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.

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