If Ableton Live were a human, it would possibly be getting turnt at its 19th birthday party in just a few months time. In the time it takes us to enter adulthood, Ableton Live used that same amount of time to revolutionise the way the world created, performed, and experienced electronic music.
In 2001, Berlin-born computer programming graduates Bernt Roggendorf and Gerhard Behles developed and released the very first version of Ableton Live. And at the time, it wasn’t created for anything more than to enhance their performances as the dub-techno duo, Monolake. It took an encouraging push from a friend to turn their personal project into a retail-ready, universal software. That is where a vision of Ableton as we know it was created. They’ve said they believe the success of Ableton could be largely due to the connections they made through their music project in the Berlin music scene. In the perfect case of “right place, right time”, by the time Ableton was ready to launch, they had already established close friendships with rising Berlin artists, who were seeing increasing demand for live shows throughout Europe. And Ableton Live was there, ready to make live electronic performances easier than anyone could have dreamt of at the time.
“What became very obvious is that the software enabled a lot more people to leave their home studios and bedrooms, and go on stage—and that fuelled the whole festival culture. I don’t think we would have the same amount of electronic music festivals these days without this software, because suddenly, everyone who’s producing electronic music had a clear path [of] how to bring this on stage. I mean it became quite normal to go onto any festival stage and just accept the fact that almost 90 per cent of all laptops are running our software. I remember clearly for years this did strike me as something completely mad,” Henke told Thump.
DAWs are an incredibly personal choice, and we know we’re biased on this one. But there’s a reason Ableton grew so fast and so quickly. In a time of clunky DAW’s and time-consuming creation, the features Ableton provides successfully brought the flow state into music production. And no, we’re not getting into anything spiritual here. With features like session view, you can get your ideas out onto the digital canvas without stopping – keeping you in the groove of creation, and not focused on things like arrangement and sound design before it’s necessary. And as these features have developed and progressed, it still influences how people create music today.
“Having everything where it feels it should be, makes those creative moments easier to embrace. Sometimes we are in sessions for hours and can’t get a vibe on anything, but when it comes, you need your DAW to be ready to act fast with you and get those ideas onto the arrangement. I feel Ableton does this best and makes those creative bursts easy to capture. I learnt on Pro Tools in 2013, but was always drawn to the look and feel of Live. After going from Pro Tools and having played around on Logic and FL Studio, I don’t think I would want to use anything but Ableton,” says Daniel Andaloro of the neo-disco group, Groove City.
Beyond the creation process, the live show is where Ableton truly changed the game for gigging electronic musicians. Session View brought electronic artists the capability to add live performance or improvisation elements to their live shows. From removing instruments in the track to allow for them to be played live, to the ability to preprepare their entire sets, Ableton gave ease to artists and new points of interest to their audiences. Today, you might find yourself stuck to hunt out an electronic live show that doesn’t utilise Ableton in some way.
“Aside from the smooth workflow, the live performance features are second to none. Live shows are where we switch to Ableton’s Session View. We set up a strip of backing tracks – which are usually our tracks with the elements we will be performing live taken out, and strips for my MIDI controllers – which are automated to switch to whatever plugin/sound I need for the particular song we are playing. The automation makes live performances way less stressful so we can focus more on giving people a show and less about making sure I have the right synth ready to go,” says Daniel.
Even artists who don’t use Ableton for the production see its potential to enhance their performances and reduce their stress on stage. Artists like EMME – who makes electrified pop tunes in Sydney – produces his music using Logic, but makes the switch to Ableton when it comes time to take the stage.
“I have just recently moved into Ableton for my live shows and think it is a great addition. I use it to run both a master backing track and edited, stemmed-down tracks in addition to my live electronic drumming, external triggers and guest instrumentalists (synths, guitars, vocals etc). The ability to have all the automation pre-planned and tempo adjustments sorted before performance is awesome, it takes away the stress and allows me to focus on drumming and playing instruments. I don’t need to worry about triggering individual sounds live through Ableton, as I do this all through a Roland module, which allows me to load my own samples into it and trigger. Ableton is mainly used for all the backing tracks and sounds,” says EMME.
If you want to learn how to up your performance skills using Ableton Live, check out the Perform Live course over with our friends at Liveschool, to learn the technical and creative skills you need to engage your audience.