3 Tips to Improve Your Workflow in Ableton

Introduction: 

I do most of my music production in Ableton Live, which I’ve been using for 6 years now. Throughout the course of learning how to use Ableton properly, I have discovered several things that have helped me to significantly improve my workflow. 

When we’re working on anything creative, efficiency is crucial. Alongside our imagination and our inventive thoughts, there is the job of putting our ideas into a concrete form. This task is typically repetitive, takes up a lot of our time, and can be fairly taxing on our stamina. Having a strong ethic will only get us so far. 

Today I will be sharing 3 tips to improve your workflow in Ableton. All of these tips can probably be applied to any other Digital Audio Workshop (DAW) so there is value in reading this article even if you’re using another software. 

Without further adieu let’s jump into it!

1: Stay organized by renaming everything! 

Renaming is as easy as selecting something to rename, pressing Ctrl+R (Cmd+R on a Mac) and typing in a new name for it. Pretty much anything in Ableton can be renamed. Tracks, instruments, clips, samples, audio effects, and the list goes on! 

Giving everything a name is a very simple and effective way of staying organized and avoiding future headaches. I find it most useful as a way to differentiate between different audio tracks, especially when I have 20+ tracks in one project. I also find it handy to give names to specific clips that are very important, such as those with a melody line or chord progression that need to be easy to spot. 

It’s CRUCIAL to change the names of instruments that we’ve modified or created, so that when we save them, they are easy to find. (You can change the names of instruments you’ve already saved by finding their directory in Ableton.) 

Get into the habit of assigning a name to everything in your project and you won’t regret it! 

2: Learn to make use of groups! 

Instrument tracks and effects can be grouped together. This can be accomplished by highlighting more than one track or effect and using the shortcut “Ctrl+G” on a PC or “Cmd+G” on a Mac. You can even group separate groups into multi-groups inception style.

Benefits of grouping instruments: 

  • Groups can be expanded and collapsed to decrease clutter. 
  • The relative volume levels of all instruments within a group can be the same while lowering the group’s overall volume. 
  • We can apply an audio effect (This beats the ordeal of adding or removing the effect from each individual instrument one by one.) 
  • The same can be said of panning an entire group left or right. 
  • Groups can be soloed or muted all at once with the click of a button. 

Benefits of grouping audio effects: 

  • Just like groups of instruments, effect racks can be expanded and collapsed. 
  • You can turn on and off entire racks instead of the tedium of turning each effect one at a time. 

3: Use your sends! 

Sends are used to route multiple audio tracks an audio effect. This saves us effort by sparing us the hassle of having to add the audio effect to each instrument individually. We can place multiple audio effects into one return track. and if we wanted to alter the effects on multiple instruments, we can just go to the return track and alter them there. This is a HUGE time saver. 

With the Intro version of Ableton Live you're allowed to create up to 2 return tracks for sending. Ableton Standard or Suite gives us the option to create up to 12 return tracks. 

Make sure that any audio effects you put into a return track are set to 100% wetness. This is because will be controlling the dryness/wetness of the effect by adjusting the sends on each instrument. This way we can make an audio effect (such as reverb, delay, saturation...etc) in a single return track give numerous outcomes for each track that it is altering. We can even dial in a send on an entire group track! 

If we were to right-click on the [Send A Dial] and choose “Enable all sends”, we would enable the ability to send return tracks to each other (or themselves). With this option on, we can create some pretty messed up effects like: reverbed delays, saturated flangers, chorused phasers...whatever your mind can think of! Careful not to feed returns back into each other or you could give yourself a headache or blow your speakers.

Because sends allow us to process all of our frequently used effects in one place, they drastically cut down on CPU and RAM consumption. This allows us to have a larger amount of highly specialized effects on individual instruments. 

Keep in mind that return tracks cannot be put into groups. But any time we have a bunch of instruments or effects that serve a similar purpose, we should definitely get into the habit of grouping them together! 

Sends are truly amazing. They save time, they save effort, and they can even optimize Ableton’s demand on a computer! 

Bonus Tip: Learn your short-cuts! 

This tip is not just specific to Ableton. But it stands to reason that if we want to be as productive as possible, we make the effort to learn most (if not all) of the short cuts in Ableton. A complete list can be found on the Ableton website.

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