EDM Production - Produce A Classic 90s Track in Ableton Live

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HI Buddy,

In this course we're going to do our own version of Daft Punk's "Around the World" using a pre-made MIDI file. 

You could go in yourself and key each note in, or figure it out by playing along with it with an instrument--both of which are great ways to learn--but today we'll make it even easier for you, all you need is your computer and a copy of Ableton Live.

You can download a free 30 day trial of it at Ableton.com

Even after that trial expires, you still can play around with the program and make music, but with the saving and exporting features disabled.

 

Today we'll load in an already made MIDI file, add Ableton's software synths and effects to make stuff sound good and we'll even record a simple vocal and add a vocoder to it, which is something you will recognize once you hear it as being uniquely Daft Punk-esque.  

Again, you don't need any skills or vocal or instrumental abilities to do this, and you can use your computer's built in mic or a mic on your smartphone or iPhone headphones to record yourself.  Let's get started!

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Quick Intro

  1. Download Tutorial .zip FileYou should see something like this after un-zipping the file provided in this step:
    This Zip File Contains A Few Things:
    • "Settings - ..." images are there to show you exactly how to tweak each instrument the way I did.  You can open these and use them as a reference, since I don't go into detail on how I tweak each one in the video.
    • Around The World Tut #1 Project folder which contains the original Ableton .als file I used to recreate "Around The World."  Use this for reference if you need it. (The .als file is the one hilighted in the pic, and what you would click on to open it in Ableton Live)
    • Around The World.aif a vocal sample in the Samples > Processed > Consolidate folder, of me doing a less than amicable job singing.  This sample is what I used in the song and it turned out great after putting the vocoder effect on.  You can use this if you aren't able to record your own voice, just drag it into your own file.  But hopefully you feel better about your singing chops after hearing this ridiculous take of mine.
    • daft_punk_around_the_world.mid is a MIDI file complete with all the notes and drum patterns you need.  This is what you will be asked to drag into your ableton project in the video!  I found this by just doing a Google search and writing "midi" after the song title, which you can do for any song you want to cover and you might find a MIDI of it you can download and drag into a new Ableton project.

 

 

Load MIDI & Record Tracks To Arrangement

  1. Create a New Project File in Ableton

    This is the default behavior whenever you open Ableton Live.
  2. Drag & Drop MIDI Into Session View


    Also pretty simple, right?  You should see the MIDI files ghosting horizontally.  Ideally they will each create their own track.
  3. Record Tracks To Arrangement View
    • Arm all the tracks by hitting the play button on the top right
    • Hit the circle record button in the top center. 
    • Switch to arrangement view to see it recording.
    • Select all the tracks and grab the right side of one to drag them all to the right.
    • Pull tracks out to the right until they stop, or until you see the little hashmarks at the top and bottom of each bar, which look like this:

 

Load Piano

  1. Search For "Grand Piano"Open the instruments section on the left and enter "Grand Piano" in the search box
  2. Drag "Grand Piano" Onto TracksDrag the instrument from the library on the left out to each track on the right.
    Hit spacebar to play the song.
    Don't worry if you don't hear all the instruments playing, since the beginning of this particular song only has two synth melodies playing at first.

 

 

Load Drums

  1. Drag 909 Drums On To TrackFind the "Kit-Core 909" Drums in the "Drums" section of the Ableton Library on the left.  Drag it out onto the track with the "Percussion" MIDI track in it.
  2. Add "Kick Processing" Effect To Kick DrumGo to the Live 8 Library Folder on the left if you are using Ableton 9. 

    Enter the word "kick" in the search box to narrow your search.
    You will find the "kick processing" effect nested in these folders:
    Presets > Audio Effects > Audio Effects Rack > Drum Processing


    If you are in Ableton 8, you will find the above in your Audio Effects folder

    Drag Kick Processing down into the effects chain after the kick sample in the drum rack
  3. Tweak 909 Drums SoundsTweak the settings for the kick, snare, clap, hihat closed, hihat open and both crash cymbal sounds.
    Select the rectangle-shaped pad on the left to hilight each sound in order to tweak the settings on the right.
    Use the images I included of my tweaks as a reference, and notice how the sounds change as you change parameters.

    Kick 909 Settings:

    Snare 909 Settings:

    Clap 909 Settings:

    Hihat Closed Settings:

    Hihat Open 909 Settings:

    Crash 909 Settings:

    Crash 909 (2) Settings:

    You don't need to know what each setting means, just notice what you think sounds good!

 


Adjust Buffer & Add Limiter

  1. Increase Buffer SizeOpen the Preferences menu and select the Audio tab and look under Latency
    Increase the buffer size by selecting inside the square where you see the yellow bar and dragging up all the way to 2056 Samples.
    *Don't forget to click "Apply" before closing the Preferences!
  2. Add Limiter
    • Select the Master Track and make sure the effects panel is selected.
    • Go to the Library on the left and look under Audio Effects for the Limiter.
    • Drag the Limiter onto the Master Track


Load Synth 1 (Plucky Synth)

  1. Drag Saw10 Thin Reso Lead onto Track 1
    Open the Ableton Library and type 'Saw10' into the Search box and make sure you select the Instruments section.


    Drag this onto Track 1, it will replace the Grand Piano you put there earlier.  Tweak the settings on it to resemble my settings:
  2. Add Filter Delay
    • Go to Audio Effects and grab the Filter Delay effect, dragging it in the effects area of Track 1 after the Saw10 Thin Reso Lead
    • Adjust the parameters to match mine:


Load Synth 2 (Guitar Synth)

  1. Drag Guitar Synth Into Track 1
    While in the video I used Guitar Muted Strat to keep things simple, there are one or two more muted guitar presets you could use.  I actually ended up going with the Guitar Muted Strat from Ableton Live 8, as it's paremeters are mapped into an easy to use box AND it has a built-in Phaser which you should turn up to %75 or so.
  2. Add Chorus & Amp Effects

    I also didn't cover it in the video, but one key to Daft Punk's signature sound is definitely muted guitars with phasers and choruses on them. Again I used a preset from Ableton Live 8 called Guitar-Light Chorus Clean Amp which has parameters to control many of these '70s disco guitar effects.

 

Load Synth 3 (Bass Synth)

  1. Drag Boffner Bass Onto Track 3
    Adjust your parameters like mine, making sure to turn up the Punch so you get that walking disco bassline to sound clear.


    In the video I only use this bass, but you'll notice in the actual final track that I doubled it up with another bass from the Ableton Live 8 library called Bass-Phat Electric (Amped) which despite the corny name sounds good.  Then slap on a Bass - low extender effect rack after that.


    *A little producer's tip is that doubling up on bass can make your bassline sound way fuller.

 

 

Load Synth 4 (Vocoder Synth)

  1. Drag Bright Saw Lead Onto Track 4
    This really needs only a little adjusting, just turn the glide up and tweak a few things:
  2. Drag MIDI Pitch Effect Before Synth

    Go into the MIDI Effects part of the Library and under the Pitch menu grab the -12 effect and drag it onto Track 4 before the Bright Saw Lead.  This will pitch whatever it plays down one octave or 12 semitones.


    The reason it's before the instrument is because it's a MIDI effect and not an AUDIO effect.  

    *Essentially any instrument turns MIDI signals into actual audio you can hear, so MIDI effects go before the instrument and audio effects after.

 

Load Synth 5 (End Synth)

  1. Drag Dual Osc5 Reso Noise Bass onto Track 5
    This part doesn't come in until the last few bars of the song, at about 2:15 into the song.  But it adds a sort of concluding weight to the ending so it's good that it's audible.  Set your parameters like mine:


    Then go and grab the Talkie effect from Audio Effects and adjust the parameters like mine.  This Talkie effect spreads out the audio with chorus so that everything isn't in the center.


    *Something you will notice about professional productions is that things are very spread out and only the bass, kick or snare drum are somewhat centered.

Import Vocals

  1. Record Your Vocals
    This step can be skipped if you just want to use the vocal I provided (purposely sung in a laughably bad voice -I swear!), but if you ever want to record vocals, it really would help to get your feet wet here.  

    You can use an iPhone and record a voice memo and import it into iTunes then drag that onto Ableton (which is what I did just to show you how easy it is).

    Or. if you have a mic and a soundcard (connected via USB or Firewire) then follow this simple tutorial by Ableton on how to set that all up:

    Getting started with Ableton Live - Part 3: Recording Audio
  2. Import Vocals & Place In Arrangement

    If you run into problems, just grab my vocal and drag it into your Ableton file on a new track.  Hit Command-T to make the track, then find the vocal audio file in this directory of the project:


    Then it's as easy as selecting the file in Session view and hitting Command-C to copy it and swtiching to Arrangement view and hitting Command-V to paste it in.

    But where?!  Where the melody we are goin gto vocode starts, of course.  

    Paste it in the 13th bar of the song, then zoom in and make sure that your audio starts when the MIDI notes do, at 13.2


    Basically the "Around the woorld around the woooorld" phrase lasts 2 measures.  So if you count on the top of the beat like 1-2-3-4... you'll get to 8 before it starts over.

    What that means is we need to make a little loop that is 2 measures long.  Grab that loop bracket thing and bring it over, grabbing the black bar on top on the left and right and pulling it to the 13 and 15 mark, respectively.


    Turn on the loop button at the top right side of Ableton, the one that looks like this (it's the switched on one in yellow):


    Play your loop.  You'll notice it's on beat and stuff, but it cuts off the vocal right at the world part of the lyric.  So in order to have a coherent loop, we need to slide our bracket over to allow that word to come in, since the phrase actually doesn't come in at the top of the beat.  

    Scroll to the top of the song until the cursor becomes a magnifying glass, pull down to zoom in a bit and grab that loop bracket's black bar again, and slide it to the right from 13 to 13.2 and 15 to 15.2:


    Hit spacebar to play the loop now, it should fit and not cut off any parts of the vocal phrase.

    *Maybe you'll notice how nicely the MIDI notes and your vocal sample fit into this bracket.  It's amazing how much for visual people you will learn when things 'look right' in a song


Vocode Vocals

  1. Add Vocoder Effect

    Grab Vocoder from the Audio Effects menu and put it on your Vocal track.  Follow the settings in the video and in the screenshot.


    *Most important is to set the Carrier to External and choose the track that has your Vocoder Synth (the Bright Saw Lead).
  2. Enhance The Vocoded Vocals

    Search for the Speech Enhancer and stick that before the Vocoder.  This needs no adjusting.

    After that, it's going to be different for everyone, and you migt have to tweak the Vocoder itself, to match your voice, in the Formant area maybe.  

    I recommend you experiment here with the Glue Compressor and maybe the EQ Eight to get your vocal sounding really clear and consistent.



    However, there are presets in the Ableton Live 8 Library like Speech Enhancer, Speech Processing and others that will make your vocal sound very clear.

 

 

Final Touches

  1. Add Auto Filter Intro

    The Auto Filter (or Cutoff) is an effect I first heard Daft Punk use back in 1997 on their Homework album ("Daftendirekt" anyone?), and then became a huge trope of all dance music and later 'EDM' as it's known now.  

    The best layman term for it is the 'underwater effect' where at first it sounds like your ears are submerged and gradually come out of the water, as higher frequencies become audible.

    You can do a natural auto filter effect by cupping your hands over your ears and slowly opening them when near a source of consistent noise -like a waterfall or noisey crowd.

    Grab the Auto Filter from Audio Effects and stick it on the Master Track before the Limiter and any effects you might have on there.
  2. Adjust Auto Filter Parameters

    We will only be working with two parameters -Frequency and Resonance (here labeled as 'Q').

    Select the Frequency box, pull downwards and you'll see the line in the Auto Filter's diagram box move to the left.  You want to start at around 220Hz and move it all the way up to the top, to full frequency.

    From

    To


    The way to automate this is while Frequency is selected, go into the Arrangement view and open up the Master Track. You'll see a dotted line, which will move up and down as you change the Frequency.


    Double click on this line at the very beginning of the track, on the far left, and you'll get a node with a solid line.  Drag the node down to the 220Hz area.


    Then go out to the right a few measures, to the 5th measure and click again.  Drag this node all the way to the top.  


    Play your track from the beginning, and you'll hear the frequency filter gradually go up, letting in more high frequencies. Sounds nice.

 

 

Wrap Up

  1. Make Copies Of This First Child

    This is a good starter track for you to base all your future stuff on for the next few times you use Ableton.  That's why it is good after saving this Around The World Cover version to Save As and make a new Ableton Project with a totally different name.  

    You could call it "Daft Punk Template" or something.

    *You have to save outside your current Ableton Project folder to make an entirely new project

    This way you can build on it in your future songs --as it already has all the presets and instruments loaded, and you can change the notes around or write completely new notes with these same instruments.  

    I guarantee you nobody will think you're ripping off Daft Punk.

    And do continue to look for MIDI covers of songs you like, and make some tricked-out leftfield cover versions of some songs.

 

 

Thanks for sticking around, and hit me up on Twitter Facebook or YouTube if you have any questions!

Ableton Buddy~

 

 

 


 

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