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 it’s 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?

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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Skip Plugin Scan to Load Ableton Live Faster

This is just a quick, simple tip.

If it takes forever to scan plugins every time you open Live (due to certain poorly-coded plugins taking longer than others and bottlenecking the process), you can set it up to skip plugin scan. Keep in mind that if you do this, you’ll want to perform a manual scan (from preferences) any time you install or update any new VST plugins.

How to do it?
Add “-NoVstStartupScan” to your options.txt file

But how to do that?
To familiarize yourself with Ableton’s options.txt, i will point you towards sonicbloom.net’s awesome article and series of videos on the topic.

That’s it! Live will no longer do a scan every time it opens.

Ever since i applied this option, the stupidly vast size of my plugin collection doesn’t adversely affect my workflow. Live startup time is way snappier. When i occasionally buy or grab a free plugin, i just run a scan after installing it. Every once in a while you might have to do a “deep” scan (hold alt while clicking the scan button) if something doesn’t show up when it’s supposed to.

Note that from Live 10.1 onward, the plugin rescan button is located in the new dedicated plug-ins tab in Live’s preferences, rather than under file/folder, as previously.

Hopefully this nifty tip is inapplicable to you, as that means your plugin scan is not bloated. However, for those of you that are having issues with slow startup of Ableton Live (or in case it eventually becomes an issue) this may be a viable solution.

Isotonik Sounds Launches with New Sale Packs

Isotonik Sounds has officially launched, a section at the Isotonik Studios webshop featuring instrument and sample packs for Ableton Live by various developers.

New sale packs will periodically be made available. The first is ADM DRUMS by yes, you guessed it, the acclaimed wizard of Live: AfroDJMac.

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Animus Invidious on the AfroDJMac Music Production Podcast (+ new free effect racks)

I was super stoked to be a guest on the AfroDJMac Music Production Podcast. Here’s your chance to hear my actual, real-life voice(!) The sound quality on my side is not wonderful since i was recorded over skype, but whatexer. I had a great time chatting with Brian about random stuff… the conversation decided upon its own meandering path, touching on various topics including the crafting and sharing of Ableton Live racks, VST hoarding, my custom Elemental Mixing template channel strip database, workflow optimization, cassette processing, dynamic contrast between songs on albums, and even the Legend of Zelda (nerds). All in all it was a very invigorating experience and i definitely wouldn’t turn down being a guest again at some point in the future. I myself have quite enjoyed the other podcasts, as they contain a plethora of unconventional tips which are superb for kick-starting the creative juices.

Oh, and we also dropped a couple free audio effect racks for you to grab, including something i brainstormed up quite a while ago and finally implemented perfectly: ‘Dynamic Panning’ (compresses in one direction while it expands in the opposite for source-reactive width modification).

Check out AfroDJMac’s website to access the show.

Over 420 free effect racks for free VST plugins… WHAT

EaReckon VST Rack.PNG
Due to an increasing upcoming workload, we’ve decided to release the freeVST racks all at once, instead of in monthly batches as originally planned. That’s over four-hundred and twenty individual racks now available! Talk about an expanded toolkit.

These are “default/template” audio effect racks for many different plugins which are available publicly for free in 64-bit. You simply load any of these Ableton racks, and it loads its corresponding plugin (assuming it’s installed). Each rack includes help text which will be shown when hovering over macro controls.

Most of the plugins we have racks available for have 32-bit and mac versions as well; however, some are 64-bit or windows-only. Mac-only and AU plugin racks are planned in the future. FreeVST racks here will be updated occasionally to reflect developer updates. If you know of a free vst developer we missed or encounter any issues, please leave a comment.

ABLETON LIVE 9.6 required (Intro, Suite, or Standard).
Yes, you can even use all of these racks with Live 9 Intro!

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How to Organize User & Plugin Presets Like a Boss in Ableton 9 Using the Hidden Architecture

Problem: Hot-swapping… have to navigate to all these different folders. Wah! So annoying. End up neglecting certain folders of presets due to their unfortunate locations. Presets get sad and lonely, and begin to wither.

Solution:
Ableton 9 has a built-in secret “Folder Architecture”. Fiddling around with how things appear in the browser i discovered that if you make a folder with the same name as one of the built-in categories (for instance: “Amp Simulation”) in your User Library Presets folders, any presets in that folder will appear in the respective folder of the same name in the “Categories” pane of the browser (instrument, drum, audio effect, or midi effect racks). Customizing this way provides more unified access to all factory and user-created content in the same location, which makes my life easier. If i want an amp coloration effect preset, for instance, i have one single folder i can open up where i see all user AND factory presets (and even vst and max for live presets) all in one nice list together, easy to hot-swap and preview amongst. How to do this? Simply save files in your user library, organized however you like, but in folders with specific names. That’s all! The text has to be verbatim. There are only certain folder names you can use, which i figured out with experimentation.  Continue reading