Ableton Live 12 has a tonne of new features, particularly when you get down to the small changes. As we've had the beta for quite a while now, we thought we'd do a quick rundown on our top ten favourite features at this point.
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Number 10 - CC Control
Designed primarily as a means of controlling MIDI hardware, such as synth modules for instance, this new MIDI effect sits at the beginning of the device chain as it transmits MIDI data. It can be run into Live's External Instrument device for example, if wanting to route that data out to external hardware, or it can go before any software instruments instead.
As default, the first 4 controls on the device are assigned to modulation, pitch bend, pressure and sustain, which are parameters you can send with a typical MIDI keyboard with a sustain pedal, whilst the remaining 12 controls are all freely assignable to any other CC numbers. As all these controls were only available inside MIDI clips in Live 11, having them on a device now provides new possibilities for controlling and automating in the arrangement, so there are benefits for all producers and performers.
Number 9 - Clip Editor Display Improvements
As Live's Clip Editor has evolved, there are more and more available controls and modes, which have tended to have been accessed from different areas of the Editor, like in different places within the accompanying tabs for instance. In Live 12, the layout of these common settings has been much improved, as a lot of parameters now live in instantly accessible places that will massively improve and speed up workflow.
The Editor grid has the resolution in the top right now, while 2 or 3 new tabs sit in the middle above the grid - these allow the editing of notes or sample settings to be toggled with parameter modulation (automation) and MPE in the MIDI Editor. Furthermore, these modes can all be switched using keyboard shortcuts. Finally, at the bottom, there are now important parameters like velocity randomisation and deviation (the new word for velocity range of notes) and the control being automated when in Envelopes mode.
Number 8 - Graphical Interface Updates
Lots of small changes have been made to Live's GUI, including improvements to the mixer's meters, which can now be fully extended to go almost fullscreen! However, the most significant updates are perhaps the removal of the letter switches down the right side, now replaced by 3 switches along the bottom in both views for showing and hiding the mixer, selected clip and device chain - yes, you can now display the mixer in Arrangement view! These switches are all independent too, which means any of those sections can be displayed in any combination for totally hybrid display setups on a single monitor.
Number 7 - Browser Tagging and Searching Overhaul
Whilst the addition of Collections to Live's browser was a welcome update some years back, and the recent appearance of effects categories also helped simplify a little, the best overhaul of all has finally happened in version 12. An extensive tagging system is now implemented that means sounds and presets can be labelled according to type, instrument or device, as well as any number of other attributes, such as character, genre, key and more.
Things can be located by selecting tags in the new filters section, and a new edit area has also been added for managing tags, so allowing adding, removing and even creating your own. Finally, there's also the ability to scroll back and forth through the search history using arrows in the search box, which is another really useful update.
Number 6 - Granulator III - Granular Synth Pack
The first instrument on our lineup isn't brand new but just in its latest iteration - Granulator III, the mighty granular synth by Robert Henke/Monolake. For Suite owners, this is an absolute must-have for your library. Simple to use and great for getting instant results, we fully recommend you get to know this one better, if you don't know it yet.
Number 5 - Meld
The only entirely new instrument in version 12 is a pretty fun one called Meld. Our first impressions were that it's a little like a simplified version of Wavetable, and although it does have some obvious wavetables, the switchable modes certainly step through a number of other engine types too, all the while being modified by two interchangable macro dials alongside. Also, the modes cover some highly playable styles with sub, sync, swarm and squelch.
Other aspects that have impressed so far have been the many filters, with vowel, comb, resonator and phaser options all available, and the multitude of modulation options with the giant matrices that are appearing on more and more Live devices over time. We're very much looking forward to hearing the preset bank that come with this one when the release comes out next year.
Number 4 - Roar: Multiband Distortion
This was the device that got me most excited in the certified trainer announcement last month. Having decent multiband distortion of any kind in Live’s library is incredibly useful, but Roar goes above and beyond, with an extensive and flexible effect capable of being set up in serial, parallel, multiband and even mid-side mode!
It also has a huge modulation matrix, like that on Wavetable and now Meld, so this feature is becoming increasingly widespread throughout the software. This means you can use Roar to create movement through swirling, shifting and snarling layers of distortion that will undoubtedly lead to all sorts of unexpected outcomes. In any case, it’s great to now have a Live effect that provides a worthy alternative to the 3rd-party effects I’ve had to use for this kind of processing up to now.
Number 3 - Fit to Scale
For anyone who struggles with music theory, this update is HUGE. A global scale can now be selected on the main control bar, next to the transport, and then be activated to have it appear within every MIDI clip, so that creating melodic content in the key of your music becomes easier than ever.
On top of this though, there are now Fit to Scale switches within every MIDI effect and even further into instruments (Meld so far, more to follow) and possibly even audio effects. These all make the software force the notes or frequencies into ones that are in the key of your music. Although knowledge of music theory should never be done away with if wanting to compose, this is going to be extremely useful for people who have a very hard time with it, or those who don’t have the best ear, but will also serve as a good reminder to any producer returning to a project and wanting to know what key they’re working in. Furthermore, having the Live developer team extend this to audio effects like Saturator and so on, as has been mentioned but not seen as yet, would be epic for everyone, as harmonics can be much harder to get control over!
Number 2 - Similar Sound Searching
A feature we’ve been loving for a few years in Loopcloud already has now made its way over to Live, in the form of Similar Sound Searching. As it suggests, this is the ability to instantly locate sounds that are similar to ones you’re currently using. It’s available in the browser, via a button or context menu option, which when selected then conducts a live search of the whole library to find similar sounds, then displayed in a list with a similarity bar to show how close to the original sound they are. This is a pretty amazing and very useful feature that saves time wading through a library to look for alternatives, and it even works with sounds you import into projects, so not just samples and presets in your library!
It’s also been implemented in Drum Racks, where the same button can be activated to then use arrows on each pad to scroll through similar sounds for each sample in the kit, so very cool to see this feature there too!
Number 1 - MIDI Generators and Transformers
For me, these led to the first jaw-dropping moment in the Live 12 demo. Although they have taken a minute to get to know properly since then, and I think there’s a way to go until they are perfected (I’m sure they will evolve greatly over time), in their current form these are some of the most useful MIDI tools I’ve ever seen in a DAW and should have a wide amount of useful applications for producers of all kinds. In combination with the Fit to Scale feature, they mean with just a few button presses you can generate melodies and chords sequences in the key of your music, which can be further transformed with ornaments, arpeggiation, time warping and much more!
Previously, MIDI effects have been able to carry out similar things on the device chain, but to see it in the Editor now, with such customisability and fun controls to work with is a thing of beauty! I’m really looking forward to seeing how this develops and will enjoy using these tools to teach the Producertech community how to make the most out of them.
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