Quick Tip: Plugin Organization in Ableton Live


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With the plethora of free and paid plugins currently available on the market, chances are that you already have access to a few of them. It might get intimidating trying to organize these plugins in a logical and understandable structure in your hard drive. Ableton Live has some nice organizational features that can make your life easier.

Plugin Installation

A users would typically install external plugins in a folder location similar to this one: Local Drive:\Program Files\Steinberg\Vstplugins. I prefer to create a second partition on my hard drive (or even another drive) where I install my plugins. I can always recover the installation folder in case of operating system failure. When in need of reinstalling the operating system and possibly reformatting the partition on which the operating system is installed, the other partition will still be unchanged.

Two partitions and an external hard drive connected in Windows 7 file manager. C: is the one with operating system installed, D: is where external plugins are installed. F: is an external drive.

I prefer keeping my external plugins in D:\Audio\VstPlugins. In the same Audio folder I have also added another folder called VstShortcuts. I will explain why.

Ableton Live makes it possible to utilize plugins stored in different folders on the computer. To do this, create a Mac OS or Windows alias of the folder where additional VST Plug-ins are stored, and then place the alias in the VST Plug-In Custom folder (or in the VST Plug-In System folder on Mac OS X) selected in Live's File/ Folder Preferences. The alias can point to a different partition or hard drive on your computer.

Live will scan the set VST Plug-in folder as well as any alias folders contained therein. In Live's Preferences in the File Folder tab you can assign a custom folder where all your aliases or shortcuts are stored. Then, you can activate the VST Plug-In Custom Folder button. The Rescan Plug-Ins button will scan through your custom Plug-in folder and detect any extra plugins that have been installed while Live was open.

So, as you can see, in the Audio folder I've created another folder called VstShortcuts. I, then, created a folder structure so I can keep files more organized. Inside the VstShortcuts folder, I've created two more folders called Effects and Instruments.

Inside the Effects folder I created various folders consisting of various types of effects, like Delay, Dynamics, EQ, etc.

In each of those folders I created aliases or shortcuts of the locations of where my actual plugins are installed. In the Instruments folder, I just have aliases of all my instruments so that I can distinguish them from the effects. For instance, in Windows, I created a shortcut of the free reverb plugin Glaceverb by going to the location of where the actual plugin dll is installed, right-clicked it, dragged it to the location of my Reverb folder inside my Vstshortcuts folder, then let go of the mouse and selected Create shortcuts here.

The shortcut will then be available in the particular folder and detectable in Live's browser as the custom VST Plug-In Custom Folder path is set to D:\Audio\VstShortcuts.

Now, if we have a look at Live's browser, we see that all available plugins are nicely organized in understandable hierarchical folders and sub folders so finding the desired instrument or effect is so much easier now.

Final Tips

Some VST Plug-ins contain errors or are incompatible with Live. During the scanning process, these may cause the program to crash. When you re-launching Live, a dialog will appear to inform you about which plug-in caused the problem. Depending on what Live detects about the plug-in, you may be given the choice between performing another scan or making the problematic plug-in unavailable. If you choose to rescan and they crash the program a second time, Live will automatically make them unavailable, meaning that they
will not appear in the Plug-In Device Browser and will not be rescanned again until they are reinstalled.

Sometimes certain plugins might slightly misbehave or not detected appropriately. As a last resort there is a Preferences.cfg file which can be deleted when Live is already shut down. You will find this file in the following paths:

Windows (Live 4 and higher): C:\Documents and Settings\your user name\Application Data\Ableton\Live\Preferences

Note that on some Windows systems the application data folder is hidden by default. Here is how to make it visible:

Windows XP/2000:

  1. Launch Explorer.
  2. Select Tools/Folder Options/View.
  3. Check "Show hidden files and folders."

Windows Vista: c:/users/username/appdata/roaming/ableton/Live/Preferences

To make the appdata folder visible, a user has to do the following:

  1. Launch the Windows Explorer.
  2. Click on 'Organize' -> 'Folder and Search Options' -> 'View'.
  3. Check 'Show hidden files and folders'.

Mac OS X: /User/Library/Preferences/Ableton/

I hope this tutorial served its purpose and that you all got an idea on how easy it is to keep your external plugins organized in Ableton Live.