Free DJ Lesson: Introduction to DJing with Ableton Live

Check out our latest free DJ lesson on DJ Courses Online, the leading online DJ school. In this video you’ll learn how to DJ with Ableton Live. You’ll learn about a number of Ableton’s DJing features like warping audio/song to change the tempo of songs (with or without affecting the pitch) – this is helpful for remixes. You’ll also learn about mixing, crossfading, and more.

For those who are audio impaired, here’s a full text transcript of the lesson:

Alright, in this tutorial we are going to go over basic DJ-ing in Ableton Live in their session view. Now, as you can see I have two tracks set up right now in live, and you want to think of each track as a virtual deck or virtual turntable. So, once you have that set up you want to drag an audio clip onto the first deck and let us take a listen to it. Once that is loaded and you can hear it the next thing you want to do is warp the track. And what warping does is it beat maps or beat grades the track out and allows you to play it at whatever the master global tempo is. As you could see right here, it is set at one ten. So once a clip is warped properly it will play at whatever the global tempo is set at.
Now the quickest way to warp a track is you want to turn on warp and then you want to find the very first downbeat of the track. In this case, it is at the very beginning of the song. From there you want to right click and then you want to click warp from here. And if I zoom out, I am going to undo that and show you again. You will see that the waveform will shift, so that the downbeats move to where the corresponding bar numbers are as you could see right there. Now that this is warped, if I change the master global tempo so will the play back of this clip. It is really fast, and I can go really slow with it.
So, let us put it back to 110, and let us go and do this for a second track on deck two. So again, load the track. Let us take a listen, and let us zoom in a little bit, turn on the warp real quick, find the first down beat and right click, and warp from here. And you can see that the waveform shifted. Let us do that again, zoomed out so you could see that again. Right click, warp from here and you can see how it shifted and let us go and adjust the master tempo again if you are in this one play formed a master tempo.
Alright, so let us do this for two more tracks. Here is a third track same process. Here it is unwarped. So let us zoom in, find the first downbeat and right click and select warp from here, and let us take a listen to that. So, now let us do this for a fourth track in the same process. So that is unwarped, zoom in, find the first downbeat, turn on warp, right click and warp from here and let us listen to this. Now if you look at the clip inspector under the warp settings, you will see that the native tempo of the clip is listed once it has been warped. So this one is around 95 bpm at its normal speed and it is now playing at what the master tempo is set at.
So, the next thing I want to show you is the retrigger of the clip setting right here in the top left corner. Right now it is set to one bar, which means that whenever I trigger a clip, it won’t start playing until the next bar marker is reached. Now, you can adjust that to be smaller upto 132nd note or you can go to nine where it is just basically free hand and it will just retrigger as fast as I can click on it, which you can hear over here. If I were to switch it to let us say an eighth note, it will only retrigger as fast as every eighth note. So, if I try to click faster it won’t let……it won’t start it until the next eighth note is hit. Sixteenth note, let’s me go a little bit faster and quarter note will be slower. This is about as fast as I can retrigger on the quarter note. Now, this is really intended to keep you from triggering clips off beat. So, for this tutorial we will keep it at one bar, since we are just mixing full songs.
So, now we have everything warped. We can now start mixing these tracks. So I am going to start with the first clip on deck one and I am going to have the volume turned down on the fader for deck two. So I will only hear deck one playing. Now I just triggered a clip on deck two, I am going to slowly bring up the volume fader on that track and you will hear the songs mix and I will slowly fade out on deck one. So, there you have a basic blended mix, sort of like you would do on two turn tables and now I am going to slowly bring in the next clip on deck one and bring up that volume fader and now I will trigger the last clip on deck two and slowly bring up the fader there while brining down the fader on deck one.
So, in this example we were mixing tracks using the volume input faders, but if you wanted a more traditional DJ feel, Ableton does have a cross fader function. As you can see the A and B down here under each track corresponds to a different side of the cross fader. So I am going to set deck one to A and deck two to B. And you will see the cross fader down here under the master fader and if you take a listen as I move the fader you will hear deck one only, and then you will hear a blend as the fader goes to the middle. And then as I move it all the way to the right, you will be left hearing only deck two. So, check this out. So, there is a simple cross fade. Let us bring it back to deck one and back to deck two.
Now, one thing I notice is that the clip levels are a lot different between clips. So, you can adjust the volume of each clip using the volume fader within the clip inspector. If you look over here; let me turn this one up. Get a little bit closer. Just let me turn this one down a little bit to the last and this one up just a little bit more. Now, let us check out the songs on deck one. This one is a little bit louder. So let me bring up the second clip to get closer to it in level. So, that is pretty close, you can always fine-tune it to get it a little closer, but for now that should do the job.
Now, as you can probably hear and see by looking at the master channel, this overall mix is clipping or going into the red. It is a little too high. So you can turn this down over all or what I like to do also is put a limiter onto the master track. And what this does is it prevents any audio from going past a certain point. And the point in this case is going past zero, because that is where it starts to clip. So, you immediately hear a difference now as the audio is prevented from clipping. Now, you still don’t want to push too hard into the limiter, you want to keep the levels at a reasonable level, but just in case you lose track of your levels while you are in the mix it is a good idea to put this limiter on the master track.
Alright, so now we have got our levels set and we have got our tracks warped. We can now start to play with some effects to enhance our mixing. One of my favorite plug-ins that I like to use is a free third party plug-in called the QB Filter. And you can set it up to be a dual high pass and low pass filter. So, I will put one on this first track and I will switch the mode to dual low pass-high pass. Now set it to point five, which means it will be neutral meaning no filtering is going on. And let us just take a listen to it as I moved the fader. So, it is a low pass filter when you move to the left and then a high pass when you move to the right. I also like to put the filter resonance to about point three, and what that does is, it gives you a little bit of a frequency boost where the filter is set, giving you a little more pronounced effect. So, let us go ahead and duplicate this on the second track so we have a filter on both dual low pass-high pass, set it to point five, and we will go to about point three on the resonance. So, just listen as I filter one out, it is kind of a cool way to transition between two songs as opposed to just using a cross fader or volume levels.
So now I am going to show you how to incorporate a send effect into the mix. As you can see I have two effects busses on the right. And I am going to drag the simple delay on to the first one right here. I am going to link the left and right channel of the delay and set the timing to four. I am going to make it 100% wet and we will turn the feedback up a little bit, so it gets some repeats on our delay. Now, when I play the track on deck one, if I turn up the level on send-A, you will hear the delay kick in. Turn the delay up a little bit more or the send up a little bit more to give us an even louder delay. And you can do this same thing for deck two. Let me quickly just move this filter to a neutral position, and now I am going turn the send up on deck one, echo out to deck two. And I am going to do a little combination of sending deck two to the delay and then filtering the track, so what you heard now is a filtered delay.
So, that is a basic introduction into using Ableton Live as a DJ interface. What is really powerful about Ableton in this capacity is that you can really have an unlimited amount of virtual decks, if you want to layer more and more sounds and songs together. You also have a multitude of VST and audio unit plug-ins that you can incorporate as effects. And in future tutorials, we will go over incorporating MIDI controllers and virtual instruments to further enhance your DJ set.