I'm curious to what peoples opinions are on using Ableton software for professional sound design. I'm a budding sound designer and I want to let my imagination go wild with creating and designing sounds - using any techniques that work.

But I'm also conscious that I would eventually like to do this as a full time job and I wouldn't want to waste my time too much using techniques or software that wouldn't be relavant to me in the long run.

I'm a big fan of Ableton software, as well as Native Instruments. I use these for all my sound stuff, as well as using Logic Pro. I want to throw myself into using Max For Live (the Cycling '74 Max environment inside Ableton Live) for true control over sound.

...but ultimately would I be wasting my time? I hear big talk on sound design with Kyma and Soundminer and MetaSynth etc. But surely it doesn't necessarily matter how you get the eventual sounds? Surely getting the job done is the most important thing in a professional environment?

10 Answers 10


What do you mean by the term 'sound design'?

If you mean film sound design then ableton LIVE isn't the best program for editing sound to picture... Anything can be used for making sounds, but for editing sound to picture you need software that has post production features, which ableton LIVE currently lacks

  • Would Logic Pro fit this description? Commented Mar 8, 2010 at 19:47
  • @monkeysound , you can definitely use Logic Pro for film sound mixing, but you'll quickly run into some annoyances and inconsistencies, for instance the lack of support for long filenames in versions prior to 9.1, and the awkward pitch/time functions (compared to Pro Tools Audiosuite anyway). You can use Ableton Live to create and mix sound to video, but it will feel like cutting bread with a fork. What you can do however is perform some of the more "designed" elements, and bring those back into a more traditional DAW.
    – georgi
    Commented Mar 9, 2010 at 0:13
  • This is what I'm thinking... Ableton is (and has been) my 'sound generator' for the last 3 years. But when I was attempting video work with it, it can do it, but it's not too great at it. So I was looking into getting much more into Logic Pro 9 as not only was there some audio mixing work around where I live but also it's much more equipped for video work. It seems knowing both is a good deal. I just can't do Protools, I'm afraid (for numerous reasons) Commented Mar 10, 2010 at 9:56

I think that if you create brilliant work that can be brought into ProTools - truly (in some cases, I'd argue sadly) the industry standard tool for digital pro audio - it doesn't matter what your tools are. The real question is: Can you make people feel something in a .wav or .aif file? Some can do so with field recording and minimal processing, while others do so wholly within the computer. It's hard to argue with killer results, regardless of the tools used. For what it's worth, I agree with John, above: No one tool will do it all, and the broader your tool and technology knowledge is, the better.

Tools can always be learned. In my opinion, good creative instincts and study of the medium are where the real differences, and the real learning challenges, lie.


I'd suggest learning all that you can. Max is a vast integrated development environment, difficult to learn, but rewarding once you realize the potential. I do think it's important to be well versed in a professional DAW like Pro Tools and Logic, but I agree that it's the end result not how you got there; whether it's jumping on a ripe melon in combat boots, or writing a Max patch to generate waveforms using probabilistic modeling. So, in my view, you are not wasting your time with Ableton, NI, or Max. The more you work with the easier it is to pick up and go with unfamiliar platforms.


I totally agree. IMO, if it makes a sound, it's useful for sound design.


I'm using a lot ableton and native instruments software (specialy Reaktor and Massive) but I think ableton need more features for the editing of sound, shortcuts, organisations of soundfx to be a good software for the sounddesign. You can use it as rewire software and record your sounds in Protools, that's what I'm doing. For me the best is to use a software for editing like Nuendo, Protools and discover other softwares and effects when you have time.

PS; For Max, Reaktor, Kyma... They are good softwares but to learn properly who to create instruments and effects, you need to be unemployed or insomniac... :D

Sorry for my english


It's a cliche, but nothing is a waste of time. The principles are the same. And the more tools you get to know and the more you experiment, the better. There is a difference between being an operator, where knowing how to operate your system quickly is very important, and being a sound designer where the outcome is what matters. That said, it's really good to know a few tools really well than have a ton that you only ever scratch the surface of.

Ableton can be great for churning out stuff quickly, but I can often pick out a track made with it. The effects tend to sound quite distinct (because they are really nice and they are often used). But if you are using it as a place to record your sound design, such as building effects using Max/MSP or VST plugins, there is no reason why it's not as legitimate as "industry standards". I just had to design a mosquito sound for a movie, and I built the basic mosquito sound using synthesis in Max/MSP and recorded it in Ableton Live (with Max for Live). I then brought it into Nuendo to automate some plugins, edit and mix to picture.

I think learning a DAW (Pro Tools, Nuendo, Logic...) really well is super important! Whatever toys you use to design your sound should finish off in a DAW.

  • Logic is definitely something I want to learn properly. I'm actually wanting to get certified in it. I don't really feel Pro Tools is for me, but Logic does seem to do the business. Being certified in Logic is surely a good for me? Commented Mar 8, 2010 at 16:23

Just adding my 5 cents, I believe it's quite clear learning the softwares you mentioned it's really worth it, so I'll jump on to another aspect of your question. Two things are really important, and you should bear that in mind when choosing your tools:

  • keep your production chain streamlined, that will save you lots of time - your most precious asset right behind your ears and your brain. Playing around with different software will help to show you who works better with whom, just make sure it all fits together in the end (or preferrably, at the beginning of every new job).

  • know your sounds. having 400 different rain sounds under your belt makes no difference if you don't know how they sound in comparsion to each other. Think of it as "streamlined soundbanks".

  • I'm interested in what you are saying here... So it's less about the tools themselves and more about knowing how to get the desired sound? ... basically? ...be it with just a microphone, a synth, a DAW or whatever? Commented Mar 10, 2010 at 9:58

From my experience with MAX, well its awesome for some kind of things but awfull for some others... mr.Benoit above said that you have to be insomniac or unemployed to learn MAX. TRUE. its basicly a programing language more than software.

But! its a very powerfull tool to make some effects for you that you can control real time. with MIDI code you can play with anything in the program and control everything (PAN/POT in 5.1 for example), or make your own sampler that responds to whatever you want it to respond... Anyways MAX/MSP is practicly infinite, you can do whatever you want from amateur to pro stuff, i suggest you start from the tutorials of the program and from cycling74 site that has some very interesting ideas in the form of user contributed patches other people share online (free of course).


http://cycling74.com/category/projects/ (check this also for some really crazy stuff...)

also check this really usefull site if you want to go deep in MAX, it has all of the externals for max (i think) and with externals i usualy go creative :)

ps. i would suggest that if you want to learn this kind of programming though go for PD (pure data) thats like a max lite... and free :)

  • With Max, the way I was seeing it was instead of chasing other software - thinking that this or that would give me some sort of new sound I never had - having something where I could piece together the bits and bobs myself means that the software 'gear lust' would be stopped dead in the water. I don't really suffer from 'gear lust' as such now, but having those options available might be a nice addition to my sound design arsenal? Commented Mar 10, 2010 at 10:00

To echo Tim's question/comment, what field of sound design do you intend on pursuing? Film, theatre, live sound, other?

As someone who works in the post-production sound for film business every day, I strongly recommend you become very familiar with Pro Tools first as it is the industry standard (at least here in LA). It is the tool you will use to edit music, dialog, ADR, sound effects, and foley, and very often it is the platform you will employ to temp, predub and final the mix. You can learn MAX, Logic or Abelton all day, but if you don't know how to use Pro Tools you will have a very difficult time securing a full-time sound design career in the film industry.

That being said, I agree with most of the other posts in that these are all tools, and each tool is best used for a specific purpose. Some programs are ideally suited for creating abstract and subjective-types of sound design elements, while others are more utilitarian in nature. Many sound designers I have worked with use Logic or Omnisphere to create new sounds, then integrate them into the Pro Tools environment. Others, like myself, enjoy using the plethora of plug-ins available through TDM, RTAS and VST programs like PT and Soundminer.

Bottom-line: First, make sure you can seamlessly participate in the workflow of your industry. Second, be creative and experiment! Third, have fun!


I work in post audio doing everything from composing to ADR direction/editing to sound design. And to varying degrees I use Logic, Live, Soundtrack Pro and Reason, they're all good for different things (even Soundtrack Pro has its uses). But if I had to pick a single DAW, it would be Pro Tools. Without it, I don't think I would be very employable.

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