The Power of Ableton
If you have a pretty good worship band or youth band and you want to help them move from good to great, Ableton Live will help you get there. Of course, nothing can replace the importance of your musicians’ personal proficiencies. But, if they’re already pretty good at their instruments, Ableton will help your band take the next step.
Abelton Live is Digital Audio Workstation software that can tightly sequence your band’s music and enhance it’s overall quality. Abelton Live is pretty much the engine that drives our entire audio/visual experience during both our modern/contemporary worship service and our Wednesday night student service. It sends clicks and vocal cues to the band’s In-Ear-Monitors (keeps the band tight), loops/tracks and FX to the house (fuller, professional sound), side-chains with Reason for synth patches, pads, and piano (more professional voices), and it automates song lyrics through ProPresenter (allows the front line to go chartless) and lights through ShowXpress via MIDI over Wi-Fi. It’s all triggered from an Akai MPK88 keyboard and routed through a Focusrite Scarlett 8i6 digital audio interface. If you’re a real music geek, you’ll love the rabbit-hole of creativity it provides.
We love Ableton. Our music is light years ahead of where it was even two years ago. However, it’s been a huge learning curve for us that has taken a lot of work over several years to get where we are right now. And we still have a long way to go. But, if you’re thinking about getting into it too, here’s a jump start.
Before you use Ableton in the ways described below, your band needs to be using the following.
- In-Ear-Monitors. I have another post about why and how to use IEMs.
- Digital Audio Interface. You’ll also need to run a digital audio interface to route clicks, cues, loops, synths/pads, and any other tracked instruments on separate channels to your board. We use the Focusrite Scarlett 8i6.
- USB Digitial Controller. You could just use your Mac to control everything. But, that’s really hard to do in a live situation. You need something more tactile friendly. We’ve used a McMillan SoftStep foot controller for stand-up, guitar-playing worship leaders to trigger everything. We’ve also used a Korg Nano and an Akai APC 40 for other musicians to trigger things. But now, we have Ableton running our entire keyboard station using an Akai MPK88.
- Ableton Files and STEMs. There is a great community of people that creates Ableton and Reason files for worship songs. Check out LoopCommunity.com and Multitracks.com.
- If you decide to move into the use of automation over Wi-Fi via Midi, you’ll need to have a pro-grade dedicated Wi-Fi network.
Here’s a more detailed explanation of what you can do with Ableton during your live worship services.
- CLICK – Most of the pros play to a click. Every great worship band plays to a click. Click tracks keep your band’s tempo at the right pace and everyone on beat. I write more about why your band should be playing to clicks in another post. Ableton has built in clicks but most people buy or make better more natural sounding (drum stick sounding) clicks.
- VOCAL CUES – Using vocal cues let’s your band know what’s next in the song. All that rehearsal time lost just trying to help everyone in the band understand the song’s sequence (Intro, Verse 1, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Turn Around, Verse 2, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Bridge, Interlude, Pre-Chorus, Chorus, Chorus, Outro) is magically recovered! One measure before each segment, the vocal cues tell you what’s coming next and on cue. Below is a sample of the click and vocal cues.
- LOOPS/TRACKS – Once you’ve gotten accustomed to using clicks and cues, you can start adding loop tracks, FX tracks, instrument tracks, master tracks. These tracks fill out and complete your band’s sound. These are intended to complement, augment, supplement your live band’s sound. But, sometimes you’ll be missing a bass player or a guitarist. With Ableton Life, you can track that instrument’s part and play live with the band as if he/she is there. Check out LoopCommunity.com‘s library of tracks created by other worship leaders and digital musicians. Check out LoopCommunity.com’s Master Tracks – a library of original artist’s studio tracks. You can also find these at Multitracks.com.
- RE-WIRING – If you really want to improve the quality of your keyboard’s piano sound or synth voices, you can use Abelton’s builtin voices or re-wire it with Reason from Propeller Head and/or Spectrasonic’s Omnisphere. With these you can get some great professional quality patches and voices.
- AUTOMATION – With Ableton Live and your Mac’s built in Audio Midi Setup you can automate your projection with Renewed Vision’s ProPresenter the lyrics you project on the screen, the videos you trigger, and lighting scenes using ProPresenter’s Midi Module (on a Mac) over Wi-Fi or ethernet. It’s super helpful to automate these things for the following reasons.
- Your song lyrics can now always be the right words at the right time. No more human errors forgetting to advance the slides or clicking the wrong screen. You still need a projectionist for the other parts of your service. But now they don’t need to try to keep up with the lyrics during the songs. It’s actually a relief to your volunteers.
- Your band (or at least your leader & vocalists) can now go chartless because now they can always trust that the words will be there when they need them. No more music stands! This assumes you have a stage monitor screen or a back wall projection of some sort where the people on the stage can see what’s being projected on the screen.
- You can blend the use of video and your band’s live music with precise timing.
- Your lighting scenes can be pre-programmed (using Chauvet’s free ShowXpress) to match exactly what you want, when you want it, with the right colors at the right moments. You still need a lighting operator for the other parts of the service. But, now they don’t need to try to keep up with live lighting changes during the songs. Again, it’s actually a relief to your volunteers.