Live, Pt. 1: The Gear

For my first foray into describing how I use Ableton Live, I figured I’d start with what I actually use it to do and what gear I need to make that happen. A pretty typical Wits session will look something like this (click thumbnails to see full size):

Ableton Live session view

If you’re super-new to Live, this screen might look a bit intimidating, but it’s all pretty simple once you know the basic layout. Let’s dive right in.

Continue reading →

How I Use Ableton Live

Of all the things I’ve learned about using Ableton Live, the biggest is that it will result in questions. Lots and lots of questions, like: What’s the laptop doing?, or Where are those sounds coming from?, or I saw you hitting a lot of pads, what’s with that?, or Are you checking your email from on stage?

So, I thought I’d take advantage of an afternoon off and share with the world my Ableton Live setup for Wits, which has more things going on in the laptop than per usual for me.

Live can handle a lot of needs, and my Wits setup covers them all pretty gracefully. I’ll break up this tutorial/sneaky-peek likewise:

Now, one of the best things about Live is it’s really versatile, I mean, REALLY versatile, and there are about 100 different ways to accomplish any given task. If you’re an Ableton wizard you might sigh and shake your head sadly when you see my setup but this is what’s working for me. For the sake of these posts I’m gonna assume you’re not an Ableton Wizard but, at the least, have a working knowledge of Live and how to get around it.

Cool? Cool. First up: the gear.

Happy 2015! Here’s hoping it’s one giant cookie carnival for everyone.


For the next week or so I’m driving around the Midwest with my friends in the Backyard Committee. It’s a great lineup of musicians and our first night was a blast — the music is a bit on the rootsy, Americana side with a lot of room for improvisation and trying out new ideas. Lately the shows I’ve been playing have been a little more strict, at least in the sense of learning very specific parts and arrangements, so having some room to stretch out makes for fun nights.

Along with the drumming duties I’ve been assigned the role of recording engineer — the plan is to record every show and release a live album of the best material. It makes the shows, for us at least, engaging on another level as every night is essentially a recording session, albeit one in front of people. For the recording geeks out there, we’re double-micing every source, with one line going to the front of house and the other line sent to my mobile recording rig, a Universal Audio Apollo with eight additional preamps supplied by a Audient ASP880 feeding into Pro Tools. It’s a quick setup and on these smaller stages avoids any issues with splitters or negotiating with house engineers. Knocking on wood here, but so far things are sounding great with no hiccups.

Check out the dates on the fabulous old-school poster below, and hope to see you if we’re coming to your town!

Backyard Committee tour poster with dates

In Real Time

I am playing all sorts of drums on Chris Kosa’s new record, In Real Time—we recorded it a while back and I’m excited that it’s coming out soon. I was sick as a dog in the studio with the flu but somehow looking back it was still a lot of fun. Here’s a preview of the first single, “Radio Wave.”

Fever Songs

Minnesota winters have never been, oh, say, pleasant, but this year has been a little rougher than normal—record snowfall, an extra-long season, and our new friend the polar vortex. One thing that did make it a little more bearable was a fun collaboration between artist Lexa Walsh and musician John Munson called Fever Songs. A tiny cabin was built in the atrium of the Walker Art Center, turned into a recording studio, and a night was spent recording improvised music to lyrics and inspiration provided by patrons of the gallery. I engineered the “session,” then John and I took the tunes home to overdub a few things and I mixed it all down later. This was a really challenging and enjoyable project.

Here’s another from the rehearsal room—live looping and effects, lots of fun sounds, no real-world applications just yet.

An Update

I realize it’s been a long time since I’ve updated the site with any sort of, say, relevant info. You know, “big gig coming up!” or, “just recorded this amazing album,” or even “I’m a proud father of a beautiful baby boy.” It’s kind of a shame, because all of those things happened, some of them more than once.

I do keep things flowing a little more regularly on Twitter, but like all things social, media included, I’m awkward at best. So here’s a super-quick recap of all sorts of fun things I never took the time to write about and probably should have:

A few days at the Pearl with the super-talented songwriter Chris Koza…a few nights at the James Hill Library for a number of Realphonic radio shows—including a “reunion” show with my good friend Teddy Morgan, in whose Barrio East studio I recorded a few songs with the beautiful (and also super-talented, can we just say everyone I’m writing about is super-talented?) Lily Costner…a great album with Lucy Michelle, where I got to witness firsthand the creative whirlwind of the John Munson/Chan Poling production team, whose band the New Standards I’ve been having fun playing with…the beginnings of a new record with my friend Carl Broemel, who along with bandmate Bo Koster is all over Neko Case’s amazing new record, who joined us over at Wits where we completely shredded public radio with Iron Maiden’s “Number of the Beast.”

There’s a lot more that I could write about, but to be honest it all gets a little hazy as the most amazing thing that’s happened to me recently was the birth of my son seven months ago. Life as a father has been exciting, challenging, exhausting, and inspiring. (But mostly exhausting.)


Fueled by New Haven’s finest pizza, I played some drums and did various percussion-y things with my buddy Mike Sembos on his band’s newest album. It’s being released late October, and like all things Backyard Committee you can listen to it for free: