Friday, April 3, 2009

Starting out with Ableton Live

Ableton Live has become the Muzik Audio Production group's Digital Audio Workstation of Choice. Fortunately, Ableton Inc has provided a number of different ways to get their software.

Unfortunately, the pricing of these various packages can be extremely confusing, but is somewhat clearer now that you can no longer upgrade to Live 7 through Ableton.

As of yesterday (April 2nd, 2009), Ableton is officially onto version 8 of their software. Here are the retail options as of today :

Ableton Live Lite 7 : Can be obtained by buying any bundled instrument or controller packaged with Ableton Live Lite. I won't get into what all of the limitations are, but there are ways around them which we will discuss later. Probably the best bargain for price-only shoppers is the M-Audio Oxygen 8 v2 keyboard that is bundled with Ableton Live Lite. It's $150 from M-Audio, $120 at most local music stores. I got mine for $100 at Guitar Center in Merrillville, IN. Regardless of what the box says, Ableton will bump you up to the latest version (7) for free. As of this writing, nothing has been said about a version 8 for Live Lite. I expect they'll get around to it after the launch hype dies down.

Ableton Live 7 LE : Again, as of this writing, there is no version 8 for the "LE" version of Live. Per the Ableton Pricing Page, buying Ableton Live 7 LE will cost you $139 to download and $199 (plus shipping I would imagine) for them to ship you a box. It seems like you can do a bit better at retail at place like Guitar Center who are only charging $149. I would not expect that to last long and I imagine you will start seeing Ableton Live 8 LE for $199 in stores soon-ish. Again, we can talk about what the limitations are and how to work around them in another post.

Ableton Live 8 : For a brand new first time buyer, Live 8 will set you back $449 to download and $549 for a box (again, I'm not sure but I have to believe they will charge you shipping on the box). Additionally, the box includes Essential Instrument Collection 2, but unless I'm misunderstanding, it's just a gimped demo and to fully unlock it, you'll have to pay. All the training wheels are off on this version and the only limits are your imagination, what you can find on the Covert Ops blog (just kidding, but those guys are certifiably insane) and the horsepower in your PC.

Ableton Live 8 Upgrade : Upgrades from
  • Live 7 are $189 for download and $229 for box.
  • Live 7 (purchased after Jan 15 as part of their special promotion) are $59 for download and $99 for box.
  • Versions 1-6 are $249 download/ $289 box.
  • Live Lite/LE are $329 download / $419 box.
All of this is of course subject to change as Ableton gets further along into their product cycle.

Ableton Live 8 Suite : Start with Live 8 and add toys, lots of them. Take a deep breath. Live 8 Suite includes :
  • Ableton Live 8 +
  • Sampler (use wav files like MIDI) +
  • Operator (a bottoms up synthesizer builder) +
  • Collision (think mallets / percussion) +
  • Tension (stringed instruments) +
  • Electric (new Electric Piano - quite good, I must say) +
  • Analog (for that warm 1970's feel) +
  • Drum Machines (self explanatory) +
  • Latin Percussion (Brazilian, Afro-Cuban and African music);
  • Essential Instrument Collection 2 (sampled instruments, boxed only)
  • Session Drums (sampled drums, boxed only)
The cost for first time users is an astronomical $699 for download / $849 for a retail box. Upgrades are very complicated depending on which of those modules you already own.

If you're still with me, take another deep breath. Make no mistake - Live Suite 8 is not intended for people just getting started with music production and hence, that's the end of my discussion of it.

Anyways, regardless of where you are, Ableton offers you a number of options to get to their latest version of software.

What's really puzzling to me, however, is how full version owners get (arguably) less benefit than Lite users. Lite users are automatically bumped up from one version to the next for free while full version users pay a fairly hefty premium for those same new features. It's a bit odd because full version users don't even have the option of reverting to a Live Lite license to get those new effects/features.

By far, the most economical approach for beginners is the bundled Lite approach. Look for it at your local music store.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Video of the Day

Ableton has a lot of really simple but really great videos on YouTube that won't make your head spin.

Here is one on using Software Instruments :

Now because it's YouTube quality you won't be able to see every last detail but you should get a good idea of how to get started.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Video Recommendations

I don't want to jump off the "Back to Basics" bandwagon too quickly but I have found some simply sensational videos over the last couple days and I wanted to share some of this awesome-ness with you :

"Dummy Clips" - These guys (Covert Ops) do writings as opposed to talking over the top of their presentations. You'll find that you have to pause to catch up and read and then follow what they are doing. There is a TON of material on this site which is unfortunately under construction. Fortunately, Ableton's forum members have consolidated it here. Edit : Found a better list.

Video Tutorial Clips by a Kiwi - This guy is actually a really good teacher in addition to putting together some decent demo's.

Sonic Academy - I would have been thrilled to put these guys at the top of the list but they are a pay site and it costs roughly $90 a year to subscribe. There is quite a bit of free material though. You'll find as you get further into the lessons, they start leaving stuff out so you have to pay to finish the lesson.

Ableton Inc - Ableton has an official YouTube channel. I find their tutorials well done but ultimately I think they don't show you how to do anything really cool or useful.

innerstatejt - Another YouTube user. Not many videos to choose from but well done nonetheless.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Word of the Day : Digital Audio Workstation

Just a note before we get started : there are many different levels of skill and experience not only within our group but in the world at large. My approach is to make the digital music experience as accessible for as many different people as I can. Therefore my articles will seem a bit basic and oversimplified to many who read my entries. Now that that's out of the way...

Digital Audio Workstation

According to Wikipedia, "A digital audio workstation (DAW) is an electronic system designed to record, edit and play back digital audio. A key feature of DAWs is the ability to freely manipulate recorded sounds." In the context of this article, we will be talking computer-based DAW software.

Ok, look - I'm just going to cut right to the chase - the biggest issue for most people and DAW's is cost. These are ridiculously expensive pieces of computer software, ranging from $100 for something like Fruity Loops and Computer Music's energyXT all the way up to $600 or so for a fully trciked out version of Ableton Live. Therefore, I have categorized my list my price ranges.
  • Free options - sigh. Sadly, my friends, the old addage that you get what you pay for is never more true than in the realm of DAW. You can find a list that Google came up with here. But I'm going to suggest one that's not on that list : Buzz. Make no mistake about it - Buzz will make your head spin. Unless you have experience with "trackers" or are just really in love with information laid out in Excel sheets (guilty, sadly), this is going to be a very difficult mental training exercise for you. However, the community support for Buzz is nothing short of phenomenal which is what makes it my preferred choice. For an explanation of how Buzz works, I turn to one of my favorite artists you've never heard of : Andrew Sega aka Necros aka The Alpha Conspiracy aka programmer for Iris. He has two videos out on Youtube which are just about the best walkthrough of Buzz I have ever seen. You can find them here and here. If you need something a bit slower and more structured, try this.

  • Low Cost Options (~$100) : The magazine Computer Music provides a demo version of the DAW "energy XT" which you can upgrade to full for around $100. I'm not quite sure how they get away with calling that "full software" as they advertise, but it ain't. There's a lot of names neither you or I have ever heard of in the list of software that costs around $100 but to once again cut to the chase, the best one is FruityLoops. They offer a fully functional demo which allows you to record to MP3 but you can't save your work so that you could go back and edit it. Then there are 4 different "flavors" you can choose from if and when you decide FL is for you. The "Express" edition is $49 but nothing more than a drum editor with no piano roll and no recording. I'm not really sure how you do anything useful without a piano roll. I suppose you could use all your melodies as audio wave files and throw them into the drum machine but the usefulness of that is limited at best. The "Fruity" edition is probably where you get the most bang for the buck and it's $99. This allows piano roll but excludes recording. To record, you have to upgrade to "Producer" which is $199 and then they have a super, mega $299 pack that they call "XXL" which includes a bunch of VST's.

    • Let's get serious ($500-$600) - I found a really great side by side comparison of all of the most popular DAW software packages. There's another table here. The heavy hitters in this group are Ableton Live ($499), Cakewalk Sonar ($619), Cubase ($499) and Logic ($499-Mac). Reason is not listed above but is $499. The one we recommend from this group is Ableton Live. It is the software that we use in our group.

    Tricks - Now as with all things you see in life, the "sticker" price is always subject to reduction and negotiation. I'm sure there are a hundred different ways to get each one of these packages more cheaply than I have listed, but let me explain mine : In order to get started, you will need a couple things : a computer (duh) and the software. One thing that we really recommend though is that you go out and buy a midi controller keyboard. It makes the creative process far more authentic and in my experience usually produces better results. The M-Audio Oxygen series is sold in a couple of different flavors. I bought the 25 key version, called the Oxygen 8 v2. It's got 8 knobs, 25 keys and 2 rollers for changing pitch and modulation. It also comes bundled with a copy of Ableton Live Lite, which is sort of a stripped down but functional version of Live. But at least you can get started, writing songs, learning the interface, etc. Upgrading to the full version of Live is also discounted by $100, leveraging some of that cash you just spent on your new board.

    Make no mistake about it : getting into computer music is an expensive process and it's only fair to mention that they are upgrading these programs all the time. In the last 18 months, Live has gone from version 6 to the imminent release of 8.

    The Live-bundled keyboard version (about $100 at your local music retailer) is the one that makes the most sense to me. Live has the rest of these programs beat on ease of use in my opinion and since we're using it in our group, I'm naturally biased.

    Saturday, March 14, 2009

    Background Update

    As a primer for any potential new members, Muzik is a group of Christian men dedicated to the composition and performance of all things in electronic music. Our group mostly resides in Northwest Indiana and meets at Faith Church in Dyer. This group is the brainchild of DJ Transfer 2000 (aka Kevin) and Dan Whiteman (aka "The Anointed One" - no seriously, ask him about his experience with oil on his head, good story).

    Our group publishes music through the community site "imeem" :,muzik-audio-production/

    Back in the Fall of 2007, Kevin saw Dan (our church's music director) messing around with a laptop on stage at Faith Church and asked him about it. A friendship and a group was born. The rest, as they say, is history.

    We're always open to new people so please drop a comment if you're interested in talking to us further!

    New Contributor

    Hello, and welcome back to the Muzik Audio Production Blog!

    My name, for those who don't know me, is Jason and I've been with the group for about 18 months now.

    What I'm going to try to do on this blog is fill in the gaps for those of you who are not able to attend meetings and supplement Kevin's "lectures" via youtube videos, written instruction, tips and pointers.