Ableton compressor tip: Try out Opto mode. It simulates the reaction of an optical compressor circuit. It’ll be a bit more sluggish, and can be nice on basses or vocals. Usually people just leave it on Peak mode, so experiment with both Opto and RMS to see what sounds best on your audio.

Ableton compressor tip: Using the knee parameter of the Compressor. The Ableton Compressor device has a user adjustable knee parameter, expressed in dB. This affects the sound of the Compressor and determines how aggressively it kicks in. You may have heard the term “hard knee” or “soft knee” before.

In general a soft knee sound gentler. A setting of 0 dB would be a hard knee, and means that no compression is applied below the Threshold and maximum compression is applied above the Threshold. I tend to use a hard knee when I want to sqeeze the signal more and get an up front, in your face sound. I use it on things like leads, basses, and individual drum hits (not drum busses).

As you increase the knee, you get a much more gentle effect because compression begins before the Threshold and “fades in” so to speak. So, for example, with a -25 dB threshold and an 8 dB knee, compression would begin at -33 dB and reach maximum compression at -25 dB. A very soft knee would be suitable for a master bus compressor, for example. Knee is also useful when using higher compression ratios so it doesn’t sound so abrupt.

Ableton compressor tip: Turn off automatic Makeup gain. When you’re making decisions about compression settings, it’s important to make them at equal perceived loudness. When you A/B compare properly, you can actually tell if the compression is achieving the desired result. Adding loudness and/or amplitude will fool your ears into thinking the processed sound is better. That’s why it’s important to eliminate the automatic makeup gain and manually dial it in.

Ableton EQ Eight tip: M/S mode. M/S stands for mid / side (sometimes called sum & difference). The EQ Eight has regular stereo routing, left & right, or M/S mode. In mid side processing, the signal is split into 2 paths. The mid is whatever is the same in both channels. The sides are whatever is different between the left and right. M/S processing has many applications, but several immediate ones are stereo widening by EQing your sides different from your mids, and taking someone’s track and learning from it by cutting out all frequencies in the mids or sides to hear where they’ve placed elements in the mix.

Percussion tip: To get the front end of your drums to punch better, try using a pitch envelope on them. The beginning of a drum hit is always higher pitch anyways, so a pitch envelope just accentuates the punch. I like using Sampler for this because it has an advanced pitch envelope with a parameter called Decay Slope (change it by dragging the blue dot on the envelope in the Pitch/Osc section). You’ll have to experiment to find the settings that work the best, but try starting with around 6-12 semitones of boost on the attack phase, then setting your Decay time at 100 ms, then adjusting from there. Once you have your Decay Time set, you can adjust your Decay Slope.

Synthesis tip: Ever wondered what pulse width modulation (PWM) is? In Ableton’s Analog synth, when you have a square wave selected, you have a PWM parameter. PWM controls the width of the square portion of the wave without changing the period of the waveform as a whole. It changes the sound quite dramatically without even using a filter or other modulation destinations. This is feature is unique to square waves. Check out the graphic.