This is for anybody who came to Ableton after another DAW, for people who think Session View is confusing, or anyone who has been treating Session View like 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, so you can unlock its amazing powers.
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 is a total beast in Session View.
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.)
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.
PROBLEMS WITH THE TIMELINE
Working in the timeline is too visual. Your eyes trick you to think it’s right, when it’s not.
I learned to make beats in a totally DAW-less world, using the MPC2000 sampler and a bunch of synths. On the MPC you had to listen and feel it, there was no screen to show a full visual timeline.
It doesn’t always sound right when you plan out a track using visual blocks, counting measures, pasting in clips and recording in the timeline. It can look perfect and still not flow.
Composing in the timeline leads you to work VISUALLY, instead of feeling the music. Your audience is never going to see the timeline, they’re only going to hear it!
Ableton Session View is about listening and feeling, not visually laying out your songs.
The timeline is not fluid.
When I'm trying to change my song structure in Arrange, I have to copy and paste whole sections, using Markers and key commands, checking to make sure the automation gets copied…
It’s tedious, time consuming and worst of all — it takes a long time of waiting before you can hear if you had the right idea!
But with Session View, when I want to experiment with a change in the song structure, I can literally hear it ON THE FLY by launching scenes in a different order.
I can skip a section, get to the drop sooner, make a breakdown longer, and do all sort of song form edits WHILE LISTENING TO THE MUSIC.
This is an incredible advantage that you can’t do with any other DAW. Session View lets you play through a song smoothly, like it will be in a real set. Not stopping and starting. You stay in the flow and feel it, just like working with a drum machine and the crowd.
This saves you from making tracks that feel awkward, boring, too long, or it have unexpected changes that throw people out of the vibe.
The timeline sucks for performing.
Doing a live show from the timeline is like doing karaoke.
With Session View you can build a track that’s ready to play as a live performance, with FX and controllers that let you improvise. You can make the tracks fit the crowd at every show, instead of being locked into a specific song form that is exactly the same every night.
This means you can improvise and jam your tracks out longer, you can perform with live soloists on drums and mics, it stays interesting for you and exciting for the audience. The program is name Live for a reason.
Best of all, when you get a version of the song that you really like, you can still record it into the Arrangement to do final detail automation, mixdown, and send it out for mastering.
You don’t lose anything in the studio production side, in fact you get BETTER album tracks because they feel live, instead of feeling over-produced.
I've worked in Arrangement quite a lot myself, and I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Have you ever seen these problems in your own sessions?
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 fell in love with Ableton 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?
A WORKFLOW FOR SESSION VIEW
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.
Create multiple variations of all my Audio & MIDI clips. Explore your sounds, find the layers that work well together, and insert them into new scenes.
Stack up the variations in scenes to build and release energy
Make a PEAK and CLIMAX using a few key scenes
Build Transitions to make "bridges" between them.
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.
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.
I do use the Arrangement as a final step, but it's just not a good starting place.
UPGRADE YOUR ABLETON WORKFLOW
Want some help to see how this works in real life?
Download a guided Live Pack where I show you how to build tracks in Session View.
Go here to find out how it works. This will take you to the Mixitecture online learning platform.
This is what you're gonna come away with:
A simple new workflow to get tracks done faster
A much better understanding of Session View
A burst of inspiration to unlock your creativity
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.
See you there! -Steve