We asked an expert how to play live on Ableton
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We asked an expert how to play live on Ableton

With the likes of Flume, Skrillex and ODESZA using it, have you ever wondered what preparation goes into a live show using Ableton? We spoke to mix engineer Anthony Garvin who’s helped build and prepare shows for electronic music acts across Australia,

Why would a performer use Ableton for a live show?

Ableton Live is a good choice because it allows the performer the flexibility of working with a static backing-track, or a completely improvised performance – or anywhere in between. This also allows a performer to start out with a reasonably safe and foolproof live set, and as their skill and confidence grows, they can start to improvise more with each performance.

How do you recommend setting up a performance in Ableton?

As a starting point, for a reasonably ‘safe’ setup:

  1. Export the finished song as grouped stems
  2. Import these stems into Live’s Arrange view, and chop up into the various song sections or loops
  3. Drag those sections / loops over to session view
  4. Use the ‘Follow Actions’ feature to automatically cue each section to play, so that if nothing is over-ridden, the songs plays start-to-finish without any awkward silences or glitches. (but the performer can still override this is they want to extend or shorten a section of the song)
  5. Name all tracks / clips / scenes !!
  6. Repeat for each song

What instrumental elements in a song do you recommend separating?

Anything that the performer wants to ‘play’ live – like a lead line, or percussion. Everything else can usually be grouped together into around 3x stems, and then effected / muted / EQ’ed like this during the performance.

It depends on what is going to be played “live” and sometime the genre of the music too. For example, a techno producer might take out the percussion elements and load them into a drum sample / pads, and then split the remaining elements into 3x stems. This way they could play the percussion live, but also have the flexibility to cut / loop / effect parts of the track, but not have the setup too complex, confusing or prone to issues.

If it was a live show for a producer who also sings, and they wanted the vocals to be the focus of the show, then we might separate the vocals and then bounce a backing track. But we could cut up the backing track in a way that it could be looped / effected / etc.

What instrumental elements in a song do you recommend grouping together?

This is often personal preference, and genre dependant, but for club-orientated music, lately I’ve found that 3x stems is enough, usually grouped like:

  1. Drums
  2. Bass
  3. Everything else

In terms of creating the best quality sound when using Ableton, what are your tips?

Make sure you’re using the final mixed version of the song to make your live stems. Pay attention to the warping settings on each Clip. Don’t go too crazy with extra delays or reverbs during your performance, as this risks everything sounding muddy. Practise your performance in the best room possible, so that you can accurately gauge how it will sound in the venue.

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