Ableton Intermediate Producer Course

Level 5 Overview

This week, we’ll be exploring the awesome creative potential of Ableton’s Drum Rack. We’ll discuss a number of ways of creating beats, with reference to the work of some classic producers, and see how their distinctive approaches can be applied to your own productions.

Mac Windows
Create Audio Track Command + T Control + T
Create MIDI Track Cmd + Shift + T Ctrl + Shift + T
Open Preferences Window Cmd + , Ctrl + ,
Insert MIDI Clip Cmd + Shift + M Ctrl + Shift + M
Export Audio/Video… Cmd + Shift + R Ctrl + Shift + R
Play/Stop Spacebar Spacebar
Change Velocity Cmd + Drag up/down Alt + Drag up/down
More Shortcuts…


Building Custom Drum Racks

 Pearl Syncussion SY-1

    • Custom Drum Racks
    • Adding custom samples
    • Velocity sensitivity
    • ADSR
    • Pitch
    • The “Copy Value to Siblings” command

Convert Drums to New MIDI Track

Add the Zimbaloop sample
Right Click > Convert Drums to New MIDI Track

Article: The story behind some of J Dilla’s greatest productions

More Samples

Courtesy of our partners Loopmasters.com. Please note that these free samples are for demonstration purposes – students can use them in their own tracks but if they want to use them in a commercial manner, they must purchase the full packs.

Download free sample packs:

Exporting Audio Files

      1. Go the the File Menu at the top of the screen and choose Export Audio/Video… or hit Cmd + Shift + R (Mac) / Ctrl + Shift + R (PC).
      2. We’ll go in to detail with the Export Settings later in the course, but for now, the settings shown below are usually fine. When you’re done, hit the okay button
Ableton Export Options 1

Assignments 5A & 5B

Assignment 5A

Your first assignment is to check out the following helpful resources. Most of them are online, so follow the links then bookmark them in your browser.

Essential Resources

      • The Secret Sound Facebook group is a great place to ask questions, share opinions and meet likeminded producers and DJs.
      • Pensado’s Place is a weekly YouTube show, presented by Grammy Award winning mixer Dave Pensado and his manager Herb Trawick, featuring interviews with the créme de la créme of the audio production industry. It’s a wealth of knowledge, both from a technical and professional standpoint, and it’s usually entertaining. You can play it on your phone while you cook, or take the bus or the car to work…
      • Groove3 offers excellent tutorials on audio software and hardware, although you’ll have to pay for them.
      • There are thousands of brilliant production tutorials available on YouTube. Some of the best come from Point Blank and Dubspot.
      • Sound On Sound is a great monthly publication, available in print or online. Perfect for finding reviews of gear, as well as tutorials and other audio news.
      • Gearslutz is one of the world’s biggest audio forums and can be a great place to pick up tips and discuss all things audio.

Recommended Reading

Two excellent resources here on mixing and mastering audio. Both books contain a great wealth of technical information, coupled with an appreciation of its artistic applications:

  • Izhaki, Roey (2008). Mixing Audio: Concepts, Practices and Tools. Oxford: Focal Press.
  • Katz, Bob (2007). Mastering Audio: The art and the science (Second Edition). Canada: Focal Press.

Assignment 5B

Using the methods we’ve covered, you must produce three new sketches.

Each sketch should include all of the following (at least!), but in each case you are required to use a different method of creating beats, as covered in class.

      1. An interesting beat. Get really creative here. Try building custom drum racks, slicing to MIDI, Converting to new Drum Track etc. Don’t forget to apply dynamics (via velocity).
      2. Use the Drum Rack’s internal mixer to add insert effects. Use reverb and delay on return channels to enhance the sense of space and depth around the drums, or to add interesting rhythmic additions.
      3. A bass line. This could be a deep synth, or recorded bass guitar, or double bass, or a bass voice…
      4. A sequence of chords. You could use a synth, or record a guitar, or a harp, or a piano…
      5. A melody line. You might use a synthesizer, or your voice, or a friend’s voice, or a glockenspiel, or a harmonica…
      6. Use the mixer to balance the levels of each channel, and use the pan pots to place the instruments appropriately in the stereo field
      7. Get creative with effects! Try lots of effects and combinations, and don’t be scared to turn all the dials – you never know what you’ll come up with. Do bear in mind also that effects aren’t always necessary – sometimes ‘clean’ is the perfect sound. In this case though, we want to explore lots of sonic possibilities.
      8. Add reverb and delay to your mix using Return channels.
      9. Apply a Limiter at the end of the Master chain.

Assignment Submission Guidelines

You must submit both a Soundcloud link to your track, and an archived Project Folder.

      1. Export your track as a 44.1khz, 16bit WAV file. You can use the Upload Audio to Soundcloud option in the Export Audio/Video… dialogue (read more here) or follow the steps below to upload your tracks at a later date.
      2. Upload your track to Soundcloud. If you don’t have an account already, the sign up process is easy and the service is free.
      3. Use the Collect All and Save function (File > Collect All and Save) to collect all of the project media in to the Project Folder. 
      4. Use 7-Zip (or a similar program) on Windows, or the built in Compress command on Mac OS (Right Click folder > Compress) to compress this folder to an archive.
      5. Email the archive and the Soundcloud link to ross@secretschoolofsound.ie.

 

Level 6 Overview

This week, we’ll be exploring the frequency domain and its applications in producing and mixing. We’ll discuss a number of functions of the equaliser, and how it can be applied in mix situations as well as creative scenarios.

Mac Windows
Create Audio Track Command + T Control + T
Create MIDI Track Cmd + Shift + T Ctrl + Shift + T
Open Preferences Window Cmd + , Ctrl + ,
Insert MIDI Clip Cmd + Shift + M Ctrl + Shift + M
Export Audio/Video… Cmd + Shift + R Ctrl + Shift + R
Play/Stop Spacebar Spacebar
Change Velocity Cmd + Drag up/down Alt + Drag up/down
More Shortcuts…


EQ Functions

  • Achieving Balanced Frequency Spectrum
  • Shaping the presentation of instruments
  • Separation
  • Definition
  • Convey Feelings and Mood
  • Interest
  • Depth Enhancements
  • Stereo Enhancements
  • Fine Level Adjustments
  • Remove Unwanted Content
  • Compensation for less than perfect recordings

Equalization is one of the most powerful tools in your sonic toolkit and can be your greatest enemy or your greatest ally in the battle for the perfect sound.
It is always best to ensure that you get as good a sound as possible from the microphone, synth or sampler coming into the mixing console. If you start off with good sounds, then a good result is almost inevitable.

You should always aim to use EQ to improve an already wonderful sound. If the sound isn’t good without EQ, then you will never end up with anything but second best. The only time you should ever use EQ to ‘save’ a sound is when you have been given a tape to work on that was recorded by a lazy engineer.

Nobody is born with the inbuilt ability to EQ. You can only learn through experience and a lot of careful listening.

EQ Bands and the Frequency Spectrum

EQ-Bands 2

 

  • Use the Test Tone under Preferences / Audio to sweep through the frequency spectrum

The human ear is capable of hearing frequencies in the range from about 20Hz up to about 20,000Hz (20k). Everything audible in a recording falls somewhere in this range or thereabouts and a given instrument (or any other sound) will occupy certain frequencies more dominantly than others.

For example, a hi-hat cymbal would have significant amplitude (volume) between around 3k to 5k and would have virtually no amplitude at 30Hz. Likewise, a bass guitar will have a lot of amplitude around 80Hz and next to none at 10k. In other words, most instruments will have a dominant frequency range that constitutes the “meat” of the sound.

If you apply this theory across all of the tracks in your mix, you can imagine how each track (instrument, voice) will primarily occupy a certain range of frequencies.

It would be fantastic if it were that simple. However, they will also occupy other frequencies in less significant amplitudes that make up some of the characteristics of the sound. For example, the “thump” of a kick drum might be around 60Hz while the “click” might be around 2k or higher.

Masking

Many of these sound sources will occupy overlapping frequency ranges. If two sounds are trying to occupy the same frequency at similar amplitudes, they will fight with each other, creating a muddy sound and losing definition from both sound sources, a phenomenon known as Masking.

Instrument Frequency Ranges

Cut Filters

We can use Ableton’s EQ 8 to solve masking problems, and also have an artistic impact on the material we’re presented with.

  1. Use a Low Cut Filter (normal curve) to take some low end out of the Guitar track
  2. Use a High Cut Filter to take some of the plectrum noise and definition out of the Bass track
  3. Combine a Low and High Cut Filter to give the piano a “phone” style effect

Shelving Filters

Shelving filters are often used when an overall change of timbre is required. For example, you could make the drums brighter by boosting the highs. They are similar to Pass Filters in that they operate above or below a specified frequency, but unlike pass filters, but they can cut or boost.

Parametric Filters

Parametric Filters

Parametric

Assignment 6

Open one of your finished compositions and see how EQ can be applied on individual tracks to achieve the following results:

  • Achieving Balanced Frequency Spectrum (is there too much bass overall? Not enough high end?)
  • Shaping the presentation of instruments (what is it about the instrument that you want to highlight)
  • Separation (you might need to remove the lows from one instrument if another is filling in this frequency band)
  • Definition (how clear can you make the instrument in its own right?)
  • Convey Feelings and Mood (cutting lows in an unnatural way, muffling an instrument that should be clear etc)
  • Interest (try automating your EQ choices at different parts of your song)
  • Depth Enhancements (dulling high frequencies to make the instrument appear more distant)
  • Remove Unwanted Content (is there any rumble in the low end, or hiss in the high end)

Level 7 Overview

This week, We will explore dynamics processors and the concept of compression, while trying out some of its many uses. We’ll also look at Gates, both as a utility and as a creative effect.

Mac Windows
Create Audio Track Command + T Control + T
Create MIDI Track Cmd + Shift + T Ctrl + Shift + T
Open Preferences Window Cmd + , Ctrl + ,
Insert MIDI Clip Cmd + Shift + M Ctrl + Shift + M
Export Audio/Video… Cmd + Shift + R Ctrl + Shift + R
Play/Stop Spacebar Spacebar
Change Velocity Cmd + Drag up/down Alt + Drag up/down
More Shortcuts…


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Assignment 7

1) Open one of your finished compositions and see how compression can be applied on individual tracks to achieve the following results:

  • Achieving a consistent, powerful signal from recorded part
  • Exaggerate the sustain of any sound
  • Enhance the percussive or rhythmic qualities of an instrument
  • 2) Experiment with sidechain compression on various instruments. You can try triggering (or “keying”) the sidechain directly from a kick drum, or perhaps by muting the sidechain trigger and adding an independent kick pattern.

    3) Read up about classic compressors, and the myriad uses of compression. This article from Sound on Sound is a great starting point, and YoUTube videos are an excellent resource for seeing in real time how various instruments can be treated in a mix. Try searching “how to mix bass guitar”. “how to mix drums”, or “how to compress vocals” etc.

Level 8 Overview

In our final class, we will explore the harmonic series, and its relation to the science and art of equalisation. We’ll also take a brief tour of Operator, and try some applications for Ableton’s Vocoder.

Mac Windows
Create Audio Track Command + T Control + T
Create MIDI Track Cmd + Shift + T Ctrl + Shift + T
Open Preferences Window Cmd + , Ctrl + ,
Insert MIDI Clip Cmd + Shift + M Ctrl + Shift + M
Export Audio/Video… Cmd + Shift + R Ctrl + Shift + R
Play/Stop Spacebar Spacebar
Change Velocity Cmd + Drag up/down Alt + Drag up/down
More Shortcuts…


EQ and the harmonic series

Leonard Bernstein explains the harmonic series

When music meets maths…

Using the vocoder with an external carrier

How to set up the vocoder with an external carrier

Place a Vocoder on the track to be affected
Add an external carrier instrument. Try adding a MIDI track and placing an instance of Operator or Analog here.
On the Vocoder, set the Carrier to External, then choose the desired instrument track as the Audio From source.
If you have not already done so, add some notes in the Operator channel.

More on the vocoder controls

Assignment 8

Assignment 8

Using the methods we’ve covered, you must produce one complete track.

Each sketch should include all of the following (at least!).

    1. An interesting beat. Get really creative here. Try building custom drum racks, slicing to MIDI, Converting to new Drum Track etc. Don’t forget to apply dynamics (via velocity).
    2. Use the Drum Rack’s internal mixer to add insert effects. Use reverb and delay on return channels to enhance the sense of space and depth around the drums, or to add interesting rhythmic additions.
    3. A bass line. This could be a deep synth, or recorded bass guitar, or double bass, or a bass voice…
    4. A sequence of chords. You could use a synth, or record a guitar, or a harp, or a piano…
    5. A melody line. You might use a synthesizer, or your voice, or a friend’s voice, or a glockenspiel, or a harmonica…
    6. Use the mixer to balance the levels of each channel, and use the pan pots to place the instruments appropriately in the stereo field
    7. Get creative with effects! Try lots of effects and combinations, and don’t be scared to turn all the dials – you never know what you’ll come up with. Do bear in mind also that effects aren’t always necessary – sometimes ‘clean’ is the perfect sound. In this case though, we want to explore lots of sonic possibilities.
    8. Add reverb and delay to your mix using Return channels.
    9. Experiment with the vocoder. See of you can emulate the Herbie Hancock / Daft Punk sound, but also try to use the vocoder to produce new, unexpected effects.
    10. Apply a Limiter at the end of the Master chain.

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