Starting as a tool used exclusively for electronic live performances, Ableton Live is now the DAW of choice for many songwriters and producers. In this article, we’re going to look into the pros of cons of this most popular software and break down who should opt for it and who should not.
So let’s answer:
Is Ableton difficult to learn?
Starting with Ableton couldn’t be easier thanks to its clean and no-nonsense design, making it a perfect DAW for beginners and experts alike. Getting the basics of Ableton doesn’t take long, thanks to its linear layout and the abundance of content online.
The flexibility and fast workflow of Ableton make it the ideal tool for electronic music production and live performances, regardless of the user’s level. It’s the perfect DAW for capturing and editing audio in seconds, as well as for MIDI and loop-based compositions.
Ableton offers two approaches to music composition: the Session View and Arrangement View. The former allows arranging clips vertically and playing them in any order, which is ideal when you’re performing live or want to rearrange existing tracks in different ways. The latter is for a more linear and traditional approach to songwriting.
In the Session View, you’ll also have access to Ableton’s Browser, which includes all instruments and effects you’ve got available. On the left side, the browser is in two parts, with the right-hand column showing the content of the folder selected from the main categories on the left.
Always in the Session View, at the bottom left, you’ll find an Info View. This window will give you information about all available tools and instruments on Ableton as you hover over them.
Finally, you can also activate the Help View. If it’s not already on when you opened Ableton for the first time, go to the menu on the top, open View, and tick the Help View option.
All information provided in the Help section is clear and devised with the novice in mind. If you go through “A Tour of Live” and “Recording Audio” before you get started and then use the Info View as a source of information as you go along, you’ll be making music in no time.
In the next paragraphs, we’ll dive into the more technical features Ableton Live offers:
How do I use instruments in Ableton Live 10?
The built-in plugins’ instruments are on the left side menu. Expand the library and find the instrument you’re looking for. Once you found it, drag and drop it into a MIDI track or an empty area of the workstation, or click on the track and then double-click on the instrument. You can personalize each instrument using the device editor at the bottom.
Each version of Ableton comes with a package of sounds. The Live Essential package will be enough to get you started, but if you’re looking for a more unique sound, you can always upgrade your package, buy sound packs from Ableton or set up VST Plugins.
How do I route a channel in Ableton?
The section “Audio/Midi to” allows us to select where we want the audio signal to be routed to. By default, it’ll go to Master, but you can choose to redirect it to the external output of the audio interface you’re using.
The section “Audio/MIDI From“ allows you to choose the track’s input.
As for monitoring, the default is Auto, which means it’s on when the track is ready to record and disabled while playing clips.
If the monitor is set to in, the channel will receive inputs from the Audio/Midi device it’s connected to; it won’t, however, play any pre-recorded sounds.
How do I organize plugins in Ableton?
Live 10 introduced new plugins’ “collection” feature, which simplifies many producers’ lives out there working with tons of different VSTs. You can use this tool to categorize your effects so that they’ll be easier to find whenever you need them.
Adding an effect to a collection couldn’t be easier: just drag and drop it in the folder you’d like to find it next time!
You could even create a “favorite” folder to store in one place all the plugins you use the most, as I did. Even though most of us have plenty of plugins, we know we’re using only a small portion of them regularly: if this sounds familiar to you, then go and discover this new function that comes with Live 10 to speed up your workflow dramatically.
How do you automate effects in Ableton?
On Ableton, automation is available for both audio and MIDI tracks. In the Arrangement View, you’ll be able to see all automation developing by merely pressing A on your keyboard. From Live 10 onward, you can right-click or control-click on automation points, select Enter Value, and type in your desired value.
This is a massive improvement compared to the previous versions, where you had to use your mouse to get to the sound you were after painstakingly.
What can Ableton do that logic Cannot?
The majority of producers agree that Ableton’s layout provides a better and faster workflow. Sampling is also much easier with Ableton as it makes it easy to edit and build upon them quickly. Finally, if you’re also performing live, then Ableton is just the best DAW for you.
At first glance, it may seem like Logic has a better range of musical instruments in its library. However, if you consider Ableton’s integration with the object-oriented programming language MAX/MSP (which allows users to create endless plugins on their own), it becomes clear which gives you more options.
The possibility to use it in a live context makes Ableton an ideal workstation for DJs and producers who are often on the go. Also, making beats with Ableton is super simple: just drag and drop beats to build your track. You see where I’m going here: if you’re into EDM, I’d recommend Ableton, hands down.
What makes Ableton unique?
Live’s intuitive design enhances productivity thanks to the horizontal/vertical layout that optimizes workflow and simplifies the creative process. With Live, you can also build your own instrument from scratch with Max For Live. Its hybrid approach suitable for music production and live performance is something no other DAW can offer.
Possibilities are endless with Ableton, thanks to an extensive library of sounds, instruments, and external plugins you can connect it with. Should Ableton’s library not be enough for you, the integration with MAX/MSP will also give you the chance to create your only plugins.
The layout and design of Ableton hasn’t changed much over the years, and for a good reason: it works. Its minimalist appearance has influenced other workstations, too: the latest version of Logic has a similar-looking interface that makes it extremely easy to trigger and perform MIDI sequences and audio loops.
Is Ableton worth the money?
Ableton is definitely worth the money if you’re making electronic music, performing live regularly, making music with midi and loops, or doing sound design. It’s the DAW of choice of many producers worldwide because it’s intuitive, lean and makes it very easy to recreate whichever sound you have in your mind.
The Lite version of the software comes free of charge with specific hardware, which is really cool and allows you to start composing as soon as you get your MIDI interface.
You can get the Live Essential package for €79, and it’ll be more than enough to get you started. Live 11 Suite will cost you €599 and will feel like having infinite possibilities to experiment with your creative side for the rest of your life!
At the time of writing this article, the latest, complete version of Logic Pro X is available for Mac for $79, with the regular price being $199, which means you can get it for a fraction of the cost of the latest Ableton Live version. As we discussed before, these two DAWs can be comparable in terms of qualitative results, especially for newbies looking for their first audio software.
First, you’ll need to identify what kind of use you’ll make of it. Are you playing live? Do you like recording tracks on the go using a DAW with a simple and intuitive environment? If your answers to both questions are yes, then you found the right tool for you. If your answers are no, Ableton may still be the right workstation for you, but I’d recommend you look around before you make a final decision.
Marco Sebastiano Alessi is an Italian music producer, composer, and writer. He’s the founder of Naviar Records, a music community and record label exploring the connection between experimental electronic music and traditional Japanese poetry.