Learn Electronic Dance Music Production with Ableton Live

Use Ableton Live software to make a cover of a Daft Punk song--or any popular song-- with no musical know-how needed!
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Instructed by Josh Lundquist Music / Production
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  • Lectures 20
  • Length 38 mins
  • Skill Level All Levels
  • Languages English
  • Includes Lifetime access
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    Available on iOS and Android
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About This Course

Published 9/2014 English

Course Description

You should take this if you've ever wondered how groups like Daft Punk get their sound. Or, if you just want a crash course in music production, so you can tell people you produce dance music, this would be the course to take.

In an hour, you'll learn how to go from having little to no musical experience to mixing and producing a dance track with vocals (using a vocoder, that alien-like voice synth) AND you'll be able to take these tools to create your own music.

You don't even need instruments--just three things:

  • A computer keyboard
  • A built in mic on your smartphone or computer
  • A free copy of Ableton Live (download a 30-day trial on their website)

I'll show you a trick for getting right to producing without playing a single note. You don't need to be a genius or talented -it's all there for you.

NOTE: The trial of Ableton lasts only 30 days, so make sure you finish this course quick so you can get started on new songs!

After this crash course, it should be easy enough for you to move beyond the song I teach you into new songs, including doing your own remixes and covers of any music.

What are the requirements?

  • A computer keyboard
  • A mic on your smartphone or computer
  • A free copy of Ableton Live (DL it free at ableton.com)

What am I going to get from this course?

  • You'll get the skills necessary to mix and produce a dance track with vocals using digital audio software
  • Learn to use MIDI to cover and remix existing songs
  • See how famous dance track makers put songs together
  • Experiment with software synths and effects
  • Manipulate vocal samples and loops
  • Use Daft Punk-esque vocoder effect on vocals

What is the target audience?

  • People with an interest in music production but no knowledge or experience of it
  • People not intimidated by or interested in sounding like a 'pro' but just want to make something cool

What you get with this course?

Not for you? No problem.
30 day money back guarantee.

Forever yours.
Lifetime access.

Learn on the go.
Desktop, iOS and Android.

Get rewarded.
Certificate of completion.

Curriculum

Section 1: Getting Set Up
01:01

Hi, thanks for deciding to try out this free Udemy course on Ableton Live. I think once you get over the somewhat intimidating look of Ableton, you'll realize just how much fun you can have with it. My goal is to fast forward to that fun part as soon as possible, to get you hooked and inspired by what is possible with this great program.

We're going to do our own version of Daft Punk's "Around the World" using a 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's website, and even after that trial expires, you still can play around with it with the saving and exporting features disabled.

If you have Ableton Live 8, don't sweat it, all of these things I am showing you are possible in that version, too.

What is MIDI?
Article
00:18

Session View is vertically oriented and best for recording, looping and playing songs live.

Arrangement View is horizontal (the track starts from the left and moves right) and is best for laying out pieces of a song and moving them around.

For this lesson we are mostly going to be working in Arrangement View.

Section 2: Laying Out The Track
01:09

Grab the "Around The World.mid" file and drag it onto Ableton in Session View. You should see it ghosting and lining up horizontally. If it doesn't do that automatically, hold down the command () key while dragging the MIDI file into Ableton.

Sometimes MIDI files are labeled ".midi" which won't work for Ableton. Change the end extension to ".mid" excluding the ending "i" before dragging it into Ableton. Sometimes you'll see that the drums, bass and other parts to a song are labeled. If they aren't, then we have to figure out what is what.

Here we see Synth 1, Synth 2, Synth 3, etc. and Percussion. We can assume the drum kit goes on the Percussion track.

Since this song mostly is synthesizers, it's just a matter of trying out different software instruments that Ableton offers to see what works.

00:53

Here we'll "arm" all the tracks in session view by hitting the triangle-shaped Arm button in the Master Track on the top right. Then we arm the Record button for the arrangement up on the top. Once we hit Play, it will record whatever is playing in Session View into Arrangement View.

Hit the TAB button to switch between views. You'll see the tracks laying down, but you don't have to wait until it's done recording. You can hit the square Stop button, select all the tracks (A) and just drag them out to the right. Somewhere you will hit the end of the song (marked by small hashes on the top and bottom of the midi files top bar).

The reason you can do this is because the entire song is already laid out in each of these tracks, in the midi data. Just make sure they all start at the same spot on the left, at the beginning of the song, so the timing matches up.

Section 3: Adding Instruments, Synths & Drums
01:33

In order to figure out what parts are what, we'll load a Grand Piano on every track. Once you've figured out what each track is, you can check with the original song to see what instruments and synths to use. If you aren't familiar with Ableton's instruments, now is a great time to dive into the Instruments folder. Click around and see what sounds you like.

There's no right or wrong way to go about choosing sounds or making a track. I often write on piano first and then replace the piano with other instruments and synths when I get the notes down.

Here we have a song laid out for us already, that's what these marks are, they are notes --so all you have to do is give it instruments to play.

I really recommend messing around here and finding what software instruments you like. If you find one you like and tweak it, you can save it in your own user library to keep it that way and you will always have quick access it.

That's another great thing about using MIDI files of songs that are already made, that you like and you are familiar with--it lets you figure out how to get that same sound to use for your own songs.

01:54

We'll start by grabbing a Drum Kit to lay down. On Daft Punk's Homework album they used a lot of 909 drums, they even have a song called "Revolution 909" on there.

So go to Drums and just look around, try stuff out. If you want a more 80's sound, try the Kit-Core 808, Kit-Core 909 or Kit-Core LD (which probably stands for Linn Drum). Also if you want a bunch of old drum machine sounds, you can grab a zip of them off my website.

I'm grabbing the Kit-Core 909, which sounds a little different than the one in the original song, so I'm going to tweak things, starting with the kick. The kick is hard to make audible sometimes, so we'll explain later how to make that punch.

I think the kick should be shorter in the decay and pitched up a bit. Then I like to grab drum presets from Ableton 8 because it makes any kick or snare sound great. Just search for the word "kick", grab Kick Processing and drag it over next to where the kick is selected.

The snare is almost non existent in the original, but there is a really big clap. It's not a 909 clap, but we can get close to it, just mess around with it until you get it good enough.

I'm going to pitch the hi-hats up and tweak a few parameters. Download and check the attached screenshots to reference how I tweaked each drum sound.

01:12

Just two quick steps to do in case you are getting weird glitchy sound or distortion on your track. Go to the menu at the top left, to Live > Preferences and then click on the tab labeled Audio. Here you will see an option to adjust the Buffer, which changes in milliseconds as you slide up and down.

What the buffer does is it helps your computer keep up with the song, especially if there are a lot of tracks playing with software MIDI instruments. Some computers can't keep up with a busy track, so it needs a few milliseconds of time (a buffer) so that it can keep up. If your sound is glitchy and not smooth, it's because your computer is slow, in which case you would want to increase the buffer size to make sure audio comes out smoothly.

However, when recording something directly into Ableton via a microphone or soundcard, then you would want to reduce this buffer time, so that there isn't too much delay on your voice.

Then go the Library and grab a Limiter and with the Master Track selected drag it onto the Audio Effects Area

The limiter keeps all audio at or below 0db (zero decibels). This means no matter how many sounds and instruments you put in, the song won't go into the red and distort on any sound system it's played on. This is a good habit to get into.

02:08

You could make a sound from scratch instead of digging around for one, but since this is a beginner tutorial, we'll just grab a pre-made synth and tweak it a bit.

This sound is what starts the song out. In the original song it has a plucky sound to it and delay on it, so I'll rename track 1 “Plucky Synth” (hitting ⌘R to rename).

Type "saw 10" into the search box above the library on the left, and look for the Saw10 Thin Reso Lead synth inside the Instruments > Analog > Synth Lead folder. Drag it onto the Synth 1 track.

Another synth that would work is the Bleep-PoiPoi synth. In Ableton 9 go into the Live 8 Library > Presets > Instruments > Analog folder and then the Synth Bleep folder, look for Bleep-PoiPoi. In Ableton 8 just search for the name.

Then I'll drop a Filter Delay on it, which is a great effect, and I'll set these parameters, which tell it when to echo, like every sixteenth beat or every sixth beat, etc.

Check the screenshots in the zip file included here to get the exact settings of the synth and Filter Delay down.

01:08

If you are in Ableton 8, you can use Mute Snap Guitar or Muted FM Guitar for a more digital sound, or use Guitar-Muted Strat for a much more real muted guitar sound. In Ableton 9 you could also use Strat3 Muted Guitar. To give it a more real sound, look for the Guitar-Light Chorus Clean Amp in the Live 8 Library > Presets > Audio Effects > Audio Effect Rack > Guitar Amp Clean folder. See the settings in the screenshots I attached here.

00:52

Ableton offers a great pack that is just bass and guitar, samples from real instruments, and it always sounds good. I recommend you go grab that pack if it’s still available on their website. Otherwise there are some synthesised options that we can go with.

If you have Ableton 8, you can use the W Thumb Bass or the Phat Electric Bass which both sound good, or if you are in Ableton 9, you can use the Boffner Bass. You might even consider duplicating this bass track (D) with a second bass synth, so you could pair W Thumb Bass with Boffner Bass and it would sound good.

You might notice that in the final Around The World.als file, I use a bass called Disco Bass Braxe 2, which is a bass synth from Ableton 8 that I tweaked. Feel free to use this in any future projects.

Also, if you have a keyboard and want to see how to play this bass line, I recommend you check out Point Blank Online's tutorial on it.

Check the accompanying screenshots for the settings on the bass synths.

01:52

Go grab the Bright Saw Lead from the Instumernts > Analog > Synth Lead > folder and drag it on to track 4. When you play it, you'll notice it's much higher compared to the original song. This may only be because of this particular synth's settings, not necessarily because the MIDI file is wrong.

To pitch the notes up or down, we can grab the MIDI Effect called Pitch and since we just want to move one octave (12 semitones) down, grab the Pitch -12 and drag that on to the track.

The Pitch effect only works with MIDI notes, not with Audio Tracks. So while you can change the notes of a track in real time with Pitch, you can't say change the sound of someone's voice in real time.

Again for the exact settings, download the accompanied screenshot of the settings attached here.

Section 4: Adding Vocals and Vocoder
02:42

So now let's just record the simple voice part. If you have a mic and know how to hook it up, go ahead. If you don't, here is an official Ableton video on it.

Recording Audio into Ableton (3min)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PbmTaJopec&list=UUgWZYUZjiidjWgfs95pJrWg

I'm doing it on my iPhone mic with the Voice Memos app just to show you how you don't need a bunch of equipment to make a great sounding song. Hopefully you know how to import audio from your voice memos app onto your computer.

Recording Vocals On Your iPhone

Use the headphones that came with your iPhone, put them in your ears and let the little mic dangle next to your mouth. You don't need to sing directly into it, since the mic is so sensitive you might be too loud and distort it or record your breath pops or nose wind if you hold it in front of you. If you don't have the iPhone headphones with the built-in mic, then use the phone's mic, holding it under your chin aiming up, a little ways away from your mouth to avoid pops from air coming out of your mouth.

Import Vocal Audio File

You might have to convert it to a wav or aiff in iTunes, but on a Mac you probably won't have to. And if you have a Mac, you probably have GarageBand, so feel free to do Autotune (Pitch Correction) to your vocals, just to clean it up.

Lay Vocal Into Arrangement

Last time we put something into the arrangement, we hit record and played something in session view. That works if you have a lot of tracks to lay down at once.

But if it's a short sample, you can just copy past it like this. Now we'll play it and try to line up the vocal with the beat. This sounds pretty good, despite my embarrassingly flat tone deaf singing, which even autotune / pitch correction couldn't correct.

Or Just Use My Vocal

If you are in a hurry or somehow you sound even worse than me singing, and just want a readily available wav file to use in your version, grab the zipped wav file I've attached here.

03:10

Again, if you want to skip most of this part, you can use my vocal which I've included in the Ableton Project that is zipped and included in this lesson. You don't need to use Warp or Quantize on your audio necessarily --I am just showing you because it is a really cool feature that Ableton has, particularly for lining up recordings of things that don't have a consistent BPM.

01:38

Here we will loop the vocal sample, by first selecting within the loop bracket, cropping the audio file using the Split (E) command to fit exactly in the bracket.

Then we use the Consolidate (J) command to create a new audio file that perfectly fits to the length of the loop bracket.

Finally just switch on the yellow Loop button and extend the right side of the audio sample out as far as you need!

02:47
  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.

    It's important that you remember to set the Carrier to External and choose the track that has your Vocoder Synth (the Bright Saw Lead) from the Audio From menu.

  2. Enhance The Vocoded Vocals
    Search for the Speech Enhancer audio effect and stick that before the Vocoder. This needs no adjusting.

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

    I recommend you experiment here putting the Glue Compressor and the EQ Eight after the Vocoder in the effects area to get your vocal sounding really clear and consistent.

    There are also presets in the Ableton Live 8 Library like Speech Enhancer, Speech Processing and others that will make your vocal sound very clear.
04:19
  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 most layman-friendly 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 noisy crowd. That is the effect we will be recreating here in our song.

    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 (labeled in the effects box as 'Q').

    Select inside the Frequency box, pull downwards and you'll see the curved line with the circle on it in the Auto Filter's diagram box move to the left. If you hit play on the song while doing this, you'll hear that underwater effect I'm talking about. You want to start our transition at around 220Hz and move it all the way up to the top, to full frequency.

    The way to automate this is while the Frequency box is selected, go into the Arrangement view and open up the Master Track by hitting the triangle inside the circle to the left of the words Master Track. Inside this window, 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 double-click again. Drag the node all the way to the top (to the high frequencies).

    Play your track from the beginning. What you'll hear is the frequency filter gradually going from only allowing low frequencies to allowing more and more more high frequencies in. Now you know the secret to building tension and excitement in nearly every EDM track out there. Sounds nice, doesn't it?
05:58

This is really best explained in the video. Editing MIDI notes is a very visual way of writing music, and the more you work in a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) like Ableton Live, the more you'll start to depend on your eyes.

Not only will you learn to know what sounds right, but also what looks right. This comes particularly in handy when making beats and percussion.

01:14
  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 as shown in the screenshot of my settings in the supplementary material attached to this lecture.

    Once you get the settings down, 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 channel.

    *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.
01:02

Review

  1. Load MIDI File by dragging the around_the_world.mid file into Ableton
  2. Record / Copy & Paste MIDI Tracks into Arragement View
  3. Load Piano Instrument into All Tracks to figure out what is what
  4. Add 909 Drums & Tweak the paremeters
  5. Replace the Piano Instruments on each track with appropriate synth instruments
  6. Record vocal line and import into Ableton, paste into Arrangement View and loop vocal sample
  7. Add Vocoder Effect to track containing the vocal sample
  8. Add New Synth line

Wrap Up

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.

*Remember, 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 sounding good together. Then you can just record 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.

Anytime you have questions or need help, hit me up on Twitter or at my website.


Have Fun!

Josh L. / Ableton Buddy

Section 5: Intro

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Instructor Biography

Josh Lundquist, Producer of Digital Music

I started making music when I was nine years old. After my brother showed me a Coldcut remix for Eric B & Rakim's "Paid In Full" on a casette in his jeep.

Back then, nobody would have called it 'making music,' because all I did was cut together different parts of a song and loop them by pausing and un-pausing the record button on my Sony high-speed dubbing tape deck. And it was insane fun.

This was in 1989, already sampling was becoming a thing. Five years later, Beck would release the crazy sample-filled Odelay, produced by the Dust Brothers. That idea of sampling, of taking one thing and turning it into a totally new thing, has informed my whole thought process.

When I was fourteen, I discovered that my old mac computer had a mini headphone jack and a microphone jack on it.

I played a sample from a Pizzicatto Five CD into my computer, using Hypercard, the only application that let you record a sound and then cue it like a sampler. That totally amazed me, it was the first time I looked at a sound.

Then a video editing program came pre-installed on our next computer. I had no videos, but the software had audio tracks. Multiple tracks. So I took a Portished song and remixed it using these multiple tracks.

For my first two or three albums, now only in the hands of a few people, I used samples liberally. Everything was a sample.

I loaded them into a program called "Player Pro" which was a 'soundtracker' program, looking like a vertical MIDI layout, and samples would cue when the cue bar rolled over them to the BPM. I used this for ten years, before any comprable music audio software had come out that was affordable. Back then it was just Cakewalk or some other antiquated overpriced "pro" audio programs, and my little free sound tracker.

Since moving to Tokyo in 2007, I've been using Ableton, the two events aren't necessarily related. I had the lite version until my girlfriend of the time asked me if I could clean up some audio they wanted to use as evidence in a court case.

The audio helped them win the trial and they got close to a hundred thousand dollars out of it. So she kindly put $500 of that towards buying me a full copy of Ableton.

Even then, it took me a good year to actually open it up and start making music, so I know how hard it can be to learn new tools. The good thing is I haven't stopped making music with Ableton since.

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