Ableton Basics

What IS Ableton Live?

Ableton Live is a “DAW”, or Digital Audio Workstation. This means it’s an “all-in-one”software platform (or tool) that allows you to take on multiple types of music work all within the DAW and never have to leave!

Some of what you can do with Live includes:

  • Composing / Producing Music start to finished work
  • DJing or Other form of Live performance
  • Sound Design
  • ...Anything that involves digital audio and/ or MIDI!

Ableton was originally designed for live performance (hence the name, duh…) and was designed for stability. That means it very, very rarely crashes. After all, if your computer and Live are the means to your show and Live crashes, your show is over….

There are lots of other DAW’s out there and each of them presents a different solution for Music creation.  Every industry has its needs and different tools were built for different types of creativity. Live’s specialty is in performance but also is very widely used in Electronic Music Production (as opposed to say, Game Audio, Film or large-format recording studios). 

Some of Live’s advantages include:

  • Live also has a non-linear Workflow - you can create music in random order and are not limited to starting with the beginning of the song.
  • It comes loaded with tools, sounds and synths (Suite Version is most complete).
  • It is comfortable in the studio AND on stage - either for DJing or other Live performance uses.
  • Live has some unique audio playback functions that include:
  • Creating and triggering individual loops
  • Mix loops of varying length and meter
  • Audition different groups of loops before committing.
  • Experiment with variations quickly
  • ...but for most people, it’s just plain fun to use!

What’s the Best Workflow for Live?

The term Workflow is an order of operations for executing your ideas. Workflows exist in all sorts of places (not just Music!) and every job you do can be done cleanly and efficiently, or sloppy and slowly. It’s up to you how to work and Live offers LOTS of ways to work. We’re going to show you our way (the Pyramind way!) as we’ve found it to be easy to learn, easy to use and very effective.

In music production, our general order of operations (our Workflow) consists of three processes:  Creating, Organizing and Finishing / Presentation.  

  • The Creative phase is where you will spend your time finding parts to put into your piece, performing the parts for your instruments to play, creating instruments and sounds and generally writing the music. Generally, creating content. You can be as much the mad scientist as you like in this phase - go ahead and make a mess! You can always deal with it later in…
  • The Organizational phase is where you will spend your time “cleaning up” sloppy performances, fixing mistakes/ bad notes, making choices on which performances are the “right ones” and generally keeping things tidy and coherent. Generally this also includes Arranging. It’s easy to get lost in a session and taking time to sort through your stuff saves a LOT of time in….`
  • The Finishing stage is when you make final decisions on things. Part choice, tones, volumes, special FX and song flow. Usually, this phase has 2 parts - Mixing and Mastering.

It's really important to not jump around with different phases of the workflow because you might end up getting stuck on something that’s really not important in the overall structure of the song. 

TIP:  Following the workflow is a great way to avoid time wasting - there ARE parts of this process that are best done later. Bouncing between unrelated smaller tasks is slow and will hurt your ability to finish songs - the hardest thing for new producers to do. This will require some discipline to stay on task and separate your work...

Organize Before You Start… (File Management and Sample Packs)

Before we get started, there are a few things we need to know, including (and especially!) where Live chooses to keep things. Losing your audio, sessions and folders will feel like you’ve lost a part of your soul when you accidentally delete something important. 

We know. We’ve all done it. It sucks. Here’s how you avoid it…

  • Create a new folder on your computer. This is where you will keep all your Music that we will create with Live.  The desktop works for now but consider a larger storage device as your musical library grows.
  • Rename the folder according to what makes sense to you, like “My Music Files” or something similar.
  • Open that folder and then, make 2 new ones. These are “sub-folders” to our main Pyramind Ableton Class Files folder. Name these:
  • “Ableton Sessions”. This is where the tracks we make will go.
  • “Samples and Sounds”.  This is where all the raw pieces of audio we’ll use for our music will go. Loops, One-shot audio hits AND the Beatport Sample packs that come with this class.
  • GET CLOUD STORAGE AND BACKUP REGULARLY. This can be using Google, iCloud,, or any of the various solutions out there. Rest assured, a crash WILL happen and data WILL get lost. If you don’t backup, it’s 100% your fault…

TIP:  This library will get rather large over time. Consider purchasing a separate hard drive (500G or larger) to store them all. Keeping them on your desktop long-term will slow your machine down badly.