Korg M3: Recording 101 for Ableton Live


You are playing your M3 and Ableton Live is fired up and ready to record things when inspiration strikes. How do you best capture your ideas in Ableton without breaking the flow of things? How do you then edit and organize the messy rough takes you have captured in a way that can serve as the basis for a more polished project?

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Before you begin

You must have properly set up your M3 audio and midi for use with Ableton Live.

Also note that this procedure covers just one possible way to handle the initial stages of your songwriting workflow with Ableton Live. It's a good approach and will help newcomers to the Live environment to get productive quickly, but you should of course adapt it for your own preferences as you become comfortable using Live.

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Important warning about recording KARMA MIDI and some switch/slider actions

Because Ableton Live does not support SysEx (as of version 7.0.9 anyway), then when you record KARMA output and subsequently play back your recorded KARMA MIDI tracks to a combi (or song), some tracks might not sound the same, because the SysEx message to select the correct waveform override (or to cycle through different wave-forms) is not being transmitted by the recorded MIDI track.

Similarly, the switches and sliders on your keyboard that do not transmit/receive a CC message instead work by transmitting/receiving SysEx message. The Drum Track switch is one example of this; it can be controlled only via SysEx. MIDI tracks in Ableton Live are unable to record or control these switches and sliders.

For more information, see KARMA 2: KARMA Wave-Sequencing (introduction)

Understanding which source to monitor - M3 or Ableton Live?

If, as I recommend in the article about setting up your M3 audio and midi for use with Ableton Live, you've kept your M3's Main LR outs connected to your mixer/speakers, and your audio interface (DAW) output is also connected to our mixer/speakers, then here are some helpful rules of thumb for choosing what to monitor in your mixer/speakers:

  • When you need to hear the output of one or more audio tracks from Live, naturally you monitor the DAW and mute the M3.
  • When you need to hear the MIDI output of a MIDI track from Live, you monitor the M3 and mute the DAW.
  • When you are recording both audio and MIDI into Live at the same time, monitor the DAW and mute the M3. (And make sure the audio track that you're recording is an active track that is producing sound output.)
  • When you are recording only MIDI into Live, monitor the M3 and mute the DAW if you do not need to hear any preexisting audio tracks. If you are playing along to some already recorded audio tracks, however, then monitor both the DAW and the M3.

The common thread here is that you want to avoid hearing both the audio output from the M3 and the exact same signal from an active audio track in Live at the same time (this is unavoidable in the case of the 4th bullet above). The very slight time difference between the two signals will create an annoying "doubling" of notes in your speakers. Just how bad this "doubling" will sound depends on the quality and latency of your audio interface and to some extent on how much data Live is trying to process and how much sample rate conversion and effects processing it's trying to do—all of which can add a small amount of delay to the master output from Live.

As long as the overall latency of the output signal sent to your audio interface isn't more than 10 milliseconds behind the direct output from the M3 itself, you won't find this "doubling" more than a slight annoyance.

Procedure - Recording audio and MIDI at same time for all your rough takes

It is extremely useful to record both your M3s audio output and its MIDI data at the same time when you are capturing your moments of keyboard inspiration. The audio of course provides you with instant playback to fuel further ideas, but the MIDI enables you to later tweak the MIDI data, play it back through the M3, and re-record a new audio track from your tweaked MIDI. This is very handy for correcting minor mistakes in your rough takes, and prevents you from getting bogged down in recording "the perfect take". Just get a "good enough" take and keep focusing on your songwriting, not your recording tech.

  1. Set your mixer/speakers to monitor the audio output of your DAW and mute the output of the M3 itself.
  2. In Live, open Preferences and doublecheck your Audio and MIDI/Sync tabs against the screenshots in Korg-M3: OSX Audio and MIDI setup for Ableton Live. You might need to reset a few of these fields to match the screenshots, because Live automatically switches its preferences to whatever audio/MIDI devices are available. For example, if you've run Live without having your audio interface turned on, Live will default back to using your system's onboard mic input and speakers.
  3. Create a new Live Set and enable 1 audio track and 1 MIDI track as follows:
  4. Arm the audio track, and then hold down the CMD key while you arm the MIDI track. (By default, Live allows you to arm only one track at a time, to help prevent accidental erasures.)
  5. Make sure the OVR switch (overdub recording) is disabled, and that the Global Record switch is armed.
  6. Make sure your insert marker in the Arrangement view is set to a location where you will not overwrite any existing data (that you want to keep) in the two tracks once you start recording.
  7. Now you're ready to start playing the M3.
  8. When inspiration strikes and you want to capture it:
    1. Stop KARMA and the Drum Track on the M3.
    2. Turn KARMA and the Drum Track back on so that they're waiting to be triggered by the first note you play. Note: You might need to briefly go into GLOBAL mode on the M3 and toggle Local Control ON (select the checkbox), then OFF again (clear the checkbox) to make the KARMA button on the M3 correctly echo through Live back to the M3. This seems to be a bug introduced either in more recent versions of Live or of newer M3 software since this article was first written.
    3. Press the space bar on your computer to start the recording countdown in Live. Live's MIDI clock is now driving the M3. Start playing the M3 at the end of the countdown.
    4. After you've gotten a "good enough" take, it's a good idea to stop KARMA and the Drum Track on the M3 and wait a few seconds before hitting the space bar again to stop recording the clip in Live. This makes it easier to set the boundaries of your clips later to match up with the measures grid in Arrangement view. (If your recording ends prematurely, you might have to copy some sound data to the end of the clipsuch as silenceto stretch the clip's end marker far enough to reach the next measure boundary. Remember that for clips to loop well in Session view, they generally need to be quantized to full measures.)
  9. Before you move on to play with different Combis or Programs, take a brief moment to record some notes about which combi/program/KARMA starting scene the recorded clips are based on. This will come in very handy later if you want to tweak the MIDI data or you just want to record new takes using the same sounds as before.
    1. In the audio track, right-click (Control-click) the clip's header bar, choose Rename, and give the clip a descriptive name.
    2. Then right-click the clip's header again, choose Edit Info Text, and in the Notes box in the lower left of the Live window, type in some useful notes such as the name of the sound set's PCG file (or something like "SYSTEM" if it's a Korg-default internal sound), the bank/slot number and name of the combi or program, and what KARMA scene was selected when you first started recording (so that you can start KARMA in the same place if you ever play back a tweaked version of the MIDI data).
    3. Repeat this process for the clip in the MIDI track.

Procedure - Recording MIDI only for your rough takes

If for some reason you want to record only MIDI data when capturing your songwriting inspiration, you use the same basic procedure as for both Audio and MIDI at the same time, but your track setup and mixer/speaker monitoring is a little different.

  • Basically, you don't want to monitor your DAW output when you do this, because there is no audio signal running through the DAW in this recording configuration. So instead, you must monitor the audio output from the M3 itself to hear what you're playing.
  • In Live, configure your two audio and MIDI tracks' setup exactly like this:
  • Arm only the MIDI track for recording.

Procedure - Re-recording your tweaked MIDI track into a new, cleaner audio track

You might decide that rather than producing a more polished take from scratch, it would be easier to create a more polished audio clip by tweaking your originally-recorded MIDI data and then re-recording audio while playing back the tweaked MIDI through the M3 again. Both to do the tweaking of the MIDI and the final recording into a new audio track, take the following rough steps (and otherwise follow the same recording process as described above):

  1. Set your mixer/speakers to monitor the audio output of your DAW and mute the output of the M3 itself, so that can audition the new audio track as you're playing back the MIDI from Live.
  2. In Live, create a new, empty audio track and arm it for recording. make sure its I-O and Mixer settings look like this:
  3. Stop KARMA and the Drum Track on the M3.
  4. Turn KARMA and the Drum Track back on so that they're waiting to be triggered by the first note of MIDI data that is played by Live.
  5. Play back your MIDI track and make refinements to it until you're happy with the results. Each time you stop and restart the MIDI playback, you'll also need to do the KARMA/Drum Track dance to get them ready to trigger from the first note of playback.
  6. Once you're ready to record the new, polished audio track:
    1. Make sure the OVR switch (overdub recording) is disabled, and that the Global Record switch is armed.
    2. Make sure your insert marker in the Arrangement view is set to a location where you will not overwrite any existing data (that you want to keep) in the MIDI tracks once you start recording.
    3. Press the space bar on your computer to start the recording countdown, and just sit back and listen until the take is finished. Then press the space bar to stop recording. As always in Live, it's a good idea to let the recording run a few seconds after the take is finished before you stop recording. (So that you can more easily make clips that will loop nicely in Session view.)

Procedure - Cleaning up your clips to prepare for import into Session view

Many of your clips that you've created so far in Arrangement view will have been created by "covering up" bad takes by simply dragging the endpoints of the clip marker over the start and end points of your best take. This is fine for quick and dirty work, but under the covers there is a lot of extraneous sample data taking up disk space and other resources, so we want to remove all the sample data that isn't part of your finished clip. This is especially important to do before dragging your clips from the Arrangement view into Session view, because the more overhead involved in each clip, the harder you're making your computer work in Session view.

  1. In Arrangement view, double-click a clip to select it and show its details in the Clip view in the bottom half of the Live window.
  2. If the Clip view looks like the following screen shot, then you've got extra junk in the clip's sample and it needs to be cleaned up.
  3. From the Live menu, choose Edit > Consolidate. The sample is trimmed to the defined clip boundaries and should now look like this:

Procedure - Copying your finished clips into Session view

You might not like Live's Session view and it might not seem "natural" if you're used to traditional linear recording and other sequencer software. Regardless, it's a pretty powerful feature of Live and you might be surprised at how it can help with your songwriting. It's extremely simple to copy your finished clips from the Arrangement view into the Session view.

All you do is click a clip's header bar and drag the clip over to the Session View Selector button near the upper right of the window. Live will flip over to the Session view, and you can drop the clip into whatever slot you like. (You should put the clip in the same track that it came from in the Arrangement view, because the track it's in determines into which Arrangement track your playback from the Session view will be recorded.

Note that you'll probably need to turn on Looping for each clip that you add to Session view this way. You can experiment with making each clip loop or not and you'll see why looping clips is useful in Session view.



  • If you flub a take during recording, it's super easy to delete the recorded clips by clicking the clip header bar to select it and then pressing the Delete key on your keyboard. Then hit the space bar to try again, and recording will automatically start from the current insert point.
  • Experiment with using Live's loop recording and punch-in/punch-out recording modes with the OVR control turned off. For example, when you're trying to record a fast, hard to play phrase, you can just keep looping that section over and over until you nail a good take, then hit the space bar to stop recording before the loop starts over again (and thereby erases the beginning of your good take).
  • Live can easily mix and match tempos in a Live Set. For example, you can record a couple clips from combi X at 82 bpm, then record a clip from combi Y at 110 bpm, then record a couple clips from program Z at 96 bpm, and so on. The trick to doing this is to expand the Master track at the bottom of the Arrangement view, then in the Mixer section for that track set the Device Chooser to Mixer, and then the Control Chooser to Tempo. This displays an envelope line for the Tempo of the entire Live Set. You can add control points to the envelope and drag the different sections up and down as needed to change the tempo for the clip you're about to record, as shown in the following diagram. This isn't as practical for producing a real song, but it's great for using Live as a "notepad" while you're jamming on the M3. Later you can make a copy of the Live Set and remove all the other clips except for the ones you want to start fleshing out into a real composition, and at that time you can reset the Tempo envelope to be just a single tempo all the way through the timeline.
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