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Ableton Live Developers at Work [video] (youtube.com)
192 points by lispm on March 7, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 91 comments

This style of video is the future of marketing, though I would tone (ha!) it down a bit. It is like a personal brand for a corporation, giving a soft persona to a logo and a product.

Another, absolutely brilliant move by Ableton was to host a MOOC, https://www.coursera.org/course/abletonlive

"This style of video is the future of marketing"

Not just for companies, but for cultural organisations and public bodies too.

For example, the Royal Opera House in London has an active and popular Youtube channel. They are a publicly-funded organisation but opera and ballet are still seen as somewhat elitist and expensive. Their Youtube channel gives them an opportunity to showcase their productions and behind-the-scenes footage. The videos are well-made and informative. And it undoubtedly helps bolster their reputation.


Another example: a well-known supermarket retailer in the UK (Waitrose) who also have a very polished Youtube channel (of mostly recipes)


I think audiences are savy enough to know when a video has an element of promotion in it. What turns them off is if it feels like a self-congratulatory puff piece. Or if it feels too scripted and fake.

What is your biggest weakness?

> Being awesome? Being too humble? Pushing for that last 5% of perfection when I should call it a night? It is really a toss up, I have so many.

> Another, absolutely brilliant move by Ableton was to host a MOOC

I'm sorry but I believe you're mistaken. I googled and could not find any evidence that Ableton had anything to do with the Coursera MOOC whatsoever.

Most of what I did find suggests that it's run by (and for) Berklee College of Music. (So our point about MOOCs as marketing could still be valid, as Berklee has a big online program, most of which is not free.)



The 3 videos they did with Minilogue took things to a new level. In one they had Minilogue describing their setup obviously with Live at the centre of things: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=baMs9P50J-w

Then a video of them 'jamming' (a suspiciously well-produced jam, but I'll let that one go) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgiL7lsIATA

Then the genius part. The third video had the band describing their philosophy to making music, and to life. One commenter wrote "This changes everything" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=58BHEAleNHs

Completely agree. I'm not that tuned into the marketing industry at the moment, but have wondered for a while why we haven't seen more news organizations branching into marketing.

I can see that there would probably be concerns with conflicts of interest, etc. But if done right (ie. keeping the marketing branch separate but connected) I think it would be a great match.

My reasoning? Companies don't just want commercials anymore. They want their story told. Who are better equipped to research and tell a comprehensive story than journalists?

News organizations already do this, they're called ads. You have (in theory) a clearly defined content section that is (in theory) honest, and not biased or bribed. This section earns consumers trust in the news organizations brand and keeps eyeballs returning to their content. Then you have the advertising section that is 100% biased to those buying the space. News organizations have always been primarily an advertising business, getting eyes to ads.

The danger is letting companies influence sections that are believed to be objective and honest. One example of this is Michael Arrington the founder and former editor-in-chief of TechCrunch who is famous for investing in start-ups that his blogs would then cover. Not only that but he was partner in two investment funds during his tenure and now has his own fund, CrunchFund. All this to say that he has special interests in dozens of companies at any one time. When AOL bought TechCrunch they eventually let him go because in part of his conflicts of interest.

My comment might not have been clear. I didn't mean to infer ads. In my mind there's a clear and distinct delineation between advertising and marketing.

I guess the point I was trying to make is that the kinds of marketing that companies want these days is going to be far more immersive than your run of the mill ads. This, I think, was one of the main points of the parent comment. As such, I would postulate that the skillset necessary to write a good article, or in-depth (eg. investigative journalism) story, is very similar to the skillset necessary to create (or find?) the stories a company wants people to know about it.

Now, the tricky part would be to engage in both journalism and marketing so as not to uproot the integrity (or give people reason to think your integrity as a news organization has been compromised, or that you are engaging in business with clients who clearly create a conflict of interest.

For example, suppose you are a newspaper / magazine who has a reputation as being a "watchdog" publication for the oil industry. Now suppose that while that branch of your business has established a reputation as a "watchdog" publication for the oil industry, the marketing arm of your business has clients like Exxon or Shell. To maintain the integrity of your journalism branch perhaps you should be working with clients seeking marketing services from other (eg. retail) industries.

The only reason this synergy sounds reasonable and even plausible to me is the well documented "crisis" news organizations worldwide are facing these days.

What you describe is very much a thing. Variations of the basic concept exist under terms like "advertorial", "sponsored content", and "native advertising". At HuffPost, where I work, we have something called Partner Studio [1] [2], where people in our organization will produce such content for brands. Companies also often use PR firms to generate and pitch stories for journalists. It's pretty common for PR firms to hire journalists.

[1] http://digiday.com/publishers/huffington-post-branded-conten...

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/news/sponsored-content/

Becaue Ableton Live is not available for Linux, I finally tried Bitwig Studio, what was a very refreshing change of perspective. Before I tried it I had lots of doubts and a feeling of "no, this can never work out, you need Live, nothing can be better". But it was a big surprise - it feels like Live done right, without the awkwardness. Since then I am so happy that I can use pro music production software on top of linux, I have not looked back into my Ableton setup for months now.

Linux is such a win for me, works much better, most stable, quick and fluid system I have ever used, I do not want to change back to windows or osx. I hope Bitwig will survive and finally bring some more long term attention to the linux audio stack, which seems to be much better choice for making a computer a music machine.

I worked there for a bit in 2006 (Live 6/7) when there were only 13 programmers. That's an important threshold where you need to change from just having casual discussions to having a formalized structure. At the time it was frustrating and they really needed to make some changes. They knew that and they were open to it, but it takes time.

I've been in touch over the years with Gerhard, Stefan and others and its been good to hear how they did solve those growing pains. I think its more than a hundred developers now.

Native Instruments had at one point 300, but they have a much larger product line. Always fascinating to talk with those guys about how they coordinate that.

While this video is of course a giant job ad, it's still pretty interesting - Ableton seems like a great company and Live is an outstanding product. Really, even if music production isn't anything you'd see as a hobby for yourself, Live and Max might still offer lots of fun and a welcome change of setting for any curious developer.

Tbh, if Ableton were such a great place to work at and live a great product, several core devs wouldnt have left to start Bitwig. I dont have any insights in the internas, but I would take the movie with a grain of salt. It is advertising, after all, not a documentary.

By that logic any company and product isn't that great - did anyone ever leave Apple, Google and others to start their own thing? They sure did.

Considering they are in the music production buisness I don't think you can draw such a conclusion. There is an artistic factor maybe less common in other software companies. Most of these people are musicians and Bitwig is implementing some unique approaches to the creative process. Kind of like a solo album for the devs.

What a great video, so much passion going into building the software to help musicians reach their potential.

We have the same goal at Splice, but we're focused on connecting the music creation process. Our core offering is a version control system for Ableton (Logic, Garageband & FL Studio also supported). You can also publicly share your sessions with our community.

Here is what a public release looks like:


I haven't seen a mention of Ableton Live Packs (https://www.ableton.com/en/packs/). This is an ingenious method Ableton invented for non-developers to create new production technology (albeit, within the limits of Ableton) without knowing how to code. It has created a third-party ecosystem by giving musicians the power to create software packages. As a producer and heavy Ableton user, this is very useful and is a feature not offered by other music production programs. I feel Ableton and music production programs in general are underrated in the dev community - some of the best programmers I know work at these companies.

Presumably an unintended consequence, but if I ever found myself needing this software, after watching this video I can't imagine myself pirating it. Ditto for games whose developers I've seen in documentaries (like Indie Games The Movie).

I guess this video is mainly for recruiting, but showing users the people behind the software seems like it would have lots of side benefits.

(I mean I haven't pirated anything in a decade or two anyway, but I can't imagine child-me-who-sometimes-pirated-stuff pirating it. You know what I mean.)

Pirating software of this kind is often not about "stealing with evil intent" but more about "I literally have no money but want to mess around with this software for personal use."

It's a marketing video. "cue happy moment"..."cue warm and fuzzy employee interaction". It might make some people want to pirate the software even more!

That said, you can't pirate the Ableton Push hardware, which is where it's at for this latest generation of Live. The Push really is a nice piece of hardware - probably because Akai was behind the engineering.

The original prototype for push was built in Lego and Akai did a great job turning it into real hardware. Really cool project and makes Live so much fun to use.


I agree. I pirated Live long time ago, and that's the reason why I now have bought Push, then upgraded Live to "regular", and then to "maximum" version.

p.s.: preparing to buy Komplete now for their FM8 and Massive :)

I think you've hit on something here, whether it was an intentional motive for the video or not. Piracy occupies a weird place in the world of music production - most DJs probably torrented more than a few of their gigantic collections of songs before getting into record pools or onto promo lists. And piracy seems to be the default route for aspiring producers who need expensive software or plugins. Yet musicians, at least historically, depend on intellectual property sales for a significant portion of their income.

There is an attitude of "I'll pay for it once I start getting gigs" I've seen in more than a few people. I'm not going to debate whether this attitude is justified (the most basic full-featured editions of Ableton and most other pro DAWs start around $600 and go up from there) or not (Developers gotta eat). But it is certainly a viewpoint that is extremely common in the community.

For people not familiar with it, Ableton is an astonishing piece of content-creation software. When it came out it felt revolutionary in terms of speed, solidity and cleanliness of the UI.

Personally I've always found the UI rigid and not quite right, like everything has one level of indirection and/or constraint it doesn't really need.

I dislike the fact there's no standard file manager dialog, and the preview doesn't quite do what you expect - sometimes it plays-on-click and sometimes it doesn't, and I have no idea why - and the event editor is hard to navigate, especially if you want to micro-edit, and Arrangement mode still doesn't quite make sense to me, even though I've been using it for a long time now.

It's true that Live has that let's-all-Mondrian Euro look, which is a thing, I guess.

I used to use Sony Acid, so the time-stretch-on-a-grid idea wasn't new to me. And I really preferred the Acid UI. It didn't look as nice, being unapologetically Windows. But it never forced me to stop and think about how to do something, which Live certainly did.

In Acid you could just draw loops directly into an arrangement. This always seems complicated in Live, because of the switching between Session and Arrangement modes.

9 is mostly okay. I still think a lot of UI assumptions feel alien and not quite elegantly minimal. But having an open API is a big deal for users who want to do more than Mondrian-with-loops. And as a long-time Max user, M4L is a fun thing to have.

It's been a long time since I've used the Acid software, but I don't recall it being aimed at impromptu or live performance. Whereas Live is ... well Live. Wireup all sorts of stuff, forget arrangement view completely (or maybe, leave it running on record), and then just jam out.

I don't agree - while Live was one of the first mature tools for performing, don't be fooled by the name. Studio work, production and arrangement view aren't second class citizens at all in my opinion. I switched from Logic to Live and spend most of my time in arrangement view. The session view is just a bonus for quick sketching for me.

Nothing like a demo to see its power, what about reverse engineering a mega hit everyone heard : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eU5Dn-WaElI

It really is fantastic. It's especially amazing when compared to the other audio programs that try to mimic the hardware, literally, down to having a physics engine drive the UI and making users drag cables around. Ableton's UI is a wonderful, straightforward, usable system. It reminds me a bit of the discreet logic software like combustion and inferno - doesn't look like a "native" UI, but once you start using it you realise holy shit, this is totally optimized for workflow and pixels aren't wasted on pointless chrome.

Ableton's automation system is slick too, making it trivial to hookup any key/MIDI input to anything. I got coded up an Xbox360 controller to work with it and it took under 2 hours flat.

I'm just a bit concerned for Ableton, because Live 8 seemed to be the big release (almost 6 years ago?), and Live 9 was not that huge of a leap and 9.1 was mainly bugfixes? From an outsiders view, it looks a tad bit worrying, like, what's going on? OTOH I guess it's good if they cede their massive headstart a bit as it'll drive more competition :).

Ableton's hardware controller is cool, but without actual pixel screens it seems rather weak compared to the Maschine stuff. Seeing how cheap screens are, I find it odd they can't toss on some real screens instead of dot-matrix ones on a $500 device. I think it'd be pretty wicked to be able to drop full devices onto the hardware, containing their full or optimized UI, then work more on-device.

But I'm not really an artist at all so perhaps I just don't get it.

It's especially amazing when compared to the other audio programs that try to mimic the hardware, literally, down to having a physics engine drive the UI and making users drag cables around.

I agree. Live blows Reason out of the water in terms of workflow. However, I've always this aspect of sound design in Reason. I enjoy dragging the cables around, controlling what flows where and modulates what in a physical way - even if its only superficial. Essentially, I just view Reason as fantastic instrument rack.

Content-creation software. Like Microsoft Word? Like Adobe Photoshop?

I'm not sure what you're getting at here?

I've been a big Ableton user for many years now, after I "graduated" from cubase and moved on from rock to electronic many years ago.

In fact, I self-produced a tribute to Snowden's NSA revelations[1] using no external sources besides my trusty Martin. It's kinda corny and the duel overlapping lead is out there, but overall it was an interesting exercise in learning the power of Live.

I think i did it sitting on my couch (no studio just a condenser mic) over a few days.

It is a ridiculously amazing music production platform, and my only wish is that I could be 15 again and start with it as my instrument of choice instead of guitar.

Great job by the development team in fixing almost all the crashes that plagued it for years...its very solid now.


One of Ableton's many great features is the integration with Max 4 Live which gives the user an insane amount of control. https://www.ableton.com/en/live/max-for-live/

You can create your own synths, effects, workflows... Incredible.

I posted this link few days ago and it didn't had any traction


I've been an Ableton user for the last year, but running on a pirated copy. I usually pirate until I know I'm going to buy, and just the other week, wrote myself a note to finally throw down the cash (If you're listening Ableton team, congrats on 9.2 beta release. Impressive!).

That said, this was a fantastic video and you've got my money. Keep up the great work on an amazing product.

Anyone know what software they're using at 1:53?

FileMerge technically, but yeah it sure looks like it.

This is kinda a somewhat wild guess, but it looks to me like SmartGit from syntevo with some custom settings.


Watched video on my phone so, not sure, but I think Bitbucket has a side-by-side diff like that one. Edit: typo

I just started out with Ableton Live at the beginning of the year (call it scratching a long time itch) and its been so much fun learning the product. I've just started with a midi keyboard, a pair of headphones and watching a ton of youtube vids. If you have an inkling to dabble in any kind of music production I highly recommend trying Live...

Nice to get a glimpse at their work environment.

Ableton, please fix your piano roll (make it like FL Studio's)! I've emailed you guys before, and even made a Youtube video showing why I hate it.

I love Ableton Live, but I really hope the open source community for music software matures to a point where it's comparable with Ableton.

They say they're a German company. Is it common for them to mostly speak English?

Berlin's startup culture is very international with employees from all around the world. Not really different to any other tech hub I know of. So English is the company's operating language, especially for global players like SoundCloud, Wooga, Ableton etc.. There are few companies in the tech sector who have German as their corporate language - and those mostly target the German market only.

There is a saying in the German startup-scene "Berlin Mitte is not a valid test market.". Berlin is the German capital but an outlier in almost every aspect.

No, only in multinationals.

Don't expect many people speaking English in small to middle size companies, nor in smaller cities.

yes, its common in Berlin for companies to use English. also the code is commented and documented in English.

if they have lots of foreigners and work for an international market, yes.

Like some others on this thread I loved from Cubase to Ableton some years ago because of the UX, non-linear workflow, and friendlier licensing. All the controller action around it makes it even more awesome.

Looks like a nice work environment. Obviously not as relaxed as that all the time in real life, but they seem to emphasize modularity and transparency in the code base.

Great video! I'd be interested to see the Avid equivalent (don't get me wrong, I love Pro Tools, but it seems like a culturally different organization).

Trust me ... you really don't. Stripped to shreds by the parent corporation. On last breaths, brought in an ex-Bain asshole who previously worked at the two worst hard drive companies (because music = hard drives, right?) who stripped engineering to the bone. Lost him then promoted an internal guy with no business experience. Who couldn't keep it in his pants at Digi, got swiped by Apple, then booted from there after 7 months.

I believe those are the high points.

The audio CTO during their best moments (Mike Rockwell) just left Dolby for Apple. But I don't think he'll be working on audio.

The state of audio technology (and audio software) remains in utter shambles. And not in a "needs disruption" kind of way. In a "needs a bullet to the head" kind of way.

Ableton is one of the rare bright spots and deserves massive props for being a pearl despite having to swim upstream through the shittiest corner of art and tech.

Now that you mention some of that people involved in making audio software: Camel Audio, developers of the highly praised Alchemy Synth, recently closed shop as they were most likely bought by Apple. There's a bunch of talent at Camel Audio - would have been a great addition to the Ableton team in my opinion. Too bad the results of that acquisition will likely only be available through Logic in the future.

Interesting. Yes, I really admire Ableton as a company and as a product. Unfortunately for the music I make, Pro Tools makes more sense (of course, I'm sure if I switched I would survive!).

Thanks for posting this!

My musical journey started, and continues, to use Ableton as the primary musical instrument.

The APC40 is a beautiful, beautiful tool.

And, as @sitkack pointed out... they have a MOOC!!

If there is a dog in my office, I quit.

Probably many people would quit if _you_ were in their office.

Perhaps, but I've never shit on the floor, so I've got that going for me.

If you think dogs just randomly poops on the floor you really don't know much about dogs.

I really don't understand people who hate animals. To be honest they are sociopaths in my eyes.

There's a difference between hating animals and being uncomfortable around them, or less able to concentrate on your work.

Disclaimer: I like dogs and probably wouldn't mind having one around during work. But if one of my coworkers would have problems with that, that should be taken into account and we should discuss it, work it out. Wording it differently than "people who hate animals" would probably help that discussion :)

I love dogs, but I agree that quite often office dogs are not "handled properly" and are poorly trained because there is no real specific person in charge of taking care of him.

You also can't ignore the fact that many people are likely going to have allergy issues. It's difficult to find a dog that a large number of people will be OK with.

Yeah, only he's a developer. A dog is a useless nuisance in an office.


  developer  dog
  ---------  ---
      x       x   hairy
      x       x   over-affectionate
      x       x   personal hygiene issues
              x   spends time burying bones
      x           spends time buried in code
              x   chasing tail
      x           debugging
      x           can write C++
      x       x   sometimes tries to lick own balls when nobody is looking
              x   succeeds
I think I'll take the dog.

Come on, no need to compare programmer hygiene to that of dogs... you'll upset some dogs :-P

Err, in their developer office the desired attributes are "can write C++", "debugging" and "spends time burried in code"...

So back-licking is not that big of an asset.

That said, I've heard that ass-kissing can get you places in some IT companies though...

Amazon's offices were shockingly bad for this.

I feel you. Had the boss's dogs hang shit in the office, 3x at a place I left a long time ago. Really fucking gross.

Wonderful video. I am a white man of european descent so it looks like I would be a great fit to work here.

This will shock the average HN reader, but not every place is like SF. In fact, most of the world is radically unlike SF, and that's fine.

> but not every place is like SF

Yep. You might also notice quite a lot of 40s/50s/60s years old devs (unlike SF cliche). And that is great, of course.

Well, white and European descent is quite common in Berlin and Germany. That's much of the population there and around. Still, there will be some diversity with people from many European countries, since EU members can move freely in the EU and can easily work in other members states.

Not many women in German software companies is also quite common, unfortunately.

You're getting downvoted for the throwaway, but I had the same thought. Amazing to see such a complete lack of diversity, and sad to see it being ignored by almost everyone in their responses.

I don't know. Just listening to the many different accents in the video, there were people from many different places. All of us have different stories, even white guys. Diversity is not just about skin color, although some seem to think so.

There seemed to be plenty of people from lots of different parts of the world. If you were actually concerned about diversity maybe you should be looking more than skin deep yourself.

This is a company located in Germany, there are almost no non white people here...

I call doener kebab on that. Almost 10% are from Turkey. Depends on what you mean by almost.

If you count all from Turkish descent in Berlin, then that would be 6%. Most are 'white'.

It is less than 10% in Berlin and most of them are second or third generation descendants of immigrants and most definitely white Germans "mit Migrationshintergrund".

That's Europe, though. If you want diversity, go for a drive and cross a few borders.

There are some women developers in the video, for one.

Two, I imagine the number of non-white software developers in Germany is very, very small.

oh for fuck's sake.

Ableton couldn't find a single talented female developer on their team to speak on the video?

Did you actually watch the video?


Why is that important at all? Don't be pesky.

Last time I used Ableton (2011), the recording cut off somewhere between 5 and 6 hours. From the email exchange I had with them, this was because they were using 32bit ints instead of 64bit ones. For a company that touts its partnership with Serato, and the ability of their program to work with Serato's DJ tools to specifically record DJ mixes (which can be many hours or even days long), this is absolutely unacceptable. Perhaps they fixed this since then, but after experiencing that, I could no longer see Ableton as anything but amateur software at best. The UI is not very intuitive or particularly great either, at least for composition, compared to other music software.

Oh my...it has changed drastically from 2011 and I'm sure it now records music until your hard drive is full.

The idea it is "amateur software as best" flies in the face of the fact that most professional electronic producers use it if they use Windows, at least as far as I can tell from the various computer music magazines.

Sounds like you had a bad experience, but as others have said, the Ableton has changed substantially in the past 5 years. Ableton 9 came out in March of 2013, at which point the time limit issue would be resolved.

Regarding the interface being unintuitive, I think that could be true for those who are experienced in standard linear DAW workflows, and I could see how it could feel unintuitive for someone looking to record a Serato DJ session. It's got a lot of tools for music production, and you'd need to be in Arrangement view, not session view.

As a software developer and someone who likes to mess around in music production, the interface became incredibly intuitive once I did the (included) software tour and learned the difference between Arrangement View and Session View, and what could be accomplished in those.

In terms of music production (not DJing), the way instruments and effects are set up reminds me of objects, where you have data and methods. You create sound clips on instruments which are kind of like functions you can reuse. (Just a loose analogy)

If you build a bunch of clips on instruments in the Session view of these you can use them together to create a song that you improvise somewhat, within the sounds and drumbeats that you have pre-created. It's really fun if you play with it and get accustomed to how the software works!

Since version 9 Live is 64 Bit only. It's an important move, but you always have to deal with musicians who rely on old plugins that won't work in 32 Bit mode - so backwards compatibility is an issue.

correction: They still offer a separate 32 Bit installer - didn't realize, never looked back.

Well it goes to show the struggle of large development teams and products at large. According to that video, maybe you should revisit now.

I've used Ableton but I found myself driven back to simpler tools that give a less digital sound. Also I sort of agree about the UI.

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