August 15, 2019

Musically, I was not feeling creative. As I stared at the vast swathes of gray in Ableton Live I decided I needed more color in my life. So I set to work on trying to find a decent AL skin, only to find there ain't much out there.

Then I tried to create my own colorful skin. Not easy. No decent tools out there. Entered a rabbit hole. Ended up creating my own little application to knock up some skin files randomly, but it also allows me to edit them.

If you want to try the thing out for yourself, go ahead:

Download Skin City for Ableton Live 10

Only going to work on Windows I'm afraid - and probably only Windows 10. It was written for the Ableton Live 10 XML-formatted skin files, so forget earlier versions. I hope Ableton don't go radically changing the format of skin files in the next little while otherwise it's all been a huge waste of effort!

Anyway, all you've got to do is unzip the downloaded file and copy it's contents to your Ableton Live 10 themes folder, which will be something like:

C:\ProgramData\Ableton\Live 10 Suite\Resources\Themes

Of course, you don't have to put the files into the AL themes folder - you can put them wherever you like - but it's just easier doing it this way. NOTE: Be aware that if you reinstall Ableton Live at any time, you might lose the current contents of the Themes folder, so best backup anything you want to keep.

You'll see that most of the files in the download zip are skin files (.ask) and these are special 'highlighter' skins which have been provided as a convenient way of identifying the color item names used in the skin files. For example, from the Look Feel tab of the Ableton Live Preferences dialog, select the SC_Desktop skin and you'll see that the 'Desktop' item is highlighted in red. Thus, when using the Skin City color editor, for a selected skin you will see the designated color for 'Desktop', which you can then change if you wish. (NB. I don't recommend editing the 'highlighter' skins.)

There seems to be 162 color items identified in a skin file but, although I've provided a means to edit the color of all of them, I confess to not knowing what some of these items refer to (eg. Clip1 etc.) since they don't seem to show up in any of my Ableton Live 10 projects. In other words, changing the color of some items seems to make no difference. Is it a legacy thing? I remain puzzled on that one (and a few other things) so let's just worry about the color items that do show up in an Ableton Live 10 project. Again, I refer you to the special 'highlighter' skins.

Double-click the ALSkinCity.exe application to enter the wacky world of random skin creation! There's not much to it really. A Generate Skins tab for bashing out hundreds of skin files, and a Color Edit tab for making changes to skin colors.

Here's a little walkthrough video:

Don't worry too much about the Color Group Initialization tab. Just be aware that a small file called ALSkinColorGroups.txt exists to organize the various color items into groups, and this file is necessary for generating skins. If you lose ALSkinColorGroups.txt at any time you simply recreate it, and the default version is probably the best. I don't think you can do any damage by trying random color groups - you might just get wackier results.

Essentially, the fun of the Generate Skins function is the sheer randomness of it all: You just don't know what colors you're going to get. Try lowering the Max. value of Saturation Range to get more subtle colors. Zero saturation results in monochrome skins.

For every one hundred skin files you create you might like maybe five and the rest you can chuck. Of those that look nice you will probably have to tweak some colors to make sure you can see everything clearly, and I suppose that's where the extra work is required. But the idea is that Skin City will do some of the donkey work for you.

The Color Edit functionality is pretty straight-forward I think. Choose a skin to edit and then click on a color item box to select for editing. Click again to de-select. Use SHIFT+CLICK to select multiple color items; or CTRL+CLICK to select all color items that have the same color.

Use the color-chooser panel on the right-hand side to change item colors. The Undo and Redo buttons are applicable until you click the Save button to write the file. Editing is non-destructive - you cannot overwrite existing files: It will always write to a new version of the file, using a '_scNN.ask' suffix where NN is 00 - 99 (though if you reach 99 it will keep overwriting version 99).

Don't forget that whenever you create a new skin file you will need to close and re-open the Ableton Live Preferences dialog to refresh the list of skins.

Not much else to add at this point, so just go crazy and have some fun!

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