Professional Quality at Home
One of the most commonly asked questions in music production is “is it possible to recreate professional studio quality at home?” The answer is yes, with many of the biggest tunes in your collection, being produced in home studios around the world. With a focus on Ableton Live, let’s give you a few pointers when thinking about how to get that crisp studio quality from a basic home set up.
Getting Started with Ableton Live
So before we start, let’s make sure you’ve got the basics of Ableton Live down, as this is the bedrock of any production. No point in trying to run before you can walk. If these basics aren’t in place, that professional quality sound you’re looking for is going to be much harder to achieve.
- Choose the right edition for your needs: Live Intro, Standard, or Suite.
- Understand Session vs. Arrangement views.
- Play around with stock instruments to see what kind of sounds you can make.
- Try out different audio effects. Ableton has a ton of excellent effects built in.
- Consider investing in a MIDI controller to give your creative process a more hands-on feel.
- Always keep an eye on sound levels to avoid clipping. A clipped sound will never result in studio quality mixes.
- Regularly save and back up your work.
- Explore the different warp features for creative sampling.
- Experiment with automation for dynamic changes within your track.
- Group related tracks to make arranging and mixing more streamlined.
- EQ is essential—get comfortable with it.
- Use reference tracks to guide your mix.
- Quality headphones or speakers are a must.
- Don’t be afraid to take breaks; fresh ears make better mixes.
Mixing Techniques in Ableton Live
One of the most common techniques that crop up in our Ableton Live tutorials, is mixing, and mixing in Live is no exception. A majority of our professional tutors talk at length about mixing across a wide range of different genres. Here’s a few tips we’ve taken from those tutorials, to help get your mixes up to pro studio standard.
- Start with a clean mix; avoid overcrowding your track. Less is more!
- Use stereo widening on the stop end of your synths, this will create spaciousness in your mix.
- EQ wisely; avoid frequency clashes. Every sound should have its own space in the mix.
- Use sidechain compression for the classic “pumping” effect. Thai will make room for the all important kick drum
- High-pass non-essential sounds to clear the low end. Even create a group track for every sound that doesn’t require low end frequencies, and hi-pass filter that whole group.
- Adjust reverb settings for spaciousness if the sound is muddy. Pro tip – don’t add reverb to anything in the low end.
- Subtly pan elements for a wider mix. This tried and tested technique will give everything its own space in the stereo field
- Limiting: ensure your track is loud but not distorted.
Mastering Your Tracks with Ableton Live
Some say mastering is a real dark art, that should be left to professionals, but it’s a subject touched upon by many of the pro tutors on our site, and something that, wit a bit of guidance, is not out of reach for the bedroom producer. Here’s a few top tips to get started with mastering your own tracks.
- Keep your master channel unclipped; aim for -6dB headroom.
- Utilize EQ Eight to address any frequency imbalances.
- Apply gentle compression to glue the mix.
- Enhance stereo image with mid/side EQing.
- Use a limiter to boost overall level without clipping.
- Compare your master with reference tracks.
- Use compression to make sure your low-end is tight and punchy.
- Always check your master on multiple playback systems.
- Take breaks to refresh your ears.
Advanced Tips and Creative Approaches
One thing we would always suggest is trying to think a little bit out of the box when making tracks, as pushing things beyond the stock techniques can produce amazing results. Many of the biggest tracks in EDM were made through experimentation and mistakes! Here’s a few things to try if you’re stuck in a creative rut.
- Automate, automate, automate! A simple idea that changes subtly throughout your track can be the deal breaker. Map some parameters to a controller and play around with the settings, and record the automation.
- Get stuck into the Max for Live devices, available in the Suite version, there are many instruments and effects that take wild swings that the on board devices don’t.
- Use granular synthesis for unique sound textures. There’s an amazing Max device called Granulator available in the Suite version of Live.
- Modulate effects parameters for evolving sounds. The LFO is your friend, when you’re looking to create a sound that shifts throughout the track.
- Layer field recordings for organic elements. This classic technique that dates back to the 60s, can still result in unique sounds.
- Re-sample and manipulate for unique sounds. This will always result in unique sounds that no one else has.
While being able to master your own tracks isn’t going to happen overnight, with the right guidance you can be creating tracks that stand side by side with some of the best EDM tracks ever made, and do it all from your own home studio.
Get yourself over to the Sonic Academy Website where we have a whole range of tutorials on mixing and mastering, that will get you on the right track no matter what genre you are making. Don’t forget to jump into the comments below and let us know how you are getting on.