While we all know that there is no such thing as a perfect or ideal FX chain order for all situations because it totally depends on context, i have eventually developed some general preferences for the order of effects in a signal chain. Recently updating all my templates for Live 11 has further honed my thoughts on the situation.
We can of course swap around the sequential ordering of effect devices, either for a specific intended result or as a matter of experimentation just to see if an alternate routing happens to sound better on given audio.
As usual when sharing my ideas, it is recommended that you not simply adopt the structure as presented, but rather that you test it out in practice and modify things over time to suit your particular style, keeping notes and updating your own templates as you go. Maybe you think the way i place transient shapers before compressors is idiotic. That’s totally fine!
I’ll share below my go-to effects order, and (most importantly)… WHY. While some of the choices are probably pretty unorthodox, none of them are arbitrary; they all have reasons. Are they bad reasons? Good reasons? Who knows. But i like to think they are built on logical rationale.
Keep in mind you’re seldom if ever going to need all these types of effects on any single track, but for times when you are using even two different processor types, some guidance as to their ordering might prove useful. Resist the urge to add more effects to a chain just because you can. The fewer processors required to get a sound how you want, usually the better.
~`~ Consistency in parameters assigned to racks is useful, for always being able to grab a certain knob for a certain result. For example, on the 8-knob racks of Live 10 and earlier, for dynamics devices like compressors or gates, i tend to place Attack and Release on Macros 5 and 6.
16 Knobs! Yay! …but also, Uh Oh!
~`~ Live 11 now has the ability to allow up to sixteen macros on a rack, which expands our abilities — but also makes things easier to become sporadic and messy by just mapping whatever, wherever. More knobs means more searching text with eyeballs. So therefore it seems helpful if certain controls are always (or almost always) in the same places.
One of the most popular PerforModule articles to date is How to Organize User Plugin Presets Like a Boss in Ableton Using the Hidden Architecture and it’s understandable — it’s very helpful to be able to integrate one’s own presets into the browser’s organization structure. And it’s pretty simple to accomplish. Read that article for an in-depth rundown on the topic in which is also explored further customization options for the truly OCD, if you have the desire. Or just read on for a briefer summary…
•Basically, if you place your User Library presets into folders with the same specific names as the built-in categories, those presets will now also appear in their respective category folders in the browser.
Live 11 Has updated the default categories, adding a handful of new ones which is good news to me, since i’ll be able to integrate more stuff with the built-in system. Some of the choices are a bit odd… but hey, whatever.
Click here to download the blank category folders, and/or copy the following lists for reference.
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.
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.
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 →
We could all use less “hmm, i wonder what this is doing exactly?” and more “aha, i understand exactly what that is doing!” moments in our lives, am i right?
Well, perhaps you have everything sorted out with absolutely perfect mental clarity at all times… but nobody that i know of does. The built-in perceptual capabilities of human bodies have limitations. Consequently, methods we can use to uncover and keep track of finer layers of detail to our perceptual input than normally possible can be quite useful for stepping outside our our usual—highly subjective and somewhat amorphous—human frame of reference.
Kind of like every human being has a height value, every audio clip has a peak level value. So what can we do with that information, beyond knowing that going above 0dB usually isn’t advised? In our eternal quest for ultimate audio quality, the inclination can be inherent to record loudly—as close to 0dB—as possible, and thereafter maintain that peak level. We fear that by mixing with track levels that are too quiet, we might be losing fidelity, some harmonic detail in the saturation floor or something.
While it is true that recording analog signals as loudly as possible without signal clipping to begin with will indeed minimize noise floor, the benefits reaped by maximizing peak level for individual tracks tapers off as you get closer to zero. At what peak level are audio sources louder than they really need to be? At what level are they too quiet, that they might need to be boosted excessively later? Using an algorithm based on the energy of how sounds stack together, i devised a set of go-to ranges for peak levels based on track counts. Since peak levels can vary fairly wildly based on content, you are given minimums and maximums (instead of single target values). Juicy details ahead…Continue reading →
“Testful Mastering” is a pack containing an epic effect rack which contains the entire mastering workflow for obtaining a reasonably loud and balanced master or pre-master, mimicking my real-life “Tasty Mastering” workflow using Ableton-native devices. Continue reading →
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).