Ableton Live is one of the most popular DAWs or Digital Audio Workstations and has some quite unique workflow features that set it apart from the competition.
It is developed by Berlin based Ableton, and the first version was released over 20 years ago in 2001.
Ableton Live, I’ll call it just Live from here on, offers the traditional linear arrangement tape-style recording and playback format. However, it stands out and was revolutionary at the time of its introduction because of the Session View.
Session View is a grid-based representation of all your musical ideas, called Clips. A clip can be audio samples, loops, or short MIDI sequences playing through one of the built-in devices or a VST instrument plugin.
A traditional DAW plays back audio and MIDI sequences in a strict linear fashion, so it will always sound the same until you edit the arrangement. The Live session view on the other hand allows you to trigger clips on the fly to build up an improvised performance or try out different arrangement ideas in real-time.
In this manner, Live can be played more like an instrument than a conventional DAW. This makes Live very popular with DJs and beatmakers.
The nice thing about Live is that it always keeps your Clips perfectly synchronized and playing in time, and you can create and record arrangements and performances without ever needing to stop playback.
Of course, all of these improvisations can be captured and then edited in the traditional linear timeline, which Ableton call the Arrangement View.
Live was also revolutionary for its real-time audio manipulation or warping. Audio samples and loops are automatically time stretched to always play back in time with the tempo of the track, if desired.
Live includes a selection of built-in instrument and effects devices which are used to play and process the clips. Notable instruments are the Simpler sampler, Analog, Operator, a FM synth, and Wavetable.
Because of Live’s popularity there are a multitude of 3rd party hardware controllers available, typically with grids of physical pads representing the session view to make it easier to trigger clips.
Ableton manufacture their own controller that they call Push with tight integration with Live’s features.
Another standout feature is instrument and drum racks for combining multiple devices or samples into a single powerful virtual instrument.
Live comes with a huge sample library containing hundreds of instrument samples and presets, drum sounds, loops and MIDI clips. Many Ableton and 3rd party sound packs are available for further sonic expansion.
Live is famous for its striking flat and clean user interface with all interface features designed to fit into one screen to be suitable for live performance use.
Three versions are available, Intro, Standard and Suite with differing capabilities, included instruments, effects and price.
A free version called Live Lite is often included in the software bundle when purchasing certain hardware devices, such as synths or controllers. Although limited it contains everything a typical user needs to start making great music out of the box.