How To Go Lo-Fi With Ableton Live (Part 2)

Compression and creative EQ will be the topics of part two on our series about getting Lo-Fi with Ableton Live. Let’s grab our garbled sounds and continue on, shall we?

Creative Compression

A compressor is simply an automatic volume control. Depending on the settings, putting a compressor onto a track can bring all sounds up to equal volume.

Here is a quick example:

Uncompressed Audio

You can hear a small amount of tape hiss in the background. Now watch what happens when I drop Ableton’s compressor onto the same track with these settings:

Compressed Audio

The sound has been completely flattened, all volume is treated equally with this setting. It has brought up the tape hiss to a considerable amount.

The “Pumping” Sound

One of the most sought after compression sounds for lo-fi freaks is the sound of the compressor pumping. This happens when the compression becomes noticeably audible. Most normal compression techniques use “subtle” compression to add a little punch, but lo-fi is not about subtly.

Let’s take a loop at a drum loop and see how we can get it to “pump”.

Here is a 2 bar loop I’ve programmed with some single shots and Ableton’s Drum Rack. Here it is with no compression:

Drum Loop (No Compression)

Next, I have dropped Ableton’s Compressor on top of it with a threshold setting of -50dB, the ratio is at 4.00, release 30 and the make-up gain is up to 12dB.

This is an extreme amount of compression. Usually the recommended is about -20dB threshold, 2-4 ratio. Try and come up with your own crazy settings. There are no real limits.

Note: I also have Ableton’s Limiter on the Master Channel.

Drum Loop (Extreme Compression)

Notice how the extreme amounts of compression are almost making the drums distort? This is one of the effects of pushing the make-up gain so high. If you listen closely you can hear the high transients on the hats distorting, as well as a “breathing” sound from the kick drum.

Side Chain Compression

One of the greatest additions to Ableton Live’s compressor is their side chain function. This allows you to take an audio signal (say a kick drum) and use that sound to compress another sound (let’s say a synthesizer).

This allows the synthesizer to “duck” whenever the kick hits, allowing for more impact with the drums.

Here is an untreated sample I am going to layer on top of the drums:

Melodic Sample (Untreated)

Here are what the drums and the sample sound like together:

Drums Loop And Melodic Sample (Untreated Melodic Sample)

Not bad so far, but the drums are obviously over powering the sample.

What I am going to do next is add a side chain compressor to add rhythmic interest, as well as let the kick and sample interact better sonically.

Note: To access Ableton’s Sidechain click on the arrow located on the top left of the Compressor.

Once I am in Compressor’s Side Chain Settings, I am going to select the Kick drum from the loop I programmed earlier as the audio source.

Let’s hear what just the sample sounds like now that it is being affected by the kick drum:

Melodic Sample (Side Chain Effect)

You can hear the audio dropping at spots where the kick drum is hitting. This is exactly the effect we’re looking for.

The settings used for the side chain are similar to the drum’s compression: threshold set to -50dB, ratio at 8.00, make-up grain brought up to 20dB. Once again, very extreme settings.

As a frame of reference I am going to play back both the sample and drums with the heavy compression and side chain, as well as a completely un treated version.
Heavily compressed and side chained loop:

Final Loop (With Extreme Compression And Side Chain)

Final Loop (All Compression Removed)

I think the results are definitely subjective, and which one sounds better is really a matter of taste. I hope by noticing the extreme differences of these two, you can apply some real lo-fi edge with Ableton’s Compressor.

Distressed With Equalization

Adding and taking away certain frequencies of sound has been a long standing practice for recording engineers. The most common use of equalization is to create places for instruments to “sit in the mix”.

In this section we are going to look at ways you can create Lo-Fi treatments with Ableton’s EQ Eight.

Cutting The Highs

Most professional audio equipment can reproduce sounds from 20Hz – 20,000Hz. It’s around the 11,000Hz – 20,000Hz where the “sparkle” of audio comes from. Here is a quick technique to reduce the shine.

  1. Load up EQ Eight onto your master channel.
  2. Select Band 4 on the EQ.
  3. Choose the high-cut icon.
  4. Click the “Frequency Knob” and type 11,000 on your keyboard.
  5. This will cut out all frequencies above 11,000Hz.

What this does is emulate old mixing consoles that didn’t have the same frequency response that modern equipment does. By eliminating the “sparkle” you are recreating the lo-fidelity of older equipment.

The Telephone Effect

This is a great technique for the old school AM radio effect where you can only hear the mid-range of the audio.

  1. Load an EQ Eight on an instrument or loop.
  2. Select Band 1 and set it to the Low Cut option.
  3. Change the frequency of Band 1 to 500Hz.
  4. Select Band 4 and set it to the High Cut option.
  5. Change the frequency of Band 4 to 4,000Hz.
  6. Select Band 2 and change the frequency to 1,500Hz.
  7. Give Band 2 a 3-6dB boost with the Gain Knob.
  8. Narrow the Q on band 2 to about 3.

Boosting The Hiss

If you have a track with tape hiss on it, you can use the extreme compression tips mentioned above, as well as some boosting in the high end of EQ Eight.

  1. Load up EQ Eight onto a track with tape hiss or other high end noise.
  2. Select Band 4, change it to the High Shelf setting.
  3. Change the gain of Band 4 to about 6 – 8dB.

You will now be accentuating any tape hiss you have on your track.

Grit Creative

So this concludes part 2 of our series on getting Lo-Fi with Ableton live. On part 3 we will be discussing distortion as well sampling techniques to get that true old school vibe in your tracks. Stay tuned!

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