By Craig Anderton
Many musicians use Ableton Live with a laptop for live performance, but this involves a compromise. Laptops often have a single, fairly slow (5400 RPM) disk drive, and a limited amount of RAM compared to desktop computers. Live gives you the choice of storing clips to RAM or hard disk, but you have to choose carefully. If you assign too many clips to disk, then eventually the disk will not be able to stream all of these clips successfully, and there will be audio gaps and dropouts. But if you assign too many clips to RAM, then there won’t be enough memory left for your operating system and startup programs.
Fortunately, there’s a very simple solution that solves all these problems: Store your Ableton projects on USB 2.0 RAM sticks. That way, you can assign all the clips to stream from the solid-state RAM “disk,” so Ableton thinks they’re disk clips. But, they have all the advantages of being stored in RAM—there are no problems with seek times or a hard disk’s mechanical limitations. Best of all, the clips place no demands on your laptop’s hard drive or RAM, leaving them free for other uses. Here’s how to convert your project to one that works with USB RAM sticks.
1. Plug your USB 2.0 RAM stick into your computer’s USB port.
2. Call up the Live project you want to save on your RAM stick.
3. If the project hasn’t been saved before, select "Save" or "Save As" and name the project to create a project folder.
Fig. 1: The "Collect All and Save" option lets you make sure that everything used in the project, including samples from external media, are saved with the project.
4. Go File > Collect All and Save (Fig. 1), then click on "OK" when asked if you are sure.
Fig. 2: This is where you specify what you want to save as part of the project.
5. When you’re asked to specify which samples to copy into the project, select "Yes" for all options, and then click OK (Fig. 2). Note that if you’re using many instruments with multisamples, this can require a lot of memory! But if you’re mostly using audio loops, most projects will fit comfortably into a 1GB stick.
6. Copy the project folder containing the collected files to your USB RAM stick.
7. From the folder on the USB RAM stick, open up the main .ALS Live project file.
8. Select all audio clips by drawing a rectangle around them, typing Ctrl-A, or Ctrl-click (Windows) on the clips to select them.
Fig. 3: All clips have been selected. Under "Samples," click on RAM until it's disabled (i.e., the block is gray).
9. Select Live’s Clip View, and under Samples, uncheck "RAM" (Fig. 3). This converts all the audio clips to “disk” clips that “stream” from your USB stick.
Now when you play your Live project, all your clips will play out of the USB stick’s RAM, and your laptop’s hard disk and RAM can take a nice vacation. This technique really works—try it!
Craig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.