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Ableton vs MPC in practise

I've recently been using Ableton a bit (having previously used hardware only for many years). I thought I'd share some thoughts on the experience Vs working with a hardware (synth/MIDI oriented) setup centred around an MPC Live.

First of all I very much appreciate the MPC functioning as a MIDI and audio interface. This is a nice feature in the general sense, but since I use it in a studio setup, with everything routes through a MIDI splitter and merger to and from the MPC and all the audio to a mixer and back to the MPC on a bus, I get access to all my hardware on the computer through a single cable.

My next comment is on using the MPC Software as a plugin in Ableton. I found this to be a very clunky user experience. I'm sure there are routing tricks to be done to make things feel more fluid and integrated, but my hope was that the MPC track would feel like an Ableton track group and it doesn't. This makes me feel like working in the MPC software directly is the way to go, at which point I'd prefer to be standalone; this feels like an awkward "all or nothing" position to be in.

Having experimented with session view in Ableton I can see why everyone shouts about it. My workflow on MPC is to make a sequence per section then mute, unmute, move between sections and play live while recording the mixer master outs to audio. This is a decent flow for me and isn't that readily replaced by a song mode. The down side is I only get audio as a product and have to redo the whole take to make changes. Similarly the audio tracks aren't in the mutes screen and are quite different to work with vs the MIDI track types. Being able to pick loops from other sequences isn't that important to me, but being able to record this activity to an arrangement as a live action would be very helpful.

A positive I can say about MPC is that it works fairly well with full length tracks. I've worked with a couple of pop singers and effectively made entire tracks as a single sequence without too much trouble. The only big annoyance is the limit in record time on the audio tracks. Having it appear to keep recording but have actually stopped and not advertise the fact to you is very frustrating. For final versions we tend to do takes of different sections with punch ins which is fine, but especially for making demos this is very annoying. I haven't found the memory limitation to be problematic, but silently losing part of a take definitely is. In contrast Ableton has no such limitations.

Next I'll talk about MIDI routing. To be honest I expected more from Ableton in this department as everyone talks about how great it is. I've used jack on Linux for audio routing and it's extremely flexible and easy whereas I found Ableton a little clunky in comparison. Having said that I could get it setup in a way I liked and, barring annoyances related to midi output and audio returns, it results in a fluid experience. In contrast with the MPC it is extremely easy to turn a knob on one synth (or even an effect unit) and accidentally adjust a parameter on another synth. Since you don't know the original setting or which knob it corresponds to it can be difficult to undo what you just did and generally a pain live.

One last comment on MPC and Ableton is around the Ableton Export. I am pleased to have the feature but in effect all it does is export each track as MIDI or audio and compile them into an Ableton project. This is convenient but doesn't really afford me the flexibility. First of all if my effects or instruments are VSTs (on Audio or MIDI tracks) I'd like them to be included as such (whether outputting MIDI or audio). For tracks that are MIDI it would be great to be able to get the MIDI notes alongside rendered audio. Similarly for MPC drum programs it seems like turning them into Ableton tracks using the MPC software as a plugin would make more sense. It would also be nice to be able to choose whether my track be put into an arrangement or into session clips (such as making a full track in one sequence). In general it would be good to have more options on a per track basis for conversion (e.g render track 1 to audio, leave track 2 as MIDI with VSTs associated, track 3 as MPC plugin track etc). One "wish" around this would be a way to "bounce" external instrument channels to audio directly (i.e you select bounce and it takes you to an interface to select where to record the audio from and have it auto record it to an audio track).

My overall impression is that Ableton doesn't feel like the "holy grail" people make it out to be, but taking a few leaves from its book would be a huge win for the MPC. Similarly providing a more fluid integration of the MPC hardware into Ableton alongside more featureful export would offer the flexibility to use the MPC workflow for getting ideas down and tracks together; the standalone automation editing on MPC helps a lot, but it still can't quite compete with Ableton for full track creation. I feel like exporting into Ableton to arrange it out into a full length track and work on the mix is a better story than staying standalone or using MPC software.

Overall I really enjoy owning the MPC and the ability to go back and forth from standalone to computer/controller is really compelling (once you put a drive in the unit at least) but certain workflow quirks and limitations make me feel the need for a DAW. Take the concept a little further and I think you will have a device that lets you create music in any genre from ideation, composition to arrangement and mix. Being able to just render out
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