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Benefits of Playback versus Ableton Live

Monday June 24, 2019. 02:00 PM , from Sweetwater inSync
The benefits of using tracks in worship are tremendous. You can enhance your music with additional sounds, supplement your band with extra parts, and even help train your team by using tracks for practice and rehearsal purposes. Previously we’ve discussed the five things you need in order to use tracks live, but a question I get often is, “Should I use Playback or Ableton Live?”
While both options are incredibly stable, flexible, and efficient ways to use pre-recorded tracks live, I thought it would be worth diving into some details about when to use each. First, let me briefly introduce each and explain how they play into the world of using tracks live.
Playback is an app created by that is available for iPad and iPhone. Since its release in 2013, it has grown in popularity as a simple, powerful, and reliable way to run tracks in a worship environment. It’s free to download, and you can make use of some incredibly powerful features without spending a dime. Where Playback really shines, though, is when you pair it with content you’ve already purchased from
While there are other iOS-based playback apps, none is as fast as Playback. You purchase a song, and when you return to the app, it’s immediately available. No need to download and upload or add markers — MultiTracks has done all the work for you. You can even subscribe to Playback Rentals, which gives you access to search the Rentals catalog and load content directly into the app, without ever visiting the website.
When you’re ready for additional features and flexibility, you can subscribe to Playback Pro or Premium with a monthly subscription and have access to features like multiple outputs using an audio interface, editing your arrangement, and jumping around in your arrangement in real time.
The most powerful thing about Playback is that MultiTracks owns all the widgets. Put simply, because the content is assembled by their engineers, there are things you get automatically that you can’t get with any other app. (It’s important to note that they aren’t creating the content. The content comes from the original artists, but they format the content for live performance.) While other apps may boast of their ability to upload content for free (including content from MultiTracks), no other app boasts the ability to save you time and money by allowing you to download your content immediately and for free into the app.
While you can upload your own content into the app using a MultiTracks Cloud subscription, the true power of the app comes with using content from with a Pro or Premium subscription. Again, because MultiTracks is formatting the content for live performance, you get the ability to edit and jump around your song, without any additional work. While some of these things can be accomplished in Ableton Live with the correct formatting, it will never be as fast and as simple as Playback.
Ableton Live
Ableton Live is a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) created by Ableton in 2001. You can run it on any PC or Mac computer, but it is not available for iOS. Initially created as a tool for DJs to perform live with pre-recorded content, it has become a staple on stages worldwide as a tool for playing back tracks, as well as a key host for virtual soft synths.
Because Live was designed with the ability to change the key and tempo of any content at any time, and it gives you flexibility with pre-recorded arrangements, it’s an incredibly powerful option for running tracks live onstage. With warping, you can transpose any song instantly to any key while staying in time and without losing the quality of the content. You can also use warping to change the tempo of your content and even use tap tempo to change the tempo live in the moment.
With global quantization and key and MIDI mapping, you can control your song and set list remotely using any MIDI controller, and you can jump around your arrangement or repeat a section with the tap of a button.
If you want to step up the production level of your service and still maintain freedom and flexibility, Ableton is an incredible solution. You can lay MIDI cues directly on your timeline to control presets and values on your gear, or you can even drop an LTC (Linear Time Code) audio file into your timeline to sync to video, lighting, and more for perfect sync when you’re performing onstage. Again, the best feature of all of this is you don’t lose the freedom and flexibility you have when using tracks.
While Ableton excels at playing back tracks live onstage, because it’s a full-fledged DAW, you can easily create your own content, record and edit audio, produce your own songs, and much more.
Now that we’ve discussed both Playback and Ableton, let’s walk through a few scenarios and discuss when to use which software.
Just Getting Started?
If you’re just getting started using tracks in a worship environment, I would hands down suggest using Playback. It’s free to get started, you get tons of options and features for free, and content that you purchase from is available instantly in the app as soon as you log in. You can quickly load in your content, build a set list with great transitions, change key/tempo, and adjust the mix to suit your needs.
As your needs grow, consider subscribing to Playback Pro or Playback Premium to unlock additional features. Once you outgrow those features, then you might consider moving over to Ableton Live. If you think the transition from Playback to Ableton might ever be possible for you, then I’d encourage you to stick with purchasing downloaded content from MultiTracks instead of subscribing to Playback Rentals. This will give you the ability to use the same content you purchased and used in Playback in Ableton.
Playback, Keys, and Automation?

Are you looking for something that can run tracks, host keys sounds, and control your production elements? In that case, you’ll want to choose Ableton Live. Again, because it’s a full-fledged DAW, it gives you tons of capabilities that Playback doesn’t. You can use Ableton for all your recording, editing, and performing needs. Staying in one software, you’ll find your speed and ability to create increases dramatically.
Tracks-only Solution?
Do you already have a solution for recording and creating content? Or maybe you’re only looking for a way to run tracks live? In that case, I’d encourage you to use Playback. Because its sole focus is using tracks live, it has the benefit of ignoring other features you’d typically find in a DAW and focusing on those features that matter for tracks. Again, I’d encourage you to also buy your content directly from in order to immediately access content in the app. If you’re using original content or want to use content purchased elsewhere, you can use MultiTracks Cloud to load that content in as well.
iOS or Mac/PC?

This discussion point is pretty simple and straightforward. If you’re looking for a solution for iPad or iPhone, you’ll want to use Playback. Ableton Live isn’t available for iOS. If you’re using a Mac or PC computer, then you’ll want to use Ableton, as Playback is only available for iOS.
With the recent announcement of Project Catalyst from Apple, I imagine we’ll start to see more cross-platform apps available on iOS and MacOS. While it’s currently possible to create an app for both, it requires substantially more resources and work, and no one wants a giant iPad app on their computer. It needs to have access to the file system and the ability to take advantage of the speed and power of your computer. I believe that as developers get access to Project Catalyst, we’ll see more and more incredible apps on both platforms soon, fingers crossed.
OCD or Carefree?
This deciding factor has nothing to do with the software but has everything to do with you. How are you wired? Do you have intricately constructed file folder structures on your computer to store your files? Do you customize, and tweak, and customize still more before you get it right? Or do you store all your files on your desktop and hope you can find them later? Do you quickly open a file and roll with it?
If you’re someone who wants endless customizations and the ability to organize files and edit content exactly the way you want it, use Ableton. Because it’s a full-fledged DAW, it will give you the ability to customize the file exactly for your needs. If you’re a file management guru and want to store and access your content precisely as you like, Ableton running on your computer is the perfect solution.
If you’re someone who wants to load a set list and press go, use Playback. You won’t need to fuss with file management or file storage, because they’re available for you and ready to use. You’ll still be able to edit your arrangements and create custom transitions, but MultiTracks has done a lot of the work for you, under the hood, so you can simply open the app and go.
Both Is Best
Finally, it’s worth noting that your best bet would be to know both of these programs. As a worship leader, you’re not isolated. You might have multiple ministries, multiple services going on at the same time. Hopefully you are able to take a few Sundays off every now and again. In those cases, it would be nice to be able to equip your team with an iPad to use Playback on. Again, purchase downloadable content from MultiTracks, and you can instantly get access in Playback and still use the same content in Ableton, exactly how you want it.
Equip your kids ministry or youth group with Playback so they can easily and affordably get started with tracks, without buying a whole new rig. And consider Playback as a perfectly viable backup solution for you in case your laptop goes down if you can’t currently afford a fully redundant system.
In order to best fully serve and equip your church, I’d encourage you to learn and try both Playback and Ableton. You can download a free demo of Playback here and a free demo of Ableton here and get started today!
The post Benefits of Playback versus Ableton Live appeared first on inSync.
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