The clue’s in the name, really: Live. Although Ableton’s software can do most of the things that other DAWs specialise in, right from the very first version, it’s always had a strong performance strand running through its DNA.
While this is certainly good news for anyone who finds the prospect of using an old-school, sequencer-style application rather tedious, what it does mean is that you need to think carefully about how you want to control Live. And once you’ve sat down and had a little ponder, there’s a strong possibility that you’ll conclude a mouse/keyboard combination simply isn’t quite up to the job.
There are several reasons for this, perhaps the biggest being that, if you’re using a mouse, you can only adjust one parameter at a time, unless you use the macro controls, in different scenarios. Assigning Live’s functions to QWERTY keys can give you more flexibility, but let’s face it: tapping away on the keyboard you use to type your emails doesn’t exactly scream ‘creative’.
The solution, of course, is a dedicated hardware control surface, of which there are many. It’s hard to think of a model on the market that isn’t compatible with Ableton Live, but they vary so much in terms of price, look and functionality that it might not be immediately obvious which will best suit your requirements.
Live’s potential as a performance tool is quite widely accepted, and if you plan to use the software in front of a crowd, you’ll likely want a box with plenty of buttons/pads that you can use for triggering clips, and knobs for tweaking of parameters. Backlighting & LED indicators are things to look out for, too – when you’re onstage, you’ll need to be able to see what’s happening at a glance. Size should also be a consideration: if your mobile Live setup currently consists of you and a laptop, you’ll probably want a controller you can sling in your backpack rather than one that’ll require its own flightcase.
If you’re coming to Live from a DJ’ing background, the temptation may be to go for a two-channel control surface that apes the hardware you’re accustomed to, but while these are widely available, and their familiarity will be a bonus in the short term, don’t automatically assume that this is the best solution. Over a longer period, you may come to regret not buying something that you will enable you to exploit more of Live’s enormous flexibility.
For those who use Live in a studio environment, the criteria that a controller must meet will be slightly different. If it’s going to be sitting on your desk for the majority of the time, portability is unlikely to be so much of an issue and you might prefer a device with a standard mixer-style layout and transport/function buttons. Long-throw, motorized faders may also be on your must-have list.
(via Computer Music Special: MusicRadar.com)
Check out these Ableton Live-friendly controllers that are currently available in store (via The Inventory).
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