It’s always been more of my mentality to try to figure out how to make optimal use of what i have on hand — even when flawed — than to try to find immediate replacements… from using a TI-83 calculator to code as a teenager (since that’s what i had access to), to learning how to mic two small guitar amps to sound amazing rather than try to buy bigger amps which i didn’t have space to store. Whether or not this is the optimal way to be, it’s been pretty ingrained in me over a lifetime of dealing with less-than-ideal equipment and environs, figuring out how to increase functionality past apparent limitations, and squeezing every drop of valuable usage i could garner out of existing gear.
This BCR-2000 MIDI Controller i have happens to have a top row of encoder knobs which act all wonky, sending out their values all slow and choppy and making them pretty much unusable as MIDI controls. However, each knob does have a set of LED lights, and it is possible to send messages to those lights to make them move.
By using a couple of MaxForLive devices in Ableton, i have it set up so that the 8 knobs each provide a VU-meter type experience in reaction to whatever’s playing in Ableton Live. Now they aren’t useless! Yay!
⠀⠀⠀I haven’t performed as a DJ in years, focused on raising my son and home studio work instead, but i was pretty active as one around the Colorado Springs area from about 2010 until 2014. One of the my favorite toys to use to manipulate beats live on my laptop was Alexkid’s Instant Haus, which “instantly generates drum patterns to craft into your own house track” (available free via Ableton). It’s great way to add variation to beats in an organic fashion.
⠀⠀⠀Well, i’ve been inspired lately because we now have available the freshest incarnation of beat juggling voodoo in the form of the 501k Creatives new Beat Shaker device, crafted by the very same Alexkid. It’s a similar concept, but greatly expands on the potential and flexibility.
While we’re going through some crazy times right now, it has been heartwarming to experience how humans have upped their compassion game in response to shared crisis. I’ve seen more freebies and crazy deals going on this past week than any other time i remember, which seems because people want to help each other, share and be nice (well, not so much a certain political faction in the usa who seems to prefer that regular people suffer as much as possible. But that’s another topic). With graciousness and care for their fellows is how humans should act, rather than trying to take advantage of each other sleazily—which happens all too much.
In this spirit, i am offering up my super secret stash of “Sweetie Pies”—a small collection of effect racks for Ableton Live Suite 10, each crafted to address a specific need in a sweet manner. These are highly practical yet fun racks with the primary purpose of “getting stuff done”.
i WAS planning on releasing this pack eventually anyways once it grew a bit more, but to expedite the process of getting you the goodies, i’ve decided to simply omit the not-quite-finished devices, give everything a good once-over, and release the pack for free as it is now.
The mbira (aka kalimba aka thumb piano) has a peculiar sound all of its own. I think they tend to sound pretty cool, with a distinctive tone that is reminiscent of some other types of instruments but not quite exactly like anything else.
But what’s this? The Array Mbira? It has four octaves, you say? Including multiple copies of the notes? Well, then. That’s sure nifty.
Madeleine Bloom, whose Ableton Live Tutorials i wholeheartedly recommend, has sampled one such Array Mbira and assembled the results into a series of 34 Instrument Racks for Ableton Live. There are only a small handful of Ableton Live instrument craftors whose work i’ve encountered that put in the depth of care that i consider the level of the adept, and Sonic Bloom is one such. I’ve had the grateful opportunity to give the instruments a deep look and am here to report on my findings.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
For this tutorial we’re going to posit an example scenario: a way to achieve the common practice of narrowing the bass content of a stereo track by scooping out the S channel’s low end—but this time, using analog gear instead of plugins. But what if we don’t have any M/S gear? Not to worry.
A deluxe suite including combo amp racks making the utmost of Live’s built-in Amp and Cabinet devices, “Stomper” effects designed like guitar pedals and guitar Chord presets.
Stuff it comes with…
Combamps a whole bunch (30) of combo amps which are crafted to optimize Ableton Live’s built-in Amp & Cabinet devices to their utmost. These racks make it much easier to dial in your sound (combination of preamp drive, tone, envelope settings, biasing, and gain structure) without having to constantly adjust the output level to match as well. They also optimize your timbre selection options by providing many “dual” and even three “triple” racks, which combine and balance the tone of multiple amps. In testing, these multi-combamps have been much-appreciated for an expanded range of unique amp flavors, as you now basically have 30 unique amp models, instead of 6. All combamps have been gain-staged at multiple points in the signal chain using both Peak and LU matching with both “Strat”and “Les Paul” styles, as well as bass electric guitars. The dual & triple combamps are gainstaged with a system resulting in relatively balanced levels at all gain settings when using wide panning (so that one amp is not way louder on one side than the other one). Since every guitar has its own tone & envelope character, these values are guaranteed to be imperfect, but it should result in you only needing to make miniscule volume adjustments to fine-tune your ultimate sound. Post Amp Compressor a simple compressor with settings calibrated ideally for taming an amp output’s transients. Guitar Chords 35 presets for Chord based on actual human guitar fingerings. Stompers 18 racks set up like guitar pedals, designed for use with a Combamp akin to a physical guitar routing setup. If you have a midi foot controller you can use them exactly as such. Includes… Booster Chomper
Comper Dister Dualay Flonger Gater Glitcher Phozzer PitchDownDelay PitchUpDelay Smevel Somber Sproing Swamper Toner Tremotary Whamper
A robust collection of groove files which implement rhythmic “chop” effects in quarter, eighth, and sixteenth-note patterns.
Stuff it comes with…
Chopper Grooves 302 of them! Drop a Chopper Groove onto an audio OR a MIDI part, make sure your global groove amount is up, and hear it do its thing. Drop different Chopper Grooves onto different tracks… then when you turn global groove amount up… they all start chopping in their own way.
Audio effect and MIDI racks designed for enhancing and manipulating harmonics by various methods.
Stuff it comes with…
Harmonic Colorizer enhance harmonics using various different methods. By using different amounts of each knob, you can set up your own unique boost texture to help a part stand out against its various song elements, or use it to subliminally add a particular color to a submix or mix. Overtone EQ (3 versions) EQ racks set up to select a target frequency, and then manipulate the harmonics based on that frequency. The Even & Odd version allows separate control of even & odd harmonics. The Even vs Odd will boost Even or Odd and attenuate the other (useful for hearing the difference between those types of harmonics). The Sculptor version is useful for manipulating each harmonic interval individually. Undertone EQ (3 versions) just like the Overtone EQs, but these manipulate lower harmonics instead (not as common of an operation). They include the same 3 versions. Harmonic Chord Presets these will add in MIDI notes based on harmonic intervals. Simple, but useful. Includes 2nd through 4th harmonics which each add only 1 note and also Coarse, Perfect, and Undertone versions which each add multiple harmonics. Harmonics Extender (3 versions) MIDI racks which can be used to set (& automate) the amount of added harmonics. Includes Coarse, Perfect, and Undertone versions.
Utility presets allowing to divide or multiply level according to Sound Pressure Level, Acoustic Intensity Energy, and Perceived Loudness Sensation.
Stuff it comes with…
Sound Intensity by Energy (Utility Presets) Sound Loudness by Sensation (Utility Presets) Sound Pressure by Voltage (Utility Presets)
divide or multipy audio level by either “SPL”, “SIL”, or “Volume”. This is technical stuff. Check out http://www.sengpielaudio.com/calculator-soundlevel.htm for more info. Basically…
-use SPL (voltage)division when you want to sum parts perfectly (i.e. 5 copies of something each divided by 5 SPL and recombined will equal the exact level of the original) –use SIL (energy)for acoustic energy calculations. Like, let’s say you’ve got a really small sound, like a pin drop. Multiply it by 100 SIL to estimate the level provided by 100 pins dropping at the same time. –use Volume (loudness) for the human perception of level. So, to make something seem twice as loud, subjectively, multiply it by 2 Volume.
There are also included some racks to choose/automate which multiplier/divisor to use:
SPL Multiplier Volume Divisor Volume Multiplier
Note Range Setters
An assortment of midi racks, primarily for composers, which filter incoming notes according to standard instrument & vocal ranges, plus tools for making custom note ranges.
Stuff it comes with…
Note Range Setter (Absolute) define a playing range by setting the lowest and highest allowable notes Note Range Setter (Relative) define a playing range according to distance from a root note
Note Range Blocker (Relative) set a sub-range of notes to block from being played within a range
Includes individual MIDI racks for a vast range of classical and folk instruments, as well as standard vocal ranges:
Brass 36 instrument ranges Exotic 2 instrument ranges Guitar & Plucked 58 instrument ranges Mallets 8 instrument ranges Percussive 5 instrument ranges Piano & Keys 14 instrument ranges Strings 15 instrument ranges Voices 35 vocal ranges Winds 88 instrument ranges
Simply set a note range before a MIDI instrument to allow it to only play notes within that range.
This is a sampler instrument which is designed to play a loop of background vinyl noise which you can select from 128 unique samples, each with their own character. Some of the samples are primarily background hiss, but some also have pops, clicks, and other artifacts which can be useful as percussion elements. Big thanks to the one and only AfroDJMac for hosting this device. (It’s free! Go grab it!!)
PS…. if you are not already a member of the ADM Music Production Club, then you are missing out on a crazy-affordable source of insanely cool, high-quality, monthly awesome stuff delivered to your face. If you are interested in steadily building up your ableton library full of production and performance assets to be able to more quickly dive in to making your own bizarre unique sounds and developing your own twisted techniques, this is one of the most practical possible methods you can consider, especially if you’re a fan of the more odd and innovative side of things (which, if you’re reading this here now, i’m guessing you probably are).
I recently helped tweak and finalize a set of free audio effect racks in collaboration with online mastering service LANDR.
These are three effect racks suited for quick and easy “tone sculpting” of parts which are centered on low, mid, or high frequency ranges.
If you’ve never used LANDR, i highly recommend it as a way to test your mixes. Finish a mix and send it off to LANDR… listen to the master they send back to you, hear problems more clearly, and then go back to your mix and fix. It’s also a great way to get a new track ready for live performance before it has been sent off for professional mastering or officially released.
Also, check out the new ARCHIPEL ELEMENTS live pack, with drum racks featuring juicy recorded samples ranging in the 4 elements – earth, water, air and fire. Great material for sound design and experimental composition.