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.
-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 -AutoAdjustMacroMappingRangeoff, 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.
So you’re working on a song and you’ve found a frequency which you want to adjust. Let’s say you want to nudge down 4.4k a little bit to reduce a bit of harshness. Now you ask yourself: what type of EQ should be used?
As time passes by, there becomes more and more dynamic EQ plugins available. Besides, in Ableton, Bitwig, and other DAWs, it’s easy to make any automatable EQ plugin act as dynamic by the use of envelope followers. On the other hand, when using a dynamic EQ plugin, there may be times when you want to use the bands as typical, with no reactivity. So, we have a pretty much open choice of whether to use a static or dynamic EQ on a track we’re working on. So what to do?
Brand new plugins… promotional sales on plugins… they are SO tempting. But do you really need that new compressor plugin that just dropped?
In order to assess which plugin types are lacking in your toolbox, i recommend making a spreadsheet of all the plugins you own by category. You might discover, as i did, that you have such a vast variety of compressor options to choose from, it’s likely that you won’t benefit a whole lot from purchasing any more of them. You also might discover, like me, that you’re somewhat lacking in gate plugins, and could indeed benefit from picking up a few new models. Etc… Continue reading →
True Peak Limiting is a method by which a limiter adjusts for how the digital waveform will be reconstructed by playback systems which can result in actual peak levels above 0dB even when the digital peak level is technically shown at below 0dB.
Basically the way intersample peaks occur is that the quantization points of a digital waveform can at times imply a curve between them which goes up a little bit higher than those actual sample points, resulting in a louder-than-expected actual peak level coming though.
To imagine it, just draw two dots in your mind, and then instead of drawing a straight line between them, draw a slightly curved line. The two dots are at a height of zero, and the curved line connecting them is bumping a little bit above zero. See?
I found some old notes i had taken (for my own reference) about the parameters of Ableton’s Gate audio effect plugin and figured others could use the info as well, so i’ve polished ’em up, expanded on them a bunch, and dropped them here for you.
I’ve found that getting to know exactly how each parameter works with gate plugins leads to attaining desired results exponentially easier, and in particular learning how the more exotic parameters such as lookahead and hysteresis work facilitates sophisticated gate optimization.
There are not many controls for digital plugins where i prefer stepped options as opposed to continuous values, but the Q factor of EQ slopes is one of those that generally i do. Not really sure why i prefer them that way; i suppose there are a few reasons.
Regardless, i made myself (and you!) up a nifty spreadsheet of “Go-To Q Values”, based on logarithmic steps between the basic Q value(0.70607) and the minimum or maximum ranges. These Q values are optimized for Ableton Live’s EQ Eight, but can be applied to most any parametric EQ, when you want no-brainer go-to Q values to fall back on.
Just disable VST plugins during times in tracks when they are not being used.
Automate the nifty device activator (aka “on/off switch“) of a device (or a rack of devices) to shut off during times of silence. Set the automation to switch on a little bit before audio starts, and to turn back off a bit after the audio is completely silent again.