Of all the production tools available to modern DJs and EDM enthusiasts, only one is truly suited to seamlessly integrate creation and performance in a single fully-featured package: Ableton Live. With its many built-in instruments and effects, a unique method of managing song clips, and superbly intuitive integration with almost any MIDI device, Ableton Live is truly a dream for EDM producers and performers.
One of Ableton’s most readily apparent features is the ability to switch between the traditional arrangement view and the unorthodox session view. While the arrangement view resembles many other popular DAWs, with multiple tracks laid out on a continuous timeline, the session view presents each channel as a series of looping clips which may be launched in any order, at any time. This allows for simple and immediate live remixing, as well as the ability to try out different combinations of synths, drum loops, and vocal patches while constructing the perfect track. This also allows loops to play indefinitely while you fine-tune your sounds – no more rushing back to the transport controls to start that section over again.
Another one of Ableton’s standout features is the wide breadth of instruments and effects that come bundled with the software. Of course, Ableton supports all your favorite VST plugins, however, even without third-party plugins, Ableton’s music-making capabilities are still top notch. The Drum Rack provides a wide variety of kits and samples for any genre, and the Impulse instrument allows you to import your own drum samples for MIDI sequencing. The Simpler is another sampler meant for instrumental patches, though Ableton has a massive selection of MIDI instruments at the ready for those without samples of their own. Ableton Suite 8, the highest tier of Live software, includes an even greater variety of sampled instruments, as well as its own synthesizer plugin. Ableton also offers ReWire support, allowing you to use your favorite rack instruments and effects from Reason within the Live environment to perform and record across both programs.
Ableton also has a fantastic array of audio effects, such as compression, EQ, and reverb, as well as nonstandard effects like a vocoder. Each offers an impressive level of control over a startling number of parameters, and even presents a helpful visual readout of exactly what aspect of the sound you’re controlling, instead of leaving you to wonder what exactly each knob might be doing.
Perhaps my favorite feature of Ableton is its superb beat detection. This comes in handy in a variety of applications. First, any imported drum loops will be automatically matched to the tempo of the song you’re working on. However, Ableton not only detects beats, but also vocal transients as well, allowing you to seamlessly integrate pure vocal stems into your mix just by dragging a few warp markers into the right spots. For live drumming, this beat detection and warping allows you to “quantize” audio that doesn’t come from MIDI, making it sound like even the sloppiest drummers never leave the beat. Another creative use of beat detection is the ability to create perfectly mixed DJ sets right from within your DAW, without the need for any live performance or cue point juggling. The variety of DJ-oriented applications for this innovative type of beatmatching is just astounding, and worth another discussion altogether.
The ease of arrangement and rearrangement within Ableton Live’s session view coupled with incredible beat detecting engines and a solid collection of instruments and effects make for one fantastic piece of production software. That the ability to mix and match clips on the fly lends itself so well to live performance is another huge bonus – after all, that’s why they call it Live. Add to that the ability to use all the greatest features of Reason via ReWire, and you’ve got yourself one heck of a production software. Combining the most beloved elements of DAWs and DJ software into one cohesive package, Ableton Live is truly unlike any other music software on the market today.