Recording Audio Anywhere with Ableton Live
Ableton Live makes it easy to capture unique audio recordings and use them in our music productions. Anyone who has completed the Alive with Ableton Live course will also know how fun it can be to set up a few Audio Tracks that are armed to record, get a few mates or fellow producers together, and jam over the top of each other with our voices, clicks and claps, or by grabbing some props to function as instruments. Then, of course, Live’s incredible Warping power makes it easy to ‘fix’ any wonky timing (if we want to), or to add some real vibe, looseness or humanity to our otherwise ‘robotic’ programming from ‘in the box’.
It’s also worth noting that you don’t even need an external microphone to capture these recordings, we can use the built-in mic on any laptop or desktop (assuming that we’re not too worried at this stage about the audio quality of the recording and we are focusing on ideas). If using the built-in mic, it’s useful to have a pair of headphones on hand if we want to monitor our recordings while avoiding any feedback loops (where the sound from the speakers is picked up by the mic and feeds back through the speakers and so on).
So, let’s take a look at how to set it up safely and easily:
Give yourself a timing point of reference.
You can turn on the metronome to keep time for you, but many (myself included) find this sound to be a total vibe-killer. Instead I most often set up a simple kick-and-snare combo on a MIDI Track. However, if you want to “break the mould” of conventional recording, try another percussive instrument and a different placement of MIDI notes that might inspire some creativity. You could also try importing a favourite beat and jamming over the top, then discarding that beat when you’re on your way. In this instance I imported a Clip from Live’s Library called “Egypt-92bpm”.
Check your Preferences
Before recording any audio, we need to check where the sound is coming from (and where it’s going) to ensure we capture what we want, and we do it safely. Even without a soundcard or external microphone we can record audio, but we want to avoid any feedback. (The rest of this article assumes the recording is happening without a soundcard or mic.)
In Preferences under the Audio tab, take a look at the dropdown chooser boxes for Audio Input Device and Audio Output Device. If you set the Audio Input Device to “Built-in Microphone” and the Audio Output Device to “”Built-in Output” then you MUST be careful NOT to arm any audio tracks for recording unless you have headphones plugged in to the headphone output of your computer, or you have Monitor set to “Off”. Without headphones plugged in here’s a risk of a nasty sounding feedback loop between the built-in mic and speakers if you arm the track and start recording with the monitoring set to “Auto”. If the monitoring is set to “In” this feedback loop will even happen when the Track is not armed, so BE CAREFUL!
Let’s assume for the rest of this article that your headphones are plugged in!
Choose your Monitor settings
Once it’s safe to record, adjust your Monitor setting. “Monitor” in this context means “listen”, so if we want to listen to the input from the microphone, we can select “In”. If we want to turn the Monitor off and not listen to any inputs, select “Off” (naturally!). For many, the best option in this case is “Auto”, because it allows us to automatically switch between listening to the microphone’s input and anything we have recorded into a Clip. When a Clip is launched we won’t hear the microphone, but when the Track is armed and there’s either no Clip playing or we have launched an empty Clip to record into, then we’ll hear the microphone’s input again. Another warning: with Monitor set to Auto, and no clip playing, if you remove your headphones you’ll get that nasty feedback loop… so turn the volume all the way down if you need to.
To record some audio into a Clip on an armed Audio Track, we can either launch any empty Clip (note that the Launch Button appears like a circular record button when the Track is armed), or alternatively the Session Record Button will Launch a recording on whichever Clip Slot was selected on that Track. If the Clip Slot already has a Clip and the Automation Arm switch is on, the Session Record Button will launch that Clip, but audio from the microphone will not pass to the Track. Instead Live assumes we might want to record some automation into that Clip to alter the audio that was already recorded. In this case we can simply launch any empty Clip Slot on that Track. Once we have recorded our perfect (or otherwise) take, we can hit the spacebar to stop recording, or select the Stop Button.
Keep on recording!
To record additional audio, simply continue launching empty Clip Slots on the same track. Alternatively, to build layers of audio on top of each recorded part, simply duplicate the Audio Track (which will include its Monitor and In/Out settings) and check that the Audio Track that is armed is the one you want to record into. Have fun!