Tag Archive for: Ableton Live

Reverb Tips to Boost Your Creativity

This isn’t just another article explaining what reverb is and what it does. If you dig a bit, you’ll find all the technical facts and information you need out there already. So instead, I’ll focus here on the little tips and tricks I use daily that you can try right away. And I’ll invite you to reflect on what reverb can do for you and your music.


Because reverb’s primary role is to add depth to a song.

I’m talking in the technical sense, but also in the way its 3D-like effect can give your song a soul. No kiddin’. Have you ever watched a movie where one of the characters is lost in thought or reliving a moment? Very often, the voice will be drowned in reverb to evoke an internal feeling, something deep and subconscious.

There could be a correlation between the reverb effect and the womb, perhaps, where it emulates the way a fetus hears the world, as if under water. Whatever the reason, the sound of reverb in our culture pretty much always conveys something hidden or profound, and using it in your music can change things dramatically.

Pros. Adds mysticism, warmth, and smoothness to percussion and melodies. Reverb can round out transients and stretch the release of sounds, which can also add dimension and that wet feeling you hear sometimes in songs.

Cons. Some people prefer a dry aesthetic in their music, which can also work very well. If the music is played in a warehouse or other large venue, adding reverb could make it sound more imprecise or confusing, perhaps removing a certain punch. This is why reverb should be used with care if you’re interested in producing dance-friendly music.

There are different types of reverbs, and each one has different uses. Here are some explorative avenues for you to try. They’re suggestions to get you started, but you could end up taking them in a completely different direction. I always encourage people to test out a few things, and most especially, to try whatever is contraindicated or not advised. This is the best way to figure out for yourself why it’s not recommended, but you might also find that you can pull something out of it.

My favourite tips are:

  • Convolution exploration. Convolution plugins extract the reverb from a song so you can apply the resulting image to other sounds. In theory, a good image is a white noise spread in a room, so that its impulse can be analyzed. You don’t have to respect this though. You can basically drop any short or long sample to see how the plugin will analyze its impulse. You can extract a sound from an old pop song, movies, your iPhone, or anything else you can think of. You can even drop a pad with no reverb and see what it does. Sometimes it gives you weird results. Same if you use a percussive loop, since it has a rhythmic impulse.
  • Panning reverb. Using multiple send channels or busses, you can combine multiple reverbs to create your own personal desired space. Pan one to the right and another to the left. Adjust the pre-delay and decay, and maybe change one to a hall and the other to a plate. See what happens.
  • Reverb EQing. Abbey Road made this popular with their trademark sound, which added an EQ before a reverb. Generations later, reverb plugins now often come with their own integrated EQ. One tip to increase precision is to cut off anything coming in the reverb for percussion and pads as it tames any edgy or problematic frequencies.
  • Adding subtle automation. A reverb that constantly moves will feel alive. You can use automation on the decay and pre-delay. These two usually add a lot of space. They will give the weird impression of being in a room that’s shrinking or expanding, as if you’re moving around it with the walls getting closer and further away. Used well, it can be very psychedelic.
  • Astronaut in spaceMultiband reverb. If you know how to split your signal’s in-frequency ranges, you could use a deeper reverb for your mids and a longer one for the highs. That can also be done with send channels, again where one filters out highs and the other filters out mids. This one is particularly effective with percussions, and it can add a really nice shimmering effect to them.
  • Resampling reverbs for convolution. Send a clap in your reverb experiment and resample it. That sample can then be dropped in the convolution. This will usually reshape the sound, giving you more freedom than managing multiple reverb plugins at once (unless you have a good controller).
  • Gates and envelopes. These are a lot of fun on a reverb, as they can create weird reactions. Imagine a strong impulse that drops abruptly, or one that shapes in a off-rhythmic. They can add a nice texture to pads.
  • Infinite reverbs. There are a few reverbs that have this feature. If so, you can send any sound you like through them and it can become a pad or smooth synth. If you resample it yourself, it can be dropped into a sampler where you can play notes from it.
  • Reverb + Chorus = killer combo. Just try it, no questions.

As a gift, I made these two convolution images for you to use in your music. Should work very well in dub techno as well.

I hope this helps. Please share any ideas or tips you come up with!


SEE ALSO : Intuition for decisions in music production

Experimental music

It was suggested to me to write about experimental music. The topic is extremely broad, and even when limited to electronic music production it could make for the subject of an entire blog all by itself. After a long while spent thinking about how best to approach it, I realized that for many producers, it is something that is largely misunderstood. Let’s try to clarify what we mean by experimental music, so you can see how useful it could be for your creative development.

First off, defining experimental music can be difficult, and it’s often a matter of perspective. What’s experimental for one person might seem fairly conventional for others. No surprises here. One way to understand it is “music made with the intention of centering its content around an experience (instead of trying to replicate an existing model or genre).”  An experimental approach is one that chases a bunch of “what ifs…”, and that takes you out of your comfort zones to break free of your usual routine of sound making.

I saw a nice video with Deadmau5, who I’m not a fan of personally, though I respect him very much for what he has done. In it, he was explaining how his life is all about trying things just to see what will happen. A lot of producers seem to want results quickly, and will try to emulate recipes, use presets, or buy samples to get to where they want. The problem is that this lack of experimentation will only slow their artistic development and pursuit of a personal sound signature.

guitar pedals, experimental musicSo is experimental music nothing but pure noise and nonsensical buzzes and beeps? Not necessarily. There doesn’t have to be a lack of structure unless you decide that the structure is what you’re experimenting with. Other areas you can experiment with include:

  • Sound design.
  • Mixing technique exploration.
  • Arrangement reorganization.
  • Unusual routing.
  • Unusual effect uses.

The most rewarding part about experimental music is how you’ll end up somewhere you never thought you would go. Along the way, you’ll learn something new and provide the listener with a fresh experience. Trying to sound like nothing else can become one of the key motivations, but the intention itself is what matters most.


The audience watching the concert on stage.

One of the main reasons experimental music has received a lot of recognition in the last decade is that it’s become an ever-growing nest for new ideas. Some of the now normal tricks found in commercial music initially sprouted from experimental grounds. At some point we completely forgot where it came from. Even electronic music itself grew out of a long journey of trials and errors that lasted nearly 50 years. I mean, back in the 80s, the hypnotic techno we’re so used to today was considered very weird…


So with all that being said, let’s talk about some pointers for how to start your very own experiments.

  1. Create a new project with the sole intention of it being an experiment. I might have just heard you say “duh!”, but having a firm intention before setting to work really focuses your mind on a specific task. Why bother stressing this? Because one of the most crucial parts of making experimental music is learning to let go of any expectations you had beforehand. It’s one of those activities where the journey is more important than the destination. This is a tough one for music producers, because the usual goal is to arrive at the most polished song possible. Let’s try to change our mentality for this exercise.
  2. Decide your area of experimentation. Consult the list above or come up with your own personal focus. I find that listening to music that you don’t really understand is a good source of inspiration. You can test the concept by replicating one sound in that song.
  3. Record the tweaks as you work. This is something guys like Ricardo Villalobos do. He’ll record 2 hours of himself tweaking the sounds. It will become pure chaos at some point, but he’ll edit out the parts he likes the most. The great thing about Ableton Live is that it will also record your knob and fader movements, which can then be edited.
  4. Give yourself a deadline. A good way to leave material in its raw form is to impose a deadline on yourself, and then just bounce the track and declare it done, with all its strengths and flaws. Accepting a track with its imperfections is a great way to move beyond what you initially thought of as a good result. If mistakes can inspire you for the following track, it can actually influence your listeners too!

Once you have a bunch of these experiences, they’re also really cool to recycle into other tracks if you haven’t released them or use the experiment to develop new sounds in new projects.

And please share your tracks with me. I always love seeing what readers come up with!

SEE ALSO : Creating Beauty Out of Ugly Sounds

The Science Behind Tracky Music

I will always remember that day in 1989 when I went to the local record shop after school to see if they had received some rare techno records that had just been released. There were about 5 of us in town who were eager to get our hands on them, and it was a race to who would grab them first. This might sound surreal to you if you’re younger, but those were the days when each record you bought was precious. You’d often even buy the ones you were unsure of in case you liked it later… or because you didn’t want other DJs to have it. Funny, eh? We were at the opposite edge from our current times with music accessibility.

vinyl records, store, shoppingSo that day, I was listening to records in the “Techno – Fresh Arrivals” section of the shop. There were these 3 odd-looking ones (I still have them) with no information on them but colours. The green one had the same loop playing all the way through, from beginning to end. There were basically no variations, from what I could tell. “This is really weird!” I thought. I didn’t get the purpose of it. Then I listened to the second record — same concept, different colour. Last record, same thing. Puzzled, something inside of me pushed me to buy them. There was something about those records I just couldn’t pass up.

That was the first time I bought tracky records. 1989

I got to a friend’s place and we started to mix them, and suddenly it all started to make sense. The music was always changing, but very subtly. The records were mind-boggling, and I fell in love with them. We discovered we didn’t need songs — we had the tools to build our own stories. It was exhilarating.

dj, tattoos, tweak, tracky, techno, musicTracky music was a revelation. It taught us that no music is boring if correctly used, and that techno is not necessarily made to be listened to as is, but used as raw material.

See, the thing about tracky records is that they’re used with others in order to create something completely new. Have you ever heard of 1 + 1 = 3?  One record, mixed with another, makes 3 different layers (the 3rd layer is created by combining the other 2).

Making tracky music poses some challenges and the number one is, how to not be boring with simplistic elements.

There are some basic rules for making tracky music, but the great news is that breaking them is where the fun really starts.

  1. Organized for DJs. The more organized your track is, the easier it will be to mix. This is why it’s important to place redundant elements in multiples of 4. Very useful.
  2. Micro vs macro repetition. Start by the smallest loop possible, and then expand it. You can start by the smallest, simplest kick-hats-snare combo, for example, and then start adding a sound looped on a longer scale to make the small loop feel scaleable. The careful addition, spread over time, will allow the listener to process it and make the repetition feel more palatable. But it’s not about making music for listening, it’s about making music as raw material for someone else.
  3. Subtle variations. Try making automations that last over 1 minute or longer. This will create the subtle impression that something is going on, but since the changes are happening so slowly, it will be super hard to pinpoint exactly what. Some things you can automate: EQ gain, filtering, panning, volume gain, effect wet/dry.
  4. Arrangement surprises. Mix a number of predictable arrangements with more destabilizing ones. For instance, you can throw a clap in every 3 bars so the listener will come to expect it, and then later remove one clap to throw them off, before finally bringing it back in.
  5. Develop your vocabulary. This is a huge topic in itself. For now though, you need to know that 1 bar of tracky music may have its own vocabulary, and that it’s important to be consistent about it. So every 32 bars, for example, you could insert a little silence to accentuate the transition. If you mute something, you are muting a part of a sentence. This will be explored in greater detail in a future post…


Here are some great artists whose tracks you can use as references: Mountain People, Gez Varley, Barac, Mike Ink.



SEE ALSO : Self-Imposed Rules For Arrangements

Spending Long Hours in the Studio

Every now and then I’ll see people boasting in some online producers’ forum about how they spent 5 to 8 hours in the studio working on a song. The same thing sometimes goes for when I’m with fellow Ableton users, who will claim they have spent 3 days on a song. It’s a common perception that the longer you work on a song, the better it must be. Yet from my own experience and reflections, I believe it’s actually the opposite.

crazy in studioIf you’re unconvinced, consider this: how does the producer’s experience level impact on studio time? Might it differ depending on the music genre? Does it change if gear is involved? You see, the amount of time you spend in studio can depend on many factors, and these are just a few of them.

Just think of the long list of artists who wrote their hits in very little time, from “Hotel California” to tunes from Jamie Jones, Seth Troxler or Samim. The minimal movement in contemporary music is another important example of this. By “minimal” music, I’m not referring to minimal techno but to music by the likes of Philip Glass or Steve Reich. The common denominator among these many artists and genres is the understanding that songs are built around one core idea, which is then fully supported throughout. That central concept or component is what people will hum or sing to their friends. It’s what people remember.

So that’s the ideal. But here are where the problems start:

  • You’re not focused on the idea itself. It should speak for itself, you don’t need 4 different layers to do it.
  • You’re distracted by non-essential supportive elements. Because unless you’re a producer, no one really cares if your kick is analog or not.
  • Your ears are tired. Ears get tired after a while and it will become impossible to mix properly. Give them a rest.
  • Your brain is tired. If you’ve played your tune over and over again, you’ve almost certainly lost the plot. To regain a firm grip on your initial idea, you need to take a break and refresh your perspective.
  • You’re forgetting the track’s lifespan. If your track is short, the idea is played for only a moment, and that will be enough. It’s not worth weeks of your time.

spending too long working on a track can ruin even the best ideasThe crucial thing to remember is that the longer you expose yourself to the track you’re working on, the more you’ll lose your sense of what you’re making. You see, humans have evolved with an amazing skill called adaptability, which has helped our species to survive over hundreds of thousands of years, often in the face of impossible odds. This innate trait has an impact on us in the studio. For example, if you listen to something that you mildly like for a long time, you will eventually learn to either love or hate it — and then either want to alter it (to expand its longevity) or delete it completely (because you get fed up). Either way, even if your initial idea is awesome, being overexposed to it might completely ruin it.

So how to solve this?

There are many things you can do, but the main thing I recommend is to simply limit your time in studio. (Though of course, if you’re in the studio jamming away and having fun, it can still be cool to go for long hours.) Here are some other things I suggest:

  • Try my Non Linear Production Technique. To sum it up, don’t work on one project for a long time. Try to work on multiple at once — say 10 at a time — and then rotate between them, spending up to an hour max on each.
  • Swap computer for gear and vice versa. Move from one to another to get a flow.
  • Give yourself some moments of silence to relax your ears.
  • Learn to spot the distractions vs. the essential parts. Do you need to buy a new synth to finish a track? Probably not. Learn to ask yourself these questions: is there something I have already that would do the trick? Is this new idea that popped into my head worthwhile, or is it a distraction? Is there a utility to it, is am I getting carried away?

One of the most important things is to reserve a moment in your calendar for music production. Prioritize it, and learn to respect that moment and not move it. Some professional musicians dedicate one day a week to production and use a routine that is super important to the creative process.

SEE ALSO : When Do You Know A Track Is Finished?

Riding the Grooves in Ableton

Have you ever felt that your music’s rhythmic structure lacked a certain human touch? This seems to be the general consensus among producers, yet there is a simple solution to this hitch in the road. It’s caused by what I believe is the biggest drawback to producing music within a DAW: the musician tends to pigeonhole himself or herself by needing everything to sound perfectly aligned to the grid.

From experience, however, I think I can affirm – with a reasonable degree of certainty – that this method does not reflect how humans operate. We are not precise, monotonous machines, and we are most definitely prone to error when jamming live with acoustic instruments. There is even a certain beauty in this rawness, as music perfused with slight imperfections tends to appeal to the ear as more natural and groovy.

In order to achieve this particular “effect,” Ableton Live allows the producer to import a collection of rhythms, called grooves, into any MIDI or audio track, so as to either alter the current rhythm already written or to add an element of surprise or randomness to the audio.

The Ableton Core Library has a myriad of classic grooves that you can choose from, from MPCs to Latin percussion to hip-hop. However, in this tutorial, we’ll get really advanced and show you how to get creative by making your very own grooves.

Step 1: Record any percussive sound

I’ve recorded myself rattling my keys using nothing but a Macbook (you don’t need to get fancy).


Your recording will most likely sound like crap, so feel free to cut out excess noise with gates or tame peak transients with compressors.

Step 2: Modulation (Optional)

Add a creative effect that will automate the gain (volume) of your signal. You can draw automation curves or pump (sidechain) it with Ableton’s Autopan. The point is to create as many dynamics as possible by playing with the volume so that it translates into the clip’s velocity once we extract the groove. You shouldn’t have to do this if your signal is already very dynamic.

Step 3: Bounce

Consolidate the clip and its effects by either resampling it onto another track or simply freezing and flattening the track (by right-clicking the track).

Consolidate the clip and its effects by either resampling it onto another track or simply freezing and flattening the track (by right-clicking the track)

Step 4: Extract groove

Right click on your consolidated audio sample and select Extract groove.

Step 5: Groove pool

Open Ableton’s groove pool by selecting the wave in the lower left side. Your groove should appear in this box.

Step 6: Add groove

soundpicture2You can consult the Live manual or other tutorials to better understand what things like “base” and “quantize” mean, but make sure the timing is set really high (i.e., how much the groove pattern will affect the clip). Drag the groove name onto any audio/MIDI sample or loop track, preferably something percussive like a drum loop. Notice how the rhythm of your track has changed, and how certain transients sound louder or quieter, or appear later or earlier. If you increase the velocity of your groove, your signal will respond heavily to the volume changes in your original signal (which is why I used the Autopan to create dynamics).

Press “Commit” in the clip view, to destructively write the current groove settings to your sample. This means the sample’s pseudo-markers will move in accordance with the quantization setting, and your transients will translate the rest of the settings you selected in the groove pool.




Step 7: Layering

Hopefully, you’ve saved your original percussion loop so that you can play it with your newly made rhythm. Notice how there’s percussion a bit everywhere now, and that it’s a little bit off. Yet I’ve still opened doors to new possibilities that I couldn’t have predicted by simply drawing in MIDI notes. I even got a wonderful slap-back delay on the snare, which I can edit to my liking.

I’ll go so far as layering the two sounds with a reversed sample of my new groove, which gives me this:



I’ve then added back the original keys rattle sample, and simply applied sidechain compression to get this beat:


Although it sounds a little all over the place, I can always go back and edit it how I want, or even apply some effects! Note how it sounds more human now and not perfectly cut to grid.


Bonus: Step 8

Go back to Step 6, and drag your groove to an empty MIDI channel instead of an audio or instrument track. An empty MIDI clip will appear with notes matching the groove you created. Drag an instrument onto it to hear how it sounds. Although it will probably sound awful, you can always edit the MIDI notes to your liking!


Bonus: Step 9

You can even get away with layering organic textures such as strings, or pad with grooves. Make sure to apply different groove settings to each layer by duplicating the groove (CTRL+D/CMD+D) and dragging it onto the track that you want. You can control all the different grooves together with the Global Amount value at the bottom right of your groove pool.


SEE ALSO : Background vs forefront to create dimension   

Buses vs Groups in Ableton Live

The word “bus” may sound foreign to many beginner- and intermediate-level music producers who were not raised during the good old days of analog mixing on consoles. But rest assured, readers: the term “bus,” in this case, does not refer to a 33,000-pound vehicle, but to an audio channel that allows a multitude of audio signals to pass through it.

Buses are used to apply general processing to the mixed signal, so as to achieve a more cohesive effect over a particular range of instruments. This may sound daunting, but allow me to provide an example to clarify. If you have several drum channels (kick, snare, hats, toms, etc.) playing in the DAW that you are using, it would be wise to send and route them to a drum bus, onto which you could then apply some warmth or glue with mix bus compression.

There are several DAWs, including Bitwig and Ableton Live, that allow you to “group” tracks together. Other DAWs prefer to emulate traditional mixing consoles by routing the desired channels through a bus. Note that neither method is better than the other: they are exactly the same. Nevertheless, Ableton aficionados may want to begin using buses more often, given that their use simply opens up more possibilities in terms of mixing the music created.

How so? There are certain techniques that just aren’t available to you when you’re “grouping tracks,” such as sending a parallel compression return track to a group, or applying effects to two groups at once by grouping them together (groupception). But by using buses, you’ll be able to route any audio signal to any channel you wish.

So with all this being said, here are some pointers for creating your first buses.


Basic I/O Routing


  1. Open the Audio Routing section by clicking on the I/O button right below the master fader in the lower right corner (CTRL+I).
  2. Create an audio track (CTRL+T) for your bus. In my case (see screenshot below), I called it “Drum Bus,” because I am sending all of my drum tracks through it.
  3. Depending on how you organize your drums (I’m using a MIDI drum rack followed by several loop-based elements, like percussion, rides, etc.). Route them to the drum bus by:
    1. Selecting/highlighting all of your tracks.
    2. In the Audio To section, select “Drum Bus.”
  4. Set your initial channel as Drum Bus and set Monitor to
  5. You should now hear all of your tracks going through the drum bus.
    1. Try muting some of them to hear the difference.
    2. Apply a compressor to the drum bus to glue things together.
  6. Note that you can also route return tracks through your drum bus. I’m applying New York Style Parallel Compression by sending my drum channels through a channel with heavy compression, then sending its output through my drum bus to give it more power.


Buses vs groups in Ableton: my drum bus, which I send all of my drum tracks/channels through
If you have groups of elements that share similar sonic features and would like to EQ or compress them all together, then you can create a bus and send them through it:

Create a bus in Ableton to EQ or compress a group of elements all together

When I’m mixing, I’ll even go as far as creating individual buses for every group of tracks towards the end. This helps me get the levels right and apply broader strokes for every category of sound (bass, drums, etc.)

When I'm mixing, I'll even create individual buses for every group of tracks


To conclude, I’d just like to emphasize that there isUse groups in Ableton to organize your channels when you're writing music, composing, or doing sound design absolutely nothing wrong with using groups when mixing. It’s simply that they should be used more often to organize your channels while you’re writing music, composing, doing sound design, etc. to work faster and more efficiently.

Remember, you can always group channels together by pressing CTRL+G or CMD+G on Mac! The audio channel will be automatically routed through the group fader and will function exactly the same way as a bus does.

















 SEE ALSO :  Reverb Tips to Boost Your Creativity


Deconstructing A Reference Track

Note: This article is partly related to the Non-Linear Music Production technique explained in my previous post. It offers a complementary method for finding inspiration in your workflow.

Now that you’ve been exposed to my non-linear approach to music production, you know that the early stages of production are focused on building ideas and content. Once that has been attacked, you can start looking into creating a temporary structure for a loop. If you’ve also checked out my One Loop Per Day challenge on YouTube, then you’ll see that the following step is to build a storyline around the idea.

One of the best and fastest ways is to devote your time to carefully analyzing the work of artists you admire. This entails actively analyzing and interpreting others’ work within your DAW so as to carve out a path that you can easily implement in your own production.

But before you dive into your sources of influence and follow the process outlined below, I’d like you to consider this famous quote:

“Art is theft” – Pablo Picasso


Step 1: Finding Your Track

  • Pick a track that you really like and whose arrangements you would like to more or less imitate.
  • Make sure that the track is un-warped so that it doesn’t sync with your DAW’s BPM, and so that it’s unaffected by any transient markers you might have set.
  • If your track is in Ableton’s Session View, drag it into the Arrangement View by hovering over the 3 vertical lines at the top-right corner of your screen, or by simply pressing the tab key.


Deconstructing a reference track Step 1: Find your track


Step 2: Correcting Grid Settings

  • In order to properly match the grid with your track’s tempo so that you can use the waveform to spot what happens at what time, you need to find the BPM. You can do this in many ways, by:
    • Finding your track on Beatport. The track information should include its key and BPM.ableton, arrangements
    • Accessing the track’s metadata by right-clicking on it in Windows and then clicking on “Properties>Details” (if it’s available).
    • Finding the BPM on your own using Ableton’s Tempo Tap.
      • Make sure to tap “tempo” in the Session View or else it will fall out of sync in the Arrangement View.
    • Type in the appropriate BPM.
      • Manually adjust the track with Ableton’s grid so that the sections of your track begin on beat.


Deconstructing a reference track in Ableton, Step 2: Correcting Beat Grid


  • Picture4You will notice this will help you to analyze your track’s arrangements by determining at which bar a section will start.e.g.: The breakdown starts at 80 bars.
    • Feel free to cut out any elements such as silence,noise, or “pre-intros” before the actual intro, as in my example above.


Step 3: Placing Markers and Locators

  • If your sections are starting on beat and are properly aligned with Ableton’s grid, this is where you will be able to start learning how tracks are arranged.
  • Listen to the track a couple of times, and marPicture5k its waveform with appropriate section locators. To do this:
    • Right-click in the Scrub Area.
    • Click on “Add Locator.”
  • Mark all relevant sections with locators throughout the whole song. It should look like this:
    • Note that you can label your sections however you wish, depending on the style of music you’re writing. You don’t need to call a section a chorus, for example, if you just want to call it A or B.


Deconstructing a reference track, Step 3: Placing Locators


Step 4: Analyzing

Now for the important part…

  • Pull out Ableton’s Loop Brace in the Scrub Area above the track’s waveform, and stretch it from the beginning of a musical section to its end (from verse to chorus).
  • Count the amount of bars there are within that section by subtracting the last bar of the section from its first.
    • Example: If your section starts at 61 and ends at 93, do 93-61. That’s 32 bars.
  • Count the amount of bars for each section and you’ll start to notice when new elements emerge: sections and themes begin and end every 8 to 32 bars. That’s just how dance music works.
  • For example:In dance music, sections begin and end every 8 to 32 bars.
    • Everything works in multiples of 4.
    • You won’t hear a new section begin on bar 5 unless you’re not writing in 4/4.
  • Once you analyze how many bars are within a section,it becomes easy to understand how long your instrumental arrangements should be and where to place them in your own track.
    • Example: “My reference track has a chorus that lasts 16 bars. It also has a pad for that entire section. I can apply this to my own productions by placing a pad in my chorus for 16 bars only and making sure that it doesn’t overlap with the bridge.”


Step 5: Taking Notes

Once you map the structure of the track with locators, it’s important to take note of all the musical elements that come into play for each section. This is how you’ll get to understand what to place and when within the sections of your own track.

  • You can take notes down on a piece of paper, or even simpler, directly into Ableton’s clips. Here’s how:
    • Split the waveform into multiple clips by clicking on it and pressing [CTRL+E/CMD+E], or right-clicking on it and then selecting “Split.”
    • Once you’ve split the waveform into multiple clips, write down the most important elements for each section.
    • Then right-click on the Ableton clip and select “Edit info text.”
  • For the build-up section, you can write things like “white noise sweeps, risers, automated filter cut-off, percussion repeating faster and faster,” etc.

In Ableton, you can save notes directly in the clips


Bonus Tip: Creating Ghost MIDI Clips

The last trick I want to show you for deconstructing your Bonus Tip: Creating Ghost MIDI Clipsreference tracks element by element is to create ghost MIDI clips for every instrument. This is the best way to learn from other people’s tracks, because it will allow you to break them down layer by layer.

  • Create MIDI channels for every instrument you hear in a section, and label them.
  • Make sure there’s nothing in them.

Using this method, you can even go as far as deleting your chosen reference track and just filling in the MIDI skeleton with your own synths, pads, drums, effects and more! You’ll have the same arrangements as the artist you chose to mimic, but it will be your sound!

SEE ALSO :  Where to Get Fresh New Ideas for Tracks

Use This Free Ableton Live Session Template

After months of seeing clients repeat the same mistakes in Ableton Live, I thought, “If only I could provide them with a session template to use as a default, it would help them so much.” It’s not that I wanted to free myself from fixing certain things, but I really believe that having a good starting point is the key to jumpstarting our projects.

And so, here it is! Below I describe the Ableton session template, and provide some tips to help you along:

Label each channel in Ableton Live's session viewLabel each channel
. As silly as this sounds, labelling your channels is a very easy way to see what’s going on in a glimpse. Especially if you have a sound engineer like me working with you, when you swap projects, you avoid having to re-explain yourself all the time. It’s also very practical to colour-code each sound family. Organization can only do you good.


Group sound families. If you have multiple percussion samples like hi-hats or toms, it will be way easier for you if you group them and then EQ them all at once. Adding some compression evenly will also help glue them together,

Cut bad frequencies out. Anything below the fundamental frequency of a sound can potentially be problematic, as it can add a certain muddiness. I suggest you use the EQ to cut it down until you start noticing the sound becoming thinner.

DJ mixer, electronic music, Ableton LivePut the kick in the first channel. This is a simple detail, but keeping the kick in a highly visible place can be very practical, because you’ll often come back to it to adjust something. If it’s up there in plain sight, you won’t lose time looking for it.

Keep the low end in mono. This is to avoid phase problems. It’s also a must if your track will be heading for vinyl pressing later.

Sidechain your bass for clarity. You’ll get a clearer distinction if they’re sidechained, and punchier mixes. When the frequencies are close together, both sounds won’t be fighting to be heard.

Make macros. It’s important to create macros out of your most frequently used effects. This way, you’ll have your tools ready and reusable.

dj mixer, EQ, effects, DJHave an EQ on each channel. This is the most important tip on this list!

Put your reverb in a send channel. I often see projects with 5-10 reverb plugins. No human ear can notice all of that though, so you might as well just have one in a send channel, and then any of the sounds that need reverb can be adjusted to various degrees. If one isn’t enough, have multiple reverbs in multiple send channels.

Put a limiter on the master. This is to avoid clipping.


So that’s the list. To download the Ableton Live session template, join my free coaching program.

Simple Sound Design Tips

I’ve been giving some classes since the beginning of the year, and I noticed certain questions around sound design that kept coming up while I’d be sharing other tips. I thought I’d share them with everyone so it can benefit more than one person out there.

Recently I was in a café, and I had a little exchange with the barista about what I do. “I’d consider myself a sound designer, though technically I’m an audio producer,” I told him while adding some sugar to my tea. “Dude, that makes no sense to me… Are you a DJ?” he asked back.

Sound design should be seen as carving matter into sculpture.That’s the thing, right? The DJ is the one that people see in public doing all the work and making people dance. But behind the scenes, there are the people who gave the tracks he/she plays their magic aura.

“I’m the DJ’s best friend, his best kept secret,”

was my only answer, with an enigmatic grin. I sort of prefer leaving some mystery around what I do. Even if I shared a few tips, there would always be so much more to say. Plus, the more you know, the more you realize how little you know.

So here are a few tips.

Use Ableton’s Live’s session view as your mad scientist’s lab.

The most common mistake I see from clients, either when I do mixing or help them with their unfinished tracks, is that they use the arrangement view to make their sound design.

The session view, while mainly used to jam, rehearse and perform, is perfect to make a loop and then mangle it until it becomes something completely new.

Tip: Ableton Live's session view is best for sound design. Don't use the arrangement view!TRY: Loop a 1-bar percussion sample and then add a bunch of effects on the same channel. Record yourself for a brief moment while you play with knobs. You may also record your actions to be able to see what you did later. You can then go and edit your actions as automations in the arrangement mode, which will give you cutting-edge precision.

TIP: Go into the resampled session of yourself playing, and then isolate some interesting sounds. Copy the clip with the interesting sounds below the original (master) clip. Now you’ll have variations of the first one.

Bring your designed sounds into your mix.

Looking at your session view now, you should have the original sound clips of the main elements of your track, but you should also have many variations. Swap certain clips of your mix with the clip variations. This will greatly help.

TRY: When you do your sound design, make sure you have your original song playing in the background. This will allow you to improvise on top of it, while maintaining the feeling of the main concept.

TIP: Evolving sounds in a song is a great way to keep your track feeling alive and human.

Your kick drum should be the last sound you design.

Tip: Your kick drum should be the last sound you designThis one is super important, and I hear a lot of people messing this part up. Your kick should not be the first sound to be designed in your track. People often select their percussions and build their track on top of it. This is a mistake, as your original percussion can be swapped for other percussive elements later on as you keep adding new sounds to the song.

TIP: Once your track is pretty much done, see if you can go and change that kick for a new one. Your jaw will drop once you hear how much changing a kick can dramatically change your track’s direction. Why? Because the kick is there to unify the whole concept. But when you start a new track, you have no idea where it might end up, and so the kick selected at first won’t be appropriate anymore.

SEE ALSO Dynamic Sound Layering and Design