Organizing Ableton Live: Enhance Your Workflow (Part 3: Samples)

I currently have about two-thousand and seventy-five samples in my library, and that doesn’t include all of the pATCHES.zone sample packs I’ve been downloading. Those are next in line for curation. I have sorted through all of the MusicRadar.com samples up to February or March, previewed tons of samples on Splice.com, purchased many sample packs from various creators, and I’ve even curated through the entire Ableton Live 9 Suite Library. I loved almost every second of it. I want to share my experience with new producers to help them organize their samples. Let’s start with a question from one of our readers.

How do you sort samples for use later? Do you have any tips for quick reference through a library of thousands of samples?

If you already have an existing sample library and want to sort them for later use, there are a number of ways you could accomplish this.

  • Copy and paste each file into a new folder labeled with your intentions and ‘samples.’ For example ‘new_punk_song_samples’. The drawback to this is creating duplicates of each file, possibly leading to confusion.
  • Drag and drop each audio file from the Ableton Live Browser to an empty audio track, drum rack, or sampler instrument and save the Ableton Live set. If you use the Collect All and Save feature in the File menu, Ableton will copy all of the audio files used during your preparation period and put them into the samples folder in your new project’s file structure. This also creates duplicate files, so keep that in mind.
  • Use the Tags feature on OSX to color code the files you need. You could use a different color for each track you plan on producing or assign a unique color to each instrument or sample type, such as yellow for bass, blue for drums, etc.
  • Audiofinder is a paid app for Mac that comes with a great Favorites Bin feature which could allow you to save sounds for later use. The great part about this feature is you can just right click and select add to session favorites bin, or press ctrl+cmd+B, or check the box on the left of the sample. The favorites bin is on the bottom left of the Audiofinder browser. Super easy.

Audiofinder for Mac

Licensing

So this may or may not be a concern for you, but if it is, keep it in mind during all steps of the curation process. I may forget in certain places to remind you, but if licensing problems could prevent you from earning income, do not take this concept lightly! Many sample packs come with license.txt files. Some samples are licensed as royalty free, but some are only royalty free if you are NOT producing a song for a major label. The terms can sometimes be tricky, so I might consider keeping samples with sketchy licensing in a different folder for use only when desperate. Some producers may rely on them and if you are that type, I would just keep all your samples in their original folders, and organize their parent sample folders instead.

Quality Control & Criteria

How will you judge the samples? Will you decide whether they fit into your chosen genre? What about only keeping samples that fit in multiple genres? Will you go by the smoothness of the sound? What about how polished the sound is? Think about your production process as it is now and how you would like to change it. Do you currently use raw samples and process them into oblivion each time you create a new track? Or do you prefer samples that just fit into the mix?

There is a major quality control problem with the majority of today’s music. I won’t be that old geezer that says the music today sounds like noise, but I will say that the hurdles that used to be in place did help qualify some musicians and reject some others. It was basically a form of curation. That said there were major problems with that model and a lot of shady things happen in music and recording deals. I believe by inspiring producers to take the advice that almost everyone online gives – ‘write a ton of songs while focusing on quantity over quality,’ I can help increase the amount of good music out there. I also believe that by inspiring producers to take my advice of intense curation of their musical tools and musical creations, that I can greatly increase their enjoyment during music production. And maybe even decrease the amount of bad music in the world 🙂

Batch Renaming vs Original File Names

One one hand, trap_hat_1.wav trap_hat_2.wav is incredible for removing a sense of branding and mental coloration. You aren’t judging the samples based on how much you paid for them or what sample pack they came from. Only the sound.

On the other, if you are the type of producer that needs to retain all licensing files and consult with your lawyer whether the ride sample you used from that sample pack you purchased a year ago is cleared for major label release? Then I would consider using original files names. I would also make copies of the original files, and leave the originals in their sample pack folders WITH original licensing files. Be careful about renaming tracks in Ableton when working with these type of files as you may obscure the original name and have to dig to find it.

Hopefully, you don’t have to worry about that level of detail and can have lots of fun making music.

Back to the basics…Sample Organization in Ableton Live

In the world, as of today at 12 PM EST, there are exactly 69,432 snare one-shot samples. Some producers genuinely think that filling external hard drives with the entirety of what the internet offers is a good strategy. If you are a digital hoarder I tend to agree – but for most of us, 50 great snare samples that fit our style and genre would really be superior. If you haven’t developed any taste for what makes a good snare sample, for instance, you’ve got to spend time listening to the samples in songs. A great way to do this in Ableton Live is to grab a huge folder of the same type of sample, like kick drums for instance. Take one of the songs you are working on, and replace the current kick with a drum rack or sampler with one of the samples in your collection. pressing Q will allow you to swap between samples, using the same rhythm in the midi audition clip you made.

Samples are audio files, simple as that. You can have loops, one-shots, ambient samples, noise samples, instruments, and tons more. Most producers collect gigabytes of samples over their career and in the future, this may be terabytes or even larger, especially if the variety of choice and availability of hard drive space keeps increasing.

My Initial Funneling Process

So this can be kind of intense if you have tens of hundreds of gigs of samples to sort through. I use a system of two “funnels” and run the samples through them over and over until I’m left with the best. Remember that if you want to keep your files in their original folders, my system shown here won’t work for you.

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

1. Move all your incoming samples to a folder called “sample_inbox” or something similar.
2. Make Two others folders called “keep” and “reject.”
3. Put all three folders inside another called “sorting_samples”
4. Preview the samples in the Ableton Live Browser. Tip – Pressing the right arrow key will repeat one shot samples.
5. Drag and drop the files where you want them. You can choose to archive or delete your reject folder.

Reject Folder

If you choose to move your samples and loops from their original folder, you are free to place them wherever you like. Some producers, while curating their collection, choose to delete the reject audio files. Others choose to keep them, but in a ‘rejects’ folder, possibly for later use. This is a healthier version of hoarding samples. If you have anxiety about deleting samples, just place them in the giant rejects folder. There is reason to organize these, and it’s better if you don’t, in my opinion.

Uses for the reject samples include sharing with friends, personal challenges, further defining what your musical style isn’t, and sound design. Focus on your curated library but don’t forget about this treasure trove of rejects. This can truly be very inspiring if approached in an open manner without expectations.

Sorting by Sample Type

Vocals

I deleted all my vocal samples because I want to get a mic and create my own. But there are tons of great samples out there and you may have a large collection. I used to have loops, a capella full songs, one-shot grunts and whoops, all sorts of stuff. Each type had its own folder, within the one shots I had a grunts folder, then folders for all the different things the recorded vocalists were saying like “yeah,” “what,” or “ok!” If you have an acapella for instance, consider labeling the file with tempo and key signature information for quick searching.

Bass

It’s 2017. You probably have an 808 folder, sub bass, raunchy dubstep frequency modulated bass, and tons more. Bass and kick are kings. Organize these bass folders like your music career depends on it. Lots of producers start with the kick and bass in their songs when writing, and its all a lot of listeners seem to care about, so it makes a ton of sense to have these two folders highly curated. Give the masses what they want!

Ready to Use, Layers, Utilities, and Special Purpose

I keep a good bit of noise in my sample library for various purposes. I rarely use these by themselves, but they don’t have to be used as a layer if you don’t want them to be. On the other hand I have a folder with layers used in making new drum samples. I keep them all in a parent folder so I can easily get to those when I need them. As far as utilities go, you may have a folder of single waveforms, an audio file with silence, or maybe reference samples to remind you what a common hip hop snare vs common trap snare sounds like. There are no rules, just sort things how you like them. Special purpose samples could include silence, single cycle waveform files, layers, ghost kick 4-on-the-floor loops for triggering side-chain compressors, really anything you want.

Loops vs One-Shots

So should you keep your tambourine one-shots in the same folder as your tambourine loops? I don’t know, but I would say if you have a lot of each, I would separate them. If you mainly use one-shots but happen to have a lot of tambourine loops, to hell with it – put them in the same folder.

Sorting Samples by Key Signature, Tempo and Genre

I personally reserve this tactic for folders of similar samples. Imagine a folder of three octaves of the same synth sample. I might label the fundamental pitch of each of those. In regards to tempo, I don’t organize my percussion loops by bpm, but it is helpful when looking through your collection to have the .WAV file itself labeled with that information. Although I will say that pitch and time shifting samples to make them work has a sound all its own. Ignoring tempo when selecting samples may actually give you an extra creative boost.

Labels

I don’t use labels on mac but a lot of producers swear by them. It helps them keep track of files in different folders and spaced out all over the computer in an easy and quick way. They provide a super fast way to sort through all the files on your Mac. You could permanently label all your samples with a green circle for instance. Or you could temporarily tag all of the files from your latest client mixing project with red circles, then remove the labels when you have delivered the final master file to the client. Use whatever helps your workflow.

Get Started

So I’ve got a free sample pack for you to download. You can head over the downloads page and grab the Studio Kitty Samples Volume 1: 808 Parts and Supplies kit absolutely free. If you enjoy it, consider pledging on my Patreon or buying me a coffee, or even just sharing this article. Anything helps, I’m really just happy that I had over four-hundred visits on my last article. Thanks guys!

Visit the Download Page to grab the Studio Kitty Sample Pack for Free!

Please follow and like us: