Ableton Live Workflow Tips

I’ve been using Ableton Live for coming up to 10 years now, at first while I was still experimenting with it I was pretty disorganised with my projects, but since learning more about the program and using it for more serious projects I’ve come up with a couple of ways to organise my tracks and speed up my workflow.

1. File Names by Date

When you´re working on a track it’ll typically go through several different versions or stages of completion. Sometimes these changes will consist of small tweaks but other times you’ll be making big sweeping changes that take the track in a new direction. You may reach a point where you want to go back to a previous state of the track because something worked better before an edit, or you may want to compare changes to a mix.

To deal with this I create a new project file within the project folder every time I make a big edit to my song. To keep these organised I start every new file name with the current date, formatted like 160120, for 20th January 2016. You just have to get into the habit of going File, Save As…at the start of every session. Here’s what one of my projects typically looks like. You can see all the versions get automatically ordered from oldest to newest:

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 19.18.50.png

2. Patches

Another thing that´s really helped my workflow in Ableton is using Instrument Racks to save my favourite instrument / effect combinations for use in future projects. However rather than store them in Ableton’s Instrument Rack folder, I keep them in my own folder that I’ve created and have more control over. I can group all my sounds by categories, instrument type or genres. Some of them are simple instrument presets, some of them are complex effects chains and some of them are unique sounds I’ve designed myself using a mixture of different plugins. I like to quickly throw a couple of the most important parameters (cutoff / mix / drive etc) into the macros so that when I’m working on music I can edit the sound without having to delve into the plugins interfaces.

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 19.22.17.png

3. Preset Returns

Live allows you to store some of your favourite project settings to be used as defaults for all future projects, simply by using Preferences > File/Folder > Save Current Set as Default.


One way this can be used is to set up your favourite Reverb and Delay plugins on the default Return Tracks. You can even create more return tracks to give yourself more choice over Reverb and Delay sounds. For example, in my default live set I have 6 return tracks:

  1. Big Reverb
  2. Small Reverb
  3. Drum Plate Reverb
  4. Huge Cathedral Reverb through EQ settings.
  5. Delay 1 (brighter)
  6. Delay 2 (darker)

Screen Shot 2017-03-17 at 19.31.17.png

This is useful as I can quickly get all the basic sounds out of my return channels. Once I’ve been working on a track for a while I’ll start to tweak the settings on each return channel to make the spaces better fit the individual track.

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