My Favorite Features in Ableton Live 10
Ableton Live 10 is out!!! Here are my top 5 favorite new things about the update.
The A key
A great new feature in Live 10 is how automation access is now as simple as hitting “a” on the keyboard. Although automation was well integrated into Live in previous versions (and functioned very satisfactorily, in my opinion), “how to see my automation” has always been a common issue for my students, and anyone used to Logic found Ableton’s approach a bit cumbersome. In fact, it has been an point that I quite often re-teach my students.
While the efficacy of the a key remains to be seen, I suspect that it will alleviate confusion for beginners. I know that for me it has already sped up my workflow. I imagine I will be saying “A for automation” quite a bit moving forward. (Also, “M for MIDI” given that the compute MIDI keyboard is now off by default.)
Another very common question I get is “How do you get that sound?” Usually they are referring to a sound created by a synthesizer. Yes, Operator and Analog are great, but depending on what type of synthesis I’m trying to teach they have their limitations. Wavetable, however, is Ableton’s first synthesizer that can compete with N.I.’s Massive, Xfer’s Serum, and so on, in terms of the sonic complexity that wavetables offer. Ableton now boasts a very solid arsenal of built-in, dependable synths that a beginning synthesis student can delve into, without shelling out more money.
Especially considering its modest CPU usage, I will be encouraging my students to begin their study of more advanced synthesis techniques with Wavetable; furthermore, I’m currently working on a set of tropical house templates that use (mostly) Wavetable for melodic, chordal, and bass ideas—watch this space!
3. Value Reset
A subtle addition to Live 10 that I’m loving is double-clicking a knob or slider to return it to the default value (usually “0”). I’ve already found this improving my speed (whether producing or mixing), and when I do go back to Live 9 I indeed miss this minor improvement. I definitely recommend that you memorize this movement, and use it as much as possible.
Although I don’t think they make up for musicianship, I’m a big believer that fluency with technique allows for more mental bandwidth for music making—i.e., using your ears. In terms of Ableton Live, this technical fluency means, in part, a knowledge of keyboard short-cuts and general “mouse stuff” (right or control clicking for more options, etc.).
While it’s a more long-term project for most of my students (as well as for myself), I’m always encouraging folks to find their own sound (or at least begin thinking about it). There’s no right or wrong way to achieve this, but a quick and dirty method is to identify sounds you like, and use them over and over again. A typical assignment I give my students it to search their library (however large or small) and select their top five snare drums, kicks, etc., and commit to only using those drums sounds in their productions for a give period of time (I usually recommend 3 months). File management wise, this has always presented some challenges, although Places was a definite step in the right direction beginning with Live 9.
I suspect that Collections will help people organize their “go-to” sounds. Personally, I’ve been experimenting with renaming my Collection folders as “Drums,” “synths,” “breaks,” “bass” and “vocals,” but the main thing I want to promote is developing a system that makes sense to the individual. Since a common beginner mistake is to never recycle material, I hope that Collections will aid and inspire producers to do so, with the goal of developing their own style.
5. Multi-clip Editing
It’s no secret that harmony and melody are frustrating areas for many music students, especially for those who have not played an instrument—and especially for those who have not studied music theory. Products like Xfer’s Cthulu and various online theory courses have attempted to help people out in this area. Multi-clip editing won’t suddenly teach you musical harmony but it encourages the careful consideration of how your harmonic parts need to fit together as one musical idea, regardless of their sonic sophistication.
I often teach my students the “white note hack.” This is where you write your bass line, chords, and melody in Cmajor/Aminor, which is easily done since keeping all the notes on white keys guarantees that technically there are no wrong notes (voice leading is another issue). When ready, all the MIDI notes are selected and moved (i.e., transposed) to another key, if desired.
Live 10’s multi-clip editing is a boon to this process, since it will easily allow beginners to see what their respective parts are doing… in one place! Bringing percussion-triggering clips into the visual mix further enhances this powerful compositional tool. As opposed to previous versions of Live, seeing how our MIDI parts work together and/or clash just became a much more inviting and enjoyable process.