6 Tips To Optimize The Performance Of Ableton Live

Making music on a computer can sometimes present ugly problems; Laggy Audio, CPU spikes, the list could go on forever. Find out how to prevent these.

It’s not like the old days. Making music on a computer has it’s own set of problems we have to deal with. Laggy Audio, CPU spikes, the list could go on forever.

Usually these are a result of not getting the maximum performance out of Ableton Live. Here are some tips:



1. Enable Multicore Support

Go under Options>Preferences, locate the CPU tab and make sure your “Multicore/Multiprocessor” tab is selected. This allows Live to distribute the CPU load amongst multiple cores and CPUs (if your computer supports it).

To find out if your computer supports multiple cores and processors in a PC, you can right click on My Computer>Properties, and it will tell you your CPU type.

For Mac users, most modern Macs and MacBooks have multicore processor built it.

2. Freeze Tracks

Freezing tracks can save you a lot of CPU power. I work with Native Instruments Guitar Rig on some tracks, and this thing is a CPU consumption beast. Keep your CPU meter down by simply right clicking the desired track and selecting “Freeze”.

3. Stick To The 44.1kHz Sample Rate

Disclaimer: I am not an Audio Engineer. I am just basing this on my humble personal experiences.

It is of this writer’s opinion that if you are mixing and mastering your own music, anything above 44.1kHz is a waste of time. Unless you are have a mastering engineer’s set up, keep it at 44.1kHz; it saves processing power.

A consumer level CD-R burned out of iTunes will render at 16 bits and 44.1kHz. However, it is a good idea to have your bit rate set to 24 in Ableton because this will give you more dynamic headroom while mixing/mastering the track.

Final thought: A bad song (poorly mixed, mastered, etc) exported out at 96kHz will not make it noticeably better.

4. Use Live’s Buffer Settings

Here is a general rule of thumb: Poor CPU performance (stuttering audio) means you should raise the buffer level (512 to 1,024 samples ought to do). The trade off? Higher latency (the lag between playing a sound and hearing it).

At lower buffer levels your latency should be nearly gone, however, you will experience higher CPU loads, as well as audio dropouts.

Final thought: Find a happy medium where your latency is tolerable, and you are not having constant CPU spikes. (I have mine set at 256).

5. Use Sends For Effects

Some people get into the habit of dropping multiple effects that have similar settings on each of their tracks. To save on CPU power, use sends!

Drop a single effect onto one of Ableton’s Send tracks, and you can instantly send the signal of this effect by simply turning up the send knob on individual tracks. Make sure you have the wet knob turned up to 100% on the effect.

6. Get Rid Of Unnecessary Applications

For the PC it’s Ctrl+Alt+Del to enter the task manager, for the Mac it’s Cmd+Option+Esc. Whichever OS you’re running use these application managers to kill any un used programs in the background.

As an extra word of advice to mac users, be sure to turn off your airport when running Ableton.


Hopefully these tricks will help you to get the most out of your Ableton Live experience. I am sure there could be a few I am missing, if anyone would like to share, please comment below!

Working With Strings In Ableton Live

To create better sounding string arrangements in Ableton Live, it takes an understanding of the instruments themselves. Plus, learn how to sequence and create your own string library in this tutorial.

A typical string section in an orchestra can consist of five different sections (violins, second violins, violas, cellos, and double basses). To make things even more complicated, there are three ways to play them (plucked, bowed and struck).

Let’s go over some of these terms and how they can affect your string productions.

String Theory

As mentioned before strings come in all shapes in sizes. A list of stringed musical instruments could fill up plenty of pages, so we’re going to stick to the five most orchestral stringed instruments.


Violin – A mid range instrument that has a low note of G3. Consists of four strings with a tuning of G, D, A, E (tuned to perfect 5ths). Commonly bowed (arco) and plucked (pizzicato).

Violin sections in an orchestra are made up of first violins and second violins. The first sections play melody, while the second section plays harmony.

An “A Scale” being bowed (arco).


Viola – The Viola is very similar to a violin with a few notable exceptions. A viola is in a similar pitch range as the violin, except it is a perfect fifth below the violin (tuned C, G, D, A).

The biggest difference is the viola’s natural timbre. Usually consisting of a darker and more full bodied tone than the violin. The viola can also be bowed, as well as plucked.

Cello Suite 5 performed on a Viola. Note the darker, fuller tone of the Viola.


Cello – The lowest pitched instrument in the viola family, the cello’s lowest note is a C2 (two octaves below a middle C). Like the violin and viola, a cello is also tuned to perfect fifths (C, G, D, A).

A sample of Bach’s Cello Suite #1. Notice the range from low to high the cello has.


Double Bass – The double bass rounds out the bottom end of the strings section. Tuned in 4ths (E-A-D-G) with the lowest note being an E1.

Double basses are usually bowed in orchestral environments, but are known to be plucked in Jazz.

A double bass being bowed with harmonics.


Now that we have the basics of the various stringed instruments used in an orchestral setting, lets go over some of the different terms used for playing these instruments.


Vibrato – The sound of vibrato is achieved by quickly bending the string to oscillate the pitch of it. This can be achieved in Ableton Live by using the pitch wheel on the sampler, or by using the LFO to control the pitch.

A sample of a violin playing an A#4 with vibrato.


Glissando – A simple slide of pitch which causes notes to rise and fall smoothly without separate steps.

To emulate glissando in Ableton Live, simply use pitch automation for a smooth note transitions.

Here is a sample of a violin playing a glissando from D4 to A4.


Pizzicato – With pizzicato, the strings are plucked directly with the fingers created a sharper, quicker attack. Most string sample packs come with version of notes played pizzicato.

An “A Scale” being plucked (pizzicato).


The Poor Man’s Orchestra

Here is a technique to getting a full orchestra inside of Ableton Live, for free. Granted, this takes a lot of time and patience (if you would like a quality string orchestra, buy Ableton’s Orchestral Strings).

Step 1. Go to http://theremin.music.uiowa.edu/MIS.html.

Step 2. In this example we’ll use the Violin, so click “Violin” on the site.

Step 3. Right Click and Save As the first audio sample on that page (Violin.arco.pp.sulG.G3B3.aiff (4.1mb)).

Step 4. Drop the aiff file into your favorite audio editor (Sound Forge, Wavelab, Audacity, even exporting these out in Ableton Live would work.)

Step 5. Take the 5 notes (G3 – B3) and edit each note to be exported individually. I use the naming convention (note-name)-(instrument name)-Arco.wav. For example, the G3 is saved as G3-Violin-Arco.wav.

Each of our notes to be sampled and exported individually. The pink area represents the best place for trimming.

Step 6. Once you have saved the five notes, open Ableton Live and drop Sampler on an empty Midi track.

Step 7. In Sampler, click on the zone tab.

Step 8. In the Sample Layer List (gray area in Zone window), drop the G3-Violin-Arco.wav sample we’ve saved.

Step 9. Repeat step 8 for G3#, A3, A#3 and B3. Your zone window should now look like this:

Step 10. Trim each of the green sample zones, until they are only underneath their note. For example G3 – Violin – Arco.wav should have a small sliver of the green bar underneath the G3 key.

Step 11. Finally, right click on the Zone Editor window and select “Distribute Ranges Equally”.

You can now play the sequence of notes on your keyboard, and they will correspond perfectly. These steps can be repeated across the entire range of the violin, or any other instrument.

Better Sequencing Through Strings

Knowing the various stringed instruments can help a great deal when it comes to sequencing them. We’ve already discussed the ranges of strings, as well as the different ways they can be played, so lets talk about how this translate into MIDI sequencing.

Expression is everything when it comes to strings. Even the players taking a breath during a certain note can change the tone. These subtle nuances are key to programming realistic string Sequences.

Velocity

Try and set a realistic velocity when programming String parts. On the bottom section of the piano roll editor are your velocity settings, raising and lowering the velocity of a note (from 0 – 127) can offer a wide range of dynamics within a performance.

Different Playing Styles

It’s a good idea to have a set of samples that have the different playing styles mentioned earlier. Playing styles to look for: legato, pizzicato, arco, and staccato.
Program Realistically

For an authentic string section sound, it helps to not program in chords. For example, instead of using one violin and programming a chord with it, use two violin tracks each playing one note. Set the notes slightly off time from each other to get even more realistic results.

Use High String Drones For Texture

This works when you’re using the strings as a supplement in a track. Find the key of the song, and program the string drone to the tonic (first step in a musical scale) of that key. Reverb, chorus, and other effects may help to add more texture to the sound.

The String Of Things To Come

I hope this gives the reader some insight into how getting realistic string sounds can be achieved. Stay tuned for another tutorial that will discuss programming string sounds for Ableton’s Synthesizers.

How To Program A Detuned Pad With Ableton’s Analog

Today I am taking a classic Autechre synth pad, and doing my best to recreate it. Included is the “Recipe” for this sound, as well as a video.

For this tutorial, I will be recreating a synthesizer pad from the song “Eutow” by Autechre. I will be only using instruments and plug ins within Ableton Live. Not only will this be showcase the power of Analog, but I hope it serves to teach a few things when it comes to programming synth sounds.

Think of it as a “Synth Recipe”.


Here is the original Autechre version:

And here is the recipe:

Start with the default settings of Ableton’s Analog

OSC 1:

Waveform: Square
Detune: 0.04
Pitch Mod LFO: 0.08
Pulse Width (Width): 100%
Pulse Width LFO 1: 0.65

Filter 1:

Type: 24dB
Freq: 8k

Amp 1:

Attack: 4 Seconds
Sustain: 0.50
Release: 150ms
Pan Mod (LFO 1): 0.19

LFO 1:

Mode: Beat Sync
Rate: 1/8

OSC 2:

Waveform: Sawtooth
Detune: -0.04

Filter 2:

Type: 12dB
Freq: 8k

Amp 2:

Attack: 5ms
Decay: 80ms
Sustain: 0.70
Release: 50ms

Main panel:

Quick Routing: First Routing Option (O,F,A/O,F,A)
Volume: -2.0dB

Reverb:

Dry/wet: 40%
Stereo: 50ms
Decay: 2 seconds

Ping Pong Delay:

Dry/wet: 25%
Feedback: 45%


Click here to download this Live set: http://abletonlife.com/project-files/autechre-pad-recreation.zip

The Julia Child of synth programming I am not, so if anyone else would like to improve on, or send their own versions of the patch, I would love to hear it.

Also, as a side note, if you are new to Synthesizer programming, I highly recommend this set of tutorials: http://synthstudent.wordpress.com/

Vocal Processing Tricks In Ableton Live

Ableton Live’s wide range of tools allow for some truly creative results. In this tutorial, we show a few tricks to processing vocals.

Ableton Live has plenty of great tools included with it. Some might even say it’s the Swiss Army Knife of DAWs. Vocal processing within Live is yet another great by-product of all the creative freedoms this program has afforded the user. Let’s run through a couple.



The Stretch Effect

Ableton’s Warp feature does wonders for keeping songs in time, but with “Texture” mode turned on, it can make your vocals sound heavily stretched, synthetic and drawn out.

Step 1.) Take a Vocal track. For this example I’ll be using an acappella of a Pet Shop Boys song.

Here is what the wave form of this section looks like un warped

Step 2.) If the track has been warped, unwarp it and find a good starting point with the start marker. Once there, right click the start marker and choose “Warp From Here Straight”. Choose “Texture” in the Warp Mode box.

Step 3.) Find the word or phrase you would like to stretch (mine is “business”) and add two warp markers on each side of it.

Step 4.) Next, I am going to click the warp marker at the end of my word and drag it to the right. This, in essence, stretches the word out, giving us the desired effect.

Pitch The Vocal

Pitch shifting is another great aspect of Ableton Live. For complete control, use your transposition envelope for complete control over re pitching certain words or phrases.

Note: Your tracks must be warped in order for Envelop mode to work.

Step 1.) Under the Clip Section of your track, hit the “E” icon to open that tracks envelope.

Step 2.) I recommend you select “Pro” or “Complex Pro” before venturing any further, as this tends to work the best for pitching vocals.

Step 3.) Find the envelope panel that has just opened, and select “Transposition” from the pull-down menu below the box that says “Clip”.

Step 4.) In the envelope window, double click on the red horizontal line to add anchor points. Drag these points up or down to change the pitch of individual words, or whole phrases.

Glitch The Vocal

Ableton’s Beat Repeat can do some wildly amazing things. At first glance it may seem fairly chaotic (so chaotic, in fact, it can be quite intimidating.). Although, focusing in on these couple of parameters for vocal manipulation will help you get the glitch out.

Step 1.) Add some warp points to a vocal track, preferably single words or short phrases. I’m working with a Jay-Z acappella for this example.

Step 2.) Once you have all of your warp markers set up, right click on the audio track and select “Slice To New MIDI Track”.

Step 3.) Select the presets “Warp Marker” and “Built-In-0-Vel”. Click Okay.

Step 4.) This will create a new MIDI track with Drum Rack on it. Drag a copy of Beat Repeat onto this new channel.

Step 5.) Trigger any of the samples off. When you do, be quick to hit the “Repeat” button on the drum rack in order to catch a certain part of the phrase. Once you do, twist the “Grid”, “Pitch” and “Pitch Decay” knobs for some VERY interesting results. Here is what I got:

Creating Harmonies

Vocals harmonizing together can be pleasant to the ear. With a basic knowledge of chord theory (1, 4, 7 is a Major Chord and 1, 3, 7 is a Minor Chord), we can create these through transposition in Ableton Live. Here’s how:

Step 1.) In Arrange View, copy and paste your vocal track on to two new audio channels. I’ll be using this sample in the example:

Step 2.) Engage Complex warp mode on both copies.

Step 3.) For a Major Chord “Harmony”, transpose the first copy up 4 steps and the second up (or down) 7 steps. For a minor key change the first copy to 3 steps.

Step 4.) Mix the volume to a pleasing level for all vocal tracks until it sounds like a three part harmony.

(Robot) Rock The Vocoder!

Humans can fly with the help of airplanes, live longer with the aid of modern medicine, but only one device can help us talk like the robots; the Vocoder!

I’ve tried to get my hands on a software version of a Vocoder that is as easy to use (and sounds as great!) as my MicroKorg’s. Ableton delivered. Here are some great ways to get music sounds out of non musical sounds.

Step 1.) For this example, I am going to use a sample of a voice saying “Please stand clear of the doors”. Here is what it sounds like:

Step 2.) Start by dropping Ableton’s Vocoder on your vocal track.

Step 3.) Drop Analog or Operator (or any other VST synth) on an empty MIDI channel.

Step 4.) Program a simple set of chords on the Synth track (I am using G Minor and D Minor Chords for this example).

Step 5.) So far we have two tracks, the MIDI track with the synth playing chords, and the vocal track (or in my case, speaking), lets merge the two together.

Step 6.) Mute the synth track and on the left side of Vocoder (remember on the vocal track) choose your carrier to be External and your Audio Source to be your Synth track.

Here is the same sample, processed through Live’s Vocoder with some Ping Pong Delay:

Singin’ In The Brain

Vocals are usually the most identifiable part of any track. With programs like Ableton Live out there, processing them in new and exciting ways is not only becoming easier, but also more fun.

As always, if you have any techniques you enjoy using to process vocals, share them below.

Top 5 Free VST Plugins For Ableton Live (Windows Edition)

We round of 5 of our favorite VST Plugins for Ableton Live. From dubbed out delay boxes to emulating the sound of vinyl stopping, these plugins are sure to inspire.

There are other “Top 5 Free VST Plugin” lists out there, but this one is dedicated to electronic music production, more specifically, in Ableton Live.



1. Synth1

Modeled after the Nord Lead 2, this synthesizer is the best free soft synth around. A perfect free alternative for someone who can’t afford some of the extra synths for Ableton Live.

Features:

  • 2 Oscillators, FM modulation, ring modulation, sync, modulation envelope.
  • 4 types of filters, distortion.
  • 2 LFOs (synchronized with host).
  • Arpeggiator (synchronized with host).
  • Tempo delay (synchronized with host), stereo chorus/flanger.
  • Legato mode, portamento.
  • 16 notes polyphony.
  • 128 presets.
  • Thoroughly optimized for light CPU load using SSE instructions, etc.
  • Automation.

Download the Synth1 here: http://www.geocities.jp/daichi1969/softsynth/Synth1V108a.zip

2. Tapestop

Have you ever wanted to easily emulate the sound of a tape player or record player slowing down? Now you can with the uber-simple “Tapestop” plug in.
Slap it onto a single track – or your master channel – hit the stop button and listen to the sound slowly die down. Look ma, no turntable! Great for DJs.

Modes:

  • EP(vinyl) – EP is normal mode.
  • TD (Tape deck) – TD will back up the tape a bit when it stops.

Adjustable display:

  • N – normal.
  • R – reverse the button.

Adjustable button:

  • T – toggle.
  • D – Direct return to play when mouse button is released.

Adjustable speed:

  • Select the DOWN speed by clicking on the LEFT mouse button in the speed box, then hold and drag.
  • Select the UP speed by clicking on the RIGHT mouse button in the speed box, then hold and drag.

Download Tapestop here: http://hem.bredband.net/tbtaudio/archive/files/Tapestop_1-7.zip

3. LoudMax

One thing I really enjoy about Serato Scratch, is that there is an Automatic gain control. What this means in, if there is a song that is quieter than the one playing, the auto gain control would bump up the volume of the quieter track to match the louder one.
Until now, I haven’t seen a simple plugin that does this in Ableton Live. However, with the LoudMax plugin, you can put this on your master channel and boost the threshold so that both songs are equal in volume.

Main range of application:

  • Audio Mastering.
  • Output Limiter/Maximizer for web radio stations.

Controls:

  • One slider for threshold, one for the output level.
  • Meters for input, output and gain reduction in relation to the desired threshold.

Features:

  • Supported Samplerates: 2kHz – 384kHz
  • Latency, Look-Ahead and Attack Time: 1.25ms
  • Release Time: Automatic – depending on the input signal
  • Possible Overdrive without audible distortion: 740dB
  • Low CPU usage

Download LoudMax here: http://free-vsts.com/files/LoudMax-1.07.zip

4. iSpinner

Recreate some truly amazing Lesley Speaker action with this plugin. Drop it on a drum loop and let it jump back and forth through your headphones. Hours of fun.

General Features:

  • One-Band Rotary Chorus
  • Adjustable Overdrive
  • Adjustable Rotator Off/On, Slow/Fast, Speed, Depth and Spread
  • Vintage Look GUI
  • Low CPU consumption

Download the iSpinner here: http://www.iliadisorgan.com/freeplugins.html

5. Dubb Box

This is the best free Space Echo simulator I’ve seen. It even has separate controls for tape hiss. This plugin is perfect for getting the dubbed out loop effects that made the space echo so famous.

Features:

  • Main echo and ‘second-tapehead’
  • Sub-echoes
  • Adjustable vintageness (tape hiss, motor inertia, tape and motor age)

Download the Dubb Box here: http://www.freesoundeditor.com/downloads/vst/arcdev_dubbox.exe

Please share any of your favorite free plugins you like to use in Ableton Live below!

How To Go Lo-Fi With Ableton Live (Part 2)

In Part 2 of our “Going Lo-Fi in Ableton Live” series we go over using massive of amounts of compression and creative uses for EQ. Things continue to get gritty.

Compression and creative EQ will be the topics of part two on our series about getting Lo-Fi with Ableton Live. Let’s grab our garbled sounds and continue on, shall we?



Creative Compression

A compressor is simply an automatic volume control. Depending on the settings, putting a compressor onto a track can bring all sounds up to equal volume.

Here is a quick example:

Uncompressed Audio

You can hear a small amount of tape hiss in the background. Now watch what happens when I drop Ableton’s compressor onto the same track with these settings:

Compressed Audio

The sound has been completely flattened, all volume is treated equally with this setting. It has brought up the tape hiss to a considerable amount.

The “Pumping” Sound

One of the most sought after compression sounds for lo-fi freaks is the sound of the compressor pumping. This happens when the compression becomes noticeably audible. Most normal compression techniques use “subtle” compression to add a little punch, but lo-fi is not about subtly.

Let’s take a loop at a drum loop and see how we can get it to “pump”.

Here is a 2 bar loop I’ve programmed with some single shots and Ableton’s Drum Rack. Here it is with no compression:

Drum Loop (No Compression)

Next, I have dropped Ableton’s Compressor on top of it with a threshold setting of -50dB, the ratio is at 4.00, release 30 and the make-up gain is up to 12dB.

This is an extreme amount of compression. Usually the recommended is about -20dB threshold, 2-4 ratio. Try and come up with your own crazy settings. There are no real limits.

Note: I also have Ableton’s Limiter on the Master Channel.

Drum Loop (Extreme Compression)

Notice how the extreme amounts of compression are almost making the drums distort? This is one of the effects of pushing the make-up gain so high. If you listen closely you can hear the high transients on the hats distorting, as well as a “breathing” sound from the kick drum.

Side Chain Compression

One of the greatest additions to Ableton Live’s compressor is their side chain function. This allows you to take an audio signal (say a kick drum) and use that sound to compress another sound (let’s say a synthesizer).

This allows the synthesizer to “duck” whenever the kick hits, allowing for more impact with the drums.

Here is an untreated sample I am going to layer on top of the drums:

Melodic Sample (Untreated)

Here are what the drums and the sample sound like together:

Drums Loop And Melodic Sample (Untreated Melodic Sample)

Not bad so far, but the drums are obviously over powering the sample.

What I am going to do next is add a side chain compressor to add rhythmic interest, as well as let the kick and sample interact better sonically.

Note: To access Ableton’s Sidechain click on the arrow located on the top left of the Compressor.

Once I am in Compressor’s Side Chain Settings, I am going to select the Kick drum from the loop I programmed earlier as the audio source.

Let’s hear what just the sample sounds like now that it is being affected by the kick drum:

Melodic Sample (Side Chain Effect)

You can hear the audio dropping at spots where the kick drum is hitting. This is exactly the effect we’re looking for.

The settings used for the side chain are similar to the drum’s compression: threshold set to -50dB, ratio at 8.00, make-up grain brought up to 20dB. Once again, very extreme settings.

As a frame of reference I am going to play back both the sample and drums with the heavy compression and side chain, as well as a completely un treated version.
Heavily compressed and side chained loop:

Final Loop (With Extreme Compression And Side Chain)

Final Loop (All Compression Removed)

I think the results are definitely subjective, and which one sounds better is really a matter of taste. I hope by noticing the extreme differences of these two, you can apply some real lo-fi edge with Ableton’s Compressor.

Distressed With Equalization

Adding and taking away certain frequencies of sound has been a long standing practice for recording engineers. The most common use of equalization is to create places for instruments to “sit in the mix”.

In this section we are going to look at ways you can create Lo-Fi treatments with Ableton’s EQ Eight.

Cutting The Highs

Most professional audio equipment can reproduce sounds from 20Hz – 20,000Hz. It’s around the 11,000Hz – 20,000Hz where the “sparkle” of audio comes from. Here is a quick technique to reduce the shine.

  1. Load up EQ Eight onto your master channel.
  2. Select Band 4 on the EQ.
  3. Choose the high-cut icon.
  4. Click the “Frequency Knob” and type 11,000 on your keyboard.
  5. This will cut out all frequencies above 11,000Hz.

What this does is emulate old mixing consoles that didn’t have the same frequency response that modern equipment does. By eliminating the “sparkle” you are recreating the lo-fidelity of older equipment.

The Telephone Effect

This is a great technique for the old school AM radio effect where you can only hear the mid-range of the audio.

  1. Load an EQ Eight on an instrument or loop.
  2. Select Band 1 and set it to the Low Cut option.
  3. Change the frequency of Band 1 to 500Hz.
  4. Select Band 4 and set it to the High Cut option.
  5. Change the frequency of Band 4 to 4,000Hz.
  6. Select Band 2 and change the frequency to 1,500Hz.
  7. Give Band 2 a 3-6dB boost with the Gain Knob.
  8. Narrow the Q on band 2 to about 3.

Boosting The Hiss

If you have a track with tape hiss on it, you can use the extreme compression tips mentioned above, as well as some boosting in the high end of EQ Eight.

  1. Load up EQ Eight onto a track with tape hiss or other high end noise.
  2. Select Band 4, change it to the High Shelf setting.
  3. Change the gain of Band 4 to about 6 – 8dB.

You will now be accentuating any tape hiss you have on your track.

Grit Creative

So this concludes part 2 of our series on getting Lo-Fi with Ableton live. On part 3 we will be discussing distortion as well sampling techniques to get that true old school vibe in your tracks. Stay tuned!

How To Go Lo-Fi With Ableton Live (Part 1)

Here is part 1 of a series about going Lo-Fi with Ableton Live. Learn outboard tricks, how to use Ableton’s bit crusher – Redux, and some free links to lo-fi VST plug-ins.

We could all use a little more lo-fi dirt in our Ableton productions, right? Sure, it all depends on what you’re going for. Some genres of electronic music work perfectly with their uber polished tracks. There are times you feel like you can see them sparkling from a mile away.

However, imagine taking artists like – Flying Lotus, The RZA, or even Crystal Castles – and removing all of the dirt and grime. Their recordings wouldn’t have the same charm all of their bruised samples, hyper compressed drums and 8 bit sounds afford them.

So, without further ado, here are some tricks you can use to add extra grit to your Ableton Live productions.


Going Overboard With Outboard

Working in an all digital environment can get a little stale. Everything is precise and predictable. Sometimes that level of control can be a bit uninspiring. Let’s take a look at some outboard gear that is sure to liven things up.

Cassette Tape Machines

Sending out a loop or even an entire track into a cassette recorder, then re-sampling it back into Ableton is a great way to add tape saturation, hiss and other unexpected lo-fi goodies only tape can offer.

Tascam’s famed Portastudio series of 4 track cassette recorders are still alive and kicking. You can find one used for around $100. Some of these even come with a pitch knob that can add a great warped sound so your productions.

Tascam’s Portastudio series is great for re sampling your loops and tracks back into Ableton Live

If you really want some lo-fi sounds, you can even mic a boom box, or hand held cassette recorder with your tracks playing through it. This is an extreme version of a technique known as re amping.

Here are a couple of examples (note: these are my interpretations of the techniques used, I may be wrong):

Boards Of Canada – Chromakey Dreamcoat (Clip)

You can hear the not-so-subtle warping of the sampled guitar part. This can be easily done by sampling a loop into your 4 track, sending three or four different “pitched” versions from the 4 track into Ableton, then re sampling and triggering them.

Try manually manipulating the pitch knob slightly through each run.

Aphex Twin – Xtal (Clip)

Here is another beautiful example of what processing your tracks through tape can do. This recording is steeped in mystery (some say a cat mangled Richard D. James’ tapes.) Even so, here are a couple rough ideas for this sound:

Take note of the extreme amounts of tape saturation. If you were to try and achieve the same results with digital clipping, it wouldn’t sound the same.

Try recording your track from Ableton Live into your 4 track so that it’s in the red. Let the meter peak above 0dB. Adjust input signal to taste until you have a nice saturated sound.

Stomp Boxes To The Rescue

One of the most common ways of getting unexpected lo-fi sounds is by using effects that are not intended for the application. For example, use a distortion pedal meant for guitar, and throw it into your re sampling chain.

Next time you record your outboard synthesizer or drum machine into Ableton Live, try throwing a Pro Co Rat or even a cheap Dan Electro distortion pedal into the signal chain.

Try finding cheap distortion pedals and adding them to your signal chain.

The sky is the limit. Any type of boutique pedals can do crazy and unexpected things for your audio signal, and usually they are inexpensive.

A Bit Of Reduction

Digital music is represented in bits. Most professional recordings are processed at 16 or 24 bits. However, there was a time when computer could only handle 8 or 12 bits at a time. Using tools to reduce bit rate quality is a technique that can drum up sounds of the NES and Atari 2600 days.

Here is a sample from an 8 bit weapon song, a great example of pure 8-bit music.

8 Bit Weapon – Micro Anthem (Clip)

Ableton’s Redux

So, maybe you don’t want to be as extreme as someone like 8 bit weapon. Ableton Live has a great tool called “Redux” that will crush bits in increments of 1.

Use Ableton’s Redux to introduce some light artifacting, or complete chaos in your productions.

  1. Load up an Audio Sample of a Soft Synth in Ableton Live.
  2. Drop Ableton’s Redux onto the track.
  3. Activate the “On” switch next to the knob that says “16”.
  4. Play your audio file or some notes on a keyboard while reducing the bits with the knob.
  5. By bringing the knob down to 8 you can start to hear a noticeable difference in fidelity. Keep in mind, taking the knob all the way down to 1 is not for the faint of heart.

Another thing to keep in mind; most MPCs in the 90s had 12 bit sampling capabilities. Chopping up some samples and dropping Redux down to 12 bits can add more to that MPC sound.

Some Free 8-Bit VSTs

Here are some great (and free!) VST plug-ins I recommend that work with Ableton Live.

YMCK’s Magical 8-Bit Plug: http://www.ymck.net/english/download/index.html

Pontonius’ Pooboy 2.0: http://www.pontonius.se

Chip32 VST Synth: http://www.kvraudio.com/get/229.html

Another example of an artist using 8 bit more subtly.

Crystal Castles – Crimewave (Clip)

In the beginning (and around the 0:11 point) you can hear what sounds like something you would hear out of an old Atari 2600 game. Adding sprinkles of 8 bit goodness can add great effect to your productions.

Try loading a soft synth in Ableton Live and dropping the Redux on and setting the bit reduction knob between 4 and 8 to achieve a bit crushed synthesizer sound.


To read Part 2 of this tutorial go here: How To Go Lo-Fi With Ableton Live (Part 2)

Learning Drum Synthesis With Ableton’s Operator

In today’s tutorial, learn how to dial up your own kick, snare and hi-hat sound from scratch. Ableton Live’s do-it-all synthesizer Operator will be our main sound generator.

Creating drum sounds from scratch can not only be gratifying, but can help to teach the fundamentals of synthesis. With heavy emphasis on ADSR, waveform selection and filtering, here are 3 drum sounds you can re create with Ableton’s Operator Synth.



The Kick Drum

Programming The Sequence

Before we start tweaking knobs on Operator, lets program a simple 1 bar kick pattern.

  1. Enter session view and double click the first open clip slot on a MIDI track.
  2. Locate the piano roll window that has opened on the bottom section of Ableton Live.
  3. Enter a simple MIDI sequence by double clicking the in the grid. Your sequence should look like this:

For better control, zoom in or out horizontally by clicking and dragging up or down over the beat ruler. Zoom vertically by clicking and dragging left or right to the left of the black and white keys.

Here is how the kick drum sounds with a brand new Operator:

Programming The Kick Drum Sound

Time to start shaping the kick sound, drag an Operator synth over to the MIDI track. You can hit play on the MIDI clip we’ve created if you would like to hear the sounds being molded in real time.

  1. Set OSC A’s Coarse knob to 0.5.
  2. With OSC A still selected, locate Operator’s middle panel.
  3. In the middle panel, change the release value to 1.0ms (do this by clicking the number and typing 1,000 on your keyboard).
  4. Drag the sustain level all the way down to –inf dB.
  5. Your kick should sound something like this:

  6. Click on the OSC B panel.
  7. Click on the level knob and enter -5.0 on your keyboard to bring the volume of this OSC up to -5.0dB.
  8. Here is the second Sine added without any shaping:

  9. Pretty annoying, huh? Let’s fix it by using our ADSR options in the middle panel for this OSC.
  10. Start by changing the decay to 15.0ms.
  11. Set the release to 250ms.
  12. Set the sustain to -35dB.
  13. Our kick with both Sine waves blended:

    Now it sounds a lot more like a kick drum. Just a couple more steps.

  14. Locate the Global shell on the Operator and click it.
  15. Set the volume knob to 0.0 dB.
  16. Since drums are monophonic, in the middle panel, change the Voices parameter from 6 to 1.

Our final kick drum sound:

So, with a couple simple sine waves, we were able to emulate a sound close to an 808 hum drum kick. Blending in the second sine wave helps add some attack to the sound, while the first helps round out the tone.


The Snare Drum

Let’s start off by creating another MIDI channel, double clicking the first empty clip slot, and programming this pattern:

Of course, add the Operator to the new MIDI channel.

Here is what our pattern sounds like with a new Operator:

  1. Again, start off by selecting OSC A’s panel.
  2. In the middle panel, change OSC A’s waveform from a sine wave, to white noise.
  3. Set the decay to 300ms and the sustain to –inf dB.
  4. Think of this as our “chain” at the bottom of the snare drum.

    Here is what our snare sounds like so far:

  5. Back to the OSC A panel, change the volume to -25dB.
  6. This will help blend it with OSC B.

  7. Again, locate the global shell.
  8. Locate the algorithm panel on top of the middle section. Select the last algorithm.
  9. While in the global panel, change the level to 0.0dB as well as the voices to 1.

  10. Select the OSC B panel and set the level to 0.0dB.
  11. In the middle panel change the decay to 100ms and the sustain to -60dB.

Here is our final snare sound with both the Sine and White Noise blended:

The sine acts as the “drum head” giving a tone and shape to the sound, while the white noise acts as the chain beneath the snare. Blending the two gives us a class drum machine snare sound.


The Hi-Hat

This is definitely the easiest of the 3 drum sounds to program. It’s simple white noise with minor adjustments to OSC A’s ADSR.

  1. Load up another MIDI channel and double click to add another 1 bar MIDI loop. Program this sequence of 1/16th notes into the piano roll:
  2. Drop another Operator synth on the new MIDI channel.
  3. Here is what the untreated pattern sounds like so far:

    In OSC A’s middle panel,change the waveform from a sine wave, to white noise.

  4. In the middle panel of OSC A change the decay to 100ms, the release to 90ms and sustain to –inf dB.
  5. Back to the Global shell, bring the level down to -20dB and in the middle panel change the voices to 1.

Here is what the final hi-hat sounds like:

Now you have a hi-hat that blends perfectly with the rest of our drum sounds.

Here is what all three sequences sound like together:


Operator? Drums Please

So here is a great introduction to programming synthetic drum sounds from scratch. Try experimenting with other drum sounds (toms and crash cymbals).

I hope that by following these examples, it will lead more people to experiment with their own Operator synthesizer patches in Ableton.

MIDI Effect Tutorial: How To Use Ableton’s Scale

Ableton’s powerful “Scale” plug in gets explained in this tutorial. Harness the power of “Scale” and program your own exotic tones!

Ableton’s Scale is a powerful MIDI effect that allows you to constrain every note on your keyboard to a specified scale. For example, if you wanted all of your keys to play only notes within an A minor scale, Ableton’s Scale can do this.

In this tutorial we’ll take a look at how Scale works and map out some of our own scales.

The Basics Of Scale

A full octave of notes runs 12 keys (both white and black) on a keyboard.

Here is what one octave looks like on a keyboard:

In this octave there is the potential for a scale. A scale is a sequence of notes within the octave that fits a musical key.

Below is an example of a C Major Scale:

If a song is in the key of C Major, you could play any of those notes, and it would make “musical sense” within the song.

Any of the black keys (sharp/flat notes) would not fit within a C Major scale. This is where Ableton’s Scale comes in.

With Scale, you can make it so that the black keys (sharps/flats) are forced to play the same notes as the white keys. For example; an A# note on your keyboard would be shifted with Scale to play an A note

Sure there are doubles of some notes (the A# key plays an A note, as well as the A key), but this means it’s impossible to play the “wrong notes” in any particular scale.

Ableton’s Scale In Action

As a simple exercise, we’re going to force all twelve of our keys to play only C notes.

  1. Drop a soft synth (Analog or Operator is fine) onto an empty MIDI track.
  2. Under the MIDI Effects folder in Ableton’s File and Device Browser, drop “Scale” onto the same MIDI track.
  3. Your copy of Scale should now look like this:

  4. Click to activate each square on the bottom row of Scale.
  5. Play some notes on your keyboard. Notice no matter what key you hit, you’re always getting a C note.

The only difference is when you reach the end of 12 keys, it changes an octave higher or lower.

Using Scale’s “Base” Knob

Even though we have a simple “All C Notes” scale programmed, let’s change the base of the scale with the “Base” knob.

  1. In Scale, locate the knob labeled “Base”.
  2. Shift the knob up once to C#.
  3. Play some notes on your keyboard.

You should only hear C# notes being played. What’s happening is that Scale has shifted the “Base” of our notes to C#.

Shifting The Key Of A C Major Scale

Lets program a C Major scale (I know there is a preset for this, but learn by doing!):

  1. Change back our base scale to C on the “Base” knob.
  2. Reset back to the “All C Notes” scale by click on the lowest notes horizontally.
  3. Your scale should look like this:

  4. Leave the first two horizontal boxes (C and C#) at a “C” note.
  5. Bring the next two horizontal boxes (D and D#) 2 steps up to a “D”
  6. Bring the next horizontal box (E) 4 steps up to an “E”
  7. Bring the next two horizontal boxes (F and F#) 5 steps up to an “F”
  8. Bring the next two horizontal boxes up (G and G#) 7 steps up to a “G”
  9. Bring the next two horizontal boxes up (A and A#) 9 steps up to an “A”
  10. Finally, bring the last horizontal box (B) 11 steps up to a B.
  11. Your final C Major scale should look like this:

  12. At this point, all you have to do is turn the “Base” knob to any desired key, and your scale will conform to that key.

Here is what the key shift looks like:

I highly recommend visiting this site which has tons of visual scale charts. Use this to practice programming your own scaled into Ableton’s Scale.

The Other Options Explained

Okay, so you have a grasp of how the basics of Ableton’s Scale works. Let’s dissect the other options that are a part of scale.

Transpose – Use this option to transpose your performance up a certain number of steps. Similar to the “Base” knob, however, this option does not change the root of the scale.

Fold – If a note is six semitones away from the original, this button will shift it down an octave. Say you have a C1 and next to it you have a G#2, enabling fold will shift the G#2 to a G#1.

Range and Lowest – These options allow you to set the range of keys that are affected by Ableton’s Scale. With the Lowest note selected, and a certain range set, you could theoretically map a scale to only a set amount of keys.

Practice Your Scales!

As I mentioned before, the more you work with the scale, the better you will get used to it. Not all of use have the time or ability to learn all the scaled on a keyboard.

Ableton’s Scale offers a powerful alternative, and with a little bit of forethought, can be used to create scales ranging from the simple to the exotic!

How To Warp And Save Loops In Ableton Live 8

Live’s ability to time stretch audio is a favorite among many users. Learn the basics of warping and saving loops with Ableton Live 8 in this step by step guide.

Warping could be argued as Ableton Live’s bread and butter. Live treats the audio almost as if it’s a rubber band, shifting and pulling to conform to whatever tempo you have set. Warping Audio in Ableton Live 8 is much easier when seen in action, so lets begin.



Engaging Warp

In this tutorial we are going to be warping a 4/4 drum break.

Download the drum loop we’ll be using for this exercise here.

Step 1.) Locate the drum break in your file browser, and drag it onto a new audio track in session view.

Step 2.) Double click the clip slot where the newly loaded drum break is.

Step 3.) Once you’ve double clicked the clip, the clip waveform should show up at the bottom of the screen.

Step 4.) In Live’s Sample Display (shown below) uncheck the box labeled “warp”. This will remove any warp markers Ableton has automatically added to the drum break.

Step 5.) Now that the track has been unwarped, click the play button on the clip slot.

Step 6.) Our goal is to get a 2 bar loop from this drum break. Here is where the loop will start and end.

Step 7.) Drag the start marker over to the first kick hit at the beginning of our loop start. (Zoom in to get it at the beginning of the transient).

Locating Live’s Start Marker

Lining it up with the first kick of our loop.

Zooming in to better see the start of the kick transient.

Step 8.) Right click on the start marker and select “Warp From Here (Straight)”

Step 9.) Live has guessed that our loop is 80.85 BPM. We will change this in a couple of steps, in order to change the BPM later we will add another warp marker to the end of the loop.

Find the “3” on the beat ruler, and double click the top half of the wave form to add a warp marker there.

Step 10.) Take a minute to engage the metronome (located top left of Ableton Live) and play back the loop so far. Notice we still have a little ways to go, as the metronome isn’t quite synching up, yet.

Step 11.) Engage Ableton’s Loop Button to the left of the waveform.

Step 12.) Set the loop points as follows: Under position type 1, 1, 1 in the three boxes. Under Length type 2, 0, 0.

Step 13.) Again, play back the loop with the metronome on. The loop is working, but there is excess at the end. Let’s fix this now.

Step 14.) Find the Seg. BPM section under the warp options.

Step 15.) Click and drag up to raise the number in Seg BPM. Notice how it shifts the waveform to the right.

Our goal is to get where the loop should end lined up exactly with the “3” on the beat ruler.

If you’ve done it right, your Seg BPM should be in the range of 90 – 92 BPM. If there is a decimal at the end, round up or down. Change Live’s global tempo to that as well.

Your loop should look something like this:

Step 16.) Zoom all the way out of the waveform (hold the mouse on the beat ruler and drag your mouse up). Remove the extra warp marker after the loop by double clicking on it.

Step 17.) Add a warp marker under “3” of our beat ruler again.

Step 18.) Play back the loop with the metronome on. You can hear the click now staying in time with the drum break.

Tighten The Timing And Saving The Loop

So we have a drum loop that has conformed to timing metronome and repeats almost flawlessly. Before we crop the loop and save it, lets tighten the timing a bit more.

Step 19.) Lets start by locating all of our major snare hits in this loop.

Step 20.) If you zoom in on the first snare hit, you will notice it doesn’t exactly line up with the 1.2 on the bear ruler.

Step 21.) To line the first snare hit to the 1.2 on the beat ruler, double click to add a warp marker right on the 1.2.

Step 22.) Hold your mouse over the warp marker and while holding the Shift key, drag the snare hit, until the first transient lines up with the warp marker on 1.2.

Repeat for snare the snare hits on 1.4, 2.2, and 2.4.

Step 23.) Right click on the top half of the wave form and click “Crop Sample”.

Step 24.) Drag the loop from the clip slot in Session View back into Live’s file browser. This will save your newly cropped loop into a ready to use Ableton Live clip.


More Than One Way To Warp A Loop

Armed with this knowledge, and a bit of insight into counting when loops begin and end, you can potentially amass an archive of loops sampled from practically anything. Keep in mind, some loops are much harder to work with that others.

Warping in Ableton Live can be done many different ways, this is just my preferred method. If you have your own ways of doing it, please share them below!