How to write a song in Ableton
Part 11 – More Layers, Mixing, Editing
The 11th part of my How to write a song in Ableton Live using the Ableton Master Template is ready to go. If you haven’t yet watched the first part of writing a song in Ableton, you’ll want to Start Here
This isn’t necessarily a walkthrough of the Ableton Master Template as I only planning on using what I need to make a tune, instead of trying to fit every tool into this video. I have a series of videos if you want a detailed walkthrough of the template.
In the video below I share the following:
As much as most dance music has a looped rhythm that repeats throughout the song, it’s still essentials to keep things evolving, shifting, building in energy, & releasing it. In the case of this song, I did a few things. I made the snare more dynamic by raising certain parts in volume & making other parts lower. Then I played with the hi hats and percussion tracks, pull certain things out in some places that and returning them in others. I didn’t let add the parts play a the same time very often, but instead would introduce one loop & pull out another, essentially swapping sounds to keep the energy changing throughout the song.
Next I added a handclap part & a simple open hi hat part. It’s surprising, even shocking to witness how much these simple additions improve the groove & takes things to the next level, when it seems there is no place left to go.
Breaks & Fills
Putting little pauses in energy allows the song to recharge, even when it is just going back to what it was doing before. If you have a song that sounds boring & repetitive, try adding breaks, dropping out the kick drum and interesting drum fills to get life to an otherwise repetitive groove. The brain needs a shift or it loses its attention span. This is why crash cymbals, drum fills, breaks, sound effects & silence work so well. The combination of this and evolving sounds is a close to a “magic bullet” as you’re going to get if you have an otherwise catchy groove.
Sometimes the opposite can be true as well by keeping a loop going longer than expected, creating tension & if done correctly, a hypnotic state.
Using sounds I previously recorded from my Dub Delay return track, I cut up some bits to create more atmospheric content in the song. I found this really satisfying & I feel it took the song to a whole other level. The sounds were unpredictable, dirty, rich & a bit chaotic. When used correctly, this can really be a treat for the listener.
Some of you may recall an Ableton challenge where I suggested recording yourself with your smart phone or recorder while doing something around the house, then cutting up the interesting sounds into a Drum Rack, Impulse or Simpler instrument. I put these sounds to use in the song for some long reverb & delayed sounds. I thought I would have a lot of these little sounds, but only ended up using a few. Too many disrupted the overall rhythm of the song.
Sidechaining 1 sound to another
A great way to deal with conflicting parts when you want 1 sound to come in clear & another sounds to move out of the mix a bit, is to sidechain 1 sound to another. In this case, I had a lot of reverb and delay from one sound masking another, so the solution was to drop a compressor on the offending sound and sidechain it to the sound that is more important to hear in that moment. This really works great. Try it!
Making the bass sound cleaner
Although I’m overall happy with the bass throughout the song, I had one 32 bar spot where I changed the bassline & it got completely lost in the mix. To fix this, I automated a hi pass EQ on the kick drum (removing the sub frequencies) during this section. It worked wonderfully & allowed the sub bass to come through cleanly.
This video is one of my longer videos, clocking in a just over an hour. This is an edited version of 7 hours of working on the song. At some point in your songwriting project, you are going to go through this part of the process. You’re going to do a lot of listening to things over an over, looking for that perfect balance. Sometimes you will have a frustrating day where things just don’t sound quite right. Don’t worry about it. It’s a natural part of making music when you care about what you are doing. As much as it doesn’t seem like it at the time, this part of the process is a step forward & once you get over the hump, your satisfaction in your work will return.
Enjoy part 11!
Coming up next will be more tweaking with the mix & adding some final details.
Happy Music Making,