Ableton Meet Up

Pre-Mayan Apocalypse Ableton Meet Up



All notes by Dj NSM


One of the more common questions I get asked is about file management and how I organize my library. The key skills for increased success are:

  • Paranoia
  • Ability to think like a programmer
  • no command line phobia
  • knowledge that your current computer will soon enough be your former

Goals :

  • Think wisely about your library
  • Discuss strategies for file retention
  • Learn some basics of the command line and terminal commands for permissions and backing up data
  • Prepare for our next hard drive and/or computer incident

The term library refers to “a collection of stuff you don’t want to lose and use often”

  • The library can be anywhere. Internal, external, even network (suck)
  • The library should have an identifiable location both in the file system and physically
  • The library should be backed up often and on multiple drives
  • Most DAWish software will allow the library to be defined via settings, if necessary (Ableton : Preferences > File / Folder > Library …dialog…)

Example library organization pattern. Follow a pattern of less near the root with increased divisions deeper in the file tree. Think like a tree with roots and branches, there is usually only ONE TRUNK. (understand?).

  • External Hard drive This is the trunk
    • Audio-lib This is all of my raw material
      • ADG (folder) Racks and such
      • System data
        • Templates
        • Python scripts
      • M4L folder Max wasteland
      • Sample packs : Uncompressed form zips and moved to this location
        • Sample pack folder : Usually I match the zip or download name for sanity’s sake
          • Lots of data
      • Other stuff
        •  Special folder
          • Samples
      • Some important folder
    • Projects (collect all and saved for everything)
      • Project Name Usually a song, collect all and saved, with all linked files and data
        • File.als
        • Samples folder
          • Samples in here
    • Platters All performance data (this is a back up as my live performance is run off another drive making the library a backup drive for live performance)
      • Ableton Folder
        • All necessary data
      • Ableton Folder
        • All necessary data
    • Zips
      • …native zip downloads…

Command Line : OSX centric introduction to bad-assery and destroying your whole file system in one clean swoop!

The abort call is control+c (notice control and not CMD).  That will stop.  You can also break via quitting, use control+c.

Command line is generally speaking as if you are whispering in the ear of your computer in a silent room with a loaded pistol ready.  Where the finder or other applications is like leaving a post it note on the hood of the computers car.  Before a rain storm.


Term system root : The bottom of the file structure (example)

Location of terminal on Mac : Usually in Application > Utilities > Terminal

cd [path] change directory to [path] cd /volumes The “Volumes” folder off the root
cd /Volumes/folder  If you know where you want to go, you can dictate the path
cd ../  Up One Folder Level

Relative versus Absolute

cd folder will put you in “folder” from your current location, wherever that might be — this is relative
cd /folder will put you in “folder” off the system root – this is absolute


cd [start the name] + tab for autocompletion
control+a : to the beginning of the line (there are more of these shortcuts)
cd [start the name]* will get you in the naturally sorted first folder matching the wild*card call

List and Print Working Directory

ls : List directory contents
ls -al
ls -a
ls -l

Directory details, vertically listed, however you want…

pwd print working directory, where you are off the root, the full system path.

Copy/paste works, check it! In OSX it is a great compliment to PWD.

Use the text application of your choice, but make sure you are in plain text mode (cmd+shift+t in textEdit for Mac). Build complex queries safely outside of the terminal.

OFGBBQFTW drag and drop! Be sure to cd first, drag, drop, enter, pwd

Permissions. They suck. For audio I generally use 777 or “wide open” on my lib. This is actually very bad, but you will be beat down like I have been, trust me.

I am not going to go into the details of this much, just know that permissions can get tricky. Ask me questions off line please.

chmod -R 777  /folder/or/file/path

Group permissions : Skip, read when necessary.

The magic command :

cp -frv /path/to/source/ /path/to/destination/
is functionally identical to
cp -frv /path/to/source/* /path/to/destination/
is functionally identical to
cp -frv /path/to/source/ /path/to/destination
is functionally identical to
cp -frv /path/to/source/* /path/to/destination

I prefer :

cp -frv /path/to/source/* /path/to/destination/

Breaking it down now :

  • cp
    • the command, copy
  • -frv
    • option or parameters (explained below)
  • /path/to/source/
    • the path to the source material (what you want to copy)
  • *
    • a recursion flag, not necessary, but a habit I keep.
  • /path/to/destination/
    • Where you want the stuff to go (I usually create the folder in advance)


cp is the copy command. Do not reverse EVER!!!! If you are in any doubt, look upthe command. The mental prototype is :

cp [options] FROM TO

The options:

  • f : force aka copy no matter the casual error message. Optional, but there are times when this is required, so I use it universally with great caution.
  • r : recursive aka include subfolders and files
  • v : verbose aka Matrix style screen

Low level gotcha : Carriage Returns are copy+paste-able.  So be aware of how the line breaks, that CR will paste and automatically execute the command.

Things to know : the OSX terminal is a unix terminal. The Unix terminal is often referred to as a *nix terminal referring to Unix and Linux – where the terminal and command line syntax is essentially the same, most importantly for the lower level functions like we talk about here.

How I build the command :

  1. cd / drop the from folder in the terminal (enter)
  2. pwd copy the location to textEdit
  3. cd / drop the destination folder in the terminal (enter)
  4. pwd copy the location to textEdit
  5. arrange the command to textEdit
  6. check for carriage returns
  7. copy/paste to terminal, review one last time (from>to)
  8. ENTER….wait.

Closing out :

The Terminal is the single most powerful tool on your Mac.  The cp  command, like most Linux not only has variants but alternatives.  The usage outlined here is aimed specifically at providing a foundation for moving LARGE DATA SETS FROM ONE PLACE TO ANOTHER and not as a green flag on the terminal application.

The Terminal in OSX is a Unix compliant interface that is, in my opinion, the best way to manage large datasets and files. I hope you agree


Generally you can search google for “Linux [command name]” for broader and generally correct information. OSX terminal also works, but can exclude the more through Linux information

Fist Full of Disclaimer : I am a programmer and live in and on the command line but I am not an expert or ninja.  Instead I get the job done and I am always looking to learn more. If you find mistakes or errors in this presentation or good information to add to this presentation, please contact me via email using

© Marc Wei / @djnsm / Data Mafia LLC