Ableton Live 11 is a powerful digital audio workstation (DAW) that allows you to record both MIDI and audio tracks.
Whether you want to record vocals, instruments, or samples, Ableton Live provides multiple tools and workflows to capture professional sounding audio.
In this guide, we’ll walk through the different ways to record external audio into Live 11.
Setting Up Audio Inputs
Before you can record audio, you need to set up your audio interface or soundcard inputs in Live’s Preferences. Here are the steps:
- Open Live and go to Options > Preferences > Audio
- Under Audio Input Device, select your audio interface
- Under Input Config, enable and select the inputs you want to use
- Set the Input Channels to match the number of active inputs
- If needed, adjust the Input Gain knobs to set input levels
Once your inputs are configured, those sources will appear when selecting audio tracks to record to. Make sure to select the correct input sources when recording.
Recording Audio Tracks
Here are the main ways to record external audio into Ableton Live 11:
Record Audio Clips
- Add an audio track using the Create menu
- Arm the track for recording by clicking the Arm Session Record button
- Select the desired input source from the In dropdown menu
- Click the Record button to start recording
- Play your audio source (mic, instrument, etc)
- When done, click Record again to stop
- Your audio clip will appear in the track as an Audio Clip
Use this method to quickly capture audio ideas, loops, or phrases into the Session View.
Record Linear Audio
- Add an audio track
- Arm the track for recording
- Select the input source
- Enter Arrangement View
- Move the playhead where you want to start recording
- Click the Control+R keys to start recording
- Play your audio source
- When done, click Control+R to stop recording
This will record your audio in real-time as a linear track directly in the Arrangement View timeline. Use this to record full takes into the arrangement.
Record Takes into Loops
- Add an audio track and arm it for recording
- Click the Arm Recording button in the clip slot where you want to record the take
- When ready, click Record or Control+R to start recording a take
- Play the audio source to capture it into the loop
- When done, stop recording
- Repeat steps 2-5 to record multiple takes in the loop slots
This approach allows non-linear, loop-based recording of multiple takes across several audio loops.
Recording MIDI Tracks
In addition to audio tracks, you can also record MIDI data from external synths/controllers into Live:
- Add a MIDI track
- Select the input source (i.e. controller) for the In dropdown
- Arm the track for recording
- Click Record and play your MIDI controller
- When done, disable Record to stop capturing MIDI notes
- The MIDI clip will appear with the captured MIDI notes
Use this to record and sequence external MIDI gear like synthesizers, drum machines, etc.
Automation allows you to record changes to parameters like volume, panning, or effect controls over time. To record automation:
- Click the Automation Arm button on the track
- Play the session
- Adjust the parameter to automate (volume, filter, etc)
- The changes will be recorded into the track’s automation lane
- Disable Automation Arm when done recording automation
Use automation to create dynamic, evolving changes to your tracks over time.
Using Overdub Mode
Overdub mode allows non-linear recording by continuing to add takes into looped clips:
- Arm the track and start recording to capture initial takes
- When done recording the initial loop, click the Overdub button
- Now additional takes can be recorded into the same loop non-linearly
- Disable Overdub to stop adding takes to the loop
Enable Overdub when you want to build up layered recordings loop by loop.
Punching in/out allows you to drop in and out of recording at precise points. To punch in/out:
- Set the Punch In and Punch Out markers where you want to start/stop recording
- Arm the track and click Record
- When the playhead reaches the Punch In point, recording will automatically activate
- Once the playhead passes the Punch Out point, recording will deactivate
Use punching to seamlessly drop-in record specific sections of your tracks.
Once you’ve finished recording your audio tracks, you can bounce down the recordings for exporting or further production:
- Solo the tracks you want to bounce
- Go to File > Export Audio/Video
- Set export options like bit depth and sample rate
- Click Export to save the bounced audio file
Bouncing your audio can be useful for opening the tracks in another DAW or clearing up CPU/RAM resources in Live while retaining the recordings.
Recording External Audio – Tips
- Use the metronome/click track when recording for easier editing and tempo alignment
- Make sure to monitor audio inputs while recording to avoid clipping
- Arm multiple tracks at once to record several sources simultaneously
- Use the Looper device on tracks to seamlessly loop takes and layers
- Adjust the latency/delay when monitoring to synchronize overdubbing
- Use Live’s warp features to correct timing/pitch of loose recordings
- Add fades to clip edges to smooth out punch in/outs
What sample rates should I record at?
44.1kHz is standard for most applications. Higher sample rates like 48kHz, 88.2kHz, or 96kHz can potentially capture more fidelity for high resolution audio. But higher rates also use more storage space.
How should I set input gain levels before recording?
Aim for peak signal levels around -12 to -6 dBFS when recording to allow headroom and avoid clipping. Watch the track meters and adjust the input gains as needed. Leaving around 6dB of headroom from 0dBFS is recommended.
What bit depth should I use to record audio?
24-bit is the standard bit depth for most recording now. It provides enough dynamic range to capture all the detail and nuances of a performance, while keeping file sizes manageable. 16-bit can also work fine, but has less headroom. Higher bit depths like 32-bit float allow more dynamic range but aren’t necessary for most usage.
How can I reduce latency when recording?
Lowering the audio buffer size in Live’s audio settings can reduce latency, but also increases CPU load. Finding the right buffer size balance for your system is key. Using an audio interface with direct monitoring can bypass any buffering latency when recording. You can also shift audio clips backwards after recording to compensate for latency.
What are the different recording workflows?
The main workflows are loop-based recording in Session View, linear multi-track recording in Arrangement View, and a combination of both. Use Session View to quickly capture loops and ideas. Use Arrangement View for traditional multi-track recording of full song structures. Combine both for detailed production and arranging of looped parts.
Ableton Live provides extremely flexible tools for recording MIDI and external audio content. Whether you need to quickly capture song ideas or record complete multi-track arrangements, Live has you covered. Setting up inputs, configuring tracks, using punch-in/outs, and employing different session modes allows you to sculpt professional recordings and compositions. So arm those tracks, set your levels, and start recording your next hits in Ableton Live 11!