Gear Review: Ableton Live 9

Gear Review: Ableton Live 9

"The super hot chick that comes along when you're in a happy, long-term relationship and wows you enough to change"

Gear   1895 Views
Last Edited by: Chris MUG5 Maguire August 2nd, 2013

Ableton Live has been around for a decade believe it or not. When I owned my Recording Studio in Cardiff, Wales I had a demo of it and toyed with one of the early releases. While I could see it's benefits as a live performance tool, at the time it just didn't really have the functions I needed for electronic music production, so for years I ended up being a Reason devotee. All of that changed when I got my hands on Abelton Live 9 as now it is much more than a tool for live performances, it is a fully fledged, feature rich music making machine these days that enables you to start creating music in minutes thanks to it's excellent help system and very intuitive user interface. I had my first production completed the first day of using it and I have been making music almost daily with it since.

My First Ableton Live 9 Production | Outre - Recall

What's New in Ableton Live 9?

Ableton Live 9 has a few new features, one of which I have used on every single production - their Glue Compressor which is modelled off the old SSL hardware compressors used on many musical hits. The Glue Compressor is fantastic for adding that professional boost and sheen to any mix. I have found myself using it a lot in the A and B return tracks which are supposed to be used for Reverb and Delay. I pick one or two compression types and feels and then dial them in using the A & B dials on each individual channel to varying degrees. I usually have one honed for drum perfection and one for crisping up bass with any additional effect work being done on a channel by channel basis (although you can add additional return tracks as you wish).

Other notable upgrades in Live 9 is the visual additions that have been added to the Compressor and Gate plugins which visually show you what is happening, as it is happening allowing even novices to see when they are over-compressing something (instead of having to listen for it). The EQ Eight plugin has also had a complete overhaul, adding a plethora of new features, my favourite of which is the ability to solo specific frequencies.

The Ableton Live interface nowadays is excellent. The design elements are simple but in a well-designed, contemporary way and it is very nice to look at. Everything you will need is nicely fitted within one window pain and the view between track view and mixer / live view can be changed easily depending on what you're working on. I really like the search feature as it saves TONS of times when searching for presets. Want a starting point to compress your kick drum? Type "kick" in the search and all effects available to that search term are shown. The search is so good I don't even use the browser! Another time-saving gem I discovered was the ability to move chunks of a song over from the DAW style track view to the live view allowing triggerable portions of songs for live use. This leads nicely to my next love of Ableton Live. As it was born as a live performance tool, 98% of the things can be done on the fly without the music ever stopping. Get acquainted with some of the keyboard shortcuts and this gets crazy! Say for example you are digging a section of an unfinished song you are listening to and want to repeat it, you can highlight it, duplicate it and even add in more samples or effects while the track is still playing! This for me really changes the way I am creating and speeds up my workflow tremendously.

Automation controls in Ableton Live are excellent too. In the track view there is a drop down that allows you to select all the individual knobs and sliders for all the effects that you have on that channel. Say you wanted to fade up compression on a track at one point from nothing to 100% wet you would just select the "wet/dry" from the drop-down and then draw the fade you wanted and voila! An even more efficient way to do this and my usual preferred method is to record the automation live. This can be done simply using the symbol that looks like an angled infinity symbol that is pretty much dead center of the screen (automation arm) and then arming the track you want to record the automation for. When this is set all the tweaks and knobs you twiddle with will be recorded so when it is played back next time the exact same thing will happen - this makes for some great effects and allows for much wilder automation especially if you have a hardware controller and can actually control these settings using real knobs!

The Game Changer

There is one single feature of Ableton Live 9 that is a game changer for me. I have collaborated with many people on projects and one guy in particular had a bunch of drum packs as individual clips and then literally copied and pasted them into the beats he wanted. His work was excellent and we wanted to collaborate on some projects but the problem was I was limited to doing the same - cutting up his beats and moving them around like he had done to create new versions of those beats. The same goes with his synths etc. Now the problem with that approach was that the sounds always stayed the same even though the details had changed. Pretty much anyone that has remixed anything has likely run into this problem on numerous occasions themselves too!

With Ableton Live 9's newest and greatest feature you can now convert Audio to MIDI and the results are actually astoundingly good. Now I only tried it on instruments that were already soloed so I can't comment on if it would work for an actual song with all instruments in but, with their three conversion algorithms - drums, poly (chords) and single note - I was able to fairly accurately import all of those Audio sounds into MIDI and manipulate them as I wanted. So for example, I imported a synth melody in and the first thing I did was change up the sound of the synth. It can be done with Ableton Live 9. What's best is not only is it super easy but Ableton Live 9 even attempts to showcase you a sound that it thinks would work best for the melody that you have too which can sometimes prove inspirational.

You can import a beat and then change the drum kit to a completely different one so that the groove is the same but the vibe is different. You can even hum a melody into Ableton Live 9 and convert it to a synth line or a bass line, which is huge for the people out there that are great music makers but can't play an instrument to save their lives! Whilst improvements and the accuracy of this feature will grow in coming releases, it is this one feature alone that has secured Ableton Live as being my music production tool moving forward.

In Summary

What you are reading is my initial feedback based on a couple of weeks worth of heavy usage of Ableton Live 9. There are likely many features I haven't come across fully yet and my knowledge of this software's brilliance will grow moreso over time I'm sure. That said, what I did achieve in one day shows how user friendly Ableton Live 9 is and two weeks later I already have six or seven songs I am spreading around with collaborators to work on together. Let's use a relationship metaphor here. Ableton Live 9 is the super hot chick that comes along when you're in a happy, long-term relationship and wows you enough to change your life and your current relationship. I have been an avid Reason user for over 10 years and Ableton Live 9 is that super hot chick that has made me leave my long term relationship for something that has just that little bit more on offer, that I needed in my music making.

Ableton Live 9 comes HIGHLY recommended as a tool for beat-making. What makes Ableton Live 9 even better is it can also be used for live DJ'ing and performance, or even podcasts and radio shows due to it's excellent audio effects and plugins and the ability to move, add and tweak on the fly without the music ever stopping which is, in reality, probably Ableton Live 9's greatest feature of all.

Where to Purchase

Ableton Live 9 is available at the link below. I would highly recommend the Suite version as it gives you all of the features, a ton of sounds, more instruments and Max for Live which is a very robust visual programming environment that allows the really serious music makers to create new instruments and effects for use in Ableton Live, which pretty much leaves the options limitless!

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