What is Ableton Link?

By: Bradley White | Published: 7th August 2018

They say two heads are better than one, and in the context of music making teaming up with another musician can definitely help with the flow of ideas. Unfortunately for electronic musicians who want to work collaboratively, it’s not easy to jam like in a traditional band setting, so you miss out on that spontaneous flow of ideas that comes with – quite literally – riffing off of each other. Often you’re resigned to working remotely and exchanging files over the internet or by sitting in the same room fighting over a laptop to get ideas down.

This is especially problematic in an age where electronic music production is slowly becoming more sociable. Nowadays we can easily chuck our music making gear in a backpack and meet up with another musician. The only issue is getting everything synced up so that you can both use your own devices and software but come up with ideas together. There are methods you can use to get this working, but they generally require audio interfaces and cables and seem clunky and archaic, not to mention having to carry round a load of extra equipment seems to defeat the whole point of everything being portable.

Ableton designed Link as a way around this, meaning that two or more musicians working on Ableton Live are able to sync their projects perfectly over a local network (you’ll need WiFi access for this to work) meaning that their projects are beat matched and phase locked. Gone are the days of having to crowd around one laptop and wrestle it from your collaborator everytime you want to make a contribution. I could come up with a drum beat on my laptop and my friend can write an arpeggiated synth part on theirs and they’ll be perfectly in time.

But how is this relevant to iOS music apps? Well, you may have noticed that some apps have a ‘Link’ button. This allows you to quickly sync your iOS apps to the tempo of an Ableton Live project. This is perfect for musicians who combine an iOS and desktop set-up and allows you to easily synchronise a drum machine app, for example, that you can then record into Live.

However, this isn’t just a useful tool for desktop producers, you don’t actually need Ableton Live to use Link. You can use it to sync your iOS music production apps with those on other iOS devices, making it easy to set up a jam with other iOS musicians. Or you can simply use it to sync apps on the same devices. This is massively useful considering the modular nature of the iOS music making environment, as you’ll often be combining lots of separate apps and constantly be switching between them, so to be able to have them all running in sync with one another is massively useful.

Not every iOS app is Ableton Link compatible, but plenty are, with Ableton currently having over 130 listed on their site. So next time you’re setting up a jam on your iPad, see if you have any Ableton Link iOS apps and have a go at getting everything running in sync.

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