Deconstructing a Song I Made: an Example of How I Work with Ableton Live

Here’s a short song I made yesterday. I chose this song specifically because it has a bunch of guitar tracks. There are times when I have no audio tracks at all and use purely MIDI. So this is perfect so I can show you guys how I edit an actual instrument track.

I’m not really a professional audio engineer and most of the editing and effects I used is based on years of learning from the University of YouTube and mostly self-taught and empirical knowledge.

Ableton Live Audio Tracks
Guitar tracks I recorded

Since I’m just recording from the mic of my laptop, the original track of the rhythm part of the guitar sounds very muffled. What I do is I copy the same recorded audio into another track (the brown tracks) and add different effects on each. On the first track, I add a spacious reverb. Reverb always adds an illusion of depth and space to tracks, usually simulating different sizes of halls or rooms. I usually add a concert hall preset to give it that live echoey feel.

I don’t really add effects to the second guitar track to preserve the crisp and authenticity of the actual recorded guitar. This is something that reverb takes away, I noticed. And then I just mess around with the volume or EQ of  the two tracks to taste.

ableton live delay
Millisecond delay

I also added a few milliseconds of delay on the guitar tracks. This makes the track sound “wider” and again adds an illusion of space. I learned this neat trick several years ago from the acoustic version of Coheed and Cambria’s Faint of Hearts (the effect is actually quite exaggerated on both the guitar and vocal tracks). I’ve been adding this to some of my tracks ever since. For this song I wanted it to be very minimal so I made it 15 milliseconds. Go ahead and mess around with it and you’ll achieve different results.

For the plucking/lead guitar tracks, I also add a minimal ping pong delay (sound bounces from left to right) to add more even more illusions of depth and space.

the drum loop

For the drum track, as you can see I drew a simple dug–dug-pak–dug loop. Although much newer versions of Ableton Live seem to prioritize the use of the Drum Rack instrument, I still use the Impulse instrument because it’s what I’ve always been accustomed to since I began using Ableton Live 6. For this song I used a very sub and bassy kick drum sample and a sample of a clap that seems to use that neat millisecond delay we talked about above. I heard it’s bad practice to overdo but I usually add a compressor effect to my drum tracks to give it more emphasis.

violin track

Above is the violin sequence I drew. I used the violin preset from the Tension instrument and added the same concert hall reverb to give it space again. Although I can play the violin very amateurishly (see my piano/violin duet Desensitize) it’s nice to know that I have a whole orchestra at the tip of my fingers in Ableton Live.

I used similar effects for the synth parts. For the very electronica, Glitch Mob vibe synth on the second part of the song, I just used random settings on the Operator instrument, combining square and triangle waves. Also, I added a recording of the rain at the end to add a dramatic effect.

choir-like sequence

For the choir-like sound in the background, I used a preset from the Analog instrument. I usually just mess around with scales when drawing sequences and progressions and change them to my preference as I go along. And this is why it’s called Ableton Live because it has a very “Live” feel and many parts can easily be changed in realtime.

my makeshift mastering chain

In my Windows laptop, I’ve always used Izotope Ozone 3, a very useful third-party VST effect that helps in mastering tracks. Since I haven’t really found one I can use for my Mac, I just use effects in Ableton Live. I add a compressor effect (again overusing this is a bad practice I should get rid of), multiband dynamics, and a limiter. I just mess around with the settings of those three without making my songs go over and that’s basically it. I’m ready to export the song, upload on my Soundcloud and share it on my social media accounts.


If you liked this post then you might also like:
1. Ableton Live as Sampling and Looping Software
2. My Acoustic Guitar
3. How I Started Making Electronic Music

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