Our lives are inundated with sound. As artists who work with sound as a medium, capturing audio is often the first step in our process. We never know when or where something interesting will arise, so we have to be prepared. For sounds in our natural environment, this might mean having a handheld recorder at the ready. But much of what we hear today comes to us through our devices, piped from apps and browsers to give us the podcasts, videos, and music streaming on which we feed. What we really need is a frictionless way to instantly capture all the sounds coming from our computer. In this article, we’ll show you how to do this with a single keyboard shortcut.

Before we get started, you’ll need to download a third-party application for MacOS called Audio Hijack. It isn’t free software, but the trial version will work just fine as long as you don’t need to capture individual recordings longer than 10 minutes (after which the audio quality degrades). If you find the app useful, definitely consider buying a license to support its creators.  

Click the icon below to download Audio Hijack.


Once downloaded, drag Audio Hijack into your Applications folder, then open the application. Double click the session labeled System Audio then click the System Audio block and install the ACE component, an add-on needed to capture audio from anywhere on your computer. 

Next, click the Recorder block to change the recorder’s settings. This isn’t entirely necessary, but I find it helpful to tweak a few things. First, I’m going to change the output folder to a more convenient location. This can be anywhere  you want, but I’d suggest a folder that’s linked in the Places section in Ableton’s Browser. That way newly captured audio files immediately show up in Live's side-bar, ready to use whenever you need it.

I already have a folder for incoming audio material linked in Places, so I created a specific subfolder called "From Audio Hijack" and set my output destination there.

If you don’t have any linked folders in Live’s Places section, linking one is as simple as pressing Add Folder then navigating to the folder you want. 

Next, I’m going to change the encoding from a compressed MP3 format to a lossless 24 bit, 44.1 kHz AIFF format. This is a preference thing (and likely won’t make too much of an audible difference), so if disk space is precious you may want to keep it on the MP3 setting. Under the hood, Live always converts MP3's into uncompressed temporary files when they're added to a set, so I generally like to keep audio in uncompressed formats to skip this conversion step altogether.

Audio Hijack is now configured and ready to go. One quirk for the keyboard shortcut to work is that you can only have one Audio Hijack session saved - the one we just set up. If you've created any other sessions in the process, make sure those are deleted before moving on. 

Next, we need to roll several commands - opening Audio Hijack, starting to record, navigating back to your app in use - into a single automated task by using a workflow service in MacOS’s Automator. You don’t need to learn how to do this from scratch because I’ve linked the workflow file below, called pATCHES Instant Audio Capture. Also included is another workflow called pATCHES Stop Recording to stop the recording and shut down Audio Hijack. Click Automator's robot to download the files. It's kinda cute, isn't it?

Once you’ve unzipped the file, just double click each service and they will install themselves. 

The final step is linking keyboard shortcuts to the services we just installed. Click the apple in the top left of your menu bar and open System Preferences. Click the Shortcuts tab in the Keyboard section, then select Services in the left column. Navigate down until you see the pATCHES Instant Audio Capture and pATCHES Stop Recording services in the General section at the bottom. Make sure the two boxes are checked, then click the button on the right to set a keyboard shortcut of your choosing and press Return to confirm.

This shortcut can be anything you want, but try to avoid conflicts with other shortcuts you might need. I chose [ctrl + option + cmd + c] for audio capture and [ctrl + option + cmd + s] for stop recording. 

Now everything should be configured and ready to go. Just play something in your browser or music streaming service or wherever (as long as the window isn't in full screen mode) and hit the shortcuts you specified to start and stop recording.

Here it is in action capturing from a Youtube video. 

Now you have instant audio of whatever you want, whenever you want, captured with a single keystroke and waiting for you in its folder to sample, chop, mangle, and arrange into something great!

With all this sampling magic at your fingertips, you might want to read The Morality of Sampling in our Manifestos section. To find great sounds for your productions and to help us write more insightful articles like this one, consider purchasing one or more of our Sample Packs. Your support really does make a difference.