5 Essential Tips for Performing with Ableton Live

Timo Preece Live Set

Performing electronic music is, in some ways, uncharted waters. Since its release in 2001, Ableton Live has sought to make performing electronic music easy.

Gone are the days of just “pressing play” on your productions, and gone are the days of bringing tons of synths, sequencers and drum machines to your gigs.

Live makes turning your productions into performances easy, but how do you get started? Fear not! Here are 5 essential tips for performing with Ableton Live:

Controllers Are Your Friends

ableton push

While using your mouse and keyboard is cheap and easy, it often restricts the speed at which you can launch clips and change parameters. Many companies, Ableton included, have solved this problem with Ableton-Optimized controllers. They all have different capabilities, but they are all designed to plug-in and play right out of the box.  3 of the most popular controllers are Ableton’s Push, Novation’s Launchpad, and Akai’s APC40.

Prepare Your Live Set

Empty Live Set

Many performers prefer to have their entire performance in one live session, as opposed to switching sessions between songs. This allows for seamless transitions between songs, as well as the ability to mix songs together. Because many controllers have 8 columns of buttons, it makes sense to utilize each column as its own “instrument”, if you will. Making one column for kick drum, one for snare drum, one for synth leads, etc, allows for an easy-to-understand interface, and one that can be quickly expanded with new songs.

Preparing Your Songs for Performance

Now that you have set up your Performance Session, you have to prepare your tracks to be put into the session. Stemming your tracks is the best way to do this. Because you’ll need to consolidate all your tracks down to 8, you’ll want to create stems with tracks that have similar functions. For example, bouncing all your kick drums as one stem or all of your synth pads as one stem will consolidate the number of tracks you use in your Performance Session, and make triggering parts of songs easier for you.

Chopping Up and Organizing Your Songs

While you can keep your whole stem as one clip, many performers choose to chop up their stems into song-sections (verse, chorus, bridge, etc.). There’s no formula here, just make sure that the chops in all your stems line up, that way you don’t get a verse lead playing during the chorus.

Full Live Performance Set

Once you have all of your songs chopped up, you’re going to want to organize them into a set that makes sense. Organizing songs with similar tempos, as well as “peaks and valleys” in terms of energy can only help your set. There isn’t really a formula to this, either. Experiment with organizational methods and set lists until you’ve found a set that flows and is easy to get around in.

Playing Your Tracks “Live” with Effects Racks

Ableton Effects Racks

For some performers, launching clips isn’t enough to consider it a “Live” performance. There are many ways to to take you performances to the next level, but a simple and effective one is messing with effects racks.

Beat Repeat, Delay, Reverb, and EQ are fantastic effects to use in conjunction with launching clips. Try beat-repeating your drums, or drenching your vocal tracks in reverb. You can even map some parameters of the effects to a knob on your controller and go nuts with it during a performance. Using effects in this way ensures that no two performances will be exactly the same.

Whatever way you perform your tracks, remember to have fun with it. You can consider this a “Bonus” tip, but an enthusiastic performer makes for a night that no one will forget.

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