Ableton is one of the most common software packages for making pre-recorded sets. Although it comes with all the features to create high quality mixes, some young DJs fail due to a lack of knowledge. In order to help you learn, we’ve put together a guide on how to make a professional DJ set in Ableton.
Set Up the Workstation and Import Tracks
Open Ableton and create a new audio channel if there aren’t any already. Depending on the length of the mix, create at least two channels, each supporting up to ten tracks.
Import the tracks into the project view. The sequence of tracks you import doesn’t matter, same goes for positioning them in audio channel slots, as you will re-arrange them later in arrangement view.
Note that Ableton will automatically create project files associated with the tracks. These will contain all the information you need about time-warping, edits and other actions you will take down the track.
Set the Tempo and Warp the Tracks
Set the preferred tempo of the project. This tempo will affect the automatic warping process of the tracks, as the program will time-stretch the beat to match the waveform peaks to the clicks of the metronome.
If you are using minimal house tracks with constant tempo and a well-processed drum pattern, then use auto-warping. Make sure “Auto-warp long samples” is enabled in the options under the “Warp” tab. In this case waveform peaks should be well distinguished, so beat detection algorithms won’t fail.
However, if you are using tracks with complex drum structures or changing tempos, use manual warping. To set the tempo manually, open the sample window. Set the first yellow marker on the first beat of the track and warp the whole track from there.
Make a Mix and Transition Structure
Drag the tracks into the arrangement view. Consider the desired mix structure and align the tracks in that order. Each second track should be in a free slot to every previous track, so the following tracks are not crossfading in the same slot.
If warping is done correctly, all tracks should be perfectly time-synced. Then all you have to do is adjust the crossfade positions. Zoom in the transitions and match the intros with outros or the other parts you want to crossfade.
Although there are no strict restrictions on transition length, the most common lengths are 4, 8 or 16 bars. Be daring and try out some more creative transitions like live mash-ups or bootlegs, where the crossfade length can vary a lot.
Finally, create volume and effect automations. You can use three or eight band EQs, delay and reverb effects and so on. If you are still not satisfied, you can add extra white noise, starches and swooshes to smoothen up the transitions.
Finish the Mix
Listen to the whole mix, paying specific attention to the transitions. If the transitions sound smooth and the mix has a great flow, then it is done.
Render the final version of the mix. Ableton offers to export mixes in .wav or .aiff formats. You can use either, as both are quality outputs, but most DJs go with .wav as it is much more common.