Stop Composing in Arrangement!

Start using Session View More Fully

This is for you if you think Session View is confusing, or if you think it's only a mixer window. 

It's not. 

It's a lot more than that, and I want to help you understand what you can do with Session View, in case you're not aware of its amazing powers.

If you're in the Arrangement all the time, you are definitely not getting the most out of Ableton (and this applies to Live10, Live9, Live8, Live7... etc.)

Using Ableton as if it were Logic, FL Studio, Protools, or any other timeline-based DAW is completely ignoring the heart of what makes Ableton special.

Ableton really shines in Session View.

This is not to say "never use Arrangement", because you don't have to choose one or the other.  

But I see a lot of people make the mistake of not using Session View at all!  That's what this is all about.

First let me explain where I came from with it.

PROBLEMS WITH TIMELINE LAYOUTS

First: I learned to make beats in a totally DAW-less world, using the MPC2000 sampler and a bunch of synths.

It feels un-natural to me to plan out a track using visual blocks, counting measures, pasting in clips and recording in the timeline.  

I don't like it because it's so stop-and-start, there's no continuity. 

On the MPC you had to listen and feel it, there was no screen to show a full visual timeline.

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Problem number two: when I'm checking edits in Arrange, I don't start from the beginning and play all the way through -- that would take forever.  I start from the middle and listen to the newest spot. 

But then I end up losing the flow of how the audience hears the music, and I end up with a track that feels awkward, boring, too long, or it has unexpected changes that throw people out of the vibe.

Third problem: when I hear a mistake during playback it's impossible to fix it on the spot.  I have to stop the music in order to make an edit.  That interrupts the flow.

I never want to spend time "fixing things" in the timeline, I want to get the flow working right BEFORE I record it into Arrangement! 

Worst of all, being able to see the music on the screen always tricks my mind into expecting something to happen -- instead of actually listening and hearing it (like the audience will be doing.) 

When you can see it coming, you think it "sounds right", but it often doesn't. 

I actually lay on the floor of my studio to playback full tracks, so I can check the song form without being skewered by what I see on the monitor.

Annnnnd all the copy+paste editing is soooo annoying...

I don't like dropping timeline markers & trying to move sections of music from one spot to the next. 

For example, if you are composing in Arrangement and you want to move one 8-bar section earlier in the song, you have to select it, loop it, cut it, insert timeline space where you want to put it, and then paste it in. 

It's cumbersome and there are lots of places it can go wrong, like when you fail to select all the tracks, or if your loop brace was accidentally a tiny bit too long.

But with Session View, you simply take the 8bar scene in the master channel and drag it up or down to where you want it.  Done. 

Those are a few reasons why I use Session View to build out my song form.

The song exists as scenes in the master channel.  I think maybe...  maybe people are just not making enough scenes?

OTHER POINTS OF VIEW

Let's hear a few other techniques; I want to add a few comments from the other side of the argument.

Thank you to the illustrious Madeleine Bloom of Sonic Bloom

and house/remix legend DJ Strobe (2 Gold Records plus 20 #1 Billboard Club Hits).

 

 
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Madeleine Bloom

"There’s no way I could get the sound design work done in session view. I prefer jumping over to the arrangement view early on, and go back and forth for new parts."

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DJ Strobe

“Once I make a 4 bar loop, I extend it out for like 5 or 6 minutes and then carve out sections, then go and add elements.  It would take so much longer to build a cohesive linear arrangement any other way.” -- DJ Strobe

 

THE USUAL STUMBLING BLOCKS

I've worked in Arrangement quite a lot myself, and I made a little list of things I've done wrong in the past. 

Have you ever seen these problems in your own sessions before?

  • Copying somebody else's template and it doesn't work 
  • Getting lost in sound design and wasting a whole night 
  • Making 25 "versions" that all sound completely overcooked & boring
  • Panic performances where the timeline does something wrong and you can't get back to the right place
  • Doing a "live set" with pre-recorded songs that sound exactly the same every time and are no fun to perform

I use Live because I want to actually PLAY the music -- hear it, feel it, touch it, and flow with it. 

That's the biggest difference you get from using Session View. 

So how do we do that?

HERE'S MY SESSION VIEW WORKFLOW

Explore your sounds, find the layers that work well together, and insert them into new scenes.

Launch the scenes in order, and you'll hear your track come out.

You can do just as much detailed programming with session clips as you can with arrange clips (they are the same clips, after all),

and if you really need a visual layout you can build a section in Arrangement and then do the "Consolidate to New Scene" command to get it as one scene in Session View.

Still with me?

After playing with this for a long time, I got it down to 5 simple steps.

This is how to organize your sounds and build them out into a song form that stays interesting all the way through to the end.

5-Step Session View Workflow:

  1. Create multiple variations of all my audio + MIDI clips
  2. Stack up the variations in a ton of different scenes to build and release energy
  3. Make a PEAK and CLIMAX using a few key scenes
  4. Build Transitions to make "bridges" between them
  5. Run some FX that bring the whole thing to life

After that I can play through the whole song from Session View, launch scenes from the master channel, and record it into the Arrangement. 

I do use the Arrangement as a final step, but it's just not a good starting place in my opinion.

Does this seem too easy?   It's deceptively simple -- you can really do a lot with it.

And the biggest advantage is you make music that has a live feel, so you an actually compose on the fly, keep the vibe, and end up with a song form that grows, evolves, changes, and works exactly the way you feel like it should.

LET ME SHOW YOU MY WORKFLOW

I do a free live workshop once every month, where I show you how this process works in action, using one of my own "in progress" tracks.

It's called "How to Escape the 8-Bar Loop" , wanna come? 

It's a great way to see a new workflow and pick up a few tips that can really help you get your tracks done faster.

You can sign up here, and I'll send you a cool little workflow guide to get you started.

(Yes, there is a replay and I'll give you the reminders about that too.)


 
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SIGN UP HERE

Escape The 8-Bar Loop

live workshop every month

sign up here


WHAT YOU GET FROM THE WORKSHOP

This is what you're gonna come away with:

  • A simple new workflow to get tracks done faster
  • A method to make the perfect length track for your own style
  • How to improvise and build a CLIMAX in your music
  • How to make a full-length studio recording that still has spontaneous energy
  • And how to structure your songs so you can perform them Live (without being stuck in the loop)

You'll get a much better understanding of Session View as soon as you see me do it. 

Want some help to upgrade your Ableton workflow?

JOIN HERE (FREE)

 
 

THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

I love Ableton because it gives us the best of the DAW-less live jams, without losing the fine-detail control of automating a mixdown for a studio version.

You get to improvise & be in the flow, record it, and get a final track that still has the original spontaneous vibe of live electronic music...

...without recording blown-out peak overloads or 25 minutes of seriously unlistenable 'exploriments'.

Now I know it's useful to have the Arrangement view, and I'm not saying you should never touch it, I'm just saying it's really not the best place to start.

You need them both, so you don't get locked into a rigid composition format that's MUCH LESS FUN than jamming in Session View.

Check out the workshop to get the full picture.   

See you there!  -Steve

Steve Knots

mixitecture, Pittsburgh, PA

Thanks for your visit! If you're new here, check out the session lessons. They're the most exciting new way to learn sound design, composition and mixdown techniques for electronic music production in Ableton Live. -Steve