I decided to write this post after spending the last few weeks with creative technology students during their exams here at BIMM Berlin. The performances were great overall, but there were a few technical challenges in the changeovers between sets. So, I put this list together based on the issues that came up the most. The tips here are not new but can be essential to workflow for both recording/mixing and live performance.
#1 Buffer size
The buffer is mostly for temporary processes and uses RAM to allocate real-time tasks such as audio plugin processing. If the buffer setting is too low this could result in audible clicks, pops, dropouts and/or crashes. A lower buffer setting is necessary when using input monitoring in the DAW during recording/or live performances, and a higher one is required for mixing or when more plugin processing or automation, is needed.
Very handy for when finishing off a heavily processed mix running a lot of plugins – even at a high buffer size, but also very useful when putting together live sets.
Also, if you move your session to another computer running Ableton, as long as tracks remain frozen, your set will play as it’s only loading audio from the Frozen folder. No messing around with plugin installations.
Unfortunately, you cannot freeze tracks with sidechain routing.
#3 Options File
“Out of the box” Live has extensive features but for me is missing some vital functionality. For example, being able to see what plugins or virtual instruments are running on each track.
Luckily, you can extend the features by creating an additional file in the Live preferences folder. First you have to create a plain text file called “Options.txt” and put it in the same folder where Live’s Preferences.cfg file is located.
Windows XP; \Documents and Settings\[username]\Application Data\Ableton\Live x.x.x\Preferences\
Windows Vista, Windows 7, Windows 8, Windows 10; \Users\[username]\AppData\Roaming\Ableton\Live x.x.x\Preferences\
Mac OS X; /Users/[username]/Library/Preferences/Ableton/Live x.x.x/
*make sure to put it into the folder which matches the version you are using and it’s probably worth adding a shortcut to the file somewhere for easy editing.
Now you can add simple line commands to change features. Here are a couple of examples;
With this command you can show or hide the plugins in session view just as you would typically see in the mix window of other DAWs, such as Pro Tools or Logic. Great visual aid when playing gigs (so you don’t get lost).
and the one relating to live performances…
There is a way to make sure only one track is record armed at a time, which is called ‘Arm Exclusive’ (enabled using right click on the record enable button) but unfortunately you have to click the record arm button to do it. With this command, record arm is enabled for the track you select which means you can navigate tracks more easily using a controller and be assured that your selected track is that one that is record armed.
More advanced commands here.
#4 Multiple sessions open at one time (Mac Only)
Many other DAW’s allow you to have more than one session open at a time, but this is not standard in Ableton Live. Here is a quick work-around; With one session already open, open the Terminal app and type ‘open -n’ in the pane, then navigate to your applications folder and drag the Ableton icon to the Terminal window. This will open a second instance of Ableton and you can jump quickly between the two.
Last but not least, a great tip for changing tempo in a Live sets session view without automation. Simply right-click and rename the scene you want the tempo to change from and type the the BPM e.g ‘108 BPM’ , now when you launch that scene Live will adjust to the desired tempo.