Organizing Your Ableton Browser Like a Boss PART 2: Custom Categories!

You might have already checked out the post about organizing your User & Plugin Presets like a boss using Ableton’s built-in folder architecture.

Well, now we’re ratcheting it up a level to give you ultimate control of your own personalized device organization structure, with the ability to decide exactly what those categories will be.

Modified Audio Effect Categories

If you’re like me, you’re obsessed with systematizing your production tools and resources into a cohesive configuration, making it easy to access what you want when you want it, for maximally optimized workflow when diving into creativity.

While working along with the default categories for years, i was never quite fully satisfied by Ableton’s built-in selection of available choices, so i did some research and testing and determined that is not only possible, but actually fairly easy to set up your own custom categories. The trick is to plan things out logistically.

If at this point you have no idea what i’m talking about, please check out the above-linked blog post for background on how Ableton’s category structure works. Then come back here and continue on. The gist is that by including devices in folders of particular names, you can get them to automatically show up in Live’s Core Browser. Normally, we’re relegated to using the default built-in categories that Live comes supplied with. All PerforModule Premium Packs are set up with devices like this, so they install and devices show up in the Core Library for anyone who purchases them. But now, should you want to, you can modify those actual categories. Sweetness.

Virtual Folder Config

The trick to setting up your own categories lies with the VirtualFolders.cfg file.

VirtualFolders.cfg Locations (for Ableton Live 10, similar for Live 9)…
PC:
C:\ProgramData\Ableton\Live 10 Suite\Resources\Core Library\Ableton Folder Info
Mac:
Ableton Live Application (show package contents) > Contents/App-Resources/Core Library\Ableton Folder Info

Always Back Up!

When starting out on this mission, firstly save a copy of the original VirtualFolders.cfg file in a safe place in case you make a mess out of things and need to restore the default state. You can always reinstall Live to do so as well, but that’s not necessary if you back up the file.

In addition, you definitely, absolutely will want to save a backup copy of your own custom-crafted VirtualFolders.cfg in a safe place, because every time Ableton updates Live, it will get overwritten and you’ll need to replace it (just like with Themes aka Skins). Maintaining a backup of your custom configuration is essential in order to continue using it in the future, so do not forget to save a copy of it after you complete it.

Your Custom Configuration

If you open up the VirtualFolders.cfg file in a text editor (such as the recommended Sublime Text 3) and gaze around at it for a while you’ll get an idea for how things work.

Virtual Folders are arranged in Groups. Each Group can include an arbitrary number of Virtual Folders, which will be the names of the folders that show up in Live’s browser. Each Virtual Folder allows two parameters: the Name (a single string of text that will show up as the category title), and the Patterns, a list of text strings which will trigger search results for devices in that category. Neat!

To set up your own system, simply alter the existing entries, and/or add your own new ones. I would recommend starting slowly, perhaps by adding in one new category to one group and testing it out, before planning a major overhaul to the entire scheme. Be extra cautious about deleting existing options, since while doing so won’t affect any devices directly, it may reduce your ability to easily access certain existing patches.

In the image below, see how on the right i’ve added the “Chiptune” Virtual Folder to the Drum categories. Now i can find chiptune-style drum hits easier. Radical.

After you backup both the original and your new configuration, replace the original with the new one, restart Live and check out what happened. Chaos? Euphoria? Now ponder whether you made a wise decision.

PerforModule’s Configuration Strategy

I’ve found Ableton’s default categories for the Sounds group to be mostly adequate, and so i haven’t altered much there. Notably, i’ve removed the “Booms” entry (new with Live 10), which i find useless and annoying to exist as its own folder, since anything i’ve found that could be classified as such could instead fit into a more appropriate category.

Because i was already invested in having sorted thousands of patches into the existing categories, it made sense for me to keep them, but perhaps in your case it might be a good idea to reassess the default categories and use ones instead that make more sense to you. Perhaps you would prefer to have multiple categories of basses available, for example—coordinating your clean, distorted, and wobbly bass patches separately. I might change “Synth Misc” into “Chiptune”, since that’s basically what i use the category for anyways…

Note that the Drums group is for drum hits, not drum racks. (Unfortunately, i’m still not sure of a way to suavely organize drum racks by type, so for those i still use User Library folders.)

The AudioFx group is where i’ve shifted stuff around a bit more.

The “Analysis” category is added, and it is much welcomed.
“Distortion” has keywords added so that degradation effects show up there.
Various effects previously crammed within “Mixing & Mastering” have been granted their own categories…
I’ve added a “Compression & Transients” category to align with the Elemental Mixing Template.
“Gating & NR” category for dynamics-increasing and noise reduction effects.
“Console & Saturation” has been added as a category, since i tend to use those for different purposes than more overt distortions.
“Delay” (previously placed inside “Modulation & Rhythmic”) now has a dedicated category.
“Enhancement” category added for exciters and other special-purpose, hard-to-categorize processors.
“EQ” now has its own category apart from “Filter”.
“Generative” category added for audio effects that generate sound.
“Channel Strip” category added for multi-effect chain plugins.
“Loudenating” category (shoutout to chris from airwindows for that term) added for limiters, maximizers… things whose purpose and result is to make stuff louder.
“Multiband Dynamics” category added, because those beasts are unique and special-purpose enough to have their own demesnes.
“Parameter Control” category because all those MaxForLive gadgets are so damn nifty to have on-hand in an accessible fashion.
“Routing and Playback” for all the odd toys that do strange things with channel routing, signal sending, and et cetera.
“Verb” because why the heck is there not a reverb category to begin with? They used to live in “Space”, which now i can designate only for things to do with stereo panning, perceived positionality, phase, and depth of field.
“Drums” and “Instrument” still exist as effect categories, and are used for instrument-specific plugins (examples: eddie kramer DR, bass professor).

Should you use the same custom categories as me? Probably not. But you can use these examples as thought-food to inspire your own devious system planning that suits your particular preferences.

But Why?

“I can just custom organize stuff however i want in my User Library, and ignore the Core Library. What’s the practical point of this?”

I dunno… i guess if you’re an anal-retentive nerd. It just streamlines stuff and feels like a cleaner, more unified experience. If you can’t see the appeal, then this is not for you. Have fun with your disorganized midden heap of chaotically-organized junk. Just kidding. It’s all love. Well, mostly.

Limitations

As swagtastic as implementing a custom system in this way feels, it’s still far from perfect. There are various improvements that could certainly be had.

Being able to classify individual Samples, Loops, and Clips might be kinda neat. As mentioned above, drum racks don’t count as a group like the other device types, and that’s kinda dorky.

Being able to access things with a sort of tag-style metadata system might be more elegant than folder trees. I know some DAWs can do this.

What would you add or change?

Final Brian Funk Packs, End-Of-Year PerforModule Instrument Packs Sale

Brand New Brian Funk Packs!

I’m happy to announce that the complete set of epic amalgamated Ableton Live device packs by Brian Funk are now available, bringing their total to ten. Includes:

AMBIENT
BASS
CHIP
DRUMS
EFFECTS
EXOTIC
KEYS
ORCHESTRAL
PLUNK
SYNTHS

“But what if i want ALL of them?” you ask. Not to worry—the Brian Funk ANTHOLOGY is available, allowing you to snag all of the packs at a greatly reduced total cost. Brian spent a ridiculous amount of time creating these devices in the first place over the years, and then i spent an obscene amount of time assessing, organizing, fine-tuning, and packaging them up into self-installing ableton live packs. The price for the full anthology might seem kinda hefty at first glance, but when you realize the scope of what you are getting, it’s actually an insane deal. (By the way, be sure to check out Brian’s awesome Music Production Podcast, if you haven’t yet.)

~`~

End-of-Year Sale on PerforModule Instrument Packs!

Until the start of 2020, all of PerforModule’s Legacy Instrument Packs are available for just $1 each! That’s 40 to 80% off their normal [already discounted] prices. w00t.

The PMX instruments were fully multisampled (all 88 keys for each instrument) through a tube preamp at 96kHz for ultra-high-quality source audio. What’s extra cool about them is that i spent a huge amount of hours researching the physical instrument counterparts of each patch, setting up effects and macro controls which mimic aspects of the playability of their real physical versions. The Crystal Goblets pack is also cool, including instruments made from one of my first ever sound design projects, sampling notes played from water-filled crystal goblets in Oregon in 2006.

Select From:

PMX-301 Classic Pianos
PMX-302 Funky Pianos
PMX-303 Organs
PMX-304 Reeds
PMX-305 Clavis
PMX-306 Mallets
PMX-307 Guitars
PMX-308 Basses
PMX-309 Exotic Plucked
PMX-310 Melodic Percussion
PMX-311 Strings
PMX-312 Pads
PMX-313 Brass
PMX-314 Woodwinds
PMX-315 Exotic Winds
PMX-316 Synth Leads
PMX-317 Synth Strings
PMX-318 Synth Voices
PMX-319 Sound Effects
Crystal Goblets


PERUSE BRIAN FUNK PACKS AT ISOTONIK STUDIOS

PERUSE PERFORMODULE INSTRUMENT PACKS AT SHOPTLY

Progressive Energy Transfer

For the past close to a year, i’ve been working on recording and mixing a collection of original songs by Shavano, an 79-yr old piano player / singer who lives in the same mountainous, forested region of Colorado as me. He dwells in a house built with his own hands, which is powered exclusively by solar and wind energy, on an amazing property with stone-lined paths twisting here and there. It feels like something from a fantasy novel, a magical space that is totally separate from the rest of the world.

Shavano’s House.
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Free foobar2000 Theme

Hey!

Apologies for the delay between posts, but i’ve been super busy with the finishing stages of completing production on Shavano‘s upcoming new album Progressive Energy Transfer (among various other things).
Now, on to the topic!

foobar rocks

I spend a good deal of time listening to music and occasionally take stabs at optimizing the experience. A recent subwoofer upgrade to a nicer one i snabbed at auction for super cheap is one example. Another example is fine-tuning my Desktop PC music playback experience.

Lately i have taken quite strongly to foobar2000 as an exquisite audio playback experience, as it is highly customizable and of utmost quality, but feels quite approachable. And also it’s totally free.

Having recently optimized my foobar interface to highly satisfying degree, i figured i’d share it with you / the world. You can use it as-is, or (as i would recommend) spend some time tweaking it to your personal liking, perhaps removing some elements, moving things around, or adding features.

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New Brian Funk Pack: ADM CHIP

OLD NEW IDENTITY
In case you haven’t heard the news, Brian Funk is no longer going by the name AfroDJMac. You can hear his thoughts on the evolution to this “new” identity at his podcast episode here.

MONIKERS CAN BE AWKWARD
I recall, when i appeared on his podcast for episode 13, joking briefly about the awkwardness of monikers. So from my perspective, this shift has been a long time coming and is totally sensible. HOWEVER…. at the time it happened we were smack dab in the middle of the process of releasing a series of ADM packs, epic agglomerations of his instruments, collected into organized, self-installing, themed ableton live packs, ideal for satiating completionists who desire to access to the catalog of devices in the easiest manner possible.

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Nifty Ableton Option: Auto Adjust Macro Mapping Range

-AutoAdjustMacroMappingRange will make it so that when you map a parameter to a macro control, the current value becomes the minimum value of the newly-created mapping (rather than 0).
I prefer enabling this option because it streamlines workflow by helping to map macros faster, saving the step of typing in the minimum value when it is already in place.

With -AutoAdjustMacroMappingRange off, when mapping a parameter to a macro control, it will always result in a range of “min” to “max”, ragardless of the current position.

Say i want to map a parameter to a macro, and i want it to range specifically from 37 to 127.

With -AutoAdjustMacroMappingRange set to off, i would first have to map the parameter, click “map”, and then edit the minimum value to be 37.

However, with -AutoAdjustMacroMappingRange set to on instead, by mapping it, the minimum value will automatically be set to the current value (in this case 37), while the maximum will default to 127.

For cases where the maximum is meant to be 127, this reduces the mapping process to a single quick step, without even needing to open map mode. Other types of mappings might still require turning on map mode to adjust the values, but will still save a step of action if you map it while the current value matches one of the target values.

The unprocessed screengrab below demonstrates various mapping strategies, depending on what you want the minimums and maximums to be.

. . .

NOTE: i believe that a recent update of Live 10 enables AutoAdjustMacroMappingRange by default, whereas in previous versions it was off unless you enabled it manually. Either way, it’s handy to know that you can change it around when desired. Just remember that if you do change it, you’ll have to restart live for the change to take effect (i think).

“How the heck do i implement this?” you might ask. To answer that and for more swag info about Ableton Live’s mysterious Options.txt, Madeleine Bloom’s series on the topic is highly recommended.