Ableton Live is a fully featured Digital Audio Workstation that allows users to make music in creative and experimental ways. However, Ableton began life as a DJ application. While features have been added over time to increase it's functionality as a DAW, it's DJ functions have increased as well. Here are some tips to save time by creating a DJ template with Ableton.
First, open Ableton and go to the session view. Create at least two audio tracks. These two audio tracks will function as your virtual decks. More ambitious DJs can add more audio tracks, but it's best to start with two.
Step 2 – Assign Your Cross-fader
Much like in analog DJ set-ups, the Ableton cross-fader will be your best friend. Make sure your cross-fader is enabled by pressing the ''X” button just to the right of the master mixer channel. Once the cross-fader is active, you will see the letters “A” and “B” beneath each of your audio and send channels. Assign the first audio channel the letter “A” and the second audio channel the letter “B”.
Step 3 – Pre-Warp Your Tracks
Ableton's trademark warping ability makes it possible to stretch the tempo of songs. When selecting your play-list, it is best to warp your songs. Remember to take advantage of Live's multiple warping algorithms. If you are playing tracks that are highly percussive, with little melodic content, the “beats” setting will work well. Otherwise, the “complex” or “complex” pro settings will work best for most genres.
Step 4 – Select Your Tempo Range
Most DJ sets stay in a pretty narrow range of tempos, so it saves time to determine what your mater tempo will be. Unless you are doing a mixed genre set, you'll more than likely stay in a general tempo range.
Most dance sets will be in the 130-170 BPM range. Most hip-hop sets tend to be a little slower, and come in around the 100-120 BPM range. In any event, the master tempo can be controlled via MIDI, which will make it easier to change tempos during you set.
Step 5 – Select Your Effects
The best DJs infuse a sense of personalization into their sets. One of the best, and easiest, ways to do this is in Ableton is to make use of effects. Ableton has a serious set of effects and effect chains that can be implemented and modified fairly easily.
It is important to think of Live as virtual turntables and a mixer. As a result, you should add effects that mimic or (exceed!) your dream mixer. Flangers, filters, EQ channels, reverbs, and many more can be added to fit your needs. As long as you have the processing power, you can add the effects.
In terms of set-up, I recommend placing the effects on the individual audio tracks that you use as your virtual turntables. For a basic set-up, you should at the very least have an EQ on each channel, with a limiter/compressor on the master channel.
Step 6 – Map Your MIDI
Ableton's MIDI mapping makes just about every parameter visible on screen mappable to your MIDI controller of choice. Every slider, knob and effect can be customized to be controlled remotely by your MIDI controller, or even your computer's keyboard.
For DJs, I would strongly recommend mapping at least two scene clips, the cross-fade control, the master volume fader, and the volume faders for all assigned channels. In addition, it is extremely helpful to map the tempo control, and some parameters on your installed effects.
If you have the EQ3 on your two audio tracks, I would recommend mapping the EQ cuts to effectively create EQ kill switches on each channel.
Once you have assembled all of your channels, the warped audio files you're using, and the MIDI mappings, be sure to save your newly created Ableton DJing template.
Remember, just because you are a digital DJ doesn't mean certain tips from the analogue era don't apply. Know your songs, know your audience, and have keep an open mind. Most of all, enjoy yourself!