Ableton Live in two days of piddling around?
January 14, 2010 10:28 AM   Subscribe

Ableton Live for beginners: This weekend I'm going to have a couple of days where I get to play with someone's copy of Live, which looks like a very cool piece of software. I'm hoping to make the most of this chance but (a) the last time I made electronic music I programmed SID registers by hand in 6510 assembler in the 80s, and (b) don't know diddly about Live, oh yes, and (c) I don't know diddly about music, either. Is there a decent guide -- in print or online -- that would help me sit down in front of the thing and maybe plink out a couple of really awful songs?

Remember, I've only got a couple of days before I have to give it back, so I don't want or need a huge in-depth course. Oh, and I have no MIDI or hardware to play with, either. All I'm going to have is just a laptop with a copy of Live and some basic office software on it. I guess I could download samples or loops or whatever, if there are any to be had somewhere.

Alternately, if you think it's totally pointless for a rank amateur to spend any time whatsoever trying to play with professional tools (as cool as I think the opportunity is), tell me to go play with GarageBand or something, fine, but tell me how to do that instead because as I said, I know nothing about this stuff right now.

I promise if you can help me make some embarrassing attempt at music to post a track and let you make fun of me.
posted by majick to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Live has a pretty good built-in tutorial; just start with that. A few of the tutorial movies might be worthwhile, but honestly you really just need to sit down and play with the software. The manuals also are pretty well written -- don't worry about understanding it all, just try to get the big picture.
posted by xil at 10:42 AM on January 14, 2010

Also, Live comes with a bunch of built-in loops and samples, which are definitely enough for a couple of days of messing around.
posted by xil at 10:43 AM on January 14, 2010

I would actually recommend that you DO spend some time messing with Garage Band, but as a preparation, just to get used to some of the typical track and module interfacing. (If you can get your hands on Logic, that would be better--but actually, Garage Band is absolutely a useful training session for Logic.)

As far as "how to do that," in regards to Garage Band? Well, have you opened it? It's pretty intuitive! Don't be scared! Tinker away!

Immediately, through trial and error on any of these programs, you can definitely plink out a couple of awful songs. Promise.

Obviously you could watch some Ableton training videos online too, but I believe that some hands-on experience with other programs will help you bridge that gap from the 80s to now. (I don't learn AT ALL, I can't, by watching videos, so I can't recommend any. I can only learn by spending a couple of days tinkering with a program... which, helpfully, is what you're doing!)
posted by RJ Reynolds at 10:45 AM on January 14, 2010

The built-in tutorials are really good, as are the vids on their site. Live comes with some sounds and built-in software instruments. And it has a feature that lets you use your computer keyboard as a virtual piano keyboard. It has a built in sampler, called "Simpler," and a built-in drum sampler called Impulse. There's a lot to play with.

You can download a demo of Live and use it as long as you want. After the demo expires, you can still use it, you just can't save anything. So there's no reason to limit your tinkering to two days.

There's nothing wrong with learning by tinkering. Watch some vids and do some of the tutorials. Start having fun with Live's Session View. Record things (even with a crappy built-in mic) and put effects on them.
posted by wheat at 10:49 AM on January 14, 2010

Here's a vid I saw on the frontpage a while back, showing (roughly) how someone constructed the entirety of Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up" in Ableton, from the root samples. It's more aimed at the spirit of building a track than the exact 'step one click here step two click here' process, but it paints a pretty decent picture of the process.
posted by FatherDagon at 2:26 PM on January 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you, folks! I'll be poking through some of these resources tonight after dinner. I'm not super thrilled by the idea of doing video learning, either, but for learning how to do a complex process I need examples, examples, examples. It's never enough to take apart something somebody else has done, and dropping myself stone cold into what appears to be among the most powerful and unique tools of its type is a bit dangerous in that it's hard to get a broader view of what I should be doing to be productive (in the sense of being able to sketch out and then fill in a song) in it.

The manual does indeed look well written, and I might spend a bit of time poking at it. The baby version of Live seems to be reasonably priced at $99 right now, but at the moment even that's really a tremendous stretch so I really want to make the most of the brief time I have with this cool toy.
posted by majick at 4:03 PM on January 14, 2010

Response by poster: I watched a couple of the videos on the Ableton site, which helped less than I wanted them to since they all assume you have a hojillion dollars worth of button-slathered blinkenlight MIDI controller and that you know something about music. The built in lessons worked somewhat well, although they frequently described bits of the interface that simply weren't there until you poke around randomly. The manual is in fact pretty well written, but for most topics it starts off comprehensible then quickly careers off into musician/synth dude/product jargon. It reminds me a little of (post-acquisition) VMWare documentation which is written to be approachable but also only comprehensible if you already know the subject and didn't need the documentation in the first place.

Anyway, as promised I posted some of the results. Thanks for the help, folks. I might have to get a copy of this thing for myself somehow. Everyone who raves about the session view is right. It gives you the power of a diety over your music.
posted by majick at 8:10 AM on January 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

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