Wow. Here it is. It’s only been five years. Has it been worth the wait? It sure looks cool. I wonder… Ableton, the once darling upstart of the DAW world, with its wildly innovative approach to making music, has been dead silent on a major Live update for a good while.
It is firmly ensconced in the hearts of thousands of music producers, beginner to pro, with a clever building-block approach to creating tunes, combined with a flexible and intuitive effects processing flow. But it hasn’t evolved much, and some people were letting their minds and hearts wander to the new kids on the block.
Have Ableton done something with this update to keep hold of their fans, and draw new ones in?
There are plenty of websites and reviewers going through the updates and changes in fine detail. A quick google will throw up tons of stuff. I’ll try and approach from a more personal angle, having spent a few weeks using it now, and throw in my opinion, whatever that’s worth.
This is really important to me. How easy is it to get going on a musical idea, and build on it, sculpt it, improve it, without clunky software getting in the way? When it first came out, Live was incomparable in the efficient manner you could create ideas, and expand upon them. As technology has progressed, other DAW’s have provided more and more useful tools that drew me away to work with them instead on creating.
One of the main areas Ableton worked on was the Arrange Editing. They’ve added a plethora of tools and shortcuts that make the process less painful, and after the short learning curve; a LOT faster.
Here are some of my favorites:
1/ Firstly the cosmetic uplift is much needed and actually very useful. Graphics are vector based now so going bigger or smaller you still get pin sharp graphics. The font is thinner and easier to read. Random borders and box lines have been removed.
2/ Automation – automation is now summoned key command or button. It’s out of the way when you don’t want it, and pressing ‘A’ brings it all up. Keeps it clean if you’re not automating, but gives you quick access when you need it. The fades are automatically there. You can double click for break points, which speeds the process up massively for me, and you can work directly on the audio in any automation lane, instead of having to scroll up to the original lane.
3/ Audio editing – you can work more deeply on clips in the arrange window. Holding shift and drag on a clip will timestretch the audio, selecting any or all of a clip and pressing R reverses it. I love that you can grab a selection and reverse it. This is a huge speed up from splitting the section of clip you want, going to the audio editor, hitting reverse, then going back. You can also select sections of clip to deactivate, rather than the whole-or-nothing that it used to be.
I really like the ALT+Shift click drag to move the audio within the clip while the clip stays stationary. You can fix this to grid, or completely free if you’re needing a bit of audio to hit later or earlier within the clip. Again, an efficient boost to audio editing.
4/a MIDI Capture! YESSSSSSSss. I love this in my other DAW’s and it’s one of my most used key commands. being able to doodle, and when you land on something cool, hit a button to bring it into a clip. Fantastic.
4/b MIDI Chasing: This cool. It picks up the MIDI even if the note was started waaaaaay before where you’re currently at. Logic doesn’t do this, and I wish it did. Means you don’t have to start at the beginning of the MIDI note, if it’s a long one, which removes an annoying distraction when you’re in the flow.
5/Scroll wheel set to zoom in and out – This won’t be for everyone, but for me it’s massive. I’ve never got comfortable with the way Ableton treated the zoom functions in the arrange window. I found it annoying and unintuitive. I’m trying to create the same workflows and key commands across my DAW, and I’ve been scrolling vertically and horizontally with a scroll ring for the last couple years. So, the addition of responding to scroll wheel with different key commands is awesome. The addition of key commands for quick zooming into the clip you’re on, and zooming straight out to every track minimised, is also very useful. The way I work means I’m zooming a lot, so it’s a big deal for me.
6/ Folder hierarchy – This has improved immensely. With the new font and layout, it’s a lot clearer and cleaner. You can rename files and folders. You can save group setups and drag them into new projects, so you’re not having to re-create your much-used groups every time you’re in a new project. I really like the color tagging element. I haven’t spent much time with that yet, but having a huge sample library means time can be wasted looking for ‘that’ sound that I absolutely love, but is buried somewhere. Tagging with color gives the potential to have a raft of ‘favorites’ that can be stored in smaller folders for easier access.
7/ Wavetable – Ableton have introduced a new synth, called Wavetable. Sort of the successor to Operator, which I never got into, this synth is pretty fantastic. based on, you guessed it, wavetable synthesis; the synth can create a wide variety of sounds that don’t remain static, as you can morph the waves on both oscillators.
A click of the little triangle, and the synth pops up into the arrange window, giving it a lot more screen space, and consequently a lot easier to work with. There are some great presets, but I actually enjoyed experimenting with this synth. 80’stastic for sure. I loved being able to see the movement of the waves as they morphed. I found that very helpful in understanding the timbre of the sound at that moment. And of course a mod matrix is super useful in adding movement and evolution to the sound. Awesome.
8/ Echo + Pedal – I’d much rather go the proper analog route for both of these effects, but as digital emulations of analog circuitry, they’re really good. A massive upgrade on the original delay and distortion effects. Echo especially I really got into, as not only does it sound good, but there are some killer tasty modulation options in there that enable nice wooly tape wobbly sounds, through to vibrato craziness.
9/ Drumbuss is a roid pumped sonic sculptor in an inconspicuous package. You can really dive into the separate elements of drum mix, and flavor it how you want, with tuning, compression, drive, saturation, to name a few elements. Having them all in one little package is killer.
Again, Ableton and friends go through massive walkthroughs explaining every little element of these new sound scapers. But for me, the overarching element was playability. It seems to me that Ableton spent a good deal of time and thought getting the balance between playability and complete control of every single element. I really found that with the Echo plugin, and the Wavetable synth. Visually very clear, you could see exactly how your parameter changes were affecting the sound. This, coupled with already good overall tone and timbre make these instruments a real joy to experiment with. Wavetable compared to Operator is like night and day in terms of the fun that I had creating sound.
I think Ableton have done a lot of work under the hood, smoothing efficiency. It felt a little snappier, and seemed to close and open projects quicker. Could of course be completely in my head, but there we are.
I think having the ability to download packs from Ableton directly into the browser is very clever. Some of those downloads are massive, so it can pause and continue – you don’t have to do it all at once. Excellent.
Speaking of flexibility, I can’t help but mention…
10/ Max4Live – I’ve always loved M4L, having used Max/MSP in my university days. It’s exciting that Ableton have acquired Cycling ’74, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what’s in the future for these two companies. But in the meantime, having Max4Live baked into the software is phenomenal. In my limited experience from these last couple weeks, it seems to be a lot smoother, less glitchy (in a good way!!), and provides a deeper bond between the two software.
I love how easy it is now to Modulate certain parameters of instruments in Live with an LFO, for example. It just feels more solid, more part of Live as a whole, rather than its own little add-on. Being able to design or tweak effects, routing, instruments, to create your own stuff that sits firmly within Live as a DAW is just awesome. Needless to say, there is a massive community of M4L users out there who’ve created a ton of awesome software that gives Live a real edge over other DAWs out there, in my opinion.
You know when Apple says that one of their iOS updates isn’t going to be anything game-changing, but they’re gonna stabilize, speed up and squash bugs in the current OS? This Live 10 update feels like that, but in a much bigger, grander manner. There’s nothing game-changing here, in my opinion. But what they have done is breathed new life into a DAW that was starting to seem a bit stale.
All the cosmetic and sonic upgrades bring it back in line with the advances other DAW’s have made, but at the same time updating that special Live approach to music making that made it so endearing in the first place. I’ve found Live to be more of a musical instrument in itself than other DAW’s; a sort of grand central for both creating and connecting other musical tools efficiently. (thanks LINK!)
This approach to music making remains important currently with the explosion in popularity of hardware and modular synths. In this regard, I think Live 10 is a win for Ableton, that I think will both encourage the diehards, and attract attention from new users. I for one will be brushing off the cobwebs and getting stuck back in to Live.
I will caution here that most of the new and interesting stuff only comes with the full Suite, and would hesitate on upgrading if you’re not going for the full version.
For the full Live 10 Suite, you’re gonna pay $599. Essentials, you’re dipping your toe into the Ableton world for $79, and Standard is the full version of Ableton without all the extra Suite instruments/effects for $349.
For more information on all the updates, check here.
How have you found the upgrade? Let us know below in the comments!
Composer/Producer, and keyboard player. He has written and recorded soundtracks for a wide variety of media and co-owns DOsounds.com with Jake Owen, a music production company that gives him an excuse to buy more analog gear.