5 Ableton Live Tips To Revolutionize Your Workflow

Ableton is a bit like a Russian doll: the more layers you peel back, the more you discover underneath. While there are countless articles written on unlocking the power inside the obvious plug-ins, like the built-in compressor and EQ, there’s a host of features that go ignored. Click on to find 4 not-so-secret tricks in Ableton that we think might just change the way you work.

1. BE A UTILITARIAN

Though less flashy and obviously useful than its audio effect counterparts, the utility can save hours of mixdown adjustment andheadaches with just 4 parameters.

Try adding a utility to your master chain and bringing the “width” down to zero. This will render your mixdown out to mono immediately, which may cause either grief or joy depending on how you use it. Mixing in mono means that you can’t use stereo at all (no “horizontal” mixing), so you have to really get the gain structure right. Remember that many club systems are dual output mono, so if your track isn’t sounding good with the width down in Utility, it won’t sound good on the dancefloor!

Another handy use of the utility plug-in is the the “phase left “ and “phase right” buttons.Though they’re simple on/off toggles, using them will allow you to do some handy phase cancellation, which comes in handy when isolating vocals or stereo-izing low-depth content. most importantly, that lone gain knob will save you literally hours of work. How? Next time you have a track where you have automation over a clip’s duration, try adjusting the overall volume and discover how work-intensive it is. Instead, using the gain knob allows for complicated clip automation coupled with overall level adjustment through the main volume knob.

2. USE MACROS AS TOGGLES

Macros are another function in Ableton that, while typically reserved only for complicated audio chains, can have powerful functions that people typically ignore. One such function is the ability to map “device on” toggles to macro effects. This quick adjustment changes a lot when it comes to workflow. For starters, Ableton has a slightly irritating inability to snap “toggle” automation to grids, meaning if you want to achieve a sound very suddenly on a plug-in without a dry wet knob, like Ableton’s “Auto Filter,” you’re pretty out of luck if you want to achieve that effect in time. With macros, however, suddenly you turn a binary value (on/off) into an encoder value (0-127), allowing you to snap to grid instantly.

Another feature of macro-ing toggles to macro knobs is the ability to trigger devices only at specific values. Another example use with the Autofilter is a macro that only triggers the filter when movement is activated. Again, this is a minor change that has a huge impact; you can now toggle the Autofilter to instantaneously change the frequency range of an audio source. We’ll leave it up to you to think of other creative tricks with macro knobs (there are loads of possibilities!)

3. GET CREATIVE WITH SIDECHAINING

Sidechaining is a feature most often associated with the ducking, “whooshing” sound that a compressor can generate when the effect is activated. However, there’s a host of other audio effects that utilize side chaining that are exciting and can inject a little life into your workflow. Try searching for the arrow that indicates a sidechain capability, and get experimenting!

Ableton’s filter plug-in “Autofilter” has a great sidechain feature that rolls off frequencies in response to an audio input; it’s a great tool to use alongside a conventional sidechain to really get bass and kick-drums to sit well together. Another cool technique is using sidechaining on the “gate” plug-in, which functions sort of like a compressor except it ducks sounds under a threshold value completely.

The sidechain feature on the gate in Ableton makes it easy to take undesired elements out of loops; try taking a full drum loop and sidechaining the gate to a kickdrum, you’ll find that by tweaking the hold and release times you’ll have a perfectly cut up loop. Using the same technique on a synth line will generate a kind of chillwave/glo-fi pumping sound recognizable in tracks by artists like Washed Out and Baths.

4. USE CORPUS AND RESONATOR TO TUNE YOUR DRUMS

Tuning a kickdrum can be incredibly time consuming and difficult; referencing it, pitching it up, EQing, and repeating takes time and effort and often the result is only a slight difference.

Corpus is a fantastic tool in Ableton that can add a tone of your choosing to a sound, and using the dry/wet and decay knobs, you can add a subtle tuned metallic punch to your kickdrum – this will forever remove the need to sit fine-tuning and correcting. The only issue with this method is that it tends to generate a slight bell-like tone that muddies up the low-mid range. A quick fix to this is to add a tuned resonator and fiddle again with the dry wet and the decay. Using the resonator will add higher harmonics, which evens out the thump accidentally generated by corpus.

5. USE SAMPLER TO SUSTAIN A VOCAL

Have a vocal with a long, belted note but the singer just isn’t up to the task of sustaining it? Or maybe you want an interesting riser effect to put into a build. Either way, you’ll need to creatively use the sample source, but warping in Ableton generates all sorts of anomalies when stretched past its limits. Instead, a little use of fades within the sampler, coupled with some gentle EQ’ing, can create a “sustain” effect for a note or vocal line. This little trick is also helpful when dealing with a pitched up sample you need to be longer; the trick is really to find the “sweet spot” of the sound where there’s little to no volume or pitch change.

Have any other Ableton tricks that same you tons of time? Let us know in the comments! 

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  • Richard Ellicott

    i really found this article pretty good, ableton is surely obsessed with the sidechain, and frankly i rediscovered this again the other day after mostly using envelopes.

    okay using your EARS…. it’s an interesting process :)))

    with that filter duck i bet i’ll get an invisible duck as well, no bottom out woop woop

  • Telagraf

    I don’t understand how to actually use the sampler to make the vocal sustain. Does anyone have any ideas? Thx.

    • C O O K I S H

      Turn on “loop” and “snap”, then play with the “length” “loop” and “fade” knobs until it is highlighting an area that sounds natural. The looping of only that part of the sample combined with the fade will make it sound natural and sustained for as long as you draw the midi note in

  • Aaron Zilch

    One of my favorites for increased workflow speed is “0”. It quickly “deactivates” Clips and Midi Notes for non-destructive subtractive arrangement. The parts are all still there, so if at any time you decide you want to try bringing them back, it’s a simple matter of selecting and pressing “0” again to reactivate them.

    Another great shortcut for creating variation in parts is selecting midi notes, or most pitch related parameters, and holding shift while hitting the up or down arrow keys to jump values by octaves. Instant alternate chord voicing and many other uses.

  • Calixte Mayoraz

    triggered delay:

    you have an audio effect group with two chains: one chain has just the simple dry signal, other chain has a utility followed by a delay unit (I usually go for ping pong). set the Dry Wet of the delay all the way to 100, and mess with the chain volume. Now, to trigger the delay, simply turn on and off the Utility’s Mute. this is great for if you have vocals and just want to add delay to a specific word or phrase.

    hope I helped! 😀

    • James Montgomery

      This is genius.

    • James Montgomery

      Actually with both chains what does the dry one contain? Does it contain the actual sample?

  • Rob

    I posted in the sampling acapellas article about a sample inversion trick. Using the smart mixing racks from the Bentosan smartmixing template you can isolate frequencies through compression. Just use two of the racks on each channel. have one the low compression on(high off)/Ratio full and the other one with high compression(low off)/Ratio full. Each Smartmixing rack will compress all unwanted frequencies and their volume. Resampling and limiting a compressed frequency split vocal track is one way to isolate vocals/sounds.

  • DJ Kix

    Thanks for the tips, sounds good to see these great advices. Love the sampler use.

  • controllerdjsarenotrealdjs

    Where is that Faggot that started this dj tech tools website? with his wack ass midi fighter garbage?
    this website needs more traktor, maschine, ableton..etc advertisements!!
    yes sell sell sell buy buy buy a controiller and be a fake dj like the rest of these guys!
    button pushing talentless bitches

  • BIGDADDYJOHNSON III

    FUCK THIS GAY ASS SHIT!!!!! THIS WEBSITE IS BULLSHIT
    ” CERTIFIED” LOL

  • Anonymous

    One trick that I almost always use when making dance tracks is to cut the BPM in half in Ableton. This tricks your plug ins and some samples to play in half time and makes awesome things happen to tracks. (For instance, a 130 track will be set at 65.) You can always move it up to normal speed on the individual sounds if you need to.

    • PINE4PPLE-XPRESSION

      Hi just wondering what kind of awesome things happen. I guess i could just try it, but it would cool if you could explain that a bit more if possible 🙂

      • Anonymous

        Yeah just experiment with it. You’ll notice that it does interesting things with triplets and sextuplets. I feel like it gives the track some interesting motion. Not everything sounds so rushed and on top of itself, if that makes sense.

  • Hauke Frederik Pengel

    Good artictle and the trick with macros on toggles is gold! By the way, Corpus is underestimated. It can do so much. I use it for more bass in either kick or bassline or both. Works brilliant.

    Keep on going 🙂

  • cikadas

    I’d say the utility tip, the way you describe it, is a bad one. The reason being is because when you are bringing the width down to 0% you are making the left and right channel “sit” on top of each other, which can cause some phasing problems especially if your left and right channel are the exact same.

    Now the best way to use the utility plugin and creating a mono sound is by using either the left or right channel instead of using “stereo”. You can do that by just clicking on [stereo v] and it will give you the option for the left or right channel.

    • Hauke Frederik Pengel

      Really? But when you load the mono preset from the browser it is exactly doing what is written above.

      Can you proof what you are saying? I am just curious, because that is what a lot of people are doing during their mixdowns. Using Utility to get a monomix.

      • Anonymous

        the thing is most sound systems don’t pick up either left or right – they sum both channels to get the mono signal

        • Hauke Frederik Pengel

          I see. How to get a club-ready mono mix then?

          • Anonymous

            test them using mono summing as described in this article, and if it sounds muddy, play around with phasing to alleviate the issue

    • deanbag

      Summing the left/right channels together by setting the width to 0% and hearing those phasing issues is exactly the point. This let’s you fix phase issues before you get to a mono system.

      If you choose the ‘Left’ or ‘Right’ setting sure it will be mono, but you’re only monitoring one side of your mix. Import an old school track like the Beatles ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and play around with the Utility tool. You’ll get exactly what it’s doing after that.

  • Ali Tamjidi

    press CMD(Ctrl)+B to toggle to pencil. Increase your grid size (1 bar or more depending on your zoom). Drag the “device on/off button” automation line up or down anywhere in the bar you want to activate/deactivate the device. Then remove the second node. Result: device toggles on “exactly” in the beginning of the bar and stays on until you repeat the process to turn it off. This can happen anywhere you want. Control it with the grid size.

  • Cova Bishop

    Hitting the D brings up a Delay function, which you can set to delay by milliseconds or samples. When duplicating instruments, pan one hard left and hard right, and delay one or the other by a one or two milliseconds. It adds stereo width like you wouldn’t believe.

    • Giobi Fasoli

      it’s a good idea, but the transient is delayed too, smoothing the beginning of each note – don’t use it for rhythmic stuff

  • Patrick Ijsselstein

    My tip, which is gold, is; press and hold CMD and option(alt) and type S L I M B R O or S O R L I M B or any other combination of these letters and see what happens….

    • Hauke Frederik Pengel

      Haha, nice 🙂

    • NKRDBL

      Hahaha! Awesome tip! 😀

    • Richard Ellicott

      i broke it 🙁

  • Best Legs

    good to see some ableton/production stuff in here as lots of DJs are looking more and more into producing as well. great post, keep it up.

    • Mr. I Spank Hoez

      ARE YOU A SHEEP OF THE “ABLETON CERTIFIED GURU” CLUB?
      GO try being creative on your own!!!!!!

      • natty

        Says the guy who happens to be visiting the tips page. Trololololololo

  • Marcelo Alcantara

    Maybe would be a good idea to have a video of the tips for the beginners?

  • sammsousa

    i use the utility tons!!!! when sampling old records, sometimes its possible to leave some instruments out, since lots of old tracks hat extrem pannings! like guitar only on the left channel etc, by using just the right side of the sample source, you would leave the guitar out (in this example of course)! depengind on the sample you are using this can be really usefull! the only thing about utility, is that its volume knob, doesnt go down to negative inf! so when automating volume i use an empty effect rack and just automate the volume of the chain!

    • Nice tip on the effect rack!

  • Kurt Q-Co Cobbaut

    actualy you can snap device on/of automation to the grid. to do this just simply select the on/off buton so that on/off appears in the automation lane. then select the part in the arangement where you want the autoamtion on/off to happen. (so it’s yellow/selected). then just go to the red automation line between the yellow selected part of your track until the line turns full blue. and drag up. now that atomation only occurs between the selected points and snaps perfectly to the grid. (it’s the samen for instance if you add a midi clip directly into the arangement view, you drag and select a bar (selected yellow) and right click/insert midi track. but instead of the right click, you just drag the automation blue line up 🙂 hope you understand cause i can’t explain it very well ^^

    • Nick Perloff

      Hey –
      This might work in Live 9? I’m working in Live 8 and it won’t let me do that. I really hope Live 9 added that feature – it really bugs me!

      • Kurt Q-Co Cobbaut

        Ow, yeah i’m using live 9. should of mentioned that 🙂

        • NKRDBL

          it’s not working for me in Live 9. 🙁 no “snap to grid” for on/off toggle button

      • someguy123

        its possible to do this in 8! i use 8.2.2 and it allows me to do this. simply click on the toggle button and the automation line will show up in the track. from here you can draw in the automation directly on the grid so the toggle will activate exactly where you need it to, no macros required 🙂

    • Hauke Frederik Pengel

      It’s kind of a workaround but still good. Unfortunately you cannot edit it afterwards with snap to grid.

  • Vincent Riemer

    Turning the width to 0% doesn’t actually sum the signal to mono, it simply removes any elements which are different between the right and left channel. When playing at a club I’m pretty positive (not 100% positive though) that the stereo signal is summed to mono which will usually sound a bit better than just removing the stereo information. (PLEASE CORRECT ME IF I AM WRONG)

    • Romulo Pierotti

      If you use Ableton Suite, just put the preset mono from the utility 😉

      • SiKNAS

        The “Mono”-preset is simply a Utility with the width set to “0%”, so that won’t help much.

    • Lawrence

      just another point dj tech tools got wrong completely

    • ile

      This here, is not how it goes.

    • Granular

      Not true. Try creating two tracks, pan one left and one right. Run both through utility set to width 0%. What do you hear?

  • Use hot cue to audition samples quickly in the context of the track as it plays.

    • Nick Perloff

      Could you expand on this? It sounds quite interesting but I’m not sure I understand.

      • Sorry, I mean’t to say hot-swap…

        Say you create a drum beat but decide the hi hat isn’t working. You can click the hop swap button on the sample in simpler and it takes you to that sample in the browser then you can use the arrow keys to select different samples and the enter key to select them. The result is you can then audition different hi hats in real time and easily find one that works for your track.

        This video shows a little bit about hot swap in different live devices. http://youtu.be/vV1l70l7z5Q

        • Fernando Lunelli

          I do this (hot swap) too… it really helps to get faster on sample substitution ….

    • Great Tip, Dilby! Thanks for sharing. Appreciate the video share as well

  • celtic-dj

    thanks for this…very useful tips !!!

    another good use for the ‘ utilty ‘ would be for a dj setup…i use it to reset the eq’s to 12’oclock (in ableton 0db is at 4’oclock ),,,its a hack for this problem but it works !

    • Patrick Ijsselstein

      next time, click to select the parameter you want to reset and press delete….. parameter will jump to default……works on almost any parameter….

      • celtic-dj

        i mean i use the utilty to raise the gain of the eq’s so 12 oclock is actually 0db by default !

        • Patrick Ijsselstein

          smart!