Lots of people don’t understand how you can make music on a computer. “That’s not real music,” they might say. Or, “you’re just making random sounds.” Little do they know of the immense artistry and craftsmanship that goes on behind the scenes of every electronic song. It’s been said that creating your own track completely on a computer is the new age version of creating a symphony. There are tons of examples to draw between the two. Both artists have to create a new idea and melody to base the entire song around. They have to create backing chords and small fillers throughout the piece to keep attention. They design their own percussion hits. The list goes on and on, and that is another topic for another day, but doing all of this on a keyboard and mouse can be an extremely cumbersome task if you are doing it all day every day. This is where a MIDI keyboard/controller can come in extremely handy.
For those of us who come from a musical background, maybe you already know how to play the piano. Why not use your knowledge of one instrument and bring it to thousands of others in the form of your plugins? For some of us, designing our melodies and chords gets astronomically easier once we have an actual physical space to play them on. Perhaps you don’t know how to play piano, though. Or, maybe you’ve never touched a piano in your life, and you work better just using your DAW’s piano roll. A MIDI keyboard/controller can still make your life a lot easier if you allow it to. Most controllers have a grid of pads that you can assign to different sounds, making it extremely easy to design percussion loops. They even come with knobs and faders that you can assign to different EQ or effects, letting you alter the intricacies of your mix on the fly. Whatever your situation is, a MIDI keyboard/controller could always come in handy. Here are some things you’ll want to look for specifically when deciding which one to buy for yourself.
Size. These things come in a ton of different sizes, and often the bigger sizes will have more features. The most common sizes you’ll find are 25key, 49key, 61key, and 88key. These all refer to the number of keys on the keyboard, with the 88key obviously being extremely long. Based on your usable space and your lifestyle, you’ll need to choose the size that fits you best. We might be wrong, but you’re (hopefully) not going to want to take a 61key keyboard onto a plane and try to lay out an entire melody across all the tray tables in your row. Try out a mini 25key version of that 61key you have lying across your studio desk. It’ll fit in your backpack, and you can take it almost anywhere. If you spend all of your time in your chair in the studio, though, anything smaller than a 49key is probably not going to cut it for you. 49key is usually where all of the bells and whistles start to come in, with the 25keys sporting only a few of them.
Features. As previously mentioned, these devices can come with some seriously helpful designs. Some controllers will come with pads, knobs, faders, some internal software – the works. Finding the right controller for yourself will depend on what you’re looking for and what you need from the controller. If you don’t need the pads, look for any versions without pads. Maybe one company sells all their controllers without pads, but they added another feature instead. Even different models from the same company will come with different features, so be sure not to rule any company out specifically because of one thing they do or do not offer on one controller.
Software integration. Some of these controllers are built and designed to work with a specific DAW. If you are using Ableton Live, for example, check out the Novation Launchkey series. This controller specifically will automatically map out all of your grids, instruments, effects, and mixer onto the controller itself. This will give you a huge boost in time not wasted mapping all of those things out for yourself. Another example would be the Native Instruments Kontrol series. This one was designed for full integration with Native Instruments plugins, so that you can control everything with ease with just the keyboard. If you’re looking for a new MID controller, this is one of the most important and, frankly, coolest parts to look out for. Software integration can be a complete game changer in your studio.
Akai MPK Series
M Audio Keystation
Native Instruments Kontrol
-designed for full integration with Native Instruments software inside your DAW
Novation Launchkey (designed specifically for use with Ableton Live) or Novation Impulse, depending on your DAW and preferences
Some people will be quick to dismiss MIDI controllers as something that isn’t needed when creating electronic music. However, while it is true that you can do a lot of things without them, they will offer an enormous boost to your creativity and workflow. Think of a MIDI controller as having the internet on your cell phone, or having bluetooth speakers in your car. It’s not absolutely, completely necessary, but once you have it you will wonder every day how you lived without it. If you’re having trouble making your decision, remember the three things we mentioned. Size, offered features, and software integration will all play a major role in which controller is best for you. From increased creativity with the keyboard and pads, to precise physical control over your mixer and effects, you will not regret this purchase if you can make it.
Disclaimer: EDM Ghost Producer does not have any affiliation with any of the above companies or products.