Cutoff Freq, and give this bass some cojones. 

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But, it will be even more apparent, once I add in 20 to the value of the amount of Filter Envelope that is modulating my Filter Cutoff, open and closed...

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Enable the Filter Envelope, and then modify the Decay and Release of the Filter Envelope, till I get a sound that I like. Something that kind of punches through, like this...

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From here, I just add on some compression, and a nice little bit of distortion, and this bass pumps it the hell up. No work, whatsoever!

Vocal Destruction for Destroyed Voices

During the midst of a vocal recording, as mentioned above, there’s always the possibility of a mistake. Hey, we’re all human, right? Next time you have some crappy takes that you know you’ll throw away, and you realize that you wouldn’t mind some cool ambience in the back of the track... Before you open up another soft synth, try this out!

Here, I’ve isolated the mistake in my recording with my loop start and end. Take a listen so you can hear the glorious mistake...

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I’ll go ahead and press the Double Original Tempo button a couple of times in the Clip Editor so that the audio runs much slower than the original recording...

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Now, I’ll drop a Vocoder on to the audio track that has my bad take, looped, over and over again...

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And, raise the Attack, and Release, slightly. Just enough to take some of the choppiness out of it, and smooth things out. 

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Back in the Clip Editor, I’ll use the Reverse button to change the direction of the original recording, and give it that cool, '80s, burn all your records, back masking sound. As well as set the Granulation Resolution to Texture. Make sure you play with the Grain Size and Flux, as you can get some really cool stuff by just adjusting these, as the audio plays.

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Alright, once I add in some effects, like Reverb, and a little Phaser, I get a sound that is not only creepy, but also really fills up some missing elements in my track. Let’s hear it in context...


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Conclusion

Those are just a couple of tricks that I use, when I need some inspiration, or just feel like having a little fun, outside of the normal ideas about music creation. There are definitely tons of fun experiments out there, like this. And, with a little practice, you’ll be coming up with your own, in no time. Or, something new every time. And, the best part about incorporating mistakes? You’ve always got a story to tell about it, later.

Learn more about Ableton Live at AskVideo here.

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

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