You’ve freshly installed your new version of Ableton Live and you open it up to what is a surprisingly dull gray screen. “Now what? Where do I begin?” you think. This post will explain and give you the tools to start from nothing to get full finished tracks. To do everything in this tutorial will take more than 10 hours and multiple sessions with Live, so I recommend bookmarking this page.
Topics covered in this post:
- Setting up your audio and MIDI interfaces, controllers, and keyboards
- Basics of music theory and what notes represent acoustically
- How to navitagate Ableton Live in session and arrangement views and move loops and audio tracks between them
- How to setup and create drum beats from audio samples
- How to create custom instruments using operator, impulse, and other Ableton instruments
- How to automate parameters such as volume, cutoff frequencies, and anything else
- How to add audio effects and how to use return effects
- A lot more tips and tricks!
It doesn’t matter if you’re Mozart or Daft Punk, it took them both years and years of writing music to create really great music and to have successful music careers. The big, successful producers on the stages have spent years making music. A lot of them have been doing this since they were in their teens, and many of them only get one or two hits before sliding from sight of the public.
Therefore if you want to produce music, it has to be something that you enjoy, something fun. For me, I enjoy it because it is the perfect mix (get it? :P) of using my creative side to craft musical colors and stories, combined with the analytic part of me that likes to think about how the ear works, how I’m perceiving the sound, how compression is affecting the mix, etc. Then I add distortion and bass wobble and go “fuck yeah!”
Live has so many different features and tools that I haven’t yet found out all of its tricks, even after more than 4 years of producing with it! I still don’t know a lot of the keyboard shortcuts, and there are still plenty of features I rarely use and therefore haven’t perfected using (like follow actions). It’s therefore important that you don’t have a high expectation of “doing it all” in 3 months.
Not feeling like you should be doing better is very important. Every producer grinds and grinds at the wheel to finish tracks. It’s part of the game. If it were easy to climb the mountain it wouldn’t be fun would it? Thus is music production.
Where to Start – Setup Hardware
Start with Live’s built in tutorials. Start by getting your sound card/audio interface and MIDI controller/keyboard working in Live. To get started go View->Help View. Then click the audio hardware and MIDI hardware links, following each instruction exactly.
Take the time to go through each step properly. It may seem like it’s not worth it to adjust your buffer sizes and latency compensation, but it’s worth it to get them setup properly! If you don’t have a MIDI controller or keyboard, don’t worry about that part of the setup.
Learning the Basics of Live
Now that you’ve setup your hardware it’s time to finally do something! Keep the same help screen open. Click and follow the included lessons in this order: A Tour of Live, Recording, Creating Beats, Playing Software Instruments, and DJing. Even if you don’t plan to DJ or record, follow through each of the tutorials step by step. It will seem really dull to go through each tutorial, but at the end you’ll have a much stronger understanding of how to work with Ableton Live. Also as you’re using Ableton Live for the first time, there’s no need to see what’s new in Live.
Starting Your First Track
Now it’s time to start to put together a full track. Below is a two hour tutorial on how to do this. I recommend following through click by click, step by step. You will need to pause the video, make your change, unpause the video, watch another 5 seconds, then repause, make your change, unpause, and repeat. Many times. To get through this video as a beginner you will need about 3 hours of time, possibly 4. However Tom Cosm is a master of Ableton and gives very good tutorials. Watch This:
After watching and following the Tom Cosm tutorial: it’s free time! Take the live set you have completed and save a new copy of it. Experiment with the track. Change things around. See how far and how close you can get to a finished track. Build and work on the track until you feel stuck. When you feel stuck google the problem and see if you can find a solution or if there’s a tutorial for what you need. Also look in the Ableton manual. Spend several hours here playing around a bit in live.
Second Track, Repetition
Once you’ve spent some time experimenting, it’s time to learn another instrument, but also to hammer the principles down that you’ve already learned. Follow this second tutorial to learn about Impulse, and how it can be used to build some pretty amazing synth sounds in Ableton Live, and how to combine those sounds with other instruments. If some things are repetitive, don’t worry, it’s good for you. Watch this:
Second Experimentation and Moving Forward
From here, there is still a lot to learn. You understand the basics, but still have a lot to learn, and you lack experience. These things will come with time. From here take at least a few hours to experiment some more before moving on to these tutorials below. Each of these is essential enough that when you find time you should work through each one, copying their moves exactly if possible, or working with similar audio files. Try these on for size:
Drum Racks Explained
Operator – An Introduction
Impulse – An Introduction
DJ in Live – An introduction to warping, mixing tracks in Live
Warping Full Tracks
Reverb Basics and Uses on Snare Drums
Sidechain Compression Using Ableton’s Compressor
Going Loose on the World
After this it’s time to set you loose on the world. But don’t worry, APT is here with plenty more material! All of the tutorials in this post are on the Introductions page. From here it’s time to think about what type of music you like and find tutorials and lessons appropriate for that genre. If it’s dubstep, it’s time to learn to make nasty bass wobbles and big snare hits. If it’s electro house than it’s that dirty bass. Browse around APT to see what you can find. I recommend starting on the Synths/Instruments page as it has a lot of genre specific synth tutorials, and this tutorial because it explains a 5 step process for creating music that improves your workflow. Good Luck and Happy Producing!