A New Ableton Songwriting Technique

For any of you who have been following me for a while, you know I like to experiment with different songwriting techniques to induce different outcomes & a greater palette for creativity. Some experiments work out better than others, but I always learn something new that I can add to my toolbox.

This new approach is really simple & obvious in concept but it’s something I haven’t really tried to this extent before. I was feeling a bit like an observer of my own creations rather than an active participant. I see nothing wrong with this, as you can sometimes get yourself into a very meditative flow that way. For this approach, I wanted it to be much more physical & full of mistakes & imperfections. I think this freeform approach can lead to many creative breakthrough that simply aren’t available to you when you are trying to have control over the whole creative process.

The Approach

So it’s really this easy. For me, I just got a hold of an older 88 key synth with loads of sounds & a number of drum kits. I thought to myself “Well, I have a load of new sounds that I’ll probably never explore 1 sound at a time, so why not just record myself fumbling through the sounds & drumkits?” So that’s exactly what I did.

First I set a master tempo in Ableton and turned on the metronome. I decided that I wasn’t going to use any midi. Everything was going to go in as audio. I started on the drum kits and recorded 5 minutes of playing Kick drum patterns by hand. I just played anything that came to mind, understanding it wasn’t going to be perfect, but I could warp the files later. This took all the pressure off. Then I did the same with snares, claps, and hi hats. This set my up for endless pattern combinations to play with.

Next I played around with percussion & drum fills, admittedly played poorly, but produced some interesting things. I messed around a lot with the pitch bend & mod wheel & a few other parameters while flipping through sounds. Everything was random, nothing was planned. The only thing planned was a preset tempo to groove with. Ableton was just being used as a recording & effect device.

Warping & looping

Once I had a mess of sounds on different tracks, I began to cut out pieces I liked and creating a number of loops in the session window. I had drums, bass, and plenty of atmospheric weirdness spread across 12 or so tracks, each with a number of variations. A lot of warping was required, but I still tried to keep things sounding as human as possible.

Soon enough it was starting to sound like the beginning stages of a song & I’m continuing to fine tune it.

Happy Accidents

This song is the result of planned happy accidents, which I think can bring out some of your most creative, innovative & brave ideas. It’s also great to stand up and bang on a synth or physical controller. The performance aspect really gets injected into your music and that’s a good thing.

Planning ahead for key matching

It’s a good idea to plan ahead a tad when creating chord structures & melodies, otherwise many of your ideas will not work well together. If you are using an internal synth, you can just make sure to drag a Scale effect onto your track. If you are working with a physical synth, you’ll want to record your midi on one track while having a separate audio track to hear what you are playing. You won’t hear any corrections as you play live, but when you play your recorded midi back into the synth, everything will be key corrected, so you can just record the audio while the midi is playing back.

Check out the video below & consider giving it a try yourself.

happy music making!




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