Why I Switched to Ableton Live

My first album was recorded in Cakewalk, and my second in Logic. Everything since 1998 was recorded in Cubase. This year I received Ableton Live as one of my prizes in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. Many of my musician friends have asked me how it’s different, so I’d like to illustrate some of those differences by walking you through a song snippet I created yesterday.

I started by recording a four measure lead line using Operator, a built-in softsynth:

In a typical DAW, this would be recorded to a timeline. With Live, I recorded it as a clip, without any fixed place in the arrangement. The beauty of Live is that I can make lots of little clips and try them out in any combination without committing to any sort of structure. If you’ve got 13 minutes to spare, it’s easier to understand when you see it in action.

To add a little more interest to the track, I used clip automation to alter the pitch envelope (in plain English, I made the long notes go up or down a little at the end):

Glasso pitch

Then I created a looping volume envelope to make the sound cut out at various intervals:


Next, I imported a sample of a single synth bass note as a clip and ran it through Live’s saturator plug-in, to give it a little grit:

I added a transpose envelope, which occurs every time the note is hit. The little beep towards the end of the note is where I jumped up two octaves for a split-second:


Finally, I copied the clip three times and transposed each differently. Rather than one sample playing C, I now had four, playing D, B, E, and A. The transpose envelope I created is still acting in a relative fashion on each of the four clips!

The last ingredient of this little snippet is a one bar drum loop, which Live matches to the project tempo automatically. I EQ’d it slightly to tone down the brightness:

I added a volume envelope and a complimentary send envelope, to bring in a delay effect as the volume goes down:


Then I added a sample offset envelope, which creates a glitchy sound by shifting forward or backward in time:


You may have noticed that the volume/delay effect was missing in that last audio sample. That’s because it only occurs in the second of every four bars. The sample offset only happens in the fourth. My one bar loop is now a four bar loop!

So to recap, I created three four bar envelopes to modulate a one bar loop. You can specify any length you want for any of the envelopes, regardless of the length of your sample! I have no idea how you’d do this in any other DAW.

Last but not least, I made the drum loop spazz out at the end with an extreme sample offset envelope:


To create the arrangement, I simply dragged and dropped the clips:


Here is the final result, with no effects or automation beyond what I described above. That’s quite a bit of mileage out of one synth line and two samples! If I want to use one of the clips in a song, I simply drag and drop it into any project. Live matches the new tempo automatically. No DAW I’ve ever used can match that level of creative freedom.

Now to contact Ableton about that sponsorship… 😉