Whether you’re an avid Live user or wonder how it works from a performance perspective, CDM reader Fabio FZero has managed to express in simple terms a basic binary split (originally in comments):

Ableton Live: Draggers vs. Set-freaks

… between those who drag-and-drop on the fly in their sets, and those who configure everything in advance in a superset. To that, I’d add a third category, though I don’t necessarily advise it: the Multiple Setters, who switch between set files for each song. (It’s dangerous because of load times, particularly with samplers. I’ve recently become a Set-freak instead. Though I suppose you could argue a Multiple Setter is really a subset of Set-freaks. Okay, now I’ve complicated things again.)

Dragger or freak? Choose your side. (Yes, some of you code live in ChucK — I’m sticking with Live, thanks.)

Previously: CDM Asks: How Do You Set Up Your Ableton Live Sets for Performance / DJing?

  • Vance Galloway

    What's the name for those of us who record live into Live and use those 'on the fly' smales as the baisis of our sets, then? Live Livers?


  • Vance Galloway

    ooops. Let's try that again (since I can't edit posts). That should have said "'…'on the fly' files as the basis of our sets, then?"

    Bad typing.

  • I do that too (live recording)! I think that could fit in either definition, really. Now, if you ONLY do that, then it's another thing entirely. I guess the name for that would be… hm… Lideller (after Jamie Lidell). 😉

  • i use the vocoder microphone on my microKorg to control the set list – theres voice recognition in this leaked 7.0 alpha i found on CDR at a hip lounge near the ableton HQ.

    ok never mind.. im one of the chuck coders.

  • Ah, good one, Vance — the Live as Sampler approach. See Kid Beyond. Live is a little restricted in loop recording in that it doesn't have first-loop capability (can't set tempo from loop length), but it opens up other possibilities that aren't as intuitive on traditional loopers and samplers.

    On-the-fly and In-advance seems to be the basic dichotomy, though Kid Beyond does a lot of prepping of his set. Sometimes you get more flexibility, ironically, by doing more in advance … that's not just Ableton; that can be true of any live computer performance. (Max/MSP, VJ apps, etc.)

  • NineTailedFox

    I'm a Fragger.

  • Freak, I guess, although a multiple setter is probably more accurate. Id much prefer to be called a freak, though. I guess it depends on the type of music, though. I make songs with definite structures, where each piece is pre-written and recorded, so dragging isnt really an option (as far as I can tell) and it makes more sense to have songs layed out in sets.

    I think dragging could be more for DJing type situations, perhaps (which makes me think of something else – a lot of CDM articles seem to be DJ based… we're not all DJs!)

  • I'm Freak-style, but am looking at setting up a project which is dragger-style.

    and @Combat.. I never got the impression that CDM is DJ biased or that the draggers are DJ's.. In fact I assumed as someone who DJ's I'd be in the minority.

    I read it more that draggers have folders of pre-prepared loops and bits of tunes whereas freaks have those loops laid out in advance in the session view.

  • loooove ableton the best there is no other prg can beat live. i tried them all.

  • We'll have to wait for Fabio's dragger tutorial to see what his techniques are. But no, I don't see that as necessarily DJ-oriented. There's also the option of recording clips on the spot, MIDI, audio, or both. It still comes down to a continuum of preparing everything in advance or nearly nothing, and which better supports what you're trying to do. To me, this blurs the lines of DJing and performance in both directions, anyway.

    I'm not a DJ, in that I'm unlikely to be able to support a dance floor. 😉

  • I'm trying to work out a way to record improvised live audio input and then spontaneously play with these newly recorded samples (slicing, stacking, freq/time/pitch manipulation etc) to create whole new arrangements.

    This is often my studio workflow but I'm having trouble finding software/hardware solutions that will let me do this. In-so-far that there only seem to be set-ups with either looping or (as discussed here) pre-made sets/sounds (utilizing prerecorded samples).

    If anyone has any suggestions, I would really appreciate a bone, at the moment am toying with the idea of learning Max/MSP so that I could build my own live-orientated sampler/audio manipulator. Max gives me a headache no-end though!

  • Not sure where I fit in here, unless it's along the lines of what Vance does. My current set involves 8 midi channels, each with a rack containing 3 switched instruments, broken up into bass, pad, fx, lead, drum 1, drum 2, etc. I then sequence midi clips on the fly.

  • Now that I think about it, I think live sequencing is a whole different animal from the binary split described above. There is a lot of preparation involved in setting up the channels/racks, but it's about as on-the-fly as it gets. So, while it fits in that continuum, perhaps it's almost in the midpoint of the scale, if you plot it out.

  • zygomar

    Prep ? You know that even direct uber-analog instruments like guitars are somewhat 'prepped' (set mikes, tuning, songs learned, filters…) so the point seems to be more about 'make it happen'. A bluesman can be alot boring in all his perfect know-how.


  • I have all my songs for DJing running down two long columns. They are each colour coded in the respective keys. Majors down one column and minors down the next. Like keys are arranged in ascending bpm, all being 120 – 145.

    Then I drag tracks into either of two "turntable" tracks in the center of the screen. I never plan out what order or what sections I'll visit and revisit over the set.

    While some DJs break a song down into loop sections I believe that this method forces looping when not needed and in the same places every time. So I leave the track and do that spontaneously by eye.

    So another Freak 'n Dragon.

    Wish List for Live: More than 1 loop marker per track option. Simultaneous views of two tracks waveforms.

  • While were on it heres two more on the Live wish list:

    When you render a track from loops which have all the beat markers carefully and laboriously put into place why not have the option to save those same track marker assignments into the new track you just rendered?

    If you had maybe two colour options for your markers you would have an easy way to assign a few of your own cue points on the track. That's kind of how I mark sections now, trying to put those markers in key looping areas.

  • definitely both.

    btw, hi logickal!

    I start with a skeletal set of what i want to play, with racks of effects set to what i'm gonna manipulate on particular tracks and use my headphones to cue in dragging of live clips so they're in key and warped before dropping in. the function Fx keys work wonders here (muting tracks so i can get my loops properly tweaked before the audience hears 'em)

    so definitely a freaky dragger

  • I used to be a freak, but since I got a Monome 40h I'm mainly using Max/MSP rewired into Live, only using Live as a sophisticated FX box for the various Rewire busses, controlling levels and FX via a Remote SL Zero. The plan is to eventually reintroduce some live softsynths and maybe sample on the fly, but for now I'm happy with my setup that completely liberates me from using the laptop keyboard. good times.

  • joe jost

    I play bass (guitar and synth) with a couple different groups, often for church worship services. I mainly use Ableton and my Motu 828mkII as a fancy multi-track tape system that plays whatever parts we don't have human musicians for. Depending on the occasion, this could mean drums, extra keyboard parts, backing vocals, and "guitar" parts played in the upper frets of the bass.

    Live looping would be the coolest but the songs we play are often tightly structured and any mistake at all would wreck everything (the congregation is singing along!) so we just go with pre-recorded loops. However, these loops are mostly recorded by myself and the other musicians during rehearsal while also throwing the sets together, often an hour or two before we go on.

    The sets are usually pretty linear – no time to do more fancy stuff. I don't do much effects or tweaking either. The bass is a (mostly) two-handed instruments, so once we start playing, all I can do is trigger scenes and maybe do a little mixing.

    I'd love to do more experimental electronic stuff, but still it's amazing what you can throw together even in a 'traditional' setting like this.

  • We have a duo with drummer and bass…both of us run live and trigger samples. We kind of have to "freak" but we also set up looping sections of songs using the follow actions (which are so dang cool). Sometimes in the looping sections we can drag other samples and tweak effects…but since we are playing other instruments we mostly have to progress through a song step by step. We don't use the sampler much so opening a new set for each song is not so taxing currently. It's taken us about 6 months to learn Live but it has been totally worth it.

  • tricil is a Freak in Drag. 🙂

  • VanceG

    And I gotta admit that I'm exaggerating how very 'live' I am with Live: I, too, have a bit of a hard time creating proper Live arrangements in real-time by recording clips of myself playing. I do that to some degree. Mostly, though, I use Live as a really flexible mixing/routing and processing environment. When performing I'm mainly using Live in this way. At home/studio I tend to build Live sessions mainly by dragging individual clips that I have made of myself playing guitar live.

    I don't normally use many loops (per se) in my music….so it's a little odd for me to create Live sessions in the more 'traditional' sense.

  • The tutorial is now online, as promised! See it here!

  • NineTailedFox

    Thanks, man.

  • joe jost: there's a great community I'm part of that focuses on using electronics in worship settings. Check it out:



  • pierlu


    i'm a dragger but also a live sample/midi recorder.

    i do drag prearranged sets of drum loops into live, then manipulate them and rerecord them on fly after aplying fx mapped to knobs faders. then i play the keyboard into different channels set up with different instruments (bass, pads, piano) and build everything from scratch… if i am to play former compositions, i just extract loops from them and use them as the basis from the live mangling and recording.

    basically i use a 4 octave keyboard whose last octave is marked to arm and record clips.

  • bb

    I'm not sure where I stand yet. At this time I'm sequencing in Live, but I'm doing it with stuff that I've planned out. I can't get my head around how to record a midi piece on the fly and then loop it on the fly all live. I'm trying to learn, but I would be open to input from anyone. I want to learn about the live recording of clips both MIDI and audio, and use that in a live setting. Are there any good tutorials on this?