My first year with Ableton: A personal summary of everything

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Alperton
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My first year with Ableton: A personal summary of everything

Post by Alperton » Sun Jun 20, 2021 10:29 pm

About one year ago I downloaded the test version of Ableton. After one year, I have released an album now on streaming services. I would like to summarize this one year. Maybe it would help someone out there. Maybe there are similar people who can add their experiences here.

About me: 38 year old mechanical engineer, working in a software company in automotive industry in Germany. Playing guitar since childhood. No former experience of music production, album release, ableton, etc. I did not know anything about ADSR settings, automation, sidechain, stereo field, LFO, etc. Absolutely nothing.

One year ago: I always wanted to see how people do music “on computer”. Due to Covid19, all my nights were free suddenly and I wanted to give it a try. I literally wrote “making music at home” on youtube and watched videos. Then, I saw that there are some softwares, called DAW. Without any specific reason, I downloaded the test version of Ableton. That was the start…

First 2 months: Again youtube :). I found these videos here starting with this one: https://youtu.be/rj9TxqhVDAA In about 15 seperate videos, the guy is making a song from scratch. Since I did not know anything about ableton, I learned a lot. It took almost every night of the first 2 months to go through these videos. In each video, I generated my own melodies, modified the sounds, played around the parameters and so on.
  • Outcomes: At the end of these 2 months, I could use Ableton and learned the very basics like ADSR, compression, sidechain, basic effects. I understood the “logic” of ableton interface. (I remember that I really admired the compressor and sidechain and found the idea amazing which is just basics for most of the people).
Months 3-4: Still youtube :). I found this channel here: https://www.youtube.com/c/EDMtips
I watched ALL of the videos here. Especially, the older ones are great where the essential knowledge is presented. I also learned a lot from the videos where he makes one track from start to finish. I downloaded his project files and went through the tracks also from start to finish. Each 40 minute video took me about 3-4 hours when I try to repeat his actions.
  • Outcomes: Understood the main idea of sound design using Analog and basic wavetable features. Basic knowledge on Wave shapes, white noise, pink noise and mixing, LFO, Haas Effect, return channels, saturation, EQ8. In these months, I started to understand that every element in music has its own place and function. Unnecessary information in a drum, bass, or synth are “deleted” or reduced in EQ8. Mixing at -6 db peak level was also something new and interesting.
Project Idea: at this point, I wanted to set a goal for myself. My wife came up with the idea of an album which would follow a 5k running program with running and walking intervals. I will not go into details but this goal was a major motivation for me to open Ableton every night and start with an empty project. I also decided not to buy any additional plug-ins. I searched for free plugins and packs and downloaded and used these: Ableton Packs, CamelCrusher, Vital, Spitfire Labs, Ozone imager.

Hardware: I was working with a cheap LG Headset (which I use at work). I knew at this stage that I need to invest for a basic setup. I bought the following: scarlett solo audio interface, BeyerDynamic DT770 Pro Headphone, Arturia Minilab MKII Midi Controller. So, mixing and mastering would be done with headphones. I cannot describe my feelings when I first hear music on these good headphones. I could hear 50% more details although the volume was so low. This was a game changer for me. Buying monitors was not an option due to mental health of my wife :) and neighbours. Also acoustic handling of the room was also not a feasible option for me.

5-10 months: Opening new empty projects. Selecting kicks and bases. First melodies on a synth. Always proceeding persistently. Spending less time on youtube. Just checking something when I need more info on a certain point.
  • Outcomes: the first songs were “muddy” and very boring (I mean the sounds). Again back to youtube :). I realized that I can cut out or reduce the unwanted frequencies more than I used to do. I was too shy at EQ8. I realized that I do not hear any change when I cut out the frequencies below 200 Hz from a lead synth (I mean most of the time). In these months, I developed a sense of self confidence. I am sure that professional music people with professional equipments would do much much more cleaner sounds. But, I realized that I cannot go further and proceed with that mindset. So, just do it :). If I somehow like what I hear on my headphones, I would go for it. Another outcome here is that I realized the power of FX and “ear candies''. I started generating such sounds in Ableton but I was losing too much time on finding FX (sweeps, lazers, etc.). So, I registered for Splice and paid for 2 months. This saved me so much time. I could also download lots of vocals.
Final 2 months: Songs were ready for the album. But I had no idea about mastering and album release workflow. Hello Youtube again :). I realized that I will never be able to master a song perfectly so that it will sound nice on different systems. I also saw that almost everybody was using expensive plugins. So, I generated a mastering chain in ableton for me and frankly speaking did not spend much time on mastering. Just used the same chain on different songs.
  • Outcomes: When I listened to the songs that I made 4-5 months ago, I realized a general problem. The sounds, instruments, actually almost everything were not wide. I could do some panning and delay and reverb but still very very narrow. I listened to some EDM examples on youtube focusing on that detail and realized that the synth leads are very wide somehow. I spent one month on this issue and still I am not good at stereo width. Delay and Reverb did not help much. Making sounds wider with the utility was also not great. Then I started layering sounds. The simplest thing was copying the track and making one octave higher. Then panning these tracks left and right. This was working super sometimes but not always. Then I discovered Mid/Side option in EQ8. This was a game changer! But for me very hard to use. The results were very sensitive. I need to improve here more, still...
At this point I updated all of the songs. I also read about loudness and downloaded YouLean Loudness meter. I aimed for -14 LUFS. Frankly speaking, I do not know details about this point but saw lots of sources saying this and just did it.

Final Step: Checked for digital distribution companies like distrokid and cdbaby. I selected cdbaby, uploaded everything needed and in 3 weeks the album was online on all platforms.

I am sure that stereo width, mixing and mastering could be better. But, in my eyes, this is not important. One year ago, releasing an album was just an imaginary dream for me. Nothing tangible.

What is important? Today, if you are interested in music and if you have 300-500 Euros you can publish an album and share your music with all the world. I do not say that you will earn money but you can definitely reach other people. Thanks to companies like Ableton, CDBaby, Spotify, etc.

In this context, I have some feedback regarding Ableton GUI and functions but I think that there are much more experienced people here in forum to talk about software usability. So, to keep this thread a little bit shorter I will omit these.

Take care, stay healthy.

chapelier fou
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Re: My first year with Ableton: A personal summary of everything

Post by chapelier fou » Mon Jun 21, 2021 5:38 am

Thanks a lot for sharing your story !
Is there a place where we can listen to your music ?
Cheers
MacBook Pro 13" Retina i7 2.8 GHz OS 10.13, L10.0.1, M4L.
iMac 27" Retina i5 3,2 GHz OS 10.11.3 L10.0.1 M4L.

garyboozy
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Re: My first year with Ableton: A personal summary of everything

Post by garyboozy » Mon Jun 21, 2021 8:33 am

thanks for sharing!

AdmiralRed
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Re: My first year with Ableton: A personal summary of everything

Post by AdmiralRed » Mon Jun 21, 2021 10:42 am

That's very inspiring, always good to see people setting their mind to something... and pushing through!

Pasha
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Re: My first year with Ableton: A personal summary of everything

Post by Pasha » Mon Jun 21, 2021 3:58 pm

Thanks for sharing!
Apple iMac 2013 / Macbook Late 2012
Live 10 Suite,Zebra ,Guitar, Bass, VG99, JV1010 and some controllers
______________________________________
Music : http://alonetone.com/pasha

Alperton
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Re: My first year with Ableton: A personal summary of everything

Post by Alperton » Mon Jun 21, 2021 6:44 pm

chapelier fou wrote:
Mon Jun 21, 2021 5:38 am
Thanks a lot for sharing your story !
Is there a place where we can listen to your music ?
Cheers
Frankly speaking, I did not put any link on purpose. I wanted to avoid the impression that I try to promote my work.

But since you asked, here you can find the links to major streaming services for the first volume of my project: https://alperton.hearnow.com/

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