5 Essential Plugins for Ableton Live

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Want to widen your sonic palette while working in Ableton Live? In this video, we’ll show you 5 essential plugins that will complement your Ableton workflow and open new production possibilities by giving you effects not included in Ableton’s stock selection.

Want even more recommendations? Scroll below for 4 more plugins to add to your Ableton setup.

Ableton Live is more than just a DAW: it’s a creative production instrument. Music makers love its flexible workflow and the lightning-fast ability to turn ideas into musical reality.

Although Ableton comes with a selection of stock effects, you can enhance your sound by adding unique plugins that Ableton does not provide in its stock selection. Here are five plugins that will open up a ton of sonic possibilities:

1. Abbey Road J37 Tape

There’s something magical about the sound of analog tape. The warmth and fullness it adds can help you create a more human sound. If you’re looking for tape emulation, harmonic distortion and saturation, the Waves/Abbey Road J37 Tape saturation plugin will give you a precision model of the classic tape machine used to create countless classic tracks at Abbey Road Studios throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s. Perfect for adding that certain heat and vibe to an otherwise cold and digital-sounding mix.

J37 Tape

J37 pushes the envelope even further by having a built-in tape delay to complement the warmth and grit. With a ton of tape saturation settings and a variety of adjustable controls such as Tape Speed, Bias, Noise, Saturation, Wow and Flutter, you can inject a vintage character into just about any instrument or mix buss.

2. Waves Tune

Another thing missing if we look through Ableton Live’s library is pitch correction. Pitch correction is almost a staple in most genres of modern music, either as a subtle correction for the vocal, or a full-blown tuning or formant effect. Luckily, there’s Waves Tune.

Waves Tune

To begin using it, set your song key if you know it, or otherwise leave it set to chromatic and Tune will figure it out. Scan your audio; if necessary make some manual tweaks. The ratio control lets you mix in the amount of correction, which can keep things sounding more natural. You can also use these indicators as a visual reference for how in tune your performance is. Tuning is very useful for any production, especially if you’re stacking up vocal harmonies or backing vocals and things need to be a little tighter across multiple tracks.

3. Sibilance

A de-esser is one of the most crucial parts of any vocal chain. Getting the right balance between loud, in-your-face vocals and annoying harsh vocal ‘s’ or ‘t’ sounds can be frustrating.

Sibilance

Sibilance is a unique de-essing plugin that is both transparent and powerful. Unlike the narrow-band approach to vocal de-essing, Sibilance automatically detects and separates undesirable harshness from raw vocals. This allows you to reduce sibilant parts while leaving the rest of the signal untouched. Thanks to the Organic ReSynthesis technology under the hood, you can seamlessly smooth-out harsh ‘s’ sounds fast and without any side effects.

4. Bass Rider

This plugin is designed to automatically deliver perfect bass levels. The spine of any mix, a good bass part is essential for both rhythmic and harmonic functions, often playing a big part in having the listeners get up and dance. Bass Rider ensures that the bass pops out consistently, and doesn’t get lost in the mix. This plugin works without relying on compression techniques, just leveling your existing sound so that it’s more even without feeling needlessly compressed.

Ableton Live doesn’t have anything like this “Rider” effect on board. Both Bass Rider and Vocal Rider (more on which below) are serious time savers and performance enhancers.

Bass Rider

5. Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain

The mix is finally done and it’s time to take it to the mastering stage for the final polish. It is possible to create your own mastering chain or rack using stock audio effects on the master buss. But if you feel things are a little too clean or digital-sounding, you can use the Waves Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain to induce the authentic analog character of Abbey Road Studio’s mastering suites.

Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain

This plugin gives you modular mastering tools, including Input, Tone, Compressor/Limiter and V.A.L. (Spread), in a rack layout that allows you to switch the order of the chain, or use different modules independently. If you’re a little intimidated with the concept of mastering, not to worry: the Abbey Road TG Mastering Chain comes packed with presets to get you to a professional-sounding master fast.

More Plugins for Ableton Live


Already have these 5 plugins? Looking for more? Here are 4 more plugins to supercharge your Ableton workflow and get you closer to the sound you’re searching for.

6. Vocal Rider

This popular plugin applies the “auto-riding” concept to vocals. It suits any type of voice recording, whether it’s singing, rapping, spoken word or voiceovers. It constrains the upper and lower volume limits of a vocal track to keep the performance sounding nice and smooth without any of the side-effects of a compressor.

Vocal Rider

Vocal Rider works by setting a target range for the vocal level in relation to the rest of the mix. It then intelligently responds to natural deviations from the target by turning the gain up and down on the vocal. You can use the range control to narrow the dynamic range, and the output control to raise or lower the overall level. This is a one-stop method to make your vocals sound more controlled and produced immediately. You can choose the mono, stereo or live versions, making it particularly suited to Ableton for live performance.

Controlling the dynamics of the voice this way means you can use your compressors and limiters purely as tone shaping tools, evening out the vocals more naturally without unnecessarily ‘squashing’ them.

7. Kramer Master Tape

If you want to add an organic analog feel to electronic instruments, tape emulations can work wonders. Waves offers two different tape simulations: We’ve already covered J37 Tape, based on Abbey Road’s classic Studer model. Waves’ catalog also includes the Kramer Master Tape, based on legendary producer Eddie Kramer’s Ampex machine.

Kramer Master Tape

When to choose Kramer Tape vs. J37 Tape is largely a question of taste. Kramer Master Tape can definitely suit electronic sounds that need a bit of smoothing out, especially recordings of tabletop synth jams. These plugins add an organic tape sound and impart a nice bit of bloom to the low end. Remember to leave the noise emulation Off, unless you really want it as an aesthetic choice – the noise can add up, especially if you’re using more than one analog-style plugin.

8. Waves Tune Real-Time

Waves Tune Real-Time achieves the same goal as Waves Tune in correcting the pitch and tuning of a performance – but it does so even more quickly and easily, in real time. Depending where you set the speed knob, it will operate with a sound that’s anywhere from extremely transparent to one that’s far more noticeable and robotic, whichever fits your needs.

Waves Tune Real-Time

In this plugin, it’s also helpful to set the key and the range to the track you’re working on, or leave it in chromatic mode as a catch-all. Especially when used together with the more surgical Waves Tune plugin, you’ll have everything you need to make any performance crispy and in-tune, and avoid a shaky production.

9. Center

Center is an interesting plugin. It can be a powerful manipulation tool on your mixes, two-tracks, masters and even live performances. It lets you control the center image of the mix separately from the left-right sides content, and you can alter the balance either subtly or drastically. Center allows you to reposition, isolate and even eliminate elements within the mix, all from a single plugin with simple controls.

Center

Center can also be useful in live situations: if you want to bring down the energy for a sparse section and then drop it back in dramatically, you could automate the side image to duck in and out. There’s also a simple EQ balance function and punch control.

Want to discover more essential plugins? Learn how to choose the best compressor for the job or which vintage EQ plugin to use.

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Music used in this video: “Sorry I Missed You” by The Great Payne

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