DJing With Ableton Live

This image may contain: laptop, computer, pc, electronics, person, dj, computer keyboard, hardware, keyboard, computer hardware

We’ve created a guide to help creative DJs get the most out of Ableton Live, covering everything from DJing on a laptop, to compatible hardware and recording mixes.

Ableton Live is one of the most powerful DJing softwares on the market. You can either pair it with controllers, CDJs, vinyl decks, or other hardware, or you can mix tracks inside the software, effectively turning your laptop into a pair of decks.

Below, we’ve compiled a few simple techniques to help beginner DJs make the most out of Ableton Live.

What Do I Need To DJ In Ableton

Ableton Live is quickly becoming one of the most popular pieces of software for performing DJs. It has some very powerful features for controlling your music on stage, as well as allowing for some advanced effects that DJs have never been able to achieve before.

The key here is that Ableton Live has been designed from the ground up for live performance. Although it is possible to perform without using any external controllers, it makes life much easier having something like an APC40 or Novation Launchpad at your disposal.

You will need:

  • A laptop with a good soundcard (and preferably a decent processor too)
  • The latest version of Ableton Live Suite. You can get it here
  • A folder on your hard drive where you will store all the files for your mix (this is just good practice to keep everything organised)
  • A copy of the tracks you want to use in your mix on your hard drive as audio files
  • Your headphones / monitors
  • Your midi controller (if you have one)

The better your computer is, the more tracks and effects you will be able to use while DJing, so if you have an older computer with limited CPU power, consider upgrading before you start a serious project. You can always try it out first on your current setup and see how many tracks you can have at once without getting any audio glitches.

Is Ableton Good For DJing?

Ableton Live is distinctive in that it has a clip-based approach when you bring in tracks - making arrangement and composition much more intuitive. In Ableton, creating and performing music feel much more interlinked than when using Serato or Traktor, meaning it’s well suited to DJ/producers.

How To Make A DJ Mix On Ableton

Ableton Live allows you to create a DJ mix inside the software, meaning you don’t need any hardware to get started learning how to DJ.

Below is a step-by-step guide to making mixes in ableton, ready to be recorded, and uploaded to MixCloud.

Step 1 - Select Your Music. You need music to mix, but the type of music you choose depends on goals for your mix. If you want to promote yourself as a DJ who specialises in a certain genre, or wants to make themselves stand out, it’s crucial you choose tracks that reflect that. If you’re mixing just for fun, pick songs that fit your vibe and taste. It’s best to pick two songs with similar BPMs, so they’ll mix easily together.

Step 2 - Set The Mix Tempo. Next, set the tempo of the mix. This is very important because it's really the foundation for all of your mixing decisions. To do this, click on the ‘Tempo’ number at the top left of Ableton and adjust to your desired tempo. You can also just use the up and down arrows next to it. Again, choose a tempo that works with your chosen tracks. For example, if you’ve got two minimal tracks, you might want to set this around 126 beats per minute.

Step 3 - Import Two Tracks. Now let's import our first two tracks into Ableton Live. Begin by selecting a track from your library and dropping it into an audio track in Live (the default setting is for new projects). Do this for both tracks you'd like to mix together.

Step 4 - Open Clip View. Select the audio track that contains the first clip of your mix. Click "Clip View" in the top right corner of the screen. You should see a track with a beginning and end point. This is where you will edit the loop that plays your mix.

Step 5 - Set The Initial Downbeat Of The Track. Click on the first beat of your song to start the track playing from that point. You can use key commands to accomplish this, such as Cmd + Shift + O (Mac) or Ctrl + Shift + O (PC).

Step 6 - Position The Clips. Ableton Live will usually align the clips according to their transients, but if your clips are sliced or have some other kind of weirdness going on with their waveforms (such as when you have an MP3 that was originally recorded at 128 KBPS), you'll need to nudge it manually. One way to do this is by using the "Select next transient" keyboard shortcut (Command + ") and then moving the clip back or forwards until the kick drum sounds right. If your tracks are aligned properly, the crossfade should sound smooth and natural.

Step 7 - Crossfade Between The Tracks. With the two songs playing simultaneously, you can click and drag on the second track's crossfader to adjust it. This will give you a smooth transition between two songs by bringing one down as you bring the other up.

How To Record A DJ Mix In Ableton

Recording your DJ mixes is an important step when it comes to how to get a DJ gig. Promoters are unlikely to book you, unless they can listen to an example set.

It’s possible to connect your controller, CDJs or vinyl turntables and record your mix using Ableton, by following the below steps:

Step 1 - Set up your headphones and turntables

Step 2 - Open Ableton Live, then go to 'Preferences'

Step 3 - Select the 'Audio' tab, then choose 'Input Config'

Step 4 - Choose your audio interface from the drop-down menu, then click 'Track', then select the input you'd like to use

Step 5 - Create a new track in Ableton Live

Step 6 - Open the input device you want to use for monitoring purposes

Step 7 - Press 'Record Arm' on the new track, then press the record button on your DJ mixer

Step 8 - Start recording your session

Ableton DJ software is a great tool for beginner DJs, all the way to professionals. You can mix inside the platform, and it's compatible with all sorts of DJ hardware, meaning DJing live with Ableton on a club setup isn't a problem.

If you're ready to move on from DJing on a laptop or controller, but don't have access to CDJs, you can book a DJ studio by the hour at Pirate in the UK, Ireland, US or Germany.

More from Pirate