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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50 Effective Tips for Improving Your Mixdown Quality, Workflow, and Mixing Knowledge (Part1)

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Here are the first 35 mixdown tips from an EDMPROD Blogpost:

PREPARATION 

(The first 10 tips are about preparation, that is – preparing your track before the final mixdown, which leads to my first point.)

1. Do a final mix at the end 

Check out this article on the difference between mixing as you go vs. mixing down at the end. Either method works great for different people.

Separating the creative/musical and creative/technical side can be incredibly helpful, not only to workflow but production quality as a whole.

2. It all starts with sound design and sample selection 

If you’re trying to mixdown a track that has a poorly designed bass, horrible kickdrum, and ugly hi-hat – then what’s the point?

Mixing is not something you do just at the end of your production, it’s something that you have to think about from the moment you open your DAW.

3. Be happy with everything else first

Before doing the final mixdown, take a listen through your track a few times and make sure you’re content with the arrangement and everything else (you don’t have to be completely happy with how it sounds sonically, as you’ll be fixing that in the mixdown).

4. Label and color tracks 

Our brain responds to color faster than it does to words. When mixing down it’s important you know what section you’re working on, you don’t want to EQ your bass while listening to your synth.

I typically color all my drums and percussion yellow, bass blue, and synths green.

Having an already set up template can help with this, and I recommend creating one.

5. Using audio over MIDI has its benefits 

There are actually a few benefits to working with audio:

  • You can visually see where the audio starts and ends, making it easy to clear things up (reverb tails, delay tails, etc)
  • It’s more CPU-friendly
  • It’s easier to work with in general

6. Group similar tracks 

Grouping similar tracks can help you to achieve a more ‘unified’ sound through bus compression, EQ, reverb, and whatever else.

It’s also a lot easier to turn one fader down instead of 5. If your drum section is too loud, then you can simply turn the group fader down.

7. Mixdown earlier in the day, if possible

If you’re listening to music all day, or working in a place with loud noises – then mixing down afterwards can be dangerous due to your already fatigued ears.

Our ears are a lot more fresh and unbiased in the morning.

Whether this has an identifiable significant difference is another story, but it’s worth trying out.

8. Start with all the faders down 

It’s a lot easier to get a good balance by turning the volume up from nothing. In preparation, turn all the faders down and then start with the element you want to be the loudest (in most EDM this would be the kick drum)

9. Highpass everything 

You might want to do this after the preparation stage, I like to do it before.

Filter out all the unneeded low-end information from each track. Highpass up until the point where it affects the sound, and then pull it back a bit just to stay on the safe side. This is a good starting point.

Note: Kick and sub-bass are an exception here. Along with anything else you think needs frequencies under 100Hz.

10. Choose reference tracks 

Mixing without reference tracks is like drinking alcohol for no apparent purpose. You feel great at the time, but in the morning when you wake up you ask yourself, “Why the hell did I do that?”

Don’t overestimate your abilities. Reference tracks are in my opinion, essential.

Read More

 

MIXING IN GENERAL 

(The next 25 tips are about mixing in general, this includes creative and technical aspects.)

11. Start with your most important element 

In any given song you’ll have one element that’s the most important. In an acoustic song it might be the vocal, in dubstep it might be the snare, and in trance it might be the kick.

Work out what this is and start with it, use it as a reference point and build all other elements around it (for this reason I typically start with the kick, any time I add an element that causes the kick to lose punch I know I need to adjust the new element).

12. Devote time to your mixdown 

If you know that you’re going out in 30 minutes, then it’s probably not the best time to start a mixdown. Find a time where you can commit a couple of hours solely to your mix.

13. Mix at low volume 

Mixing at a low level not only reduces the risk of ear fatigue (and permanent hearing damage), but it’s a great way to judge your mix more accurately because:

  • You have less harsh room reflection
  • You can get a more accurate balance, if you can’t hear something at a low level then it may be too quiet
  • If it sounds good at a low volume, it’s generally going to sound good at a high volume

14. Mastering won’t fix anything 

Don’t tell yourself that mastering will fix the problems you have in your mix. It simply won’t. Don’t just procrastinate and convince yourself that mastering will fix it.

15. Learn to use your tools 

A new plugin will not make your mixdown sound significantly better if you don’t know how to use the tools first. If you’re unaware of how a compressor works, then why would you buy (or acquire) a different one?

16. Consider using volume automation instead of compression 

If you’ve got some loud peaks in your song, compression can fix them – but so can placing a little dip with an automation clip. It’s a lot more flexible and may just prove beneficial to you.

17. Subtle sidechaining can work wonders

Doing subtle sidechain compression creates a lot more room for the kick to punch through, and who says you need to sidechain with a kick? You could use another synth, or anything else. Be creative!

18. Spectrum analyzers are invaluable, but ultimately rely on your ear 

You’d be silly to work without them, but it’s important that you make final calls with your ear. Use both!

19. Don’t blame your bad mix on the tools you have 

Whether it’s VST’s, your DAW, or your monitoring environment – don’t make excuses.

Good tools help a lot, but they aren’t required. The most important thing is that you know your gear inside and out.

“My studio was lo-fi by necessity; I was fourteen with no reliable income. I was monitoring my music using $100 Logitech speakers, and I only used software.” – Porter Robinson

20. Don’t wear a beanie 

Or anything else that covers your ears, for that matter. Wearing something over your ears blocks out a lot of high-frequencies and is horrible for mixing and making music in general.

21. Be creative 

Don’t get stuck in the ‘rules box’, where you don’t dare venture off from the fundamental guidelines. While these are important if you want to get a good sound – they’re only guidelines and not rules, if it sounds good – it sounds good.

22. Don’t overuse compression 

At the end of the day, most of us are using digital instruments, meaning that we’re not really recording in anything that has an extreme variable volume. Because of this, most of our source material is already pretty even – it doesn’t have huge dynamic range.

Don’t use compression ‘just because’, use it if you need to or want to change the characteristic of a sound. If you’re working with vocals then you’ll almost definitely need to compress, but with soft synths it’s not always necessary.

23. Try a new technique 

If you’re focused on learning how to mix better, then try something new. It might be parallel compression, or rhythmic delays.

On the other hand, if you’re doing a mixdown for someone – or releasing an important track, then play it safe and make sure you don’t screw anything up with your new technique.

24. Don’t copy other artists blindly 

If Noisia boost their snares at 150Hz, then it doesn’t mean you should start doing it from then on in every song you make.

If you’re wanting to learn new techniques, you first have to workout why the producer did it. Was it to add more punch? Was it to clean up the mix?

Whatever it is, work out why they did it, and then adapt it to your own productions.

25. If you don’t know what it does, don’t use it

If you’re not sure of what something does – why not research it? Or listen to the actual effect it has. Why are you using a transient shaper on your snare if you don’t know what it does? You get the idea.

Study and then use.

26. Recalibrate your ears

I’ll talk more about breaks in the workflow section, but after mixing for long hours at a time it’s important to take a long break (30-60 minutes or more) to completely recalibrate your ears so you can start fresh afterwards.

It helps to actually go somewhere without too much noise. While listening to music isn’t necessarily bad, it can be a distraction. Go outside, take a walk on the beach, at least get out of your chair!

27. Use automation to make your mix sound great 

One thing I like to do is get my mix sounding good with minimal automation, and then leverage automation to make it sound fricken excellent.

The reason for this is that automation can be a big distraction, it’s quite a time consuming thing when done properly, but it’s that last 5% of a track that lets you show off your technical skill level and creativity.

So try to automate things after your basic mixdown. You may find that you run into some problems after automation, so you’ll have to fix them up at the end.

28.  If it sounds good, leave it! 

This goes for everything, mixing and sound design to creating melodies. Don’t overproduce, know when to stop.

If you EQ something, and it sounds good – just leave it! Don’t make it sound worse by adding a plethora of effects on top. Minimalism > trying to appear more creative.

Note: Try to build the habit of consciously asking yourself whether you need to add ‘Effect A’ or not.

29. There are no rules, only guidelines. Just don’t do the opposite 

Guidelines are helpful, people shouldn’t despise them. Of course they can be avoided, but if someone tells you that you should have sub-bass in mono – don’t be a hipster and stick it in stereo.

Likewise, don’t try to stack 10 supersaws on top of 5 different pluck sounds. Unless you want your track to sound horrible.

30. Subtle white noise can make massive difference to a mix 

There’s a reason why it’s used in 90% of EDM tracks. It’s a waveform that has no tone, and it’s great for filling out your mix.

Use it sparingly of course, there’s nothing worse than an abundance of white noise that drowns out everything else. You can use it rhythmically, sidechain it, whatever! Experiment.

31. Mix your drums and bass first 

This might be a little contradictory to tip #11, and it is quite genre-dependent.

A lot of electronic dance music relies on the drums and bass as foundation elements. After all, that’s what makes people dance. Starting with these elements in your mix can provide a much easier template to work off compared to going backwards from something like the synths and FX.

It’s also arguably the hardest part to get right in the mix, so if you sort it out first then it’s less of a mission to do the rest.

32. The less detailed your low-end is, the better 

K.I.S.S

You know what that means, right kids? Keep It Super Simple.

Above the 200Hz range you can be a little less careful, but anything below that is going to cause issues when it overlaps too much. Don’t get stuck in the muddiness.

Read more

33. Always sleep on it

You’ve just been mixing for the last 6 hours, there’s no way that what you’re hearing is completely accurate.

If you finish a mixdown, wait until the morning and listen to it with a pair of fresh ears. I know this is hard, as we all want to share our art with the world – but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

34. Clean up delay and reverb tails 

Reverb and delay tails are hard to overlook, and unfortunately they can add a lot of unwanted and unnecessary muddiness to the mix. I’d recommend bouncing down to audio as you can see where the tails end visually.

35. Use the bypass function 

Most DAWs allow you to bypass an effect with a single mouse click. Do this while using a mixing plugin to hear the difference.

Some more expensive effects, such as plugins from the Waves Renaissance Bundle allow you to switch between two presets within the same VST/AU shell.

Part 2 to follow tomorrow! Want to learn this process in an intimate, hands-on environment? That’s what we do. Email Sarah or call 617.849.9321 today. For a list of our courses click here.

Artist Tips from Egyptrixx

To say that Egyptrixx is a one of a kind artist is an understatement. While staying familiar to the sounds of grime and techno, he has created a completely original style that has allowed him to stand out from his Night Slugs brethren. With his new EP Transfer of Energy [Feelings of Power] being released next week via his label Halocline Trance, it was the perfect time for him to give some tips to aspiring artists.

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Preparation and troubleshooting:

These two principles are the foundation for every track Egyptrixx makes. It’s essential to have a solid set of ideas, and be able to deal with problems as they arise.

Refine ideas outside the studio:

“I find it basically impossible to come up with good ideas while staring at a computer screen; it’s such a paralysis device.”

By working outside the studio, it’s possible to make initial decisions on new music without the distractions that would usually be found in the studio. That way once you begin to actually produce a track, the workflow is steadier.

Egyptrixx – Start from the Beginning from A N F on Vimeo.

Parameters are an artist’s best friend.

While DAW’s like Ableton and Logic give an artist endless possibilities for different sounds, they can become overwhelming and finding a direction for a track. Creating a basic sound palette before starting and working with hardware whenever possible is a good way to stay focused.

“I also think it’s important to make decisions about general atmosphere and basic production techniques in advance so that when you get tired or frustrated, you can refer back and keep things rolling forward.”

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Egyptrixx Live Set [Excerpt] from A N F on Vimeo.

Avoid fatigue:

A huge part of producing music is decision making, and when you’re tired, your ability to make good decisions is impaired. By creating a solid schedule, it’s possible to maximize your efficiency in the studio without losing your creative energy. It’s also crucial to take breaks from listening your music, otherwise you can get bored of a song you’re producing and begin to second guess yourself.

“Take breaks; go do emails, read something, go outside, eat, whatever. Make sure you’re purposeful and have energy when working—don’t overdose on work. Four to five hours of good, productive studio time is better than 12 hours of drudgery.”

Write with the wrong instrument:

If you find yourself stuck on a track, try playing it on a different instrument. It will give you a fresh set of ears for the melody and allow you to have a deeper understanding of the your music.

“There’s nothing revelatory here, it’s just a silly little trick that can sometimes be useful and produce an interesting result.”

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Embrace non-musical ideas:

Inspiration is everywhere, and all forms of art and design can be translated into music.

“This process has basically become the mission statement for the Egyptrixx project.”

Egyptrixx – Ax//s from A N F on Vimeo.

The full interview with Egyptrixx can be found at XLR8R.

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How To Get A Punchy Kick On Every Mix

The kick is the deep, resonant heartbeat that drives the music. It is essential that it comes through and connects the listener to the fundamental rhythms of your music. Getting the kick to sit right in your mix can be challenging, but by understanding and knowing what steps to take, you will find yourself closer to the sound you want and need. This tutorial will share five tips you can use to achieve a punchy kick on every mix.

1. Choose the right kick sample
If you are having trouble making the kick come through in the mix, make sure you’ve chosen the right kick sample. Is it tuned to the right key? (It should be tuned to the root note of the key of the song). Does it have low end? High end? The effectiveness of your kick starts at the sample. You may have to stack more than one sample to achieve the kick sound you want. Perhaps one sample will have the low end, another sample will have the mid range beater and a third sample will have the high end click.

2. Use EQ to fatten/tighten up the kick
It is rare to not have to use EQ to shape your kick, unless you’ve written your song around the kick drum. If the kick lacks low end, look for the dominant sub resonance in the 45hz-100hz region. Use an EQ to sweep in this region and find the sweet spot, boost to taste and widen the Q to keep the low end boost smooth, not sharp and pointy.
To tighten up the kick look for the beater sound in the 3-10khz range and give it a boost.
Keep in mind, fattening and tightening up a kick does not always mean boosting frequencies. Sometimes cutting the muddy, unnecessary frequencies in the 200hz-800hz can open up the low end and tighten the upper mids.

3. Use Compression to make the kick punchy
Compression is an essential tool to be used when tweaking a punchy kick. Begin with a slow attack, fast release, ratio 4:1. The kick should compress no more than 3db. Sometimes even 1db of compression is enough to make it pop out of the mix.

4. Make Sure Your Kick Sample Is In Mono
Majority of the time, drum samples come in stereo. Be sure to split them into mono. Having a kick sample in mono center is essential to make it cut through the mix. The center of your mix should always be dedicated to your kick drum, snare, bass and lead vocal

5. Use Sidechain Compression To Give Space To Your Kick
By sidechaining the kick to the bass and other instruments in your mix, it will temporarily attenuate all the sidechained instruments and allow the kick to cut through for a split second before the music goes back to unity. This step is an absolute essential step in getting the kick to come through the mix. Having the bass sidechained to the bass gives life to the mix as well. Experiment with sidechaining other instruments to the kick to see if it gives a cool pulse to the song.

If you have never used sidechain before, check out this YouTube video:

Interested in learning how to produce and mix? Drop us a line!

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