Ableton Live 9 Workshop Notes

Today I attended the Ableton Live 9 workshop at the Supper Club in San Francisco.

Please see this post for the background on the workshop.

The event was relatively small, but thanks to the size it felt very intimate and informal. The crowd wasn’t huge, but I got the impression that it was reasonably representative of the active EDM producers / artists in San Francisco. The old Demo Party organizer in me immediately started thinking about different types of events that could be arranged with a dedicated group of people like this, but more on that later.

I won’t go too much into detail about the topics discussed, but below are some notes of the stuff that I found particularly interesting.

Disclaimer: Keep in mind that the workshop was based on a Beta version of Live 9, and any of the described features and content below could change before it actually ships.

Part 1 : Timo on Live 9 and workflow

Audio to MIDI

By now I think most people have heard of the amazing new Audio to MIDI function in Live 9, what I did not know was that it offers 3 different algorithms to choose from, Harmony for chord heavy sound, Melody for monophonic progressions and Drums for percussion and drums.

Upgrade to 9 compressor or continue to use 8 version is an option

As part of upgrading to Live 9, you will be presented with the option to continue to use the Live 8 standard compressor, or upgrade to the new one. This is not the new Glue compressor, which is a different plugin, but the standard compressor.

MIDI Note Invert

The Notes drawer in a MIDI clip now has an invert button that allows you to select a set of notes in the piano roll and instantly invert their relative pitch.

MIDI Note Stretch markers

In Live 9, when you select a range in the Note lane the selected range markers can be dragged to stretch (speed up, slow down, reverse) the selected notes.

Session Automation Record Arm and Record Buttons

As part of the new Session view automation record capability, the Transport bar at the top of the UI know contains an Automation Record arm button, and an Automation Record button. Both are used when you want to enable / disable recording any parameter changes you do while playing back scenes and clips. With version you add automation points by single clicking, and you can create curves for smoother transitions.

Back to arrangement on a track by track basis

The arrangement view in Live 9 contains buttons that allow you to do Back to Arrangement on individual tracks instead of the entire set.

Consolidate to scene 9

Starting with Live 9 you can select a range in the arrangement view, right click and select Consolidate to Scene. This will create a new scene in the session view that contains a clip for each track you selected, with just the selected range of sound. This includes automation and effects.

Part 2 : Liam on DJ’ing with Live

Set global BPM though scene name

If you name a scene ??? BPM, the global clock will be set to that BPM every time you launch that scene. Perfect for smooth transitions and seamless tempo changes between song parts or tracks in a DJ set.

Use routing to create effects channels

If you get creative, you can create advanced effects channels that allow you to get very expressive when playing back scenes and clips live. (This is really all about coming up with the templates that work for you.)

Summary

Don’t let the fact that the notes from Liam’s session are fewer trick you into thinking that his set was not interesting. Since I’m not a DJ I guess there was just more that related to me directly in Timo’s part. Liam really showed how far you can go using Live and the APC 40, if you really know how to work both the software and the hardware.

The event was incredibly inspiring and full of new learnings, especially for a relative beginner like my self.

At the end I also got a chance to speak to Timo directly about the possibility of arranging more workshops and gatherings for EDM people in San Francisco. He indicated that there are already plans to try to strengthen the community and provide more forums and social events for people to exchange ideas, learn and share perspectives and initiate collaborations. I really hope that materializes, and if it doesn’t I will try to make it happen myself.

Finally, a huge thanks to Timo and Liam for taking the time and sharing from their wells of wisdom.

Listening

It’s pretty simple really. If you want to make great electronic music, listen to great electronic music. A lot! And actually, the part about ‘great’ isn’t all that important. In fact, just listen to a lot of music in general.

So, I’ve made a new commitment. Apart from actively listening through sources of more or less established music, lately I try to make sure that I listen to all the new tracks that are published in the SoundCloud groups I’m a member of. I don’t necessarily listen through the entire tracks (unless it picks my interest) but I try to at least scan through all of them, and where possible leave a comment or two. This ‘forces’ me listen to a great variety of tracks both in terms of quality and style, and it helps me connect with others that are also trying to get their music out there.

Highly recommend it as a source of music and inspiration :).

Fighting humidity and moist in the Home Studio

(See also the first part on how to avoid getting dust and dirt in your equipment here!)

I’ve talked before about two of the biggest threats against the life expectancy of your hard earned expensive equipment when operating in a home / bed room studio: Dust and Humidity. As for dust, covers of various shapes, sizes and materials are the most affordable solutions, and frankly should suffice in most situations. Humidity on the other hand is a more complicated story.

If you are in a bedroom / home kind of setting controlling the relative humidity can be a difficult task given that the environment is primarily not a studio but a home, most likely shared with family member who might not have the same passion for your noise making machines as you do.

On the other hand, most musical equipment that’s within range of us bedroom producers will fare quite well in humanly comfortable levels of humidity. The rule of thumb here to put it simply is to keep your room below 50% on average. If you cross into the 50%-55% from time to time that’s generally not a problem, but if you are consistently above 55% for any longer period of time you need to start worrying.

Too little humidity (think below 35%) and you run the risk of static electricity accumulating and damaging equipment, too much (above 55%) and corrosion and dust clogging starts to become a problem.

Several methods exist for stabilizing the humidity ranging from building material to take into consideration when you are building your studio/home, to passive closet dehydration helpers that you can pick up at your local department store.

The sad story is that your needs will very much be dictated by where on the planet you live, and the temperatures, weather and seasonal changes that comes with your location. I have had the fortune of living in both Japan, Sweden and San Francisco and I can say from experience that if I lived in Sweden, humidity would never be a problem. In Japan, due to its almost tropical summers, I would have spent a great deal of time and money on controlling it, but the range of devices available is also much broader. Here in SF where I currently live, the fog and daily temperature changes makes it a delicate task to keep humidity stable.

I ended up buying a rather large electrical dehumidifier unit that has enough power to suck  moist out of the air for the entire apartment I live in. As long as this unit runs anywhere relatively unblocked in our home, regardless of our indoor temperature humidity stays pretty much stable. I have it dialed in at 45%, and depending on what room you measure in levels are stable between 43% – 47%.

This has made the indoor environment a lot more pleasant and alleviated any concerns about the studio gear I keep in our bedroom.

The unit is rather noisy, but that’s a necessary side effect of the construction and very hard to get away from. In my case, since the unit is strong enough to cover the entire apartment (~900 sqft) I can place it in a hallway where the noise is less of a problem, but if you plan on placing it in your actual studio you should probably look for something more quiet.

Headphones for Mixing and Tracking (BD DT 770 Pro)

Ignoring the fact that headphones are almost always frowned upon for mixdowns and mastering, here’s the short story of my search for a pair of good headphones for my bedroom studio.

Before we start, just let me do a quick note on the whole ‘you cannot / should not mix on headphones’ argument. Not true. The true statement should read ‘You cannot / should not depend on headphones as your ONLY source of truth when mixing (or mastering)’. The truth is that good headphones have a perfectly fine place in any mixing process. They offer a closeness to the stereo image that monitors often cannot, they reflect what many of your average listeners will actually hear, and they can let you catch minute details about your sound that only the intimacy of headphones will show you.

But enough about the pros and cons of mixing on cans, this post is about how I decided to buy a pair of Beyerdynamic DT 770 Pro (250ohm) for my bed room studio.

This was my list of criteria:

  1. Closed Back
    (To not disturb the rest of the family)
  2. Under $250
    (Since I figured I would probably want to upgrade to more expensive ones later anyways if this music thing really takes off)
  3. Light weight and soft pads
    (My head is tiny, my ears are not…)
  4. Relatively low impedance
    (I didn’t want to buy a dedicated amp)
  5. Flat response
    (Naturally, as flat as you get with the above requirements)

Give the above, my short list was:

  • Denon AHD2000
    According to graphs I dug up online their response freq. looked ok but in the end they were ruled out since they were too expensive, and Denon’s reputation for reference class headphones was speaking against them. Also, the 5000 looked so much better but would have put me even further way out of my budget. I have this itch when I buy something that I know there is a better version of out there… Also, according to reviews online they are very very tight on the head.
  • AKG (Q) 701
    Great looking but too open, the noise leakage would have kept the rest of the family up and that defeats the whole purpose…
  • Beyerdynamic DT 880
    These cans are supposedly ‘Semi-Open’, and their cost / performance seemed excellent. In the end though my online ‘research’ ruled them out as leaking too much noise.
  • Beyerdynamic DT 770
    For a closed back headphone their cost / performance seemed unmatched. They look great and the response freq. is flat enough for you to learn to compensate. They’ve been around a long time and seem to have a relatively good reputation (in their price class) amongst electronic(a) producers / artists. In the end, this is what I went for.

You might wonder why there are 2 open / semi open cans in the short list, and the answer is simply that anyone you ask on what headphones to get for mixing will tell you to at the very least get open ones. Supposedly this is because open cans, by virtue of their design, are capable of more faithfully reproduce especially lower frequencies. For this reason I wanted to see if something like the semi-open design might be passable, but in the end I had to rule them out.

I’ve paired my 770’s with a Focusrite Scarlett interface without any special amplification, and at 250ohm you do have to turn up the volume a bit further than on consumer class headphones, but the Scarlett is more than capable of driving them. Especially if you are like me and do most of your mixing at night when the rest of the house is very quiet :).

After I got them I have revisited some of my older songs, and the brutal honesty with which they show how poorly mixed those songs are was a bit hard, but at the same time an eye opener.

The BD DT 770 Pro are extremely comfortable even for long (think 5 hours +) sessions. I usually forget I’m even wearing them after an hour or so. My only complaint is that the attached cable is a coiled one and that can get a bet heavy depending on how you wear them. You just need to be careful with how you place the cable so that it has a bit of support resting on a table or something in between you and the source.

I highly recommend those headphones for anyone looking for an affordable pair with great cost / performance and comfortability, but as anyone will tell you, they shouldn’t be your only or final source of truth while mixing. No headphones should.

Get them from Amazon on the following link:
Beyerdynamic DT 770 PRO, 250 ohms

Let me know if you have any questions.

Tristan Prettyman’s upcoming album a classic in the making?

Last night my wife and I had the great fortune of attending the EMI / Capitol private showcase in San Francisco for Tristan Prettyman’s upcoming album and tour ‘Cedar + Gold’. My wife is a long time fan and through a series of really amazing events Tristan invited us to the show.

Since my wife started playing Tristan’s music to me I have been fascinated with her voice and lyrics, but to be honest I hadn’t given her the attention or serious listening that she deserved.

Tristan Prettyman @ Cafe du Nord (Thanks Chii for the photo!)

Last nights show was an eye opener. Yes I understand that there’s something magic about live shows, but that aside, the music she played to us tonight felt incredibly honest and fresh in so many ways. From her natural ability to tell a great story (and to color it with that fantastic voice) to her immediacy on the stage, she managed to truly capture something in her music that I haven’t felt in a long time.

My wife said it very well when she told me ‘One of the great things about Tristan is that she is so honest with herself. Listening to her music and lyrics gives me the strength to be honest with myself’.

I think that really hit the spot. When she sings her stories of love (broken, new and unexplored such) and life there is something very honest about her words. You can tell right away that the songs have not been over thought to ‘sound right’ or play nicely in a certain commercial sense. Instead, those are songs born from particular states of mind, feelings and life experiences that are raw, close and sometimes very rough (in other words, very human).

Tristan managed to, within the short span of 45 minutes, go all the way from the singer-songwriter with a melody that just has to get out, via the southern rock n roll / blues tradition, to full throttle rock and then back to being just a girl with a guitar wanting to tell us something important.

I personally have not been this impressed by a live performance for a long time. Yes, Roger Water doing ‘The Wall’ was an incredible experience, but that was a very different kind of experience. I can’t wait for her album to come out and the tour to start for real. If you get a chance to attend her concert, do yourself a favor and go. Your heart deserves it!

Thank you so much for inviting us Tristan!

Best Track: Glass Jar

http://tristanprettyman.com/
The album ‘Cedar + Gold’ is slated for release on Capital Records on Sept. 25 2012.