In other words…..What makes Ableton an easy to use program??
I wanted to write this blog as a way of helping others decide if Ableton may be the program for them. After making a transition myself many years ago from Cubase I would say that Ableton has been specifically designed to be easy to use without any compromise in results. So lets begin with the first noticeable feature.
Clean and simple visual design!
The creators of Ableton are German. Germans are well known for there high level engineering abilities and Ableton is of no exception to this trend. A huge effort has been made to create a Digital Audio workstation that is pleasing to the eyes, void of clutter and intuitive in terms of visual workflow. Just like any instrument one can spend many hours practicing and so to have an instrument that feels good and makes us comfortable makes a really positive and progressive user experience. Once you are past the inescapable learning curve of any DAW you will find Ableton to be so brilliantly easy and fun it will end up feeling like you are playing a computer game than navigating a complicated workstation. Despite this, Ableton has infinite potential and is in no means less sophisticated or with less potential for results. I used to use Cubase and just learned Ableton originally for performing live sets but quickly made the change over to production also. After the change I would consider Cubase to feel more like a driving a Ford Fiesta in comparison to Ableton that feels more like I am the Captain of an epic Spaceship. Of course this is only my personal, subjective perspective but it seems to be one that is a common point of view for a majority of people.
Something very unique about Ableton is that there are two different ways to use it. There is one method using whats called the arrangement view and the other method is through whats called the session view. The arrangement view is common to all Digital Audio Workstations. It is a timeline of which your tracks are laid out and arranged in order to form a song. It is the session view which is unique to Ableton. It is a non linear, grid like view where the tracks are laid out vertically like a mixer and each track has the ability to hold clips of audio or midi data. Then you can trigger different combinations in time and jam musical ideas on the fly. Originally this was the initial user experience of Ableton Live (hens the name) but then grew over the years to be the digital music powerhouse it is now. The session view is what almost all live electronic musicians are using to play there music live. There is unlimited potential with how you do it and all of Ableton’s capabilities are accessible when customising your own live show. Another serious positive that has come from the session view is the ability to start an idea for a track through a non linear live jam. It is a fresh and spontaneous way to make music and makes starting a track a lot easier for many, many people. So, despite the initial learning curve, having the additional session view makes making and performing our music that much easier so we can achieve a higher creative potential.
Audio editing in Ableton Live is simple and detailed. There are endless possibilities and getting started couldn’t be easier. First thing to mention is the library tab on the hand side. You can open and close it using the arrow in the top left hand corner. First you have all the Ableton stock categories which comes with Ableton Live Suite. This includes samplers, samples, midi instruments, synthesisers, audio/midi effects your own plugins and more. Then below this you have the option to add your own folders of samples.This means you can very easily access your own libraries and organise them in categories. I for example have organised it as shown in this screen shot. What makes audio editing in Ableton so beautifully simple is the drag and drop functionanity that runs through the entire program. All your samples you can just open through the library menu tab and just drag and drop into Ableton whether it be straight on to a track in the arrangement view or on to a pad on the drum rack, or into a sampler or as a clip in the session view etc. Very easily you can chop/erase/reverse/add fades/consolidate/group/time stretch things using different algorithms/pitch modulate/transpose/ and much much more.
Another seriously amazing feature of Ableton Live which makes our lives easier is its ability to lock audio in time. It does this using what we call warp markers. When you drag audio into live when you have the warp mode enabled it will automatically find all the key points and add a marker. Through the patterns that all the warp markers together create the software can work out the time and sync it with the BPM of the project. It also adds whats called transient markers in the more subtle moments of change in the sample. This opens up worlds of opportunity where we can drag and arrange these markers and create custom manipulation of rhythm. This is perfect for example when getting drum breaks in time, remixing or just getting whatever u want in time with the grid. This warp marking works in parallel with time stretching because whenever you drag a warp or transient marker around it stretches the audio creating interesting effects depending on what time stretching algorithm is enabled. These functionality’s have like anything a learning curve but its all designed to be as least complicated as possible so we can concentrate and enjoy the process of creative sound design without the burden of complicated technical processes.
One of my favourite features of Ableton is how you can save all your presets and it all gets stored on the left hand menu so you can build a user library of your own custom presets and instrument/effect racks. An instrument rack or audio effect rack is where you can group a chain of instruments or effects and then save the entire rack. After this you can even select your favourite parameters of the group and have them all together mapped on to a group of knobs called macros. Its as easy as right clicking the parameter and selecting which macro knob you want and then you can rename your macro as you want. Its all really easy to do but the results and potential are endless.
As a guitarist that has spent lots of money in the past on decent amplifiers and pedals it all became redundant to me personally after putting my guitar through Ableton and having so much more options to get cool effects. Even something simple as reverb; rather than just controlling a wet/dry mix with one knob on the amplifier I had complex array of parameters that could achieve any detail I wanted. I have now through Ableton’s ability of saving audio effect groups, tons of saved racks of my experiments and favourite classic guitar effects.
Here below is an example of some of my saved instrument racks.
Having Previous Experience…..
A common thing people say about Ableton is that you don’t need to understand how to route audio signals, auxiliary sends, insert effects and gain structure or things of this nature to get started. The program is so easy after the initial learning curve anyone with zero experience can get used to its controls quite quickly. This doesn’t mean that Ableton magically can make anyone amazing. Everything in life takes hard work and decades to master. It just means you spend less time on technical details and more time being creative. Its this what I love so much about the program. It feels more like I am drawing a picture with colouring pencils than using a complicated piece of software. All due to its brilliant design.
The last thing here to mention regarding what makes Ableton an easy software to use or learn is the vast community and support network. There is the official Ableton forum and endless other non official forums to receive support and no doubt if you have a problem its happened before and would of been solved already in a forum. There are Ableton groups on Facebook where you can connect with thousands of other like minded Ableton users to help you, receive feedback etc. It also seems to be the software with the most tutorials on Youtube than any other DAW. Pretty much if you can think of it, its been covered on Youtube, and covered multiple times. I personally am subscribed to quite a few incredible Youtube channels to help myself improve my practice with Ableton Live. (I have written a blog detailing my top ten favourites which you can find amongst my other blogs.) I also have a Youtube channel of my own with hours of free Ableton Power Knowledge, be sure to subscribe.
I hope you enjoyed this blog and it gave you some insight into the user experience of Ableton. Please be sure to check my other blogs as there is lots of detailed and useful infomation for anyone interested in making music in Ableton Live. I have been using for over ten years and have performed in over twenty countries using this marvelous software. If you are interested in learning how to use Ableton or how to master your skills then please check out my website for more information on courses and lessons. All tutoring is private, face to face and affordable. Please read the testimonials on the homepage to read how my students enjoy and benefit greatly from there experiences.
Me playing in Australia