There is no doubt that one of the most influential pieces of software for electronic music making in recent years is Ableton Live. Its capacity for embracing and working with live performance has given it an edge over other software. The manufacturer’s approach of encouraging and bringing musicians together for physical User Groups (not just on-line forums) has also helped develop the software. Being impressed with what I’d seen and heard of Ableton, I wanted to find out more about this software and get an impartial view from two musicians I respect immensely, Josh Wright of L8 BIT and Limit Break, and Emily Johnson aka Emily J Electric who also happen to be involved in Ableton User Group Sheffield.
So, first of all, Josh and Emily, tell me a little about yourselves and your music making please?
Josh: Hi Martin, I’m one quarter of the band Limit Break and I also have a solo project L8 BIT. I love to create music using interesting sound design, synthesisers, samples and recorded audio from my field recorder. These elements all come together with Ableton Live where I can structure the song and prepare it for live performance.
Emily: I play the flute and EWI (electric wind instrument). I’m an independent live act and my show is an Ableton Live DJ set with live instrumentals. I love electronic music, especially house, techno and drum & bass. I warp whole tracks or stem files, chop and loop them, then add basslines, melodies and FX on the fly. I also control LED lights through Live when I’m going all-out! I work with different producers and play in a band called Poppers Revival.
What do you like about using Ableton?
Emily: I love the flexibility and the session view. I have DJ tracks, my EWI, looped clips and one-shot FX all within one program and everything plays in time. I love how it’s easy to get started and layer up a few simple elements, but you can go deeper and deeper into it as you learn.
Josh: For me the ease of use is a huge advantage. I love the drag and drop workflow for plugins, effects and samples. Being able access almost anything you want to do to your music within a click or two feels like Ableton is really working with you.
Session view was the thing that really sold me with Ableton. Having used Reason for years and being used to working in a typical arrangement view style workflow, the clip view on Ableton allowed for not only performing live, but a completely new way of writing music.
Great. So there’s an Ableton User Group in Sheffield which is a cool idea and I’ve seen them in other cities too. What gave you the idea for such a group?
Josh: The group was started a few years ago and then fell quiet for a while as the original organiser became very busy with other things. Then, after Emily joined the group she quickly became an active and positive member of the community, with the motivation to get the meetups happening again on a regular basis. We’re currently making plans for these meetups and I’m really excited to be working with Emily to bring something special to the Sheffield Ableton community!
Emily: Yeah, I’m happy to get these meetups going again after a quiet period. It’s a really positive and fun thing to be involved in. We have a great new home at DINA Venue and lots of ideas for the meetups. I meet a lot of people online and am looking forward to meeting more electronic music people in person, collaborating with more local producers, and learning lots. The User Group idea was set up by Ableton. They provide funding and promo for special events and have members of staff working to support the groups worldwide. I went to Ableton Loop in Berlin last year and was invited to a User Group Organisers meetup one evening, it was great to meet the other organisers.
Anything specific planned for future meetups?
Emily: Yep, we will have an Ableton Certified Instructor to demonstrate Live 10, we’re planning on dedicating the first half hour to a beginners’ tutorial session so more experienced users can come after, and the group will be very inclusive. Anyone with any skill level is welcome to share their workflow, or bring their production for feedback. The great thing about organising this is that I can invite artists I like to demonstrate, ha ha, and we’re always open to suggestions.
Josh: We are aiming for mid to late April for the first meetup in Sheffield.
The way in which Ableton get behind these user groups is cool. And I guess good business sense for them too. I don’t know if other software houses/manufacturers do this.
Emily: Yeah it is cool, it builds a community and spreads the word about their company – definitely good business sense. I guess it’s possible because there are so many users worldwide, and because there is so much to talk about just with this one piece of software. I don’t know any other manufacturers who have something similar, the others I know just have online forums, but I guess they are more niche.
Josh: I haven’t known any music software communities that really exist so broadly outside of online forums. It’s great for connecting the people using the software with the people creating it. I think with the whole focus of Ableton being to perform live music that you find that users are out in the real world gigging and meeting other users just through the music scene, then having a meetup to geek out at is great!
It feels like Ableton has revolutionised music making in a way, perhaps the same as the electric guitar or synth did. Where do you think the technology will go in the future?
Emily: Wow, that’s a big question, personally I am still discovering what Live can do NOW. It is becoming easier to link up with other musicians and I think that will continue. I hope that connecting with other Live users, bluetooth and MIDI will all become more reliable and stable. There’s nothing worse than having a bluetooth controller loose its connection part way through a gig! Since more people are using Live with only a laptop, and laptops now have fewer inputs, I think the market for bluetooth devices and the need for stability will grow.
I also got to try out a VR headset with hand controllers at the Ableton User Group London a few months back. I could control certain elements of Live through it and choose my own background etc.
Josh: Ha that’s epic. The future is here already. The most exciting thing is how easy it is becoming to assimilate technology onto the stage for live performance. Honestly, Limit Break couldn’t exist without Ableton live. It’s the backbone and brain of our performances. I don’t think software, electronic instruments or plugins need to replace traditional instruments. The beauty is going to be in how the two work together. If pushed in the right direction, VR could be an incredible way to interface with a DAW. Imagine a headset and gloves that take you from your bedroom into a virtual high tech studio. I can see that happening in the next 10 years for sure!
Thanks Emily and Josh.
The next meeting of the Ableton User Group Sheffield will be on Thursday 26th of April at the (very wonderful) DINA Venue, 32 Cambridge Street, Sheffield, S1 4HP.
If you’re in the Sheffield area and use Ableton, or even if you’re interested in finding out more about Ableton you can keep up to date with the Ableton User Group Sheffield via their Facebook page.