Ableton Live 11 is a powerful digital audio workstation (DAW) that allows you to record, edit, mix and master audio.
With its flexible workflow and multitude of built-in effects and instruments, Live 11 is a great choice for music production, sound design, and live performance.
One of Live 11’s standout features is its ability to quickly capture audio from various sources. Whether you want to record vocals, guitars, electronic instruments or sample from external devices, Live provides several methods to get sound into your projects.
In this article, we’ll walk through the different ways to record audio in Ableton Live 11.
Preparing to Record
Before you start recording, there are a few things you’ll want to check to ensure the best results:
Set Up Your Audio Interface
To record into Live, you’ll need an audio interface with inputs that can accept signals from microphones, instruments, etc. Connect mics, guitars, keyboards or other gear to your interface inputs.
Make sure to install any required drivers for the interface on your computer. Select your interface in Live’s Preferences > Audio.
Configure Inputs and Outputs
In Live’s Preferences > Audio, select your desired input(s) under Audio Input Config. You may want individual mono inputs for recording vocals and instruments separately.
Under Audio Output Config, select your interface’s outputs. This routes audio from Live to your speakers or headphones.
In Live, you’ll record audio clips onto tracks. Make sure the Arm button is enabled on any track you want to record into. Disarm any tracks you don’t want to record to.
Set Recording Input
For each armed track, open the I/O section and select the desired input source, such as a mic or instrument input from your interface.
Check your input levels going into Live. Speak/sing into a mic or play your instrument. The input meters in Live should display activity and not peak in the red. Adjust gain as needed on your interface or in Live.
Create a New Live Set
Start a new Live Set to contain your recorded material. Drag in any VST instruments or effects you may want to use while recording.
Okay, now we’re ready to start recording! Live provides several methods, depending on your needs.
Loop recording is useful for gradually layering takes. It continuously records audio in a cyclic loop buffer, allowing you to capture multiple passes that you can then edit between.
To loop record:
- Arm the track(s)
- Press the Control Bar’s Loop Record button (or press Ctrl+Shift+L/Cmd+Shift+L)
- Start recording by pressing the Record button
- Play/perform your take
- When done, stop playback but leave the track armed
- Live will keep recording on a loop so you can play more takes one after another
- When finished, disarm the track or press Loop Record again to stop
- You’ll see all the takes stacked in a single clip on the armed track(s)
- Edit between takes by dragging clip edges or in the Clip View sample editor
Session View recording captures clips live as you trigger them. This works well for experimenting with looped clips and arrangements.
To session record:
- Arm the track
- Click the Session Record button
- Launch clips/scenes in Session View to start recording into them
- Press Session Record again to stop capturing clips
- Newly recorded clips will appear in their slots marked with a red Clip Launch button
- By default, launching a new clip will first delete any existing clip in that slot. Hold Shift when launching to layer new takes.
- Set the Global Record mode to “Multi-track” to allow recording multiple tracks simultaneously when launching clips.
This records linearly along Live’s Arrangement timeline to build full songs, mixes, etc.
To arrange record:
- Arm track(s)
- Position the playback in the Arrangement where you want to start
- Press the Control Bar’s Arrangement Record button (or Ctrl+R/Cmd+R)
- The timeline will flash red as it records
- Play/perform your take as the cursor advances
- When done, press Arrangement Record again to stop
- Your take will be captured as a clip on the armed track(s) in the Arrangement
- New takes will layer on top of previous passes rather than erasing them. Delete unwanted sections by hand later.
- Punch in/out recording is possible to only capture certain parts of an arrangement. Set locators then enable punch in Live’s transport.
In addition to bringing live audio into Live, you can also record the output of tracks and instruments within Live itself. This is called resampling.
To resample Live clips/tracks:
- Add an Audio Track
- Arm it and choose the “Resampling” input
- Solo the track(s) you want to resample
- Play the Session View clips or Arrangement section you want to capture
- Press Record to sample the Live output directly to the armed resampling track
Resampling is useful for:
- Freezing tracks to conserve CPU
- Capturing MIDI instrument recordings as audio clips
- Processing tracks through effects then recording the result
- Live jamming/improvisation
Recording Audio From External Sources
Beyond recording mics/instruments, you can bring audio from records, tapes, YouTube clips, smartphones and other sources into your Live sets:
- Vinyl – Connect turntables to phono inputs on your audio interface. Select these as inputs on armed tracks in Live.
- Tape – Connect a tape deck output to your interface inputs to digitize cassette, reel-to-reel tapes, etc.
- Mobile Devices – Use a cable or adapter to connect your phone/tablet headphone output to your interface. Or use wireless Airplay.
- Computer Audio – To capture streaming audio, video soundtrack, etc., use audio routing software such as Soundflower (Mac) or VoiceMeeter (Windows) to feed computer audio into Live.
- External Synths/Mixers – Connect hardware instrument and mixer outputs to your interface to record them.
- MIDI – To record external MIDI gear, connect MIDI out cables to your interface’s MIDI input. Add an External Instrument track in Live set to “In” and send MIDI out to your hardware synths, drum machines, etc. The incoming audio will be recorded to the track.
Get creative capturing audio from anywhere using Live’s flexible recording options.
Clip Recording Options
There are a few options that determine how Live’s clip recording behaves:
- Record Quantization – This quantizes clip starts/stops to the grid, beat, bar, etc. Useful for rhythmic recordings but can truncate non-quantized performances. Turn off for natural recording.
- Record Arm – When set to “Multiple”, recording into one armed track also captures input to any other armed tracks simultaneously. If set to “Exclusive”, only the most recently armed track will record.
- Record Mode – Set to “Take” to erase previously-recorded clips on re-recording. “Overwrite” layers new recordings on top of old. “Create New Lane” keeps all takes stacked vertically in lanes.
Adjust as desired for your recording workflow.
In addition to audio, tracks in Live can record MIDI performances from controllers, keyboards, etc.
To record MIDI:
- Connect a MIDI controller to your interface’s MIDI input
- Create a MIDI track in Live and select the controller as its input
- Arm the track and press Record to capture MIDI notes/data to the track
- MIDI is recorded to clip slots identically to audio
Tips for MIDI recording:
- Enable Monitoring on the track to hear your MIDI instrument live during recording
- Add effects plugins to process the sound from your MIDI device
- Use the clip envelopes to edit controllers like modulation wheel, pitch bend, etc.
Comping and Audio Editing
Once you’ve recorded your tracks, you can tidy them up:
- Comping – Compile the best parts of multiple takes into a single master clip on the track. Delete unused clips.
- Clip Fades – Create quick crossfades between clips to smooth out transitions.
- Consolidate – Condense a layered clip down to only the used sections to save disk space.
- Transpose – Tune vocal takes to the right pitches or creative harmonies using clip transpose.
- Quantize Audio – Snap rhythmic clips to the grid for tight timing. Go to Clip View Sample box.
- Reverse – Flip clips backwards for cool effects. Also in Clip Sample box.
And much more! Ableton Live provides endless creative options for transforming your recordings.
Mixing and Effects
With clips recorded, it’s time for the fun part – adding effects and mixing! Ableton Live comes packed with supercharged built-in effects for processing audio and MIDI tracks:
- EQ Eight – Essential 8-band graphic EQ for shaping track tones.
- Compressors – Add punch and balance levels with the Glue Compressor, Compressor, and more.
- Delay – Create space and textures with the ping-pong Echo, gritty Analog Delay and others.
- Reverb – Add natural spaces and ambience with the Convolution Reverb Pro, pedalboard-modeled Reverb, and more.
- Amp/Cabinet – Dial up guitar/bass amps and speaker cabinets like Amp, Cabinet, and Pedal.
- Beat Repeat – Chop and repeat drum loops, vocals, and more with this glitchy effect.
Mix and match any number of effects on each track to sculpt the perfect sound.
For MIDI tracks, additional effects process or generate MIDI before it reaches your instruments:
- Arpeggiator – Turn chords into arpeggios and sequences.
- Chord – Triggers chords from single notes.
- Scale – Force notes to a specific scale and key.
- Velocity – Modify note velocities and dynamics.
- Random – Adds controlled randomness for interesting results.
Chain MIDI effects to dramatically transform the MIDI leaving Live before it plays your synths and plugins.
Racks and Sends
For advanced effect processing and routing, Live also provides Racks and Sends:
- Instrument/Drum/Effects Racks – Combine multiple instrument and effect chains into custom layered racks with split outputs.
- Audio Effect Racks – Create advanced multi-effects racks with custom routing, mixing and splitting within the rack.
- Return Tracks – Add shared “send” effects that process multiple tracks routed to them. Useful for reverb and delay.
Racks and sends take your mixing capabilities even further.
Mixing and Automation
Once you’ve got your tracks sounding great alone, it’s time to balance and polish them together in a mix using:
- Track Levels – Mix tracks together by setting appropriate volume levels and panning for balance. Follow basic gain staging practices.
- Clipping – Use the Control Bar’s Master track meters to avoid clipping and leave headroom. Turn down levels or use limiters if necessary.
- EQ – Cleanly carve out space in the frequency spectrum for each track using EQ cuts. Listen for muddiness and masking.
- Compression – Use track compression to shape transients and get instruments sitting well together.
- Effects – Use send effects like reverbs to glue the mix together and create space. Pan sends for wide stereo imaging.
- Automation – Bring your mix to life by recording fader, pan, and effect parameter changes over time. Draw in the Arrangement or record live passes.
Finesse your mix to achieve the sound you want. Export the final mixdown for release!
What basic gear do I need to record in Live?
At minimum, you’ll need:
- Computer running Ableton Live
- Audio interface with inputs to connect mics, instruments, etc.
- Headphones or studio monitors to hear playback
- Microphones, instruments, gear to record
- MIDI controller if recording MIDI parts
- Cables to connect everything
What are arm, monitor and solo used for?
- Arm enables a track to record audio/MIDI input sent to it. Disarm tracks you want to leave playback only.
- Monitor plays the input audio through the track in realtime while recording, so you hear what you’re recording. Disable to record silently.
- Solo mutes all non-soloed tracks so you only hear the track(s) soloed, allowing you to focus on them in isolation.
How can I record a mic and guitar on separate tracks?
First, connect each to different inputs on your audio interface. Next, create two separate audio tracks in Live. Arm both tracks for recording. Then in the I/O section of each track, set one track to record the mic input and the other to record the guitar input. Now pressing record will capture both simultaneously onto their own tracks.
Can I record instruments and mics in stereo?
Yes, you can set tracks to record in mono or stereo. Use stereo inputs on your interface and pan controls on the track to place elements in the stereo field. Note that many mono mics/instruments will record just to one side if using a stereo input – use mono inputs for them.
What are good practices when recording audio?
- Use high-quality mics/gear to capture clean recordings at the source
- Monitor levels carefully and leave ample headroom, don’t clip inputs
- Record at high bit depths (24-bit or 32-bit float)
- Capture raw unprocessed recordings to preserve quality
- Leave effects/processing until mixing stage
- Get the best sound at the source through quality instruments, mics and performances
Ableton Live provides extremely versatile tools for recording all kinds of audio and MIDI from any source. Whether capturing live instruments, vocals and performances or bringing in sounds from the studio and beyond, Live will let you easily record them as clips in your projects.
With a little setup of your gear, inputs and track settings, you can be quickly capturing top-notch recordings. And Live’s array of built-in instruments, effects and creative features give you endless options for transforming and enhancing your recordings.
So grab your gear, fire up Ableton Live 11, follow these tips, and start recording your next masterpiece today!