5 Essential DJ Effects In Ableton Live

Huge filter sweeps, stuttering beat hiccups and low end drops. Used tastefully, DJ effects can provide improvisational wonders for the dance floor.

Huge filter sweeps, stuttering beat hiccups and low end drops. Used tastefully, DJ effects can provide improvisational wonders for the dance floor. Ableton Live comes with plenty of effects devices. Here are 5 of my favorites that can turn a dull DJ set into a real time performance with different results every time.



The Limiter

Ableton’s Limiter is simple in design making it very easy to use.

Why DJs Love It – Slap this on your master track to prevent any clipping that can happen during a DJ set. Even though you’re usually using only 2 songs at a time when mixing, the low end of 2 tracks at once can sometimes create major clippage in Ableton.

Some Practical Settings – As mentioned earlier, you can really just “set it and forget it”, but if you’d like to tweak it a bit, here are a couple of pointers.

If you need your mix to be louder, you can use the gain knob, however, use it in moderation. A limiter is essentially a compressor with a ratio of infinity, so by cranking the gain you’re noticeably squashing the sound.

Always keep the ceiling below 0, anything higher will cause the master track to clip, which is why we put the limiter on in the first place!

EQ Three

EQ Three – Arguably Ableton’s most powerful DJ effect.

Why DJs Love It – It doesn’t get more classic than this. The 3 band EQ has been a favorite among DJs for decades. Found on almost every DJ mixer, Ableton has emulated a perfect DJ EQ, right down to the kill switches.

Some Practical Settings – Load this to your “A” and “B” decks. This way you have individual control when it comes to killing certain frequencies. Using EQ Three to boost frequencies is generally is not recommended.

Try mapping your computer keyboard to the kill switches shown below. This way, with the press of a button you can kill the lows of a song, to make room for another.

Mapping the “A” button on my keyboard to kill EQ Three’s low end.

Beat Repeat

Make beats stutter with Ableton’s Beat Repeat.

Why DJs Love It – Create interesting rhythmic stutters and shifts with this effect. You can hear extensive use of this on Daft Punk’s “Alive 2007” Album. DJs have to be careful though, too much can cause chaos on the dance floor. Use sparingly!

Some Practical Settings – You really have to keep your eye on this or things can really get out of hand. Practice with it before you take it out. I like to set my “Chance” knob to around 50% and my intervals to 4 bars.

Activate and Deactivate the device by clicking on the green dot (top left of device) to use it. You don’t want to leave it on during the whole song, use it only a few times in your set (unless you’re Squarepusher or Aphex Twin.)

Auto Filter

Auto Filter is great for building tension.

Why DJs Love It – Great for the famous “the sound is coming from another room” effect (cutting all the highs out), the auto filter is great for creating tension.

Some Practical Settings – With the default low pass setting on, grab the green ball in the middle of the filter and start to slowly pull your mouse to the left. This will cut out all the high frequencies. Once the dance floor is brimming with anticipation, slowly (or quickly, your call) bring back in the highs (move the mouse to the right).

Bring the auto filter’s Q up (move the mouse up) to create even more exciting “wooshing” sounds.

Simple Delay

Create chaos with the Ableton Live’s “Simply Delay”.

Why DJs Love It – It’s getting more common to find DJ mixers with built in effects. The most common (besides EQ) is usually a form of delay. The simplicty of Ableton’s “Simple Delay” can create interesting and chaotic effects with the push of a button.

Some Practical Settings – Simply putting the delay on a track and activating then quickly deactivating it can get some really interesting sounds. Remember, just like Ableton’s Beat Repeat; keep it simple and subtle.

Create a crazy repeat effect by starting with both the “Feedback” and “Dry/Wet” knobs at 0. Slowly bring the two knobs “Feedback” and “Dry/Wet” knobs to 100%, then, just like with the Auto Filter, deactivate the delay at the moment that feels right.


Let me know if you feel like I am leaving anything out. And, as always, feel free to comment some of your favorite settings below!

7 thoughts on “5 Essential DJ Effects In Ableton Live”

  1. Interesting!
    Just a few comments: The limiter can be nice when recording a DJ-mix or so but a lot of people say not to use a limiter on the masterchannel when performing live. The main reason is loss of dynamics of course but the PA-system is most likely to have it’s own peak limiters in order to protect itself i.e the limiter in Live will be a bit of “overkill” in such a case.

    Reverb and delay are really nice effects to use. A good tip is to crank wet to 100% and put them in separate send/return-channels. That way they will blend nicely in with the original track when turning the send knob!

  2. Hey Misui,

    I’ve heard the same thing about the Limiter. I just read recently that some people will DJ with 10dB of headroom just to be safe, and compensate by turning up the PA mix. This is definitely the purest approach in terms of fidelity. I guess the Limiter can help in a bind. Thanks for reading!

    -Ryan

  3. which one of us is color blind? isn’t it VERY yellow? not green?

    hmmm…

    nice quick tips… but this could stand to be updated/go deeper even with just the exact same fx.

    I mean there are settings that sound blissful and some that will downright make you look like a fool.. but I guess its worth it to let people experiment!

  4. hey nice tips,

    same here in my setup.. add some flanger, would be nice

    shout from indonesia!

    brongkos

  5. Cool tips,

    must i add.. limiting / heavy compression doesn’t only affect dynamics. it also has significant effect on the spectrum and can create low frequency distortion… practically speaking, it could make your songs thinner and act as some kind of undesirable high pass… killing that low end rumble we all love… any limiter i would slab would have to be a pretty serious limiter…

    also, eq is not an effect 😉 its a form of processing.

  6. To misiu and Ryan: Yes, what you’re describing is the ideal way of mastering during a performance, but don’t forget the volume war that happens playing out. In reality, you’ll be starting immediately after someone who has jacked their gain knobs all the way up. Turning your stuff down and trying to get the attention of a sound guy to turn the PA up is probably wishful thinking (unless you’re small enough to know the soundguy or big enough to soundcheck).

    So unless you want about 5 minutes of quiet music at the start of your set (until the soundguy twigs) you have to be ready to be operating at peak volume. Unfortunately that means a limiter.

    We all know limiters kill the dynamics of a tune, but you’ve got to be realistic.

  7. I think the reason the EQ 3 is suggested in this tutorial is because if you’re Djing with Ableton and don’t have it on your output tracks, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG!

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