My 10 Favorite Workflow Enhancements in Ableton Live 10

  |  Greg Gordon  |  

"I like to break down my work flow into two categories: Administrative and Creative."

Ableton Live 10 is an exciting update that brings with it many upgraded features and great new devices. While I love the new WaveTable Synth, The Drum Bus, The Echo plugin, and the integration of Max, I’m finding that some of my favorite new features are focused on an improved workflow. I like to break down my workflow into two categories: Administrative and Creative. This new version release packs lots of punch into both categories so I thought it would be helpful to break them down into some of my favorites and show just how helpful they are.


Administrative

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Collections

The first thing you might notice in the top right of the browser window is something called "collections". This is particularly useful for creating up to seven groupings of your favorite plugins and instruments for quick access. On initial usage, only the red color label (named “Favorites”) is shown, but you can display the other 6 with a right-click - each named however you like!  Customized plugins and devices can be either dragged into a grouping, or, by right-clicking to show the contextual menu allowing you to assign them to any one of your seven collections. Each device or plugin can be assigned to as many as three collections simultaneously. Having your favorite customized plugins ready to go is very handy and a big time-saver when creating and mixing.

Packs

Another handy update to the browser is found in your Places label under "Packs".  Live 10 allows you to update any of your Packs and see all available new packs for download directly from the Packs browser. No more going to your browser and the Ableton website to check for new Live Packs and any updates!  Make sure to enable the “Show Downloadable Packs” option in your preferences settings.  Now, even after restarting Live, previously downloaded Packs are ready for installation, and partially-downloaded Packs can resume downloading. One very important consideration when getting into Live Packs is their size and footprint. Over time, I’ve found that storing my live Packs on my system drive was hard to manage, so I highly recommend going to your preferences (Command + comma), navigating to the “Library” tab, and choosing a portable drive with plenty of free space to save them to.

Group Tracks

Traditional mixing using consoles always involved setting up multiple sub-mixes to best optimize gain staging. The same is true when mixing in a DAW.  Live 10 takes mixing a step further by letting you nest as many groups within groups as you want!  This is extremely helpful when setting up drum mixes that combine acoustic and electronic drums. Having them all in one group is great for blending the tones with bus processing and managing levels but having them as nested subgroups allows you to blend them with separate group EQ & compression and adjust each group's gain relative to the overall drum mix. The same is true with vocal mixing. Getting the overall vocal level of a mix just right can be tricky, but with nested subgroups, it’s a lot easier to blend multiple background vocal tracks and lead vocals without having to always automate each individual track. You can also see the hierarchy of grouped tracks in the browser. This is especially helpful when doing re-mixes, as you can drag the contents of a Group Track into any current Live Set. Another helpful use of groups & nested subgroups is the ability to export them individually. If you use the arrangement view a lot, like I do, this is really helpful for efficiently exporting stem sets for live performance. When you go to Export Audio/Video (shift + command + R), use the “Selected Tracks Only” option.  By selecting your groups and nested groups, you’ll be able to build your live performance stem set quickly and efficiently.

"Ableton takes mixing a step further by letting you nest as many groups within groups as you want."

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Naming Your Ins & Outs

This was a very welcome feature for me because I will often use an analog summing mixer on my various groups to then process my whole mix through some nice analog outboard gear like a Manley Variable Mu or UA 1176. Being able to name your outputs always makes revisiting your mix and re-patching the outputs of your groups so much easier! I like the Dangerous 2-Bus a lot and it gives me eight stereo mixes that I can then sum into my analog mastering chain. In the case of this image you can see my Avid HDIO's 16 mono and eight stereo outputs that I am running seven groups into, broken down as: Drums, Keyboards, Strings, Guitars, Vocals, FX Processing & Bass. The naming feature is also very handy for setting up larger recording sessions where you can notate how the mics were used in relation to the various inputs - in case you need to go back for another session.

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Metronome

It may seem trivial, but it is now possible to choose between different metronome sounds! This can make the difference between a happy and an annoyed recording artist. There are currently three options: Classic, click, and wood. You can also select a different tick interval for the Metronome via its pull-down and contextual menu. Interval selections that don't fit into one bar of the current time signature will appear disabled. However, if the time signature is changed so that the interval selection fits in a bar again, the tick will follow the selected interval. The best part of all the new metronome features is that they are accessible without having to go into your preferences. You can now set your "Count In" and  "Enable Only While Recording" right from the pull-down and contextual menu. The "Enable Only While Recording" setting is not saved in Preferences and must be enabled every time Live is started.


Creative

Capture

One of my top favorites here is the new Capture function, located on the right of the “Re-Enable Automation” arrow on the top of the screen. This feature is great for capturing any MIDI ideas you might come up with before you’ve even thought of hitting record!   Clicking this button after you've played your MIDI controller (and forgot to record!) will generate a new MIDI clip of your practice performance wherever your time selector triangle is positioned. The limit is based on a buffer of 16000 MIDI events and since MIDI is small in footprint, it uses minimal resources on your CPU! If you’re using the Push this feature is fully functional by holding the Record button and pressing New. Live will also snap to your input record quantize if that’s selected, and intelligently guess the tempo, too.

Arrangement Editing

For those of you (like me) who like to use the arrangement view, Live 10 has some great workflow upgrades well worth mentioning. Little things can make such a BIG difference in speeding up your workflow. You'll now notice that when selecting a region the waveform itself turns white delineating between the "hand" grabber and a selector tool.  Also, if you're not in the new automation view, now you can go to the edge of a waveform and have access to creating fades without having to switch to displaying the fade curves.

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The selector tool can now also be alternatively used for time compressing and expanding audio clips. Warped Arrangement audio clips can be stretched or compressed by holding down Shift while dragging their border. This is especially useful when editing background vocal performances that need to be perfectly timed together, or when doing sound design for picture. You can also move Arrangement clips within a time selection using the arrow left/right keys. These move based on your grid setting, but to toggle grid snapping, hold down the "CMD" modifier key. With grid snapping off, the selection moves in micro amounts, perfect for nudging a take right into place.

Ever think there was a better take before or after the piece of audio you’re currently working on? Well, now it’s possible to slide the contents of an Arrangement clip within the clip's boundaries by holding "Alt+Shift" and dragging the clip's track display area. You can move the audio around within the clip's boundaries to experiment or search for hidden content. To toggle grid snapping, hold down the "CMD" modifier key. 

Another very helpful improvement to the Arrangement view is that the "Activate/Deactivate Clip(s)" command now only affects the selected portion of Arrangement clips. Previously, the entire clip would be affected, even if only part of it was selected. The same is true when reversing any selected audio. This is great for testing out takes with different edits quickly and having the confidence to be able to restore them to their original form easily if necessary. 

"This is especially useful when editing background vocal performances that need to be perfectly timed together, or when doing sound design for picture."

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Multiple Clip Editing

You can now edit MIDI notes across multiple MIDI clips at the same time. This is incredibly useful for writing, editing, and arranging MIDI clips in a musical context. Up to seven MIDI clips can be selected at the same time. When viewing multiple clips, it's easy to toggle between them by clicking on an overview color bar that represents each clip's associated coloring. Notes are displayed in a shaded version of their clip color when not selected, so it's easier to identify which clip they belong to. The color of the little ticks that indicate a boundary between two very small notes has also been adjusted to improve readability. Finally, to make high-precision note editing easier, notes are no longer displayed as selected when they are being controlled by the mouse (e.g. while being dragged).

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PUSH

The Convert to Simpler & Drum Rack feature was a big deal with the introduction of Push 2 and now it’s also possible to convert audio to MIDI from Push, using the Convert button. After selecting a region of audio or any entire clip, you can hit the Convert button on the Push, and a menu will appear asking you to choose between Simpler, Drum Rack, Harmony-MIDI, Melody-MIDI and Drums-MIDI. I find the Drums-MIDI particularly useful when enhancing or layering acoustically recorded drums with triggered samples. Melody-MIDI & Harmony-MIDI can also prove very useful when working with Autotune, Melodyne, or even a vocoder, and keeping this all within the Push workflow makes it a very elegant solution. 

Utility

Last but certainly not least is the improved “Utility” device. I chose this because it ends up being applied to every session I work on. Great for controlling the gain staging on your Master fader (but also very handy on individual tracks), the new & improved Utility has been re-configured with a Mono switch, a Bass Mono Frequency slider and Bass Mono Audition button. The Bass Mono Frequency slider allows you to sum the bass to mono below 500HZ. This is helpful with bass-heavy music, and can be the difference between a powerful mix and a muddy mix. Low end, particularly below 120 Hz, is uni-directional. Having these frequencies in stereo will often contribute to overworking the drivers on the playback speakers. The new & improved Utility also has phase flip buttons for both the left and right side. This is a very useful feature for correcting out-of-phase stereo tracks or even an entire mix. The width dial has also been improved, by increasing from 200% to 400% to give you extra wide stereo imaging.


I chose to focus on these updates because I feel that they apply to just about everybody working in Ableton Live and they can each affect your workflow in a very positive way.

On a side note, I was very excited to learn about a new app from a company called Videosync that extends Ableton’s video sync and playback capabilities. This cool new app has tight integration with Live and now gives Ableton users an integrated musical way to work with video right inside the DAW. You can warp video just like you do audio, trigger video samples with MIDI, order video clips in drum racks, automate video effects on the musical timeline, and a whole lot more.  Students buying a license can get a 40% educational discount. 
You can check it out here!

Enjoy!

Greg


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