Live editen in Ableton Live in 7 stappen
While it isn’t the most obvious, live editing is actually one of the best ways to create music using Ableton Live, especially when it comes to genres where quick-switching is the name of the game, like drum-and-bass and other glitchy styles. Guest-blogger Hens Zimmerman is back to show you how to remix in real time via seven simple steps.

What do you mean by live-editing?

Live-editing is a technique used in Session View. The idea is to rhythmically switch between different, synchronised loops in such a way so that only one loop can be heard at a time. The whole switching back-and-forth happens in real time and, preferably, with a rhythmic feel. It’s a more spontaneous, intuitive and experimental approach than figuring out what you’re going to do in advance of a live performance, so it’s a bit like playing Ableton Live like it’s a musical instrument. I’m going to demonstrate how it all works in seven steps and wrap things up with a few tips for making the most of the described technique.

Use a Separate Guide Track

To avoid sounding too slapdash, it’s a good idea to use a separate track in Session View to keep time. While a Push controller is the best option for live remixing, any other MIDI controller or even your computer keyboard will do. The ‘guide’ track is going to set the rhythm that you’ll be backing up in real time with clips from your live-editing track.

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Step 1: Loop Selection

First off, you need to determine the style and tempo. For the purpose of this article, I’m going with a 110 BPM electro beat, but you’re obviously free to pick anything else. Next, pick a few loops that you want to switch between. These can be rhythm loops, bass sounds, effects, synth loops and even vocals — pretty much anything goes. As you’ll see in a bit, you can even use the same loop in various different ways.

Step 2: Setting Up Two Tracks

Start a fresh Ableton Live project with two audio tracks and then open the Session View tab. Here, the first track is your guide track, which will help to maintain order and is marked green in the image below. As you can see, I’ve added one loop and set the tempo to 110 BPM. Before we move on, make sure to check if your loop is audible and actually keeps looping.

A 7-Step Guide to Live-Editing in Ableton Live
The green loop sets the groove

Step 3: Adding the First Loop

By default, loops will alternate and play on repeat when you click on the clip slots in Session View. They’ll also conform to global quantization, which is usually set to 1 bar, which is not what we want for what we’re trying to do here. What we want is to switch from one loop to another smoothly and without having to wait a full bar. The most logical quantization option here will be 1/16 (or 1/8 if you’re going for a more extreme tempo). Let’s start with one loop. Pick one from your collection or load a loop via Ableton Live’s built-in browser.

A 7-Step Guide to Live-Editing in Ableton Live
Adding the first loop to a new track

Step 4: Tweaking

Next, it’s essential that we tweak our first loop a little. The image below shows the configuration we need.

  • Quantize: set this to 1/16 so we can switch between loops on the basis of sixteenth notes as explained in the previous step. This will make things sound much tighter.
  • Legato: activate this setting so that loops are played on repeat, even when they’re not actively played.
  • RAM: select this setting to make sure that your loops are loaded from your RAM. While Ableton Live is super-efficient at pulling data from hard drives, it’s not fast enough to support what we’re trying to do here without the help of your computer’s RAM.

A 7-Step Guide to Live-Editing in Ableton Live
Crucial settings for live-editing

Step 5: Adding More Loops

Add more loops to your live-editing track so there’s actually stuff to switch between and make sure they’re set up the same way as the first loop, so with Quantize set to 1/16 (or 1/8), Legato on and RAM on. To save some time, you can set all loops up correctly in one go by selecting them all using the Shift key before tweaking the essential settings. What’s great about Ableton Live is that it will even tell you if the settings are the same for all loops or not. In the image below, you can see that RAM is crossed out diagonally. This means that the setting doesn’t apply to all loops.

A 7-Step Guide to Live-Editing in Ableton Live
Diagonally half crossed out settings don’t apply to all loops

Step 6: Testing

This is where the fun begins. To check if your set-up works, hit the playback arrow of your guide track. You can now use your mouse to see if you’re able to switch between loops in your live-editing track in real time.

A 7-Step Guide to Live-Editing in Ableton Live
Switching between loops in real time

The image above shows you what it looks like for me. The red outline indicates that I’m using an Ableton Push 2 controller, which is definitely the ideal controller for switching between clips in real time. If you don’t have one, you can also assign some of your computer keyboard keys to the clip playback buttons (see step 7).

Step 7: Assigning Keys

Even if you do own an Ableton Push 2 controller, it’s worth knowing how to assign keys to specific functions. In this step, I’m going to assign the QWERTYUI keys to the clip playback buttons. Start by clicking the ‘Key’ button in the top right corner of your Ableton Live interface (see the image below) to open the Keyboard Mapping menu where you can assign keys to almost every function. In this case, first select a clip from your live-editing track and then assign a key (Q) for starting playback. Rinse and repeat for all other clips.

A 7-Step Guide to Live-Editing in Ableton Live
Activating Keyboard Mapping mode

Once you’re done, it should look something like the image below. Hit the ‘Key’ button again and Ableton Live will return to normal, after which you’re all set to experiment it up.

A 7-Step Guide to Live-Editing in Ableton Live
QWERTYUI keys assigned to clip slots

Here’s a snippet of me switching between eight experimental loops:


A 7-Step Guide to Live-Editing in Ableton Live
The results of my live-editing session as seen in Arrangement View

Three Tips

Tip 1: Streamline Your Clips

Since you’re basically using a number of (randomly sourced) clips as a single instrument, it’s never a bad idea to streamline things a little by tweaking the Gain and Pitch per clip. This way, any clip that’s quieter than the rest can be boosted to line up better.

A 7-Step Guide to Live-Editing in Ableton Live
Adjusting the gain and pitch per clip for a more unified sound

Since all of the clips are part of the same track, you can apply compression, saturation and maybe a reverb effect. This will bring everything together a bit more. See the image below to see how I’ve done it for one of my experiments.

A 7-Step Guide to Live-Editing in Ableton Live
Running all clips through the same effects chain

Tip 2: Recycle Clips

You can easily use the same clip over and over, especially if it’s a rhythmic clip. In the image below, you can see how I used the same drum clip four times in a single track. The first clip is the original, the second clip is the original in a higher octave (+12 semitones), the third clip is the original in an even higher pitch (+24 semitones), and the fourth clip is the original clip reversed.

Tip 3: Record Your Experiments

This is by far the most important piece of advice in this entire article. Record what you’re doing so you can sort and improve your work in Arrangement View later on. In the image below, the green track is my guide track and the blue track is my live-editing track, which clearly shows the clip switching I’ve done. While not everything you’ll create using this technique will be equally useful, you’re absolutely going to end up creating lots of little happy accidents that you can then use to cook up brilliantly glitchy beats. Enjoy!

A 7-Step Guide to Live-Editing in Ableton Live
Guide track (green) vs live-edit track (blue)

See Also

» All MIDI Controllers
» Ableton Live
» All Studio & Recording Gear

» Tools for Discovering Chords in Ableton Live
» How to Use MIDI Polyphonic Expression (MPE) in Ableton Live
» How to Make a Beat
» How to Sculpt Sounds With FM Synthesis

1 response
  1. Michael zahorniak says:

    Great tutorial. looking forward too seeing more.

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