DJ 101: What Is The Right MIDI Controller for You? Part 2

Missed Part 1? No worries, get caught up right here.

Modular DJ MIDI Controller Setups

For those DJs who don’t want to use an all-in-one DJ MIDI controller, there is the modular approach. Modular MIDI controllers are smaller in footprint and normally do not have all the functions available that an all-in-one controller has, i.e while an all-in-one controller might normally have a built-in mixer and sound card, the modular setup requires a bit more in the way of equipment. Some DJs may see this as a hindrance, while others may see this as a benefit. Like I stated earlier, you will want to base your choice of MIDI controller on the workflow you are currently using. Normally, modular MIDI controllers are based around groups of actions in the software. For instance, The Dicer by Novation is focused on the looping and cue point functions found in Traktor and Serato. The footprint of the Dicer is very small and was actually designed to fit on a Technics 1200 turntable. In contrast, the Behringer CMD PL-1 was designed to function just like a CDJ or turntable. When we were designing it, we were aiming to create a device which allowed DJs to beatmatch using this controller just like they would with a CDJ. Being able to mix and match the controllers of your choice gives the DJ more control over their set. This functional customization results in giving each DJ a great deal more power to create and tweak their performance, tailoring it to their personality and style.

Two Different Approaches

img-MASCHINE_MIKRO_intro_gallery_03_2x-a12cca8b6e4ff733cd91371324099de0-dRecently I played a gig in Seattle with the Portland-based producer Phidelity. His setup included a really unconventional choice of MIDI controller to get the live performance results he wants to create. Phidelity uses the Native Instruments Maschine Mikro MIDI controller to control Traktor. Normally you wouldn’t use the Maschine Mikro controller with Traktor, because it’s intended to be used in the production process with DAWs (Digital Audio Workstations) such as Maschine or Ableton Live. But, the beautiful thing about MIDI controllers are that they can be re-mapped to any program which speaks its same language. Phidelity went way beyond normal standards for DJ setups and crafted something which helped his workflow. mk2In contrast, my DJ setup is much different. I prefer to use the Native Instruments X1 MKII to control most of my cue and loop functions in Traktor. But in addition to this, I use the Behringer CMD PL-1 to beatmatch and control FX. This is a setup I have tested over the years, and while I have used several other controllers for short periods of time, after lots of trials and tribulations, I’ve found that this setup perfectly fits how I want to play. It seems that more and more DJ’s and musicians are creating their own setup of MIDI controllers to get the results they need. Once again, I must stress that picking a MIDI controller is all about workflow. What works for one DJ might not work for another. I definitely implore you to experiment with different combinations of controllers to see what works best for you.

Creating Custom Mappings

Most DJ software which utilizes MIDI has a controller configuration manager. In this configuration manager you can assign any knob, button or fader on your controller to any function in the software. Traktor has the most robust and comprehensive controller mappings of any DJ software on the market. The Controller Manager in Traktor lets you assign the various features to any MIDI device you would like. Although daunting at first, once you get your head around the basics, you can very easily create a custom mapping which speaks directly to your workflow. I used this help page from Native Instruments to help me get a head start. Also, there are a wealth of tutorials and mappings available online to help you get started. Like I mentioned, creating custom mappings can be done with most DJ software that uses MIDI. This means that just because you aren’t using Traktor, that doesn’t mean you can’t create a custom mapping for your setup. Most software companies try to create auto mappings in their program so that users won’t have to create their own, but I have found that no matter what controller I am using, I tend to make small modifications to the mapping to fit my workflow. In closing I want to add that MIDI controllers should be an extension of you. They should always suit your needs and make your life easier. This means that you will need to do a bit of research before purchasing the right controller for you. You might ask your friends what they use, and why. Seeing someone else’s setup can really revolutionize your approach. Take the bits and pieces that work for you and remember that there is no “right” or “wrong” way, there’s only “what gives me the tools I need to play my way?”

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