Making music is all about getting in the flow so your creative ideas get translated directly to songs without getting caught up in the computer. Many serious producers buy expensive mixing desks with flying faders and LED tracked encoders to stay in the moment. Today, we show you how a simple MIDI controller and a good Ableton script can accomplish the same thing.
Do It Like Pro Studio Producers
If you’re lucky enough to peek into the studio of any industry veteran, you’ll immediately notice one thing – a lot of gear. This isn’t just some assortment of random gadgets that look cool and make funky noises. Every last bit of gear is there for a reason. Compressors add character, mixing desks dramatically improve workflow, speakers and acoustics let you trust what you hear, and MIDI controllers help you work faster so you don’t lose a moment of brilliance.
Pro’s have taken the time to transform their studio into a finely tuned creative space and battle station, ready for the war of art.
Flying Faders? Synced Control Surfaces? What They Do + Why They Matter
One thing many pros rely on are flying (motorized) faders, with visual feedback. As a parameter gets changed in the software, the fader itself moves. This means you’re not staring at the computer trying to figure out which knob is mapped to what. Mix engineers and producers love this type of control surface since it lets them quickly change a vocal level, or increase a reverb send while still completely in the moment. This helps them stay in a flow state.
The Importance of a Flow State
Every producer seems to say their best work happens quickly – and this is what the modern studio is designed for. In Nick Hook’s recent interview, he mentions how he never turns his gear off so he’s always ready to record – day or night. “When an idea’s ready if you can’t capture it that second, everything was a waste of time. I’ve never turned off anything ever cause if you want to call me at 3 am and we’re ready to rock, I need to walk right in here and go. This room is always live. This is like a boxing ring in here – if you want to come in, let’s go.”
Some people call this a flow state – described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi as:
“being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Flow is what your environment and equipment should help you achieve. Flow helps transform ideas into reality. Flow states helps you feel – not think – the music.
How To Emulate A Pro Setup That Promotes Flow
Professional music producers know it’s okay to invest in themselves. They spend a bit of money up front to stop wasting time doing tasks that don’t serve them – like tediously drawing in the perfect automation curves or volume levels.
If you’re also dedicated to making music there are two simple things you can do: improve your studio environment and choose the right gear to speed up recording (below).
There are a few controllers that achieve this and are very popular with producers:
Mackie Control: $1099
- 9 Fully automated flying faders
- 8 Knobs with LED ring
- Dimensions + Weight: 20 x 7 x 21.1 inches, 21.1 Pounds
Behringer BCR2000: $150 (used)
- 24 high-resolution encoders
- 20 Buttons / 4 virtual groups
- Dimensions + Weight: 14 x 6.3 x 14.8 inches, 7.9 pounds
APC 40 MK2: $299
- 40 pad (5×8) clip-launch matrix seamlessly integrates 1-to-1 with Ableton Live
- 8 channel faders, 1 master fader, and 8 device controls map to Ableton directly
- Premapped controls and plug-and-play setup
- Dimensions + Weight:: 10 x 16.7 x 1.8 inches, 5.2 pounds
Novation Launch Control XL: $149
- 24 Knobs, 8 faders, 16 buttons
- No LED Ring Indicators – doesn’t sync perfectly with the software (requires knob “takeover”)
- Dimensions + Weight: 9.4 x 9.4 x 1.5 inches, 2.2 pounds
Midi Fighter Twister – $219
- 4 Banks of 16 Knobs
- Customizable LEDs that stay fully synced with Ableton, Traktor, etc
- Special 3-in-1 Knobs, features not found on any other controller: CC Toggle, DJ Filter, Push to Reset, Encoder Fine Adjust, Shift Encoder Hold
- Dimensions + Weight: 6 x 6 x 2.3 inches, 1.2 pounds
Whether you are looking to use a Midi Fighter Twister on its own or complement your existing setup there are things it does which can replace a full on expensive studio desk – while still fitting in your backpack:
The Importance of Studio Workflow & The Twister Script
The Ableton Script
Divided into three main sections, this script aims at giving you hands-on control for most of the parameters you’ll need while making, mixing or mastering a song in Ableton. Best of all, unlike traditional MIDI mapping it carries across all your projects without having you to map the controls you need every single time.
The first two banks emulate a 8 track control desk with your standard volume/pan/sends and mute/solo/arm/select controls. Thanks to Twister’s LED feedback you can easily navigate larger projects and every control will stay in sync at all times, even if they are automated.
The second section offers a selected track focused view offering all of the controls listed above for that channel and adds device control. Not only it allows you to control the first 8 parameters but it also supports device banks to extend these and you can just as easily navigate between different devices to ensure you get the right controls when you need them.
Finally, the 4th bank is left free so you can bundle controls you normally use and have them just a button press away. This last bit is particularly handy if you want to tweak specific parameters regardless of what track is in focus (like the filter on your lead synth). Unlike the rest this one needs to be mapped per project but that is probably for the best since not all tracks are equal.
Don’t own a full license of Ableton? No problem, it will work with any license as long as you are running 9.6 or higher.
After downloading the script file and unzipping it, you’ll have a folder with contain this guide and three more files: “Twister_Ableton.mfs” and a folder named “Script”.
- Open the MF Utility and import the “Twister_Ableton.mfs” file via “File > Import Settings”.
- Copy the contents of the “Script” folder (_Mono_Framework, _Tools and Twister) to your Ableton Live’s MIDI Remote Scripts folder. Located in “C:\Program Files (x86)\Ableton \Live x.x\Resources\MIDI Remote Scripts\” for Windows or right click on your Ableton’s app and click “Show Package Contents” and navigate to “\Contents\App-Resources\MIDI Remote Scripts\” for Mac OSX
- Launch Ableton Live and the script should detect your device and set itself up. If this doesnt’t happen go to Preferences and under MIDI Sync tab select Twister in the Control Surface drop down list, remember to set the correct input and output MIDI ports.
- That’s it! Now every time you open Ableton with your Twister connected everything will be tightly in sync.