Creative flow. Being in the zone. Spontaneous expression of the moment. With my guitar, I’ve known this state of being, but when it comes to electronic production it seems fleeting, usually overwhelmed by a wave of technical hurdles and worse…the hunt for the next sound. Inspired by the motivational kick in the rear from the fantastic Ill Methodology video series, I decided to get a better handle on my sound library.
It’s by no means an easy task. The journey is fraught with uncertainty, complex riddles and a nagging sense that you are wasting your time and should just get on with writing music! But I believe the effort was worth it as the results are already starting to show in my production efficiency. Below are the guidelines I’ve used to navigate this rocky terrain, and the final full folder structure.
The Prime Directive
As I highlight some elements of the structure, I’ll point out some of the important guiding principles used. However, really there is one that trumps them all:
In the midst of composing a track, when you suddenly need a new sound, whatever your brain first says to you is the prime indicator on where that sound should live.
If you watch your thoughts, most often it’s something like: “Hey – what would be awesome now is a big hollow digital bass sound” – not “We need some Massive here”, therefore you’re next actions should be clicking something along the lines of
Bass > Digital > Hollow.
That being said, occasionally you might want a particular plugin/synth, especially if its sound is very stylised. We’ll have options for this route as well.
What if there is more than one place relevant to a sound? Copy it to both locations.
Hand Selected vs. Third Party
“A sound library is not bunch of third party sample collections that you’ve dropped into a folder”
The goal here is to minimise the time it takes to find a desired or suitable sound. If you’ve already heard the sound before and liked it enough to pull it out of it’s original home, then there is a much higher chance you’ll find it useful in your production than the other sounds in the 3rd party pack. This leads us to another principle…
Keep third party libs separate from our hand chosen ones
The strategy I’ve employed is to prefix my folders with exclamation marks,
!, which causes them to list above other folders in the Mac OS as well as Ableton’s browser:
! Synths/ ! Anharmonic/ ! Arps/ ! Bass/ ... ! Special FX/ ! Wobblers/ Abletunes - 45 Free Operator Racks/
Notice how the third-party
Abletunes folder falls to the bottom.
Another principal is illustrated here as well…
Place collections of sounds in the lowest subfolder that describes all of it’s sounds.
The Abletunes Operator Racks cover several categories of synths so I have two options: Break them up and move them into the more specific folders, or place the whole set of them at a higher level folder (
! Synths in this case). I’m inclined to choose the later strategy for the following, very key, reason:
Familiarity and quality is the goal, not quantity.
! Folders, aim to have fewer sounds that are hand-selected and which you’ll likely remember. Check out this video from NGHTMARE. He has about a dozen snares which define his sound.
“It’s your sound because it’s the one you use all the time…People aren’t going to be like ‘Aww well it’s the same 15 claps he uses’” – NGHTMRE
Sound Library Folder Structure
Here are the top two tiers of my folder structure. In practice I go even deeper than 2 levels – more on that below…
! Audio FX/ ! Ambience/ ! Cabinets/ ! Delay/ ! Distortion/ ! Drums/ ! Dynamics/ ! EQ/ ! Enhancement/ ! Filters/ ! Guitar Rigs/ ! Mixing & Mastering/ ! Modulation/ ! Reverb/ ! Spatial/ ! Special/ ! Basics/ ! Drums/ ! Full Kits/ ! Full Tracks/ ! Hits/ ! Soundpacks/ ! Instruments/ ! Brass/ ! Hybrids/ ! Organs/ ! Pluck/ ! Sampled Songs/ ! Strings/ ! Wind/ ! Loops/ ! Atmospheres/ ! Back Rhythms/ ! Drums/ ! Instruments/ ! Percussion/ ! Rhythmic FX/ ! Song Loops/ ! Special FX/ ! Synths/ ! Vintage/ ! MIDI Clips/ ! MIDI FX/ ! Oneshots/ ! Instruments/ ! Melodic FX/ ! Percussive FX/ ! Synth/ ! Transitions/ ! Voice Samples/ ! Wooshes/ ! Sound Design Racks/ ! Synths/ ! Anharmonic/ ! Arps/ ! Bass/ ! Bells/ ! Hybrid/ ! Lead/ ! Pads/ ! Percussion/ ! Plucked/ ! Rhythmic/ ! Soft Keys/ ! Special FX/ ! Wobblers/ ! Tracks/ ! Vocal Stems/
! Basics contains Ableton wrappers around clean plugins, empty drum racks, etc, often with default mappings to automation knobs. As mentioned above, when you do want a specific plugin, you can quickly grab it from here. I also often name my presets with the synth name in it:
Mean Analogue Bass (Monark). Monark is a bit of a specific beast, not necessarily suitable in all situations.
As mentioned, I’ll further subdivide these folders into ones for even more specific sound types. It’s ok if there aren’t many files in these folders. What’s important is that when you want a particular sound, you know where you are most likely to get it from. For example, here’s the full breakdown of my
! Oneshots/ ... ! Transitions/ ! 128s/ ! Drum Rolls/ ! Falls/ ! Noise/ ! Horns, Sirens/ ! Impacts/ ! Industrial/ ! Melodic/ ! Reverses/ ! Rises/ ! Midsy/ ! Noise/ ! Turnarounds/
Loops vs. Patches vs. Oneshots
I struggled briefly over whether I should even have separate folders for plugin patches, loops and oneshots – whether it might be better to include them all together under their sound type as Guideline #1 might suggest. In the end, I decided that they are so fundamentally different in how they are used that they should live apart, even though it may mean repeating the subfolder structures a couple of time.
Percussive FX & Oneshots
This was the toughest area – so many edge cases. Should
Percussive FX/ live in
Oneshots/ too vague, even for the top level? Should it be broken up by sample length? It’s hard to draw clear dividing lines: Is a clean metal bang a “metal drum hit” or a “percussive fx”? What about a percussive synth sound?
In the end I decided to keep
Oneshots/ in order to keep the top level clean and simple. Its subfolders indicate functional use within a track, e.g.
Rises/. Percussive FX are very often grouped with longer FX sounds in sample packs so I chose to keep them under
In the end, workflow gains come from familiarity with your sounds. It took me some time to realise the obvious: No structure will get you out of the obligatory time investment that really honing your workflow requires. The structure is just a starting point and the sooner you settle on one and can get back to exploring your sounds, the better. That being said, a good starting point will save you a lot of headache as your sound library evolves and hopefully help you cruise right over a few of those creative flow train-wreckers.