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Discover Ableton Live

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Ableton Live is a digital audio workstation available both for Mac OSX and Microsoft Windows. It differs from other DAWs in that it is designed for live performance as much as music production. This also makes it a valuable tool for DJs.

Ableton explains: "Live's nonlinear, intuitive flow, alongside powerful real-time editing and flexible performance options, make it a unique studio tool and a favorite with live performers. If you'd rather be 'making music' than just 'using music software,' Ableton Live is for you." The program was first released in 2001, and version 8 came out in April of this year. An LE version is also available.

This article was previously published on the AudioJungle blog. We'll be bringing you an article from the archives each week.

This is our twelfth article in the series “Exploring Digital Audio Workstations”. If you’ve missed the earlier articles, you can find them here:

  1. Exploring Digital Audio Workstations
  2. Discover Pro Tools LE
  3. 11 Essential Pro Tools Tutorials
  4. Discover Logic Pro
  5. 11 of the Best Tutorials for Logic Pro
  6. Discover Propellerhead's Reason
  7. 18 Reason Tutorials That Cover All the Bases
  8. Discover Steinberg’s Cubase 5
  9. 20 Instructive Cubase Tutorials
  10. Discover Cakewalk’s SONAR
  11. 14 Tutorials that Make Using SONAR a Piece of Cake

Now let’s have a look at Live.

Ableton Live 8 screenshot

History and Background

Ableton was founded in Germany in 1999 to create their own unique computer-based music-making solution, and released Live to the world in late 2001. This year they released their eighth version of the program - a major upgrade.

From 2007, Ableton have been collaborating with Cycling '74, producers of Max/MSP, a visual programming language for music and multimedia. Earlier this year they announced the result of their collaboration, "Max for Live". This product makes it possible to create Max/MSP patches directly inside of Live, making it even more flexible and extensible then before.

In this video, Ableton explain what Live is in 60 seconds:

Live's Features

The Ableton Live 8 page on Ableton's website lists the program's features.

Key features:

  • Multitrack recording up to 32-bit/192 kHz
  • Nondestructive editing with unlimited undo
  • Powerful and creative MIDI sequencing of software and hardware instruments
  • Advanced warping and real-time time-stretching
  • Supports AIFF, WAV, MP3, Ogg Vorbis and FLAC files
  • A comprehensive selection of built-in audio and MIDI effects
  • Built-in instruments: Simpler for sample-based synthesis, Impulse for sampled drums
  • Instrument, Drum and Effect Racks
  • New groove engine; apply and extract grooves in real time
  • VST and AU support; automatic plug-in delay compensation
  • REX file support plus built-in audio to MIDI slicing
  • Video import and export for scoring, video warping
  • Simple MIDI mapping plus instant mapping for selected hardware
  • Full ReWire support; runs as Slave or Master
  • Single-screen user interface for simple, creativity-focused operation
  • Multicore and multiprocessor support

Other distinguising features:

  • Session View
    Live is the only music production software with the "Session View": a unique grid for recording and playing musical ideas and phrases. The Session View is non-linear, so you can record and play back your ideas in any order. This view gives flexibility when recording and freedom to improvise when performing.
  • Arrangement View
    Live also has a second view: the "Arrangement View," a complete music production environment. This is the linear counterpart to the Session View and is well-suited to "traditional" recording, arranging and mixing. These two views interact with one another, each with its own strengths and intricacies.
  • Uninterrupted creative flow
    In Live, you never have to stop the music. Record audio and MIDI on the fly, drop in loops and samples, add effects and swap sounds without ever hitting the stop button: everything happens in real time. You're free to improvise and the computer actually becomes a musical instrument—an expressive and creative tool, perfectly at home on stage or in the studio.
  • Drum Rack
    Live's unique Drum Rack combines drag-and-drop simplicity in a familiar pad-style interface. Each of the 128 drum pads can have its own instrument or sample plus effects. Slice beats, loops or REX files to MIDI for additional control options and use the new groove feature.
  • Creative expression for DJs
    Mix and match tracks and loops automatically, remix on the fly, capture audio loops in real time from decks and other external sources, incorporate your own productions into the mix.
  • Sharing and remote collaboration
    Share your Live Sets with others via the web. One-click sharing and loading, a simple system of setting access permission, speedy transfers and no issues with external plug-ins and instruments.
  • Looper
    Not only for guitarists, the Ableton Looper gives you classic sound-on-sound looping without the limitations of a hardware device. Looper is set up for remote operation, so you can record, overdub, undo and more without touching the computer.
  • Broad compatibility
    Live works seamlessly with controller hardware and assigning custom MIDI controls is simple. Live supports AIFF, WAV, MP3, Ogg Vorbis and FLAC files, VST and AU effects and instruments. Live can handle REX files and runs as a ReWire Master or Slave, so it works nicely alongside other DAWs like Pro Tools, Logic, Cubase or Reason. Live also supports multicore and multiprocessor systems.

User Comments

What do Live users think of the product? Here are some comments by users and reviewers that I found around the Net. I’d love to hear from you in the comments too.

  • "If you produce music for media, or don't have many instruments already, then Suite offers a massive saving over buying the component elements separately, these being the Essential Instrument Collection, Sampler, Operator, Drum Machines, Session Drums, Analog, Electric, Tension, Latin Percussion, World Class Library and Collision… Live 8 isn't perfect, though. Some of the new features haven't been implemented as well as they could've, and there are things we'd still like to see (multi-screen support, for example). We've also been experiencing more crashes and audio glitches than with previous versions when adding plug-ins (though not when performing with a pre-prepared set, which is the main thing). Hopefully, this will be resolved with an update." (Musicradar.com)
  • "At first sight Live 8 seemed to be a “not so much stuff added” Update but underneath there has changed a lot. The new Plugins, Instruments and the workflow additions really pay off the price for the Update (in my case 175€ for Ableton Live 8 Suite Download Education Version). There’s just one that really disappoints me. I would have bought Live 8 much faster, without even less thinking, when Max for Live would already be implemented in the program. But in fact it isn’t." (Zett)
  • "i like the interface of ableton live 8 so far. i think live is a serious daw for windows users and a good alternative option to logic (i hate cubase and reason/i love fl studio but the soundquality is poor)." (The Dream)
  • "Since its arrival on the audio software scene in 2001, Ableton Live has carved out a niche as a hugely popular music production and performance tool… Live has always been something of a two-headed beast — a loop-based performance instrument on the one hand, and a linear recording and production platform on the other — and with the arrival of MIDI sequence support, opening the door to VST Instrument and effect hosting, Live became a serious contender as a studio production platform, while still enjoying a position on practically every performer’s laptop on the planet.
    "Live’s remarkable success comes down to some simple but well-considered design choices. Firstly, it knows about looping, and works very hard at cueing, synchronising and aligning looped material, and providing a sophisticated editing interface for loop-based music. Secondly, it implements a number of powerful and versatile features in a clean and reliable manner: instruments and drums can be ‘racked’ and chained in infinite combinations, audio can be routed and mixed in ways an actual mixing desk can only dream of, and the automation support is obsessively thorough and rock solid. Thirdly, Live’s interface is clear and simple: one window, two views, and fixed panels for instruments and sample browsing." (Nick Rothwell, Sound on Sound)
  • "Where most Recording Studio software programs are intended for stationary use in a static setting, Ableton Live has been tried, tested and refined for live performance functionality, combining the recording and editing tools and features of the best Recording Software programs with real-time effects, sequencers, loop machines to give electronica artists a powerful instrument on stage and artists and engineers of all musical genres and callibers a powerful tool to edit, modify and refine music off stage." (Top Ten Reviews)

Have you used Live? Do you love it or hate it? What are your favorite features? Let us know in the comments.

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