10 Ableton Live Tips to Keep the Creative Juices Flowing While in Lockdown

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It’s an anxious time right now, COVID-19’s got us self-isolating, and the clubs are all closed. Rather than stocking up on dunny paper and pasta sauce, we thought we’d stock-pile some tips, tricks, and ideas on working more effectively and staying creative in Ableton Live. Here’s 10 tips to keep your workflow smooth and innovation high.  

1. Manage your Frequently Used Content 

One of the biggest creative killers can be the time wasted trying to find your frequently used content — sounds, samples, effects and anything within Live. New in Live 10 is the handy little filing system built directly into Live’s browser called Collections. Theyre colour coded folders and can be personalised and customised however you like. For examplecollection could be “Killer Kicks” where you drop your favourite kick drums. You can drop anything in Collections, samples, presets, MIDI clips, plugins etc. Ideal for speeding up workflow 

2. Make Template Projects

Staying on the topic of workflow – saving a project template is the ultimate way of keeping the tunes comingRather than starting with Live’s default two MIDI and two Audio channels, save a Project template that works for you so you can start a new track quick. You can do this any way you please really, but a good example would be to have a few channels set up with your fav drum racks, instruments racks, external instruments (and their audio inputs), presets with clip arrangements and whatever else it takes to kick start your ideas.   

 3. Create Your Own Racks

By far one of the most powerful features about Live in my opinion, If you haven’t experimented with this then now’s as good a time as any. Racks are Live’s extremely flexible grouping tool for use with instruments, effects and plug-ins. They can be straightforward FX chains or wildy complex with audio signals split to multiple chains. They also streamline your devices by allowing you to access the most essential parameters via the macro controls. Save that rack as a preset and you’ve got access to your custom-built rack whenever you like. 

 4. Explore the Groove Pools

 Using the pencil tool is a pretty static way of creating drumbeats or programming melody arrangements, especially if you want some groove and feeling. Even if you are banging them in using MIDI a controller, the results can be mixed depending on your finger drumming or piano skills. Live comes with a large selection of grooves which you can easily drag and drop from the browser on to your clips and arrangements. TIP:  Try Assigning different groove presets to different drum elements for interesting effects.  

 5. Play with the Convert Audio To MIDI Function

Like many people, you probably have stacks of samples sitting on your hard drive. Drag a sample to an audio channel, option+click/right click on it to view a range of MIDI converting options. Many of these options are self-explanatory and are quite useful, however my favourite is ‘Convert Harmony To New MIDI Track’ More often than not, this produces varied and unexpected results, but that’s the beauty of it! Use it to inspire some new ideas.  

 6. Get to Know Clip Envelope Automation

A little bit like automation that you use in your arrangement view, except this allows you automate parameters exclusively inside the clip, independent of the timeline. Let’s say you begin with a drum loop, start simple by drawing in some pitch automation, or applying delay automation only to your snare hitsWith a little creative thinking, you can turn a simple loop into something entirely original. 

TIP: In the envelope tab, under Loop click the ‘linked’ icon, this allows the automation length to be independent of the pattern length, allowing for more unexpected and evolving pattern automation.  

 7. Create Your Own Instrument

Sick of shuffling through presets to find the sound you want? Why not make your own? Live’s Simpler and Sampler device are both capable of playing back single note samples chromatically, so creating your own playable instrument is entirely possible. An example of this would be to sample the C note from a synthesizer (or anything really), drop it onto the audio window of either the aforementioned devices, and away you go. You have plenty of options to shape your sound with onboard filter, envelopes and LFO functions, and when you’ve got something sounding good, spice it up with some FX devices, group them together (command G/ctrl G) and youve created your own instrument rack!  

 8. Resample Resample Resample!

Resampling is when you record the audio from a track or group of tracks in order to rework it somehow. Say you have a Max For Live step sequencer sequencing one of Lives instruments to create a melody, change the routing of that track from ‘Master’ to a new audio track, arm it and hit record on a clip. Do this multiple times and with different sequences and FX, then experiment with manipulating that audio further and youre bound to come up with something interesting. This is a favourite of mine, I love the immediacy of printing audio from a MIDI channel and manipulating the clip contents via the clip modulation envelope (see tip 6), I also really like chopping up Audio which leads me too 

9. Chop Up Your Loops

Hiphop producers have been doing this since the 80s with hardware samplers, and Live makes it extremely easy with the Simpler instrument’s Slice mode. This means you can slice up a loop and rearrange it as you see fit. This is a cool way to take a stock loop from a sample pack and make it yours. Flip it, chop it, reverse it, re-arrange it to make it new and interesting.  
TIP: Once your slices are where you want them in Simpler, option-click/right click and select Slice to Drum Rack. This will throw all those slices onto separate pads of a Drum Rack for you, allowing you to add FX and processing to them individually. You can also use an arpeggiator or sequencer to discover new patterns.  

10. Get to Know The Keyboard Shortcuts

Live 10 (Mac) shortcut cheat sheet via Reddit user camxus

Sounds boring I know but, honestly, I don’t know how anyone could efficiently make music using a DAW without knowing even the basic keyboard shortcuts. Shortcuts like Command + E for splitting a region, A for accessing Automation, R for reverse, M for activating keyboard modeOption + Click to fold and unfold all tracks are simple and productive, they will be your friend when you bury yourself deep in the track arrangement stage. For those running older versions of Live, it’s also worth noting that some of these shortcuts (such as ‘A’ for automation) were only added in version 10.  

Check out part 2 for ten more tips HERE.

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