How to make a DJ mix set using Ableton Live

There are many products with which to mix music together these days, but it seems that Ableton Live is the new industry standard of music performance software. Not only does it facilitate totally dynamic live loop mixing, but it's quite good at arranging songs with automation to make a high quality mix set. In this guide I will go over step-by-step of how to use it for that exact purpose.

My demo will use Live 5, but should apply to Live 6 as well.

Initial set up

If this is your first time using Live or if you've never used it to mix full length songs before, there are a few settings you will want to change in your preferences. Under Sample, you will want to set the Loop/Warp Short Samples to "Warped One Shot" and the Warp Mode to "Complex". This will do the best job handling full length songs overall.

The preferences menuThe preferences menu

Creating your project

Make a directory on your PC somewhere and put all of your songs in that you would like to use. In live, just create a new project in the File menu. When you go to save your project, make sure to save the live project file into the same directory as your songs. This is your project folder, and it's good to keep it all together so you don't lose anything later from moving songs, etc.

Live uses 2 views: Session view and Arrangement view. For what we're doing, you will only need the arrangement view. The way to switch between the views is with the two circular buttons on the upper right. The vertical lined button is for the session and the horizontal lined button is for the arrangement. Just click on the horizontal lined button to get to the right view.

Session ViewSession View

Arrangement ViewArrangement View

Adding your first song

Importing a song into Live is as easy as dragging and dropping the file from Windows file manager or OSX finder into an Audio Track in Live. In your new project, there should be 1 audio track and 1 midi track by default. You can delete the midi track now by clicking on it and hitting "delete" on your keyboard. Leave the audio track and drag your file in, placing the beginning on the first measure of the project.

Dragging and dropping your file into liveDragging and dropping your file into live

Warping the song

After your song is imported and analyzed, you can set/fix the warp points and bpm of the track. This is the most important step of getting things to mix together properly. The way I do this is to start by deleting all warp points if there are any. Live generally doesn't quite get them right for actual songs, although it does a good job with small (under 10 second) samples, but since we're not doing that right now we'll want to tweak this part by hand. Drag the green warp point labeled "1" over to make the line under it match up with the exact start of the first beat of the song. This varies a bit from song to song because many don't start on a beat but you need to find the beat start regardless. Scroll through the song checking to see that the beat lines match up in that same spot on every beat. It needs to be extremely close to correct all the way to the end. Adjust the BPM field if you're seeing that the beats are getting further away from the lines. This may take a little trial and error to figure out. The longer the song is the harder this step is, as you lose precision toward the end.

The way I do this is to zoom in on a part, check it, adjust if necessary, zoom out, move maybe 30 seconds down, zoom in, repeat. If the part you're planning on mixing out of isn't dead on beat in that warp view, it will not work. You'll struggle to mix the song or end up just giving up. If a song seems inconsistent, you will have to create warp points to stretch or squeeze parts to make the some consistent. Just grab any beat and move it to do this. It's very difficult to explain how, so trial and error will be necessary to learn. The more you play with it the better you'll understand it.

Warp - Finding the beginning of the songWarp - Finding the beginning of the song

Warp - Checking the end of the songWarp - Checking the end of the song

Adding another song

To add and mix in another song, start by creating an audio track. This is done by right clicking anywhere in the blank space under the existing track controls and then clicking "add new audio track."

Creating a new audio trackCreating a new audio track

Drag and drop in your song like you did for the first, then set up the warp for the song, again, like in the first example. Once that is done, you need to determine how these two songs are going to mixed.

Mixing the songs together

Start by moving the song to where you'd like the mix to begin. It's important to remember that you don't even necessarily have to have the mix audibly start there. You have all the same options (and more) that you have with a regular mixer. You can fade the song in, start with no bass, leave it with no volume for the first x number of beats, etc.. There are a few controls that will become important now. One is the bright green number on the right of the controls for the track. That is the "track on/off" button. When green, you can hear the track, when dark, you can't. The button next to that with the "S" on it is the solo. When you have multiple tracks mixed and you only want to hear one, clicking that on will solo that track and mute all others.

Automating volume changes

Underneath the title of the track (mine is "1 Audio"), click on the pull down and select "Mixer." Underneath that, click on the pull down and select "Track Volume." A red line will appear across the whole track. This line is representative of the track's volume. Double clicking anywhere on it will make a dot that you can drag around to control the volume change. To delete a dot, just click on it once and hit the delete key. In my example, I made 2 dots, one to start the fade out and one to end it, then I dragged them into the spots I wanted them at.

Mixer selected for track 1Mixer selected for track 1

Volume selected for track 1Volume selected for track 1

Automation control dot placed at beat 113Automation control dot placed at beat 113

Automation control dot placed at beat 159 and moved to bottomAutomation control dot placed at beat 159 and moved to bottom

Automating EQ changes

EQ Changes are similar to track volume changes except that you must use a plug-in. To add an EQ and automate it for a track, you must click the devices circular button on the left hand side of the screen, just under the triangle. Expand "Audio Effects" and click-and-drag the "EQ Three" from there into the track. A control for the EQ will appear in the bottom area. For that track, click under the track name (like for the volume) but instead of "Mixer", select "EQ Three." Under that you have several options. If you want to gradually change the EQ, use GainLo, GainMid or GainHi and use the same technique as audio volume for setting the dots on the red line. In my example, I use LowOn so that I can simple turn the bass off and on for the track. You'll see in the screenshot that the low line is where there is no bass and where it shoots straight up is where the bass turns on. This creates the effect during the mix of having no kick as the new song comes in.

The devices tree and EQ Three highlightedThe devices tree and EQ Three highlighted

Automating LowOn for track 2Automating LowOn for track 2

Repeat until finished

Keep adding tracks and dropping new songs in, following the steps above until you have completed your mix. If you run into mixing problems, try using different songs and above all, always make sure your warp-sync is set correctly at the beginning of every single song you use. It's ok if you have to make little tweaks that make the end of the song a little off for the sake of a tight-sounding mix, but if you try to mess with the beginnings of the songs, you may end up having lots of problems several songs later down in your mix due to a cumulative effect.
repeat @ create new track until mix is finished

107 Comments

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DJ in Ableton

I have seen some of the best DJ's out there using the arrangement window for live sets, there is no correct or incorrect way to do such. Whatever works for you is the right way to mix

Export your mix - Do this first!

Select all the contents in the Arrangement view before exporting, with CTRL-A (PC) or Command-A (MAC).

How to Export as one?

I followed the guide and after 3 days of mixing and finally piecing everything together. I'm finding it difficult to export all the audio tracks as one. It either exports as 0 seconds one at a time or when i select all, it exports as multiple audio tracks rather than fusing into one long 35min mix. Am i taking a wrong step somewhere.

music

wanna make a mix

Mixmeister Comment

How good is the sound quality with mix mixmeister? I know you can change the tempo, without effecting pitch, but Does it degrade the quality of the audio?

Thanks

Great tutorial, what about songs with different BPMs?

Great tutorial man, pretty straight forward. I have one question though, I tend to use Virtual DJ to see which songs will blend in nicely. VDJ has a function called "sync" that automatically matches the BPM to another song and syncs up with the kick drum (You can later return to the original BPM after you finally switch songs if you want). How can you do something like this on Ableton? Is there a way to change the BPM (or pitch) of a song temporarily (so it blends in) and then bring it back to the original tempo? How do you deal with songs that have different BPM's?

can you do a Video Tutorial

can you do a Video Tutorial please

Unless they are both

Unless they are both Electronic Dance songs, excluding dubstep and other songs with crazy swings in tempo, then you'd have to warp it manually every time, that said, for EDC songs, you can set a 1.1.1, then set the warp to straight, then all you'd have to warp manually would be a couple parts in the middle and end of the song.

Thanks

Thanks for posting this, it is a big a help for me. Lot of basic questions answered ! :D Cheers !!! and thanks again !!!

Try installing Quicktime(I am

Try installing Quicktime(I am serious). It helped me when I had the same problem.

Complex warp is not available

Complex warp is not available in Ableton Live Intro. Plus, it has limited scenes and channels so you need to get Ableton Live specifically for that.

You should really update from

You should really update from that old mess. The warping on Ableton Live 8(not Live 5) is much better and improved. It has multiple warp types as well so you really need to upgrade if you still use Live 5.

I use Live 5 Forget intro the

I use Live 5

Forget intro the warping is terrible, I wasted money on it !!!

Part 2 (intermediate)

Just want to see where we go to from here, mixing using your EQ seems fairly straight forward.
any effects that I should note down to use? Can you go on to explain Automation with effects and loops and using the mute buttons a little more that would be appreciated - or just link me somewhere that does thanks.

Allright... Nice, but I would

Allright... Nice, but I would like to know how copy Warp "preset" set on one track to other tracks. I explain- I'm exporting from other DAW 9 tracks of that same song. Now I want to synchronize them without every track Warp setting. Anyone knows how can i do that?

fff

i can't load the songs, says that they are corrupted

If I remember correctly -

If I remember correctly - complex is the only mode that works well on normal music. FWIW - I did a 3 hour mix in MixMeister the other day and found it to be significantly easier than live. I'm going to recommend it for this type of thing now.

Warp Mode

How important would it be to have warp mode as complex? I ask because I was looking at getting the cheaper version of Ableton, Ableton intro, because this is all I would be using it for - however, it does not have the ability to set warp mode to complex.

I like using a new track for

I like using a new track for every song but if you have a good reason to reuse tracks it could work that way.

new track for each song?

should I create a new track for each song (so if there are 20 songs in my mix, it would be 20 tracks) or should I drop the 3rd song in the 1st audio track (and then the 4th song into the 2nd audio track)?

As others have said, great

As others have said, great tutorial. Had me up and creating a mix in 15 minutes. Thanks!

pre cueing songs when djing live using session

fisrt great no nonsense tutorial for studio mixing.

however i wish to use this for live djing and have hit a stubling block.

i have mac book and m-audio firewire sound card

how do i select which channel my headphones play - where in preferences can i select channel outputs

short simple precise.

short simple precise.

excellent.

thx.

cool

I'm currently running Live 8 but this was still pretty helpful. Thanks.

Thanks

I've got lots of vinyl which doesn't come out at an exact tempo when ripped to mp3. Your tutorial on warping and setting up a studio mix is something i've been looking for for ages. Big BIG THANKYOU. I'm really gratefull for you taking the time to share.

yeah i've the same

yeah i've the same problem.it's usefull for CD mix ecc, but i don't know how to make a live dj set. .

just use file--> export

just use file--> export audio/video or (ctrl+shift+R) and then choose the length u want to export :

This isn't about setting up

This isn't about setting up for a live show, it's about making a precision studio mix. Session view is what you'd want for live looping, like you've suggested.

cant use live

Your way off and missing a lot of details on how to use Live. Yes, your two tracks show different native BPMs in the track view BPM field but live is actually mixing based on the global BPM setting at the top of the program screen. This is the actual one and only BPM setting of your set. If you did want to change BPMs while transitioning between tracks or whatever to reflects the native BPMs this is easy too, you can automate it. If your tracks are sounding out of sync then your warping is off. There is more to beatmatching and warping tracks than just clicking on the warp box.

True. There is actually a

True. There is actually a more DJ intuitive way to mix tracks using Ableton Live. I see that most net tutorials like this one use the arrangement view for Djing. Arrangement view if for post hoc editing of a set or for creating a mix CD. No way I would use this live. Learn to DJ using a mixer or midi controller through Ableton Live's session view. You can fool around with mixing tracks in real time from session view from your keyboard to get the idea. This is how DJ's use Live to play out. Again arrangement view is not for Djing in real time.