(self) proclaimed heroes or losers?
Ableton Live is a DAW which seems to find its way into many places. A lot of the video’s you get to see on sites like Synthtopia often seem to feature Live as a basis to demonstrate something else. From VST’s to specific mixing techniques and beyond. The company behind Live, Ableton, has seen a rather steady growth. With a main office in Berlin (wonderful city btw in my opinion) and a second office in New York its not your average small software house which has a nice website yet its being run from a basement (figure of speech).
As can be expected the company also provides for training to get a better understanding of their Live software. Although Ableton Live may look “easy” to some people this is also what makes it such an excellent program; while it has a rather simple and straight forward interface its features are all but simple. You can basically make your material as easy or complex as you want it to.
To this end they provide with (online) training courses which you can follow to get a better idea and understanding. Naturally you could just find yourself a local trainer and get the show on the road, but Ableton also provides certification. If you want to you can relatively easily become a certified trainer by merely following these steps.
However, the real question is obviously if certification gives us users also some kind of proof of qualification. And quite frankly, after having seen many so called Ableton certified trainers put up video’s and examples I think a lot of them are a rather poor sight indeed.
Self proclaimed experts
When I watch a video I always keep an eye out for the way a person introduces him or her -self. And after almost one year I’ve come to the rather biased conclusion that the moment someone starts an introduction as themselves being a “Ableton Live expert” you should really watch your steps. While they maybe certified I’ve seen too many examples already where people were far from being even close to anything “expert like” and would even stoop to making mistakes one would expect from people either new to Ableton or those who never bothered with reading the manual.
I don’t think it should come as a surprise given the many extra’s which come with the certification. Like, for example, the marketing support (advertise on the Ableton website) or specific reduced licensing features. Still, I think that the biggest problem here is that once people get certified they’ll also not lose this certification easily. After all; they paid big bucks for it, and the conditions on the website don’t mention anything about repeated trainings or annual courses to check up on recent knowledge.
So its well possible that someone who is fully knowledgeable with Ableton Live 6 yet totally clueless about Ableton Live 8 can still introduce himself as being certified or an “expert” while he or she actually knows very little about the recent stuff. Back to the classic examples some of us witnessed in high school; where a teacher basically did nothing in class but recite that what he or she read in a schoolbook chapter without actually explaining anything about the subject.
Stupid mistakes or assumptions I’ve seen so far
I know this is a bit of a rant (I even tagged it as such) but just for fun here are some of the things I noticed self-proclaimed “Ableton Live experts” spout out into the open while they were simply plain out wrong. Sometimes I responded (and was met with a more than revealing silence) and sometimes people told me I was wrong after which all I had to do was name the page in the manual which backed up my comments (after which it went to silence again).
A drum rack is not a drum sampler
Some people seem to have the strange idea that a drumrack is in fact a drum sampler which you can use with your percussion samples. I’ve seen and heard many “experts” tell us dweebs as such. Bzzzzt. A rack, whether its a drum rack or an instrument or audio effect rack, is nothing more or less than an empty shell which can be used to put in instruments or effects in order to use those separate “parts” to build something more complex.
In case of the drum rack you’re basically dealing with a tool which has the capability to store many different instruments and effects; one in every pad, 128 in total.
It is true that once you drag in a sample you’ll end up with a sampler device which allows you to play and tweak the sample. But in reality what is happening here is that the drum rack recognizes the sample file; thus it loads in the Simpler instrument which in its turn loads the sample. Its nothing more than a smart association in order to prevent you from having to pull in Simpler and then the sample file.
In fact; if you want to you can easily make the drum rack load in another instrument by default as well.
Its not as if this is some kind of arcane knowledge. What I’m describing here is explained on page 243 of the Live 8 manual.
An effect rack doesn’t turn chains on or off
I was really stunned when seeing some certified trainer mention this one in a video and repeating himself in the comment section below. After he demonstrated how you can add effects and create different chains he then showed us this behavior by mapping the chain selector to a dial and then turned the dial to have different chains getting (quote: ) “turned on or off“. One of the most obvious examples of completely failing to understand the way an effect rack works (as well as failing to check up on chapter 17 paragraph 4 “Chain lists” of the manual).
Bzzzzzt. No, you don’t turn chains “on or off” with the chain selector of an effect rack. All you’re doing is telling the incoming signal which path(s) it should take. You can have the signal pass through one or even multiple chains at the same time. That is what the chain selector does; selecting which chain(s) the incoming signal should pass. This can be one chain, but even several chains together (in parallel).
An example can be seen to the right. I’ve setup 3 chains each hold their own effect. So; a Limiter, Gate and Vocoder. To the right of the chain list you can see the so called zone editor. This decides which path an incoming signal should take. In my example the chain selector basically determines which effect is being used. When its set to 0 then the first chain is selected. So; with this setting the Limiter effect is being used.
But if I move the chain selector one step to the right (to position 1) then it will route the incoming signal to the second chain. In this case the one with the Gate effect on it.
And so on… In this example I kept the ‘zone markers’ (the blue stripes) short. But you can also expand them. So would I expand the one on the Vocoder chain and enlarge its left side this would mean that the Vocoder chain would always be used together with one of the other chains.
Most of all: the chains are not “turned on” or “turned off”. If you pull in a device which creates a sound of its own you’ll notice that the sound will continue no matter what chain has been selected.
When using Operator turn off unused oscillators (or any other unused feature)
One of my favorite Ableton instruments is the Operator. I have a very soft spot for its raw potential and therefor I hardly pass up on video’s in which people demonstrate the things they do with it. A little recap for those of you who don’t have the Ableton Suite:
Operator is Abletons “do-it-all” synthesizer. It provides 4 oscillators which you can route in many different ways in order to have one oscillator modulate (‘frequency modulation’) the signal from another oscillator. And you can even combine this behavior. So, for example, you could “split” the oscillators in 2 parallel groups where one oscillator will always modulate the signal of the other.
Apart from frequency modulation Operator also allows you to generate and define your own signals. While its oscillators support a variety of waveforms (sine, saw, square, triangle, etc.) you can also simply draw your own waveform and use that. This allows for a very diverse sound creation.
The one thing to keep in mind when using Operator: its oscillators consume CPU cycles. In fact, all of the stuff Operator does has a certain impact on your PC. So as a rule of thumb its always wise to turn off stuff which you don’t use. In fact, when you pick up the manual on the Operator instrument you’ll even spot a dedicated section explaining this (chapter 23, paragraph 8 section 8 “Strategies for Saving CPU Power”).
Unfortunately it seems most of the self proclaimed “Ableton experts” are totally unaware of this and will easily ignore this simple fact entirely. Ranging from keeping unused oscillators turned on right to actually turning on the Pitch Envelope while all they wanted to use were the already available “Spread” and “Transpose” dials (turning on Pitch Envelope while leaving its dial sitting to 0.0% and without editing any parameters).
The Live browsers have several presets to use
The browser is also a tool which seems to hold many mysteries for some “experts” out there.. Several months ago I witnessed a movie where someone needed to go to the Library and actually had one browser pointed to the “Workspace” so that he could navigate to his Library right from the root of his hard drive. Guess he never heard of the other presets like “Library, Current project, Desktop, Workspace and My Documents” (on Windows). How one is capable to find the “Workspace” preset while totally overlooking the “Library” preset is something I still fail to comprehend.
SO here you see my Live browser. I didn’t show you the entire window because the last bookmark points to my projects folder which resides in my default Windows ‘My documents’ and I don’t feel comfortable sharing my real name to the Internet world.
Alas; here you see what I meant above. You have 3 individual browsers and by clicking on the arrow in the white titlebar you can pull up the browser presets as well as some bookmarks. As you can see I bookmarked “D:\Ableton”, which is the location where I keep demo presets as well as my main Library.
Normally I have the first browser (marked ‘1’) pointed to my Ableton data directory, the second is pointed to my project folder while the last points to my current project (as shown in the screenshot). This allows me to easily go back and forth between places I visit most often. And in case I would need to navigate to a location which isn’t available already I can simply pick browsers 2 or 3 (pointed at drives c and d) after which I can set them back to their original location by merely clicking the bookmark I defined earlier.
Still.. Again, how one manages to overlook “Library” while using “Workspace”… I’ll probably never understand.
A return track can use its sends dials, honest!
I once saw a video in which some “expert” was actually convinced that the sends on a return track could not be used. So after he had setup B Return with some extra effects which he wanted to use he simply went over all his tracks again and turned ‘Sends B’ up to 100% for each and every one of them. Making me think “What the heck?!”. Guess he never heard of Ableton actually protecting you from making nasty mistakes in which you could cause your signal to loop. So in order to use the sends of the return tracks you need to enable them first. This is done by right clicking on them and selecting either “Enable Send” or “Enable All Sends”. Live really is that simple…
Now, before you get any wrong ideas about this rant of mine… Yes, I am well aware that people can make mistakes. Even the smartest scientists sometimes make mistakes from time to time. That is really not the point here. My main gripe is with people who apparently feel special enough to introduce themselves as being Ableton Live experts, yet conduct tutorial sessions which don’t actually exceed the level of an amateur.
At the very least I’d expect an expert to make sure that the things he says and does are actually correct. If you’re going to do a tutorial on racks, how hard is it to pick up the manual again and skim through the section which explains their behavior ? Or better yet; try out the stuff you’re planning to demonstrate up front in order to make sure that the things you say are actually correct.
My tip for those who are planning to do an Ableton course…
It maybe obvious by now but I’d really advice people not to focus on whether someone is certified or not. As much as I respect the Ableton company I think that the whole certification process is flawed on many levels. As said before; people who get certified always remain certified no matter the amount of changes Ableton implements within Live. So then its up to the expert to make sure his knowledge and expertise remains up to date, yet this is something which is never tested again.
Instead focus on persons or companies where you plan to take lessons. Search the Internet, or ask around on web forums if other people studied there and what their experiences were. Most of all I think it can help to look up tutors, especially on Youtube.
Once you come across video’s where people start to manifest themselves as established Live experts then I’d really advice you to carefully reconsider. Is the guy really as skilled as he proclaims, or is he simply boasting in order to make himself look good and promote his products only hoping for you to do business with him.
At the very least I’d advice you to checkup the things people like that explain to you in their tutorials and check their statements with the Live manual. Such preparations will definitely make sure that you’ll be spending your money on a training conducted by skilled people instead of self-proclaimed skilled people. There really is a huge difference…
(ShelLuser is not an Ableton Live certified trainer nor does he consider himself to be an Ableton Live expert. He’s merely an Ableton Live user who has approx. 1 year worth of experience gained by working on a regular basis with Ableton Live as well as spending a good amount of time trying to help out others on the Ableton Live forums. ShelLuser will easily state that he has gained a certain amount of expertise using Ableton Live. Just like many others have).