by Anders Johanson January 08, 2021 6 min read
One of the greatest facets of Ableton is the program’s unique ability to utilize samples in various creative ways. Whether you’re making old-school hip-hop tracks and chopping up samples of soul artists or writing Lo-Fi beats and sampling downtempo one shots and rain sounds, Ableton allows you to manipulate samples in every creative way imaginable.
You can take samples of symphonic chord progressions, reverse them, pitch them up an octave, and double their tempo. All of a sudden, you have something completely new. You can take a sample of a wine bottle being broken on pavement, add a few mixing effects, and layer it underneath a snare in your drum beat, adding unique foley textures. You can take a vocal sample from a Classical Indian composition, chop up phrases of the vocal run, pitch each clip to a different note, and then create a melodic percussion loop out of it. The possibilities are endless.
But for Ableton producers who are not familiar with the art of sampling, you may be wondering where to begin. For us, it starts with downloading a quality sample pack, and from there, simply digging in. But first, let’s get into the basics of downloading samples and plugging them into your DAW. It’s much simpler than it seems; we promise.
While Ableton has a large built-in library of sounds and samples that come with the DAW, it’s only natural that producers will seek out their own desired samples and sounds. In order to import the audio, you can do the following:
This is the most straightforward way of importing audio, but it is also time consuming because you can only select one file at a time, and you have to sift through your library each time to find the audio file.
An easier method is directly adding audio files into Ableton by simply just dragging and dropping. If you have your audio file already open in your Finder, simply open up Ableton alongside it, and drag the file into a new audio track. You can select multiple files, as well. If you want multiple sounds on one track, simply drag then drop.
But if you want them separated into individual audio tracks, simply hold the command key, and the files will load into separate audio tracks. This is the method you want to use if you’re loading multiple stems into a new Ableton track.
For example, let’s say you’re preparing to remix a song and you have just downloaded the stems. Head to the folder with the stems, highlight each audio file, then drag them into Ableton. When you’re dragging the files, hold the command key, and Ableton will automatically place them into different audio tracks. Then, you have the whole track laid out in front of you like a mixing board, and you will be free to begin experimenting and creating your remix.
Now that we’ve discussed adding audio files directly into Ableton, we want to look at building your library. For producers, their sample library is everything. It’s where they go to create their drums, feature samples, load loops, etc. It’s the kitchen pantry or the fridge for the chef. Having a powerful sample library is absolutely imperative for a modern producer looking to make sample-based music. There are multiple ways to create a library of samples, but the simplest is to start with a high quality, mix-ready sample pack.
If you’re looking to level up your beat making, we suggest downloading a sample pack in the style of your music. For example, if you produce Lo-Fi music, we would recommend downloading Samplified’s Lo-Fi & Chill Pack. Let’s breakdown of how you would add the pack into Ableton:
If you’re downloading free sample packs from the internet, there is a high likelihood that a substantial portion of each pack might be unusable for your music, either because the quality is too poor or it stylistically makes no sense for your work. In these scenarios, while it may be tempting to take a “more the merrier” approach, we recommend going into your sample library and deleting the ones you are confident you will never use—or, at the very least, put them in a separate folder that indicates they are back burner samples. This will not only free up space in your Ableton sample library, but it will expedite your workflow and allow you to spend less time scrolling through samples in order to find the ones that you like.
The best advice we can give is to stick with high quality, mix-ready sample packs that support the style of music you aspire to create. Don’t download every free pack under the sun and bloat your library with samples you will never use. Prioritize the samples and sounds that work best for you and your creative process. Obviously you will want to have a variety of options in order not to sound repetitive, but don’t hoard samples just because you can. A strong workflow is integral to making good beats, and anything that slows down that workflow is a hurdle for your music.
One of the great features of Ableton is its Live Packs, which are supplementary content packs made specifically for Ableton. They consist of Live Sets, audio clips, samples, presets, and extra documents. They have a vast array of MIDI instruments, samples, and more that will give you plenty of creative ammunition to write and produce. And while many cost money, Ableton has a wide variety of free packs that can help take your sound to a whole new level. Here is how to install an Ableton pack:
These packs don’t work like a normal sample pack. While they do contain samples, it’s more than just a bunch of .WAV files. They have MIDI instruments and demo songs and audio effects. So, be sure to pay attention to everything included in the pack to really get the most out of them.
While Ableton’s own packs, samples, and software instruments are of very high quality, most Ableton producers use a variety of third-party sounds. One of our favorites is Serum by Xfer records, which is a popular and versatile synth plug-in. Several Samplified packs feature custom Serum Presets designed for unique instrumentation. We’ll use Serum as an example of how to use a third-party sound in Ableton.
This process will be the same for adding all VST Plugins into your Ableton library. There are also Audio Unit Plug-Ins that will go through a similar process, except you will place them in the Components folder instead of the VST folder within your computer audio library. Plug-Ins and third party Ableton packs are great resources for enhancing your sound, experimenting with different effects, and adding new dynamics into your music.
The main tip we would like to impart when adding samples, packs, plug-ins, etc. to your Ableton is take your time. Slow and steady wins the race. Don’t download everything you can find in one fell sweep. Not only will it eat up all of your CPU, it can overwhelm you and add unnecessary strain to your workflow. We recommend relying on professional quality sites that offer top-tier samples, packs, and third party sounds. Find the ones that fit your sound and allow your creativity to flourish.
Writer and musician based in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife, Hannah. Extensive career as both a writer and a musician previously working with brands such as Fox Sports, Yahoo Sports, and Sports Illustrated. As a musician, Anders has played in several bands throughout the last decade, and has experience in touring, booking, band management, engineering, producing, mixing, and composing. Anders has recently composed music for short films and media presentations in universities, and has launched a podcast focusing on giving musicians and artists a place to talk about their work and the process behind their creation.