How to Use #AbletonLive as an instrument in a Live Band – part one

cabstars_JST2Push and Ableton MacAir at bottom right

Most of the Internet’s “How to use Ableton in a live band” posts assume you’re using it like a backing track. Whereas this post is about how to use Ableton as another human-played instrument (alongside other humans) during  a live performance.

I play bass guitar in the reggae ska band Cabstars – a three-piece guitar band. After making our new EP  we decided that we wanted our live show to have a touch of  keyboard-type texture.

I have a Dave Smith Tetra, which being the bass guitarist, I play with a McMillan 12 Step floor keyboard – which Ben our singer calls “Hugh’s foot organ”.  This produced great pad sounds which worked really well at gigs, but I found tap dancing the notes distracting from playing bass – which is critical to a band like ours.

So the next stage was to investigate Ableton Live to take on the tap dancing – and also to play some audio tracks (like the thunder and lightning we have in one of our songs).

But, we didn’t want to play to a click track.

So after investigating all sorts of midi boxes to generate beat clock from drum triggers, which Lloyd Johnson our drummer uses with his Alesis DM  to make cool drum synth noises, I bought Ableton’s Beat Seeker.  This follows the drummer’s beat pushing and pulling by analysing an audio signal.

Beat Seeker works well, even with just the audio input from a laptop sitting in front of the drum kit. It even followed Lloyd’s stick-click intros. But we found that even though it uses the Ableton master track tempo as a guide, sometimes it came in at half speed or double speed – making it unworkable for live gigs 🙁

After a very frustrating three days trying to contact Ableton Support,  I emailed Beat Seeker’s inventor Andrew Robertson, who responded. He confirmed that with some tempos, Beat Seeker can mistake quarter and eighth notes.

But then Ableton Support woke up, and I started emailing their Tim Beutler.  He thought my suggestion that we start each song with an Ableton-generated click track of the correct tempo (from the master track tempo) then revert to tempo-following, could get round the problem.  Tim wrote a dummy clip to go into the Beat Seeker audio column, automating a two-bar click intro, switching to beat following for the rest of the song.

It worked!!

So then we had to sort out a method of only us hearing the click track. This was achieved using my Presonus 2626 sound card – eight ins, and lots of outs.

So now I can trigger pads and simple arpeggio and chord progressions to underpin solos, or give us DJ type breakdowns while remaining firmly in charge of playing the music ourselves.

Part Two of this post goes into the reality of playing live gigs using this, my hardware setup (controlled by a Push unit and 12 Step, playing the Ableton “instrument”), and our stage set-up. It also contains a video showing the set up and some of the Ableton functions.

#AbletonLive, #Push, #McMillan12Step, #usingabletonwithaliveband, #BeatSeeker