Ableton Live (or just Live as it's known) is a digital audio workstation where its initial focus was on performing Live. In recent years the software has expanded in capabilities to become both a full Live performance tool and studio production workstation and with the release of a dedicated Live controller (The Push) the lines between a computer software sequencer and a hardware instrument are ever more blurred...
I have been using DAW sequencers and "trackers" since 1996 and before discovering Fasttracker II through a school friend the image of owning software for creating music was one reserved only for the real professionals. Pro Tools and Cubase were the leading Mac and Windows software for producing music electronically but these were targeted at professional studios with price tags to match. For hobbyists and experimenters like myself you were limited to what was known as "Trackers" which were much more simple sample players often operating in DOS but also Free to use.
Without rerunning over the history of DAWs we can now see almost a complete saturation of choice for a home producer with many users (myself included) owning several different software titles for different uses. Live is by far my most used and loved production tool because it helped me easily migrate from the older tracker style software to a modern sequencer.
Pros: Very flexible, wide variaty of devices, MAX can expand on capabilities, API allows users to integrate almost anything
Cons: Some functions are missing which exist in other DAWs, company communication to users is somewhat poor.
Version: Live 9.1
The software has a massive list of great features but here are some of the main features as listed by Ableton:
- Unique Session View for quick, intuitive composition, flexible performance and improvisation
- Multitrack recording up to 32-bit/192 kHz
- Nondestructive editing with unlimited undo
- Powerful MIDI sequencing of software and hardware instruments
- Advanced warping and real-time time-stretching
- Unlimited Instruments, Audio effects and MIDI effects per project
- Group tracks
- VST and Audio Unit support
- Time signature changes
- Multiple automation lanes
- Track Freeze
- Automatic plug-in delay compensation
- MIDI remote control instant mapping
- MIDI output to hardware synths
- MIDI Clock/sync
- Multicore/multiprocessor support
- Dual monitor support
- WAV, AIFF, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, FLAC file support
- Dedicated hardware controller options integrate tightly with software (Launchpad, APC20/40, Push)
- Live performance and Studio production features for flexible wide usa
Choosing A DAW
I started my introduction into computer based production in 1997 using a DOS based program called Fasttracker II. In 2002 I outgrew the limitations of that tracker and upgraded to another free windows based tracker called "Buzz Tracker" (which is still available and a great option for cash strapped users). This software introduced me to my first softsynths and plugin based architecture. It was now possible to create sounds using plugin devices and not rely purely on WAV audio samples.
Buzz tracker was such a great program and was able to work with VST plugins which is where I started to get a taste for "professional" sound. The problem with Buzz was because it was a free program created by just 1 person it was not as intuitive as modern DAWs and development had stalled because of the loss of the source code. It was very prone to crashing and often there was a lot of time spent troubleshooting or working around crashes. I lost a number of projects due to crashes during the save process which was probably a good thing as it taught me early on about incremental save versions.
By 2008 I started to look at other more commercial DAW software solutions. I looked into Fruity Loops, Reason, Acid and Cubase and while all of these certainly presented themselves as more professional solutions than my older tracker solutions I did not feel inspired or drawn to want to use any of them and the cost of the full featured versions and very linear workflow of them all had me feeling less inspired. I was starting to think that perhaps I had reached the end of my creative road.
In 2009 I happened across Live 8 after watching a youtube video of someone using the Launchpad. I decided to download the demo of the program and was instantly impressed. It took just 1 day for me to integrate my controllers and start experimenting with all kinds of different techniques and instantly bought fun into the process. I was pretty much sold on the spot and decided to order a Launchpad which came with a lite version of Live. After playing with the lite version of Live for about 2 months I decided to invest in the full Suite version of Live.
When I first installed and loaded Live I had a mix of first impressions. Testing software such as Cubase and Reason which had very stylish and "3D" graphics with a sophisticated look, Live appeared to be a flat and almost minimal interface with no raised dials or fancy looking sliders. This almost instantly threw me off the program because using bland looking trackers for so many years I was looking forward to a real eye candy interface.
Pressing on past this initial appearance I started to discover this works very well because it helps you to see more important things such as the layout of the such as the main focus "Session View" which I will discuss shortly.
The feature set is pretty on-par with most DAWs with the stand out feature being the Session/Arrangement views. The software is actually very simple to use but hides a lot of really useful features within many of the Live Devices. There is a Help box that can be displayed in the bottom left of screen that will detail any control or feature you hover your mouse over which is great for a new user and gets you going quickly (even showing what the keyboard shortcut is for controls).
I have to say that after test driving many DAWs over years I personally found Live to be a very nice fit with my workflow and was very impressed with the way it all seemed to work.