Ableton released Live 10 this past February which is its first huge update in the past 5 years. As an Ableton Certified Trainer, I needed to quickly get up to speed. But what immediately jumped out at me amid the dozens of improvements, new features, and new sounds, were the workflow enhancements for mixing.
This makes sense given that Live built its reputation as a performance/production beast designed to capture creativity. Its mixing capabilities, while adequate, were always secondary. With Live 10, however, Ableton has closed that gap quite a bit.
Live still may not be the console engineer’s DAW of choice, but it is certainly close enough for most producers mixing their own songs.
There is a ton to cover as far as mixing improvements in Live 10—many of which are quite small. I don’t want to bore you so I’ll stick to my personal favorites, as well as the ones I find most promising for everyday mixing. Plus, you can always check out the ableton manual for an exhaustive list.
Live’s audio effects got some nice new additions and improvements in Live 10 that will surely benefit mixers.
One that I’ve been taking advantage of daily is the extension of EQ Eight’s frequency range down to 10 Hz (30 Hz was the lower limit in Live 9).
Sub bass is notoriously one of the hardest areas to mix, even in the best of circumstances. This extended frequency range means a lot more visual precision when working on the low end of kicks and basses, or even your entire mix.
While this is a rather simple improvement, it’s an important one given the critical role of sub bass in so many genres.
Simply put, my days of needing third-party EQs to fix or massage super low issues are basically over.
Speaking of low end, Live’s Utility audio effect got a smart overhaul.
Most significantly, it now includes a “Bass Mono” section, which lets you convert whatever lies below certain frequencies to mono.
The slider below the Bass Mono switch lets you set that frequency point, but it’s at 120 Hz by default—not a bad place to start, but I usually go lower.
This makes putting your low end in mono and breeze.
There’s also an Audition button (the headphone icon) which solos the mono portion of the track so you can hear exactly how the sub range sounds—very handy, and a big time saver.
Also, if you’re working on an instrument or song with a full stereo image, the utility’s width knob now goes all the way to 400% extra width.
Plus, a right-click (PC) or CTRL-click (Mac) on the Width knob can change it to a Mid/Side balance control, allowing you to bring out more of your sound’s mono content or stereo content respectively.
These type of controls are essential when mixing since you’ll inevitably want to widen or narrow certain elements for a well-balanced song (not too wide, not too mono).
Split Stereo Pan
One final note about stereo mixing.
A right-click (PC) or CTRL-click (Mac) command now gives you the option to convert each track’s Pan knob to a split stereo pan control.
In this mode, you can adjust the stereo position of the left
and right channels independently.
Pro-Tools users will be very familiar with this behavior. This is a great new feature since it presents a slightly different way to think about left and right content placement.
Go beyond the simple pan pot and try the Split Stereo Pans out in your next mix!
As opposed to Live’s other squeaky-clean delays, Echo is all about character, musicality and mangling.
Overall, I’d put it in the category of an “analog” style delay since its key selling points are things like distortion, noise, and pitch modulation.
If you’re familiar with Echo Boy by Sound Toys or Waves’ H-Delay, you have an idea of how Echo can sound.
In particular, I really like Echo’s ability to add reverb to its signal.
I’ve been using this feature a lot on vocals to “soften” the delays so that they sit just right in the mix.
You can even set the reverb insertion point (i.e., where reverb enters Echo’s processing chain) to pre delay, post delay, or within the feedback loop. Setting it in the feedback loop will yield some pretty crazy sounds!
Besides standard stereo and ping-pong modes, Echo has a Mid/Side mode.
This is a fairly uncommon delay type as the plugin puts one delay line straight down the middle of the stereo field in mono, and the other out wide left and right.
I’ve been using this mode on various instruments to get a Haas-like effect (left and right), while also putting a longer delay (like a quarter note) straight down the center. Very cool.
Finally, Echo’s stereo knob is very convenient and is a great tool for shaping the stereo image.
This sets the stereo width of the processed signal, allowing you to either tighten up or widen your ping-pong or side delays.
Sometimes you need to dial back some of those wide delays to them fit in the mix.
Overall, I’ve been really impressed with Echo’s user friendliness and its sonic versatiltiy from clean and controlled to run-away feedback madness.
Mixers will relish its ability to add rich, warm or even spooky echoes. It’s definitely earned a spot as one of my top delay choices.
Ableton says that Drum Buss is an effect designed to give drum groups “analog-style character, body, and glue.”
At first, I wondered why I’d need yet another buss compressor.
Live’s built-in devices like The Glue and Saturator were already pretty great, not to mention my third-party plug-ins. However I quickly discovered that Drum Buss is a singular creation.
First of all, it sounds totally different than any other Ableton audio effect. The moment the default set up is inserted over a track you can hear some subtle EQ shaping taking place. (You’ll have to hear it for yourself to decide if you like that sound).
Even at its most neutral setting, with Damp at 20 k and Drive at 0.0 % etc, there’s an effect going on that sounds like light tape distortion.
In any case, Drum Buss offers some of the usual suspect of buss processing, namely distortion (available in Soft, Medium and Hard flavors), compression, Crunch (extra distortion to mid-high frequencies), and Dry/Wet control.
Also, Drum Buss will brick wall limit at the level set with the Output Gain slider (far right side), so it’s great for running your buss groups into the “red.”
All of these features are quite nice, but Ableton really added a lot of value with the Transients and Boom controls.
Transients, as the name implies, is essentially a transient designer that lengthens or shortens in-coming transients.
Yes, Ableton finally has a transient shaper!
This is particularly effective for percussive material that needs some “snap” or “crack” added to it, like a loop or single drum sample that is overly compressed. Alternatively, a cool way to use this control is to dial it to the left (into negative values) in order to cut out reverb tails, room noise, and so on.
Using this technique over drum breaks has been getting me some really cool, blippy results.
The Boom control focuses on adding sub bass content to whatever you send through Drum Buss by adding a subharmonic synthesizer.
Drum Buss has a low end detection built into it, because elements like kick drums or toms are mostly where the subharmonic synthesis will be noticeable.
However, in my own tests I found that triggering frequencies go up to about 3kHz. This means that even your hi hats may technically be triggering the subharmonic synthesizer (if only slightly) so watch out for too much low end mud building up when using this effect.
Don’t forget to use the Trim control on the left side of the device so you can match your original volume (Drum Buss bypassed) to your distorted, squashed or otherwise “bussified” sound.
It’s important to not let your ears be fooled into thinking something sounds better just because it’s louder.
Overall, Drum Buss is a workhorse that shines whether you want to just add a dash of attitude or an aggressive boost.
Finally, there’s a new distortion unit in Ableton’s arsenal called Pedal. This guy is definitely the new standard for sonic mutilation in Live.
True to its name, this effect is inspired by classic guitar stomp boxes.
If you’re mixing rock guitars, you can combine Pedal with Amp and Cabinet to get a convincing mic’d guitar sound, or use just Pedal alone on clean guitars if “DI” is more appropriate.
However, the best thing about Pedal is that it sounds awesome on almost anything.
It has that analog saturation that is so sweet you might start putting it on everything in your session…which will probably be way too much, but you get my point.
Whether you want a subtle boost, or some death metal, Pedal delivers.
It’s a simple device, with 3 distortion types that escalate in intensity—OD, Distort, and Fuzz.
Then there’s a three-band EQ, a sub boost switch that lifts everything below 250 Hz, and a dry/wet control.
When you start playing with this effect, keep in mind that the Gain knob is your friend. This determines the amount of drive being used in each distortion type.
Turn the Gain up if you’re not getting enough squash, and conversely turn it down to mellow it out.
Like I said, Pedal can sound cool and intriguing on all sorts of sounds. So far I’ve had great results using it on drum loops, lead vocals, synth bass, plucky synth leads and (of course) guitars.
Used super duper carefully (for example, with Dry/Wet set to 7.0%) it even sounds great across a mix buss. This sounds like you’re lightly running your mix through some tubes.
Distortion is probably not an effect you are missing: where Pedal stands out is the quality of its distortion, which to my ears is top-notch.
Nested Group Tracks
Live’s inability to put group tracks within group tracks (versions 8 and 9) had long been a thorn in the side of mixers used to Pro-Tools’ or Logic’s ability to endlessly send buss tracks to buss tracks.
Group tracks, traditionally referred to as aux or buss tracks, give mixers the convenient ability of affecting many tracks in one move.
Previous versions of Live only allowed for one level of grouping under the master track.
Luckily in Live 10 this restriction has been lifted, and we can now put groups within groups within groups until we’re nauseous (I recommend stopping before you get sick though).
Already I’ve been loving the freedom to put my verse vocals, chorus vocals, backing vocals, and vocal FX Groups all under the umbrella of my “ALL VOX” Group track.
Amongst other benefits, this makes it super easy to create an instrumental version, or vocal up/down versions to send off for mastering. Or if I decide that all the vocals need more presence, I can swiftly accomplish this by slapping one EQ instance on the All VOX GROUP.
Arrangement, Navigation and Miscellaneous Improvements
Maybe it’s just me, but the navigation improvements in Live 10 make me feel more like a mix engineer.
I’m certain some of these new navigation tools and shortcuts will aid your mix management and speed up your workflow.
The biggest boon to arrangement-focused mixing in Live 10 is the “A” key, which now automatically opens automation lanes across your session (just like in Logic).
While automation in Live was not exactly rocket science before, in retrospect it was slightly on the awkward side.
Now, your computer keyboard’s "A" key toggles automation lanes open/closed on all tracks. Like before, you simply have to click a parameter to see the appropriate automation lane.
This is another one of those small time savers that will surely add up, especially when you want to compare automation across multiple tracks.
I’ve long felt that Live did not have the best capabilities for handling large sessions (like over 50 tracks).
This was both a visual and technical issue. However, a number of new keyboard shortcuts now make navigating the insanity of mega sessions a bit less of a headache.
For example, if you hold CTRL (PC) or Command (Mac) while scrolling Live will zoom to your mouse position. This is super convenient if you’re zoomed out, and need to zoom in quickly for a look at a waveform.
Alternatively, the "Z" key will zoom to the time selection in the Arrangement View (i.e., what you’ve highlighted).
Simply press Shift+ Z to zoom back out.
This is great when you have a session with tons of tracks, but you’re nearing the end of your mix and want to keep things folded up and visually neat as much as possible.
Similarly, the "S" key on your keyboard is now the Show All Tracks command, which minimizes all tracks, and shows as many tracks as possible on your screen.
And finally, for folks using U.S.-standard keyboards, you can now zoom in and out with the + and - keys (before you had to hold Shift and + to zoom in).
All in all, there are a bunch of good options now for mix navigation that should make your mixing experience smoother.
There are also a couple of “Pro-Tools-esque” additions that will appeal to mixers needing to do some light production work or enhance the producer’s vision.
My favorite is that selecting audio or midi clips in the arrangement view can now be moved using the left and right arrow keys. Holding Alt (PC) or Command (Mac) while doing so temporarily toggles the grid on or off, and is very useful for very short clip slides.
This is fantastic for mix engineers that want to subtly slip clips forward or backward in order to add groove.
Finally, let’s talk clip fades.
I think Ableton finally realized there was no reason to make clip fades a borderline “Easter Egg” feature.
Given how often they are used, especially at the mixing stage, it makes sense to have them more readily available.
Clip fades are now ready to go as soon as your mouse reaches an audio clip (assuming a certain track height).
Like with the new "A" key/automation feature, this is another one of those small fixes that will nevertheless soon be hard live without.
* Bonus Tip
I didn’t know where to put this, but here’s a bonus feature you’ll definitely want to remember!
In Live 10 double-clicking on a knob, slider, control, and so on will reset it, returning it to the default value.
This default is usually “0,” but it depends on the parameter. This is another subtle but awesome thing many of us have been wanting. When shown this recently, a student of mine actually exclaimed “That right there is worth the upgrade price.” I’d have to agree.
I hope that helps you get up and running with mixing in Ableton Live 10.
I didn’t cover every single mixing improvement (that would have taken forever), but I think you see that there’s a lot of great new additions.
Whether you produce and mix in Live, or you’re a seasoned mixer looking for a new go-to DAW, rest assured that Ableton Live is more equipped than ever to handle your professional needs.