Searching for life in LIve?

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Joined: Sat Jan 14, 2012 3:24 am

Searching for life in LIve?

Post by EarMuse » Sun Mar 18, 2012 5:37 am

I've spent about a month trying to compose my first song in Ableton Live. I chose Live after polling professional and semi-pro musicians in other forums.

Things have not gone well. It didn't take me long to realize that asking clear questions in the Ableton Live forum only had about a 50% chance of getting an answer. Not the kind of community I've found with all the other kinds of software I've learned.

Several times I've tried just launching Live and testing the various controls. After all, the first computers I used were Macs, so I'm a great believer in an intuitive interface that "explains itself" to the user. I still remember the first time I saw the Live Arrangement and Session views. Talk about eye candy.

Bear in mind I'd spent the previous two years using Audacity, an outstanding piece of freeware hosted by the Sourceforge community. Audacity's layout looks primitive compared to Live's immaculately crafted icons and control shapes, or even the colors of Live's "surface." So, I naturally assumed my user experience was going to be much better.

Wrong. It took an hour or more just to get a signal recorded in Live from my Sure SM58. Then I started looking for ways to do fine editing with that first clip. I've read more than 260 pages of the Live manual and still haven't found instructions on how to tweak a clip.

So, I exported a WAV (getting that to work only took 40 minutes) and opened it in Audacity. There was the entire waveform in front of me (whereas it had been buried in Live), along with time markers to let me know how close my recorded notes were to the beat. A little nip and tuck and it was ready to rock. A bit of noise filtering took three minutes max. I dragged my new four measures of rhythm track into a Live clip, which promptly refuses to play it. It'll show it to me and display the name I gave the file, but that's all I get. No sound. And no trouble shooting section in the Live flowchart manual about how to get Live to produce sound.

Now, it's not like I'm a noob who can't handle complex software. When I got my hands on Adobe Dreamweaver I rarely had not seek out resource to quickly figure out how to make it do what I wanted. Again; an intuitive interface. Over the years, I've picked up everything from regular expressions to the finer points of Photoshop. So why am I fighting Live week after week?

Tonight I sat down with the 300 pages of the Live manual I've printed so far (only 200 pages left to go!) and slowly flipped through, starting at the beginning. Suddenly I saw a pattern I've seen elsewhere. When I wrote documentation about Sprint's internal software to be read by average employees, our team was very familiar with the problem faced when programmers try to explain the software they write. They usually can't do it. Of course they can't. They're approaching the functionality from the point of view of someone who links blocks of code together, who sits through planning meetings looking at flowcharts showing how the software should work, and for that matter how the programmers should work on the software.

They simply couldn't wrap their heads around the thought process of an average person who just needs to sit down in front of their computer and use the software to do a job in a reasonably quick and painless process. That's why Sprint hired all of us on the documentation team; to bridge that gap.

I flipped through the Live manual following the same kind of flowchart: Starting with the people at Ableton first (not the end users), followed by a stern reminder about Ableton's legal ownership of the software (not the end users' need to own their own music with Ableton's help), then more and more flowchart boxes explaining Live's Holy Grail: The Concept Of How It All Works (but not a bit about "Here's how you can start your first song").

I looked at the manual, then at Live on the screen, and realized this was exactly what you get if you put a bunch of talented programmers and mathematicians in a room and tell them to write some music software, then hire clever graphic designers to make the software look cool on a computer screen.

The average Joe or Suzie creative musical type in the street wasn't invited to that party. And you can hear the result in the music featured in those Live tutorials on YouTube. It all sounds like the product of a souped-up drum machines. Not like music from a real person's hand or voice.

Unless someone out there has written Live documentation for people who want to get down to the task of creating music, I'll have to set off in search of good software written with musicians in mind. Better yet, written with musicians. Ordinary musicians, not Quincy Jones musicians. Software for unknown musicians with passion, excitement and dreams.
No more flowcharts for me.

I want to see and hear music taking shape.

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Re: Searching for life in LIve?

Post by yur2die4 » Sun Mar 18, 2012 12:13 pm

I'll simply say this:

One of Live's strongest features is its quick ability to be a musical 'sketch pad'. I'd suggest just having fun recording things. Lots of things. Midi and audio clips. Not worrying too much about timing or detail editing. Really getting an idea of what its strengths and weaknesses are.

Also, to have a better grasp of how it handles audio, I'd suggest playing with loops alongside doing some dj-like tinkering. That is an opportunity to get to know the fx also.

Reading the manual is most useful when giving yourself actual situations to apply the material to.

I am curious about what format Audacity rendered the audio as? I actually haven't really used the wave editing export feature so I can't be of any help :/

Aside from that, I hope that you do discover either what you need in Live, or the appropriate tool for your musical expression. Best of luck :)

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Re: Searching for life in LIve?

Post by antarktika » Sun Mar 18, 2012 7:40 pm

Uhh, there's built-in step-by-step lessons with accompanying screenshots in the help menu to get you to grips with the basic functionality. From there you have all the basic information to get started. Once you use the provided resources to figure out how everything works, it becomes pretty simple.
I mean, double-clicking (or hitting the unfold button in arrangement view) on a clip to get it's waveform is not exactly an insurmountable feat.
Although I agree that the initial shock of trying to get to grips with Live can seem a bit daunting, a modicum of effort will reveal it to be quite straightforward and intuitive. Audacity is an audio editor, that is the very thing it is designed to do, so obviously, when you're looking to edit audio, in Audacity it will be slightly more straightforward. because it isn't crowded by the many other options necessary to making full musical works. Then again, it doesn't have the wealth of functions a full-fledged daw like Ableton has.
EarMuse wrote:then hire clever graphic designers to make the software look cool on a computer screen.
I think if you compare Live to other programs, you will find it has a very stripped-down, utilitarian interface.
EarMuse wrote: The average Joe or Suzie creative musical type in the street wasn't invited to that party. And you can hear the result in the music featured in those Live tutorials on YouTube. It all sounds like the product of a souped-up drum machines. Not like music from a real person's hand or voice.
I know, all ableton music sounds like shitty techno, It's quite embarrassing actually, I mean, it's all just this crappy 4/4 ooontz ooontz garbage that people like this guy Hecq puts out: ... re=related

Also, Ableton was conceived of, and developed by musicians, so thinking it was just some programmers with no background in music production is a bit of an uninformed stance to take on the whole thing. A large number of the devices were actually programmed by those musicians, who oversaw all the other elements of the program as well.

"In 1999 Gerhard Behles, Robert Henke (both of the musical act Monolake), and a number of software developers started working on a new type of music software, called Live (...) Henke designed the audio effects of the early versions of Live, he wrote the Operator synthesiszer and is a member of the general specification team at Ableton. Henke is a driving force behind the integration of Max MSP into Live, called MaxForLive."

So, based on this:
EarMuse wrote:Better yet, written with musicians.
I'd say you've found it, now get to work!