Organizing Ableton Live: Enhance Your Workflow (Part 2: Effects)

Hey, guys! Thanks so much for reading. If you haven’t already, check out part 1 of this series of Organizing Ableton Live. It’s the introduction and might have some cool ideas for you to think about before starting this second part. The folder structure download at the bottom of that page may be useful to you. This post will focus on Ableton live effects, VST effects, and how to organize them all in one place.

Ableton Live Effects - Soundtoys Plugins and VST effects

NOTE: Backup your computer before following any of my advice.

So now we are getting into the meat of the information. The real how-to stuff. I want to take you on a journey through the Ableton Live User Library and help you see things the way I do. May some of these tips improve your skills. Cheers!

The user library section of Ableton can be cold and sterile like a wasteland, or warm and inviting, depending on how to set it up (or don’t.) The more time spent on this facet will really help in the end. I think an hour of curation is worth an entire day of music production, assuming you don’t quit your production career immediately after curating your library.

So under User Library, maybe you want a special folder called “DJ Kur8tor’s Private Stash” or maybe just “my_library.” It doesn’t matter, as long as you know where it is. What does matter is the organization of the folders underneath this top level? Do you have a folder for effects? If not, now is a great time to make one, and put the reverb units folder from the example below in there later. If you haven’t downloaded my file structure, read the first article and drag and drop the unzipped files into your User Library for a quick start.

Ableton Live Effects - My Personal File Structure for the Ableton User Library

I personally manage my library of samples and everything else manually. Other find it very beneficial to use a sample library manager, VST plugin manager. The key here is to not to be dazzled by something that seems like it’s the best or most popular idea. The real goals are to remove places for error, reduce the number of choices you have to make, and keep the flow state while writing and producing music.

If a plugin or sample library manager is getting in your way, ditch it! Just because you paid money for it, doesn’t mean you have to use it, especially if it gets in your way or causes frustration. There is a ton of competition in the music world, so the easier the process is for you the more of an advantage you have.

O.K. Back to a little theory… How do we decide what to keep or trash? Ask yourself some of these questions:

* Do I need it?
* Can I live without it?
* Is this just a trendy sound?
* Am I a trendy producer?
* Do I want to set trends, follow them, ignore them?
* Will I miss this item in a week/month/year?
* What if I decide to do a certain genre/style?
* What if my style changes to more of a heavy/smooth sound?

NOTE: In your actual VST folder, some plugins can be organized into folders, but I don’t recommend this. Some plugins will stop functioning if you move them to another folder. I don’t think it’s worth the hassle.

So this process is the slightest bit cumbersome and tedious but please stay with me because the payoff is sweet. Grab the Ableton Live Audio Effect Rack from the browser and drop it into an empty track. Now take all of your plugins of a given type such as reverb, and place them on the same track after the audio effect rack. Duplicate the audio effect rack for as many times as you have plugins, and drag and drop each on into its own rack. CMD+R on Mac to rename each of the racks to the Brand + Name of the plugin, and then create a new folder in the user library, such as Reverb Units or something.

Ableton Live Effects - Nugen Mastercheck ProDrag and drop each of the racked up reverb VST plugins to this new folder and drop them. Check the file names for accuracy, then delete them from the audio track. Double click each one to reinitialize it onto the audio track and make sure the plugins boot up successfully, then move onto the next plugin type. You can drag and drop Ableton Reverb presets without racking them first. They can all exist in the exact same folder.

Sometimes you will need to drag and drop effects out of these organizational racks when you use them during a session, but like I said that’s a small price to pay to have your VSTs organized in folders along with native Ableton effects.

I think it’s best to create folders for each type of plugin that you use. Check out the example photo of my effects folders.

Ableton Live Effects - Soundtoys in the Ableton BrowserEffects are probably the easiest and most fun to audition during curation. Audio effects come second to samples in terms of quantity, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t already an insane amount of them available with more being added every day. A quick check on KVR and you’ll notice the newly added plugins each day – and those are just the ones that are added to the KVR database!

After installing a new AU or VST effect plugin on your Mac, the next step is to try it out. Drag loops, VST instruments, audio tracks, whatever you like onto the same channel as the new plugins and fire away. Be careful with new effects. They can be very easily misused to produce ear and speaker damaging sounds and volumes. Take your time, turn your speakers down, and use a limiter on the master chain of Ableton. I recommend using a limiter on the default live set, personally.

After auditioning the effect on one type of audio, I recommend trying as many other types as possible. If you tried the new compressor on drums, make sure you demo it on vocals, bass, synth, whatever you use for writing music or mixing and what not. Get a broad feel for what the plugin is capable of and where it falls short. What good is a tool in your shed if you are not sure of its capabilities? It’s more of a liability if you aren’t confident in its ideal purpose.

Ableton Live Effects in the Ableton Live BrowserI also like to organize my audio effects by the type of usage they usually get. I have a folder for the main effects I used during arrangement, sound design, mixing and mastering all laid out for me. The more often you use a tool, the closer you need it to be. The dual use/type organization style does result in duplicates, however, the OCD twitch I get from that is nothing compared to the time spent not having to search for tools I need.

If you use flanger effects often and use multiple different plugins depending on what type of flange sound you want at the time, you should put those at the top of you creative effects folder. Putting an underscore at the beginning of a folder name will place it at the top of the list when browsing the Ableton Live User Library for quick and easy access to your favorite effects. You can notice in my file structure I use the _CORE file name for this. It has all of my mixing, mastering, and creative effects. These are my most used folders in the entire effects library.

So I made an Ableton wallpaper a while back. I loved it for two days, then hated it. I thought it was permanently deleted a while back. But I found it when I was making my graphic design portfolio the other day. So here it is. I really like it after not seeing it for a few months. I hope you enjoy!

Visit the Downloads page for this tasty unofficial Ableton Wallpaper 🙂

Ableton Live Effects - Free Ableton Live Wallpaper

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