Productivity: easily create songs with Ableton Live’s session view


Hello, all music makers!

Many of those who have been yours truly probably know well I’m really into using Ableton Live.
Also, what I know about many music makers out there based on asking them what’s challenging to them about making music is that many of them often say that finishing a song is one of the hardest parts when it comes to making music – or, coming up with enough ideas so that the song would be easy to finish. Seems many are struggling with 16-bar loops (or loops of any length that are not forming into songs).

I wanted to share with you what’s been helping me tremendously in terms of actually being able to write songs instead of those frustrating loops. Also, seems many are good at writing those loops, so my technique is also built around being able to create a loop.
This tip mostly relates to using Ableton Live due its session view.

What was a gamechanger for me about Ableton Live is its session view with its non-linear approach. Trust me, in the past I was often in a situation where I have created an intro pad and hihats, and I’m looking at the linear timeline, thinking, “Oh god, I still have so long to go before this is a song”, and that right there is intimidating and it feels like you have to run 20 kilometers to get anywhere. I’d add 16 bars of intro beats and watch the linear timeline again, feeling I didn’t make that much progress, trying to think what I’d add next to make it longer. This is slow.
What’s helped me is what’s so great about Ableton Live (it’s also one of its biggest strengths and differences compared to other DAWs): its Session View. It’s basically a sketchpad where you can drag things real quick from the browser or Finder/Explorer, loop them, create sections, layer ideas etc. without having to look at a linear timeline.
That part is definitely fun, and making music should be fun, right?
So, what I do these days I often create one really busy section (a “scene” in Ableton Live) in Session View (see the pic; it’s from creating a song of mine, “Polar Chord), which contains an absolute ton of stuff playing simultaneously, up to a point where there’s so much it sounds ridiculous, and you could not play that much at the same time without it sounding too busy. That IS fun: finding things that go well with the theme and the mood of the song – creating synthlines, little filler sounds, fills, etc. So, we all can probably agree that that is enjoyable. I keep piling things till I think I have enough. I don’t think of the song length at that point.
So, at that point, I know I have enough ingredients for a song, so I won’t end up in the “Uhh, I don’t know what to do next” situation. Basically, at that point I’m still not looking at linear time at all, because in Session View it doesn’t exist….so it’s all fun till that point as I’m not “working hard” or anything, its just fun creating that one superloop megascene.
So all I have to do then is to spread all those things around (either to other scenes to form sections for the song or to arrangement) to create a full song. E.g., I grab the busy drums clip from the megascene, make a less busy variation of it for an intro section, then build it towards the busy one. I do this for all clips in my megascene (not all of them necessarily need thinning, though).
You could compare this to gathering all ingredients you need for a cake before starting to bake a cake – as how can you bake a cake if you don’t have all it needs? Or, think of this as putting a big pile or butter in one spot on a piece of bread, then just spreading it all evenly.

This was a big selling point for me about Live: I realized Session View is way more fun for me than trying to work with a traditional sequencer where this sort of song-planning is not nearly as easy and convenient.

Does this make sense to you? Is this how you use Live? What methods do you have to overcome the 16-bar-loop problem? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.