Archive by Author

Use Found Sounds for Percussion

13 Aug

I’ve gotten a lot of questions through the Academy (and through good ole email) asking for tips on making drum racks more, well, interesting. In this excerpt from the Ableton Cookbook Academy office hours, I show you a method that I’ve found really helpful: Using found sounds for percussion, in lieu of or in addition to high hats.

By “found sounds”, I mean any non-percussive sound. In my example above, I use the sound of wood being scraped, but in the past, I’ve used contact mic sounds, water burbling, ping pong balls, etc. Using these sounds will introduce textures that you never would have thought of, as well as some rhythmic variation that will make your beats slightly more off-kilter and “human.” Check it out and leave me any questions in the comments!

P.S. A great resource for unconventional sounds is the Freesound project

The End (of waiting) Is Nigh: Academy Open Now

20 Jul

Good morrow.

The end (of waiting) is nigh! Harken undo this page (click this page) to sign up for the Live Course in the Ableton Cookbook Academy right now.

Sign Up Here

Here’s what you’re in for:

Le Schedule

Week 1 (August 1-7): Device Racks

I’ve chosen to group several different concepts together in this module because I think that they fit well together. Essentially, we’ll be discussing how to use the basic devices of Ableton to make racks that are much more than the sum of their parts. This will give you a better idea of how to customize your sounds without resorting to fancy-shmancy VSTs.

Week 2 (August 8-14): Audio FX I

There are a lot of Audio FX in Ableton; so many that I’ve broken them into two modules. In this module, we’ll cover the basic FX and I’ve grouped FX that are similar together (for example, all of the filters and all of the delays) so that we can get a better idea of how each one works. I also through in the Looper since it is redheaded stepchild of the bunch!

Week 3 (August 15-21): Audio FX II

Now we’re going to cover some of the more idiosyncratic FX of Ableton’s, as well as the compressor, which is essential for stepping your game up. Not to be missed in this unit is the Vocoder which, although a tad difficult to get set up, is a real gem.

Week 4 (August 22-August 28): MIDI FX

I have to admit that I’m a sucker for MIDI FX. They are extremely versatile and can lead to some really exciting possibilities that will make 1) your life easier and 2) your music more exciting. Who can argue with that?! In this module, we’ll tackle the monumental task of mastering Ableton’s MIDI FX and I’ll give you an idea of how to chain these effects together for maximum…effect.

Sign Up Here

Week 5 (August 29-September 4): Music Theory

This module will focus on the music theory that I think all musicians, electronic or otherwise, need to know. This module is slightly different, in that it is composed of videos, quizzes where you can test your ear training and an open glossary of keyterms that I think are very important for you to know.

Week 6 (September 5-September 11): Arrangement

Too often, we get lost in the minutiae of making electronic music and miss the whole of the track. Unfortunately, this longer time span is what makes a track more than just a whole bunch of 5 second snippets of sound. This module will cover the arrangement view of Ableton and how to use it to lay out whole tracks. I’ve also written a little overview of the principles of arrangement.

Week 7 (September 12-September 18): Performance/DJ

This module will cover what I consider to be the coolest part of Ableton: taking it on stage! I’ll go through my ideas about designing your Ableton setup and then give you a glimpse into a few possible performance setups, including setups for DJing. My goal for this module is to inspire you to take your Ableton performance to the next level and that begins with designing a setup that suits you.

Week 8 (September 19- September 25): Mix/Master

The time has come for us to put the finishing touches on our tracks. Pretty exciting stuff! Or not. This is the point where a lot of folks get bogged down. But never fear. In this module we’ll cover the basics of how to make your tracks sound crispy in Ableton Live, including limiting, EQing and multi-band compression.

Sign Yo’self Up

Important Details

-The timeline I’ve provided above just refers to the release of the videos. You can watch them at your own pace and watch them as many times as you’d like.

-At the end of every week, I’ll be making a video of “office hours”. This will be an opportunity for me to address a common problem in-depth, or to expand and clarify something from the videos. I’ll be basing this on the questions in the Answerbase, as well as emails I receive. So please, ask questions!

Question? Concerns? Drop me an email at anthony [at] abltnckbk [dot] com

See you inside!


A New Way to Learn Production with Ableton Live

18 Jul

Lock up your horses and tie up your daughters, the Ableton Cookbook Academy will be reopening in t-minus 3 days.

The story thus far…

As many of the Cookbook faithful know, I’ve been offering an 8-week course on Ableton Live that will cover all the aspects that I think necessary to get comfortable with the software. My philosophy is “One Course to Rule Them All.” Actually, I just think that most people need 1 course to take them from n00b to functional producer and, from there, they can pretty much experiment and google their way to electronic music mastery. Each week will unleash a video module the likes of which man has never seen, covering Device Racks, Audio FX (2 weeks), MIDI FX, Music Theory, Arrangement, Performance/DJing and Mixing and Mastering.

Unfortunately, demand caught up with me and I decided to close the course to focus on improving the experience and making sure that I could devote more time to each participants questions. My revamped design was a result that of that “hiatus”. But now, it’s time to get serious…

So what’s new?

-New, improved Course Theater to watch the video modules in sequence. No more navigating weird pages to find your videos.

-Answerbase where you can ask questions about the modules and find answers to frequently asked questions.

-Weekly office hours with video responses to frequently queried queries.

-Enrollment will be limited to 10 participants at a time.

That’s right folks, gone are the days of free-flowin’ access to the Live Course. As soon as 10 people have registered, I’m going to slam shut the proverbial gates shut and no amount of crying will sway my hard heart. It’s really hard. I’m doing this because I like knowing participant’s name, what their goals are, favorite breakfast cereal, etc.

To recap: Course enrollment opens on Friday and will close as soon as we hit 10 people. Clearly, if you’re on the email list, you’ll get first crack, so make sure to sign up and wait up all night, refreshing your inbox.

Sign yo’self up

Bitwig? But why?

17 Jul

Everybody that I’ve talked to in the Ableton scene seems to have an opinion about Bitwig, and a few have asked me to opine…so opine I shall!

The first thing that most people note about Bitwig is its similarity to Ableton. And indeed, this seems to be explained by the fact that the folks that developed Bitwig used to work at Ableton; as if that’s a real justification. That’s like saying that, since I know how to make pancakes, I should just make pancakes for every meal. I mean, I do that, but for religious reasons.

And Bitwig is almost eerily similar to Ableton, I don’t see any major feature differences at all, except for one thing: The UI of Bitwig is perhaps even drearier than Ableton’s. This is surprising to me, since it seems like you would make a virtual copy of a piece of software in order to improve upon it, not to exaggerate its failings. In fact the differences between the UI of the two pieces of software seem to be totally capricious; the doings of a few developers’ personal preferences. The browser is on the other side of the screen! “Session” view is called “Mixer” view! The arrangement view has its own clip launcher!

Now, that is not to say that I think that these are all bad changes. In fact, I think that a lot of them will be interesting. But I wonder, on what basis were they made? I’m not totally certain that compounding more information onto the screen or having pet features is going to make a significantly better workflow than Ableton’s. One of the major challenges of design is to intelligently ignore your audience. I’m not saying that software designers shouldn’t address their users’ needs, but they shouldn’t just throw in a new feature whenever someone on a forum complains that the color of the knobs doesn’t match their drapes.

But features and design are only two points on which a product can compete. They can also compete on price and on performance (note: I am distinguishing performance from features here because there’s a huge difference between saying your software does something and that thing actually happening in such a hostile environment as digital signal processing). On price, I think that, if Bitwig were a couple hundred dollars less than Ableton, it could stand a chance at competing. Ableton is slightly too expensive, given market trends (IMO). I also think that Ableton can be beat on performance. The holy grail of live performance/DAW hybrids is stability, something which Ableton often has trouble reconciling with feature creep. I myself would sacrifice 1/3 of the features of Ableton for total stability. And by that, I don’t mean some weird configuration recommended by some Ableton forum necromancer (Turn your Wifi off at sunset, restart in VMware, wear a foil hat). I mean a piece of software that is stable on all operating systems, running concurrently with most conventional software. All the time.

There is, however, one feature which I find geniunely exciting in Bitwig: Layer editing, a feature that , seems to take cues from the layers in Photoshop or Illustrator.. Layer editing allows you to edit several clips simultaneously, viewing them superimposed on one another. This seems like it could solve one of my genuine Ableton workflow bottlenecks, since I often have elements of the same “pattern” (drums, melody, etc.) in different clips. And right now, it is difficult to reconcile them. I either have to toggle between clips (crappy), or copy and paste them into Arrangement view and edit them there, only later to copy them back into Session. Clearly, neither of these is optimal. Layer Editing may be the answer.

I’m definitely interested in learning more about Bitwig, but I really hope that it emerges as more than just a “me-too” Ableton. Because if they’re not careful, the folks at Bitwig might just learn that they inherited Ableton’s drawbacks along with its benefits.

Updates to the Ableton Cookbook Academy

10 Jul

First of all, thank you all so much for the support and feedback on the Ableton Cookbook Academy you’ve been sending my way! I’ve been trying really hard over here to incorporate your feedback and get it really humming before I open the rest of the Academy modules. The goal is to be able to use this platform for all future courses here at the good ‘Book.

Make sure to register for the email list for access to the Academy [if you’re a member and lost your invitation email, drop me a line]

Sign Up for the Ableton Cookbook Academy Here

Just wanted to drop yall a quick line and tell you about some improvements I’ve made.

1) I’ve fixed the notifications so that there’s a “News Feed”-type notification bar on the right. This will show you if any questions that you’ve followed have been recently answered. This will prevent you from having to check back at the Answerbase every day of every hour. In the future, I’ll stuff it with other Ableton news (from twitter, RSS, etc.), but for right now, it’s just updates from the Academy.

2) You should also get an email when there’s a new answer on a question that you’ve followed.

3) The registration is now simpler. Just sign up for the normal email list, confirm your address and you should receive a link to the Academy. Before there were basically two authentication steps, which was kind of overkill.

I really want to make the Answerbase a central place for people to ask and have questions answered. That way, we can all benefit from each other’s knowledge! So, sign up for the Academy and get your questions answered. And thanks to all of the people that have been answering questions at the Answerbase. It really warms my black little heart when I see yall helping each other, haha.

Sign Up for the Ableton Cookbook Academy Here

There’s still a couple of iterations to go through before I open the rest of the Course in the Academy. I’m trying to optimize it so that I can work with fewer people and really focus on participants questions. But my guess is that, in the next few weeks, I’ll open up a few spots and we’ll get this poppin!

Untimely Meditations: Damu

9 Jul

Don’t expect these thoughts about music production to be current, since Untimely Meditations is the opposite of music journalism. The goal of these posts is to write about music in a way that is beneficial to those of us who make music, not for the Tumblrati. Don’t expect Pitchforkian adjectives (WTF does “hotly tipped” mean?) or descriptions of music solely by comparison to other music (“Sounds like SBTRKT meets MSTRKRFT by way of Pat Benatar”) Strident opinions included.

To be honest, I was not entirely in love with Damu’s music when I first heard it. A lot of the work on his first EP sounds like a fairly paint-by-numbers “bass music” exercise. You’ve got square-wave pads with rhythmic filtering, squiggly, unquantized arpeggios and pitch-shifted 90’s R&B vocals. Everything is “done right”, but the sum of the parts is just, well, cool parts. With his album, Unity, though, Damu has overcome some of this and released some really next level work.

Of all the sins of mediocre bass music, chopped and shifted vocals are the most vile. Post-CMYK, every bass producer decided that they needed to jam a 2 second Aaliyah sample into their track, the winkier, the better. (Full disclosure, I once pitch-shifted a Third Eye Blind sample in an attempt to out-ironic myself. People got hurt.) In and of itself, I don’t mind this. When it is done well, it is sublime. And like many things in contemporary electronic music, it has already been done better. Compare Damu’s chopped Erykah Badu vocals on his track Karolina’s Magic J to this El-Tuff track from the first coming of UK Garage and tell me which is better. There’s a right answer.

Damu–Karolina’s Magic J

El Tuff–Drive Me Crazy

The difference between these two is that Damu’s vocals are chopped and shifted without any seeming heed to the song as a whole. And I understand why. As someone who has chopped and pitch shifted his share of vocals, I have to say: It’s really hard to do right. You are trying to repurpose someone else’s work and weave it into your own work seamlessly. And while this is basically THE problem of sample-based music, pitch-shifted vocals are an extreme case, since they are so out front and the ways to mess them up tonally are many.

Many mistakes that arise from this technique arise because producers treat these pitch-shifted vocals like a part of the percussion. They feel like their main function is rhythmic, so scales and melody be damned. This is a mistake. Unfortunately, vocals are, by nature, melodic. And if you don’t watch out, you’re going to have the melody of your pitch shifted vocals clashing with your pads, your leads, etc. and pretty soon you’ll have a hot mess.

Damu’s seems to have learned this lesson. Just look at the difference between a track like Karolinas Magic J, which is perfunctory bass music in the extreme, and tracks like Breathless and After Indigo. Just listen to how much more integrated the vocals are in the latter tracks. Nothing sounds tacked-on or perfunctory. It is hard to even imagine the track without this vocal snippets. This is music to be proud


Damu clearly also has an ear for melody that is often sorely lacking in this genre where rhythm is king. And this attention to melody is what differentiates the good producers from the great. But Damu’s melodic sense is, to me, a work in progress. I say that because, as his work has become more refined, it also slips dangerously into the saccharine (take, for example, his track L.O.V.E., which could be in a chewing gum commercial). This is a natural danger of embracing melody. The next phase is to take these melodic ideas and whittle them down until only the necessary elements remain.

Given Damu’s quick progression, though, I have no doubt that he’ll be able to pull this off with panache worthy of the hype that’s been given him.

Buy Unity here or join Spotify like the rest of the world.

Ableton Cookbook Academy Beta is Open. And Free.

28 Jun

First of all, thank you SO much for helping me get the Ableton Cookbook Academy off the ground. I’ve already had a lot of people register and I’ve already begun ironing out some of the bugs.

For those of you that haven’t checked it out yet, please sign up for the email list to do so! My vision here is to provide one central location for all thing Ableton Cookbook. There is a course theater that includes the Clip Module (my video series about the basics of Ableton). In the future, all Ableton Cookbook courses will be conducted in the Course Theater, allowing you quickly navigate to the content you want and ask questions about any production question that crosses your mind.

There’s also a central Answerbase where you can check out questions others have asked and post your own. You can also answer questions and vote on answers already given. The voting up and down of answers will be familiar to those of you who have used Stackoverflow or Quora. But for the n00bs, keep this in mind: You do have a “reputation” score. People voting your answers down and up affects this score, so try not to be a bonehead. High reps will earn free gear/Ableton help. Low rep will get you banned (eventually).

My vision for the Answerbase is to make it the opposite of the Ableton Forum. This is not a place to complain about why Ableton doesn’t have a pet feature that you’d really like. It’s a place for people who want to make music to get help and give feedback. And, hopefully, it will be fun!

I’ve been programming for a million hours, so I’m going to keep this brief. BUT please be sure to hit me back with any usability/feature ideas as well as bugs, etc. Keep the technical feedback on the email list (please) so that I can keep better track of it.

SIGN UP HERE FOR ACCESS (You’ll be redirected after confirming your email address).

Here are some known issues:

-Login is a pain. Email list account and Ableton Cookbook Academy accounts are different. This will be fixed.

-Search within the CourseTheater is not optimal. If you REALLY want to find something, search in the Answerbase.

-Notifications aren’t live, yet. But we are tracking questions for you, so please follow/subscribe to questions.

-Your rep and profile will be more accessible/visible soon.

Free Access to the Clip Module Beta

11 Jun

I’ve been kind of incognito as of late, and for that I apologize. I know how much yall have been missing my ramblings and rantings.

But please know that I have not, by any means, forgotten you, nor have I done anything crazy like taken a job as an insurance salesman (my fondest dream).

Instead, I’ve spent that last month or so finalizing the prototype of the new and improved Clip Module, my video series that covers all aspects of what I consider to be Ableton’s most important feature, Clips. This new interface includes some features that will soon be incorporated into the whole of the Ableton Live Course curriculum.

But new doesn’t always mean improved. That’s why I need all of yall’s help. Starting June 25th, I’m going to be opening up the new and improved Clip Module Beta for anyone on the email list. That means that what was once 47 American dollars will be totally free (for a limited time).

Well, not totally free.

I need something in return: Your feedback. As this is a wholly new interface that I designed and built with my own Funyon-stained fingers, I’m going to need all the feedback that yall can spare. I’d also really appreciate it if you forwarded this info to your friends who use Ableton or are thinking of getting started.

But you have time to prepare your minds. The free beta will open on June 25th and will only be free for a limited time. So, in the interim, check out this video that I made of the new features and make sure to sign up for the email list to participate in all the free Ableton Cookbook goodness.

And finally: Thank you!

Sign up here for the email list

Getting Started with Ableton Sampler: Loading Multiple Samples

1 Jun

In many ways, the Sampler in Ableton extends the functionality of the Simpler. In fact, if you are at all familiar with using several Simplers in one Device Rack, you will find much of the Sampler workflow familiar, so take heart! In this short tutorial, we’ll discuss some peculiarities that arise when attempting to load several audio samples into one Sampler instance.

One benefit of the Sampler versus the Simpler is that the Sampler makes it very easy to keep your sample playing back at its original Root Pitch, regardless of where you position the sample on your keyboard. Anybody who has tried to use Simpler and had their snare sound come out as a belchy rumble knows what I’m talking about.

The first step is to drag an empty Sampler instance into a MIDI track and navigate to wherever you have the group of samples that you’d like to load. In my case, this is a folder full of snare samples.

Now, select all of the samples that you’d like to load. Remember: You can’t just drag the folder (I have no idea why), you have to select the samples en masse by using Shift-Click. Drag into the main Sampler window.

You should, at this point, have a small message in the Sampler window that indicates how many samples you’ve loaded. Huzzah! Remember this number, as it will come in handy later.

Now, for the fun part. Open up the Zone tab and note how the green bars extend all the way across the keyboard graphic. That is almost certainly what we don’t want, since it will mean that every sample will be played simultaneously on every key of the keyboard. We must change this.

Decision time: Would you rather have the samples laid out across the keyboard, or would you rather be able to scroll through the samples with knob? If it’s the former, then stay in the Key tab of the Zone editor. If it’s the latter, then you’ll want to go to the Sel tab of the Zone editor.

Either way, select all of the samples by Shift-Clicking again in the sample list of the Zone editor. Now, drag the bars (all of them should move) so that they cover as many keys as there are samples. Doing this will make sure that there is only one sample per key (very useful if you haven’t loaded exactly 128 samples). Remember that there are 12 keys per octave.

Now, right click and select “Distribute Ranges Equally” from the menu. This will distribute the ranges equally across the largest range in the samples. That is why we made the range a little bit smaller.

If you’ve done this correctly, you should have one sample per key which is played back at its original pitch. Or, if you’ve decided to use the Sel tab, you should have one sample per notch on your MIDI controller knob.

Make sure to holler at me below or on the Twitter if you have any questions!

Get Patching: Make a Simple Clip Launcher in Max for Live

31 May

Not all of us can afford to have some sort of custom-made, MIDI command center alá Daft Punk or Ableton swami Robert Henke. Some of us are plebes who are trying to make these beats while squatting in a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on La Cienega. And, for us, maybe it’s a good idea to maximize the input capabilities of the most irreducible part of an Ableton setup: Ye Olde Keyboarde. By using Max for Live, we can make the keyboard do pretty much anything imaginable. And, in future installments, we’ll talk about using the trackpad (which on a Macbook, can track 10(?!) independent input points! Take that, Lemur.

In this video, we’ll cover the “key” object, which accepts keypresses from the computer keyboard (there’s actually a much more swank version of this object called “hi”, which will allow you to access the trackpad, mic and IR inputs, but be patient Daniel-san). We’ll then take that input and use it to trigger different clips, making ourselves a kind of clip matrix with the keyboard. We’ll do this by assigning keys a-f to scenes 1-4 and keys j-; to tracks 1-4. In the process, we’ll also cover how to use variables in Max for Live and introduce the “select” object, which will help us manage our keypresses. So, get ready, because this is going to be too awesome for words.