If you’re looking to learn how to install plugins in Ableton Live 11 on Mac or Windows with a no-nonsense approach, then read on!
Ableton Live is a first-choice DAW for music producers worldwide. Not only for its loop-based workflow and MIDI editing capabilities but also because it has great built-in plugins.
However, what if you want to know how to install plugins in Ableton Live from third parties? You may have purchased or downloaded a piece of software and want to add it as a VST plugin to Ableton Live. Well in this article we’ll show you how to do that.
In this article
- What is a VST plugin?
- How are 32-bit and 64-bit VSTs different?
- How To Install Plugins In Ableton Live
- Where To Find Your VST Plugins
- What To Do If A Plugin Doesn’t Appear In Live
- Further Reading (How To Install Audio Units / Components)
- Where can I find courses on using Ableton Live?
What is a VST plugin?
First up, let’s explain what a VST is before we look at how to add plugins to Ableton Live.
A VST, or Virtual Studio Technology plugin, is audio software that integrates with your DAW, such as Ableton Live, and can be anything from a software synthesizer ( like ANA 2 ) to an effect such as a reverb or delay.
By adding plugins to Ableton Live, you can enhance the experience of your DAW giving you new instruments, sounds, metering capabilities, and effects that otherwise would not be available in your stock Ableton library.
Third-party VST Plugins are created by companies other than your DAW manufacturer. They can come with a price tag, or they may even be free, but you will need to download them from a third-party website.
How are 32-bit and 64-bit VSTs different?
When searching for how to install a VST in Ableton Live you will often see that they come in 32 or 64-bit formats. Almost all modern computers use a 64-bit architecture.
In simple terms, this refers to the amount of computer system memory, or gigabytes, a particular VST plugin can utilize…
A 64-bit plugin, for example, can access 1 exabyte (1 billion GBs) whereas a 32-bit plugin can only access 4GBs.
What does this mean for you?
If you’re working on a project that is using a lot of memory and the limits mentioned above are reached, Ableton Live could crash. 32-bit VST plugins will therefore have a higher potential to cause an unwanted error in Ableton Live.
It could be a case where you are working on a project and you do not know you are at the memory limits - you may then try to add a plugin to Ableton Live only to find a memory error or a crash, ruining your session.
If you’re using 64-bit VST plugins you will have a much more stable experience.
This is especially important when using sample-based instruments that are trying to load large sample libraries into memory. Since the launch of Ableton Live 10, Ableton are only supporting 64-bit versions with 32-bit becoming a thing of the past.
This means that if you’re using Ableton Live 10 or above you will only be able to use 64-bit VST plugins. Make sure to check before adding plugins to Ableton Live that may not be compatible.
Now that we have that out of the way let’s finally take a look at how to install plugins in Ableton Live
How To Install Plugins In Ableton Live
While Ableton Live comes with a wide range of built-in plugins, the vast world of third-party plugins can add a unique touch to your music. Knowing how to install plugins in Ableton lets you venture beyond the built-in tools and customize your sound palette
So here are the 4 main steps on how to install a VST to Ableton Live
Start The Plugin Installer
The first step you should take when adding plugins to Ableton Live is to run what’s known as the ‘executable’.
All VST plugins should come with their installer and you should follow the instructions given to you by the developer until you reach the part of the process where it will ask you to choose a destination path.
(Note - if there is no installer included and the VST plugin is just a .dll file you can place that file in the destination folder as shown in the next step to add the plugin to Ableton.)
Choose Your Install Folder
Next, you will have the choice of where to place the VST plugin for Ableton Live on your system. Live does however search for pre-set folder paths, so for convenience, they recommend the following locations to add a plugin to Ableton.
This step is more important in the Windows PC environment as there are quite a few possible folder locations to choose from. Generally, you will find that you do not need to worry about the location on Mac OSX unless you are installing on a multi-user system.
By installing to these locations we will add the plugin to Ableton Live’s expected folder locations.
- C\Program Files\Common Files\VST3 - (Use this for VST3 plugins)
- C\Program Files\Common Files\VST2 - (Use this for VST2 plugins)
- C\Program Files\VSTPlugins
- C\Program Files\Steinberg\Plugins
And for Mac OSX:
- Macintosh HD/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/VST3/ - (Use this for VST3 plugins)
- Macintosh HD/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/VST/ - (Use this for VST2 plugins)
If you want the plugin to be available only on your specific User profile on Mac OSX then the directory would be * User/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/VST3/ - (Use this for VST3 plugins) * User/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/VST/ - (Use this for VST2 plugins)
That should be it, you should have successfully add a plugin to Ableton Live - we now just need to tell Ableton Live where to look for it (if it hasn’t found it already)
- Launch Ableton Live.
Set Your Live Plugin Folders
- Navigate to the top of the window and select LIVE > ‘Preferences / Settings’ (Mac) or ‘Options > Preferences’ (PC) to open the ‘Preferences Tab’.
- Click on the ‘Plug-Ins’ section on the left-hand side and here you will be able to tell Live where to look for your VST plugin folder.
- If you need to, turn on both the VST2 and VST3 custom folders and then hit browse to choose your folder for both VST2 and VST3 respectively.
- Once this is done you may need to click on ‘Rescan’ to update and find the VST plugins.
Where To Find Your VST Plugins
If you have successfully followed the instructions above on how to add a VST to Ableton Live you should be ok to close down the Preferences tab. On the left-hand side of Ableton Live, navigate to the ‘Plug-Ins’ category.
Once you click on this it will show you the VST plugins you have installed and added.
You will then be able to insert a MIDI clip and double-click or drag your selected VST Plugin into the lower section of Ableton Live to use it.
What To Do If A Plugin Doesn’t Appear In Live
If you have followed our guide on how to install plugins in Ableton Live and your VST plugin doesn’t show anywhere what do you do next?
It may be down to an error in compatibility so double check your version of Ableton Live compared to the version of the VST plugin you have installed (see 32-bit and 64-bit ‘What does this mean for you’ section above)
You will also need to check that the VST plugin is installed in the correct folder where Ableton Live is searching. If it isn’t there, you may need to go through the installation process again to add the plugin to Ableton.
Also, make sure that the correct folder is selected in the Preferences tab in Ableton Live and ‘Rescan’ if needed.
One final important step to try when everything looks like it is set up correctly is to simply restart your computer.
It may sound silly to try it, but this has legitimately gotten me out of many a confusing situation!
Further Reading (How To Install Audio Units / Components)
This guide covers how to add a VST to Ableton Live but that doesn’t technically cover every aspect of how to install plugins in Ableton Live.
As you see there are a few more plugin types to consider
- Audio Unit
- AAX / RTAS
The RTAS format is mostly redundant now, replaced with the AAX Format - but this can only be installed into Protools - so we won’t cover that here. There is an alternative to the VST format that can be used in Ableton Live called Audio Units.
If you are wondering how to install plugins in Ableton Live with the Audio Unit format - the process is very similar.
There are a couple of caveats with the Audio Unit Component installation.
- The first is that it is Mac OSX only - Audio Units are not available to Windows users.
- The second is that the folder locations are slightly different than the ones mentioned above( Macintosh HD/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/Components/ & User/Library/Audio/Plug-Ins/Components/ )
- If you use Audio Units on your Mac and share your Live project with a Windows PC User - the plugins won’t open :(
Remember: this is only important if you are looking for how to install plugins in Ableton Live with the Audio Unit format. If you’re only interested in using the VST and have followed the guide above already, then you already know how to add a VST to Ableton - So onwards and upwards!
Where can I find courses on using Ableton Live?
Hopefully, our guide on how to install plugins in Ableton Live has helped you get up and running!
If you would like to get more acquainted with Ableton Live, we have hundreds of courses available on our site - If you are a beginner, we have Ableton Live Certified Courses which will cover absolutely everything about using the DAW.
After getting familiar with the basic functions of Ableton Live, you might want to expand your capabilities. If you’ve read this far then you already know how to add a VST to Ableton so that is one hurdle you no longer need to overcome.
Our more Intermediate and Advanced courses in Ableton Live cover more genre-specific sounds, as well as mixing & mastering techniques
You can view ALL Ableton Live Tutorials here