How To Use A Reference Track to Kickstart Your Ableton Project

Sep 02, 2023

Starting a new music production project can be daunting, especially when you are staring at a blank screen with no ideas coming to mind. A great technique to kickstart your project and ensure that your mix and arrangement is on point is to use a reference track. In this article, we will walk you through a step-by-step guide on how to use a reference track and create an outline with MIDI clips in Ableton Live's Arrangement View.

Step 1: Import the Reference Track

Start by importing your reference track into the arrangement view of a new Ableton Live project. Place it on an audio track at the top of your arrangement for easy reference.

Step 2: Analyze the Reference Track

Listen carefully to the reference track. Pay attention to the different elements like the kick, snare, bass, synths, vocals, etc., and also take note of the dynamics, panning, and effects applied to each element.

Step 3: Create MIDI Clips for Each Element

For each element you identify, create a new MIDI track and a corresponding MIDI clip. Rename the clips accordingly, e.g., "Kick", "Bass", "Lead Synth", etc.

Step 4: Note Down the Qualities

In the MIDI clips, you can add notes to yourself about the qualities of each element. For example, for a kick drum, you might note down that it is "punchy with a slight reverb" or for a synth, "wide and detuned". You can add these notes by right-clicking the MIDI clip, selecting 'Edit Info Text', and then entering the desired information.

Step 5: Outline the Arrangement

Next, arrange the MIDI clips on the timeline to match the arrangement of the reference track. For example, if the reference track has a 16-bar intro, followed by an 8-bar verse, then arrange your MIDI clips to reflect this.

Step 6: Start Filling In

Once you have created the outline, you can start filling in the MIDI clips with your own content. For example, you can start by programming the drums, then add the bassline, and so on.

Step 7: Adjust and Fine-Tune

After you have filled in all the MIDI clips, you can start to fine-tune your track by adjusting the dynamics, panning, and effects to match the reference track closely.

Step 8: Compare and Adjust

Regularly compare your track to the reference track to make sure you are on the right path. Make adjustments as needed.


Remember, the purpose of using a reference track is not to copy it, but to use it as a guide for your own production. It can help you to create a well-balanced mix and an effective arrangement, but your track should still have its own unique sound and identity. By following these steps, you can kickstart your Ableton Live project and create a professional-sounding track in no time.