SONGWRITING TIP: The endless ocean of MIDI and modern-music making OPTIONS

Is this a tip? I don’t even know. But, I’m going to let loose, right here on my site, because I have too many damn thoughts about it… this thing is going to be a novel, so prepare yourself.

FORUMS & my Reaper 5 / Control Surface MIDI project

I post a lot on miscellaneous forums. Asking questions, helping others with their questions. This is what I do. Blame it on the day job (music teacher). You can find me at the official Reaper forum, VI-Control, KVR Audio, the Native Instruments Maschine forum, etc. And most of this year I’ve been posting more on Reddit (mostly in the Novation, Ableton, Reaper sub-reddits).

I am constantly, constantly thinking of ways to improve songwriting and recording workflow for people… hence my obsession with digital recording and MIDI controllers.

The problem with visiting forums and helping others, is that it kickstarts my brain with new ideas and possibilities… and also gives me GAS (gear acquisition syndrome), making me want new gear. These days, I do research and tweak more than making anything, but I guess that’s the path my life has taken (sadly, but I guess cool, too).

Soon (basically tonight or tomorrow night), I’ll be releasing my MIDI Control Surface / Reaper integration stuff… I have a few people interested in beta-testing, which is fun. I spent most of 2019 working on this stuff, and I feel it’s going to help a lot of people. I need to make more videos, though. Because everyone always needs videos.


Gear I own / have owned / use / have used:

Native Instruments: Maschine Mikro MK2 (white), Maschine Studio (white and black), Maschine MK2 (white and black), Maschine MK3, Maschine JAM, Komplete Kontrol S25 MK1
Novation: Circuit, Launch Control (original), Launch Control XL,SL MKIII (61-key), Nocturn, Launchpad Pro, and the three newest Novation products— Launchpad X, Launchpad Mini Mk3, and Launchkey Mini MK3.
Arturia: Beatstep, Beatstep Pro, Keystep, Keylab Essential 61 (white), SparkLE, Minilab MK2 (white)
Behringer: X-Touch Mini (3 of them), X-Touch Compact, and a TC64 CMD Touch (just like an original Launchpad)
other: Ableton Push 2, M-Audio Axiom Air Mini 32, M-Audio Keystation Mini 32 (3 of them), Elektron Model:Samples, Korg Microsampler, Korg Microkorg XL+, Yamaha Reface CP, a couple Casio digital pianos…. the list goes on and on


Yeah, it’s true. I own a lot of gear that can basically do the same damn thing, in one way or another. Let’s talk Ableton. The Maschine JAM can control Ableton, via scripting, and work like a Launchpad on crack. It’s a little glitchy, but thanks to Haxor and Roxor, a working script is always being updated, even though new Ableton updates tend to “break” the scripts… (argh). Sucky thing about Maschine Jam– the grid buttons are buttons… not velocity-sensitive pads. No prob, usually.

The Novation SL MKIII can do the same as Jam… but instead of the 8×8 grid, I have a 2×8 grid (like the Launchkey series). Velocity-sensitive. It’s a little confusing to use at times, but it gets the job done, when I’m in an Ableton mood.

The Behringer Launchpad works just fine with Ableton. Cool. But I wanted more colors on the pads (like most people). So I bought a Launchpad MK2. Then sold it about a month later, because I wasn’t using Ableton that much. Then  I got a Launchpad Pro. A little overkill, but I love it. Now…

Enter the Launchpad Mini MK3, and the Launchpad X. RGB colors! And hey! The Launchpad X has velocity-sensitivity! Sweeeet. AND you NOW can do custom MIDI maps (up to 4 of them). Oooh baby, now we’re talkin’.

The Mini MK3 doesn’t have velocity-sensitivity but it is TINY (that rules) and it has RGB, and 3 Custom MIDI maps. Love, love, love that.

And hey, there’s the Launchkey Mini MK3…. TINY. Great arpeggiator functions. And what? A custom MIDI map mode (such as scales), for the 16 velocity-sensitive pads AND the knobs? Sweet! AND you can use it without a computer to control hardware synths and drum machines? Hello, that’s the shit. Good price point, too.

So…. if you’re keeping score…. look at how similar all these things are, but how none of them are the be-all-end-all solution. How can they be? Companies constantly deliberately leave out features or functionality, so you spend more money. Or, people prefer one look/size of a product, over another. That’s how we roll. I mean hell, that’s what I do.

I constantly am researching.


Something that frustrates me insanely as of last night… my Novation SL MKIII worked great with Ableton, via “InControl Mode”, with version 10.1. Sadly, 10.1 does not support the latest Launchpads, or the Launchkey Mini MK3. So…. I had to install an updated Ableton separately. One for using my SL MKIII, and the other new one (10.1.3) that supports the functions of the new Launchpads and Launchkey Mini MK3. Ableton needs to issue an update, fixing this. I want all my Novation devices connected to Ableton at the same time (for various reasons). Everything should work. But it doesn’t. And that’s yet another thing that sends me down the rabbit hole of MIDI…


I love the Launchpad X. A LOT. Mainly because of the 4 custom MIDI maps. That is INSANELY useful in a million and a half ways.. (especially since I’m mainly a Reaper user… not so much an Ableton user… though I have a lot of fun with Ableton, and I’ve come up with a lot of fun, dope stuff just messing around with it, as most people do!)… I love the velocity-sensitivity and I LOVE the thin form factor. It’s 1 square inch smaller than the Launchpad Pro, and it gives you those 4 custom modes, as well as Note Mode, which is “scales” when a melodic instrument is armed inside Ableton, and “drum grid” when the Drum Rack track is armed. It automatically switches to whatever it needs for that track. In addition, Custom Map 1 is 4 complete Drum Racks (64 slots). So dope.

But I hate the Launchpad X for this reason– It doesn’t have a dedicated Quantize button. Nor does it have Track Select. That’s necessary when doing some live -looping jams (sure, I could use input quantize but that sometimes isn’t fun, and I can map 8 buttons to select 8 tracks directly, in one of my Custom Maps)… But, quantize is even more necessary when I teach students how to use Ableton. Sadly, you can’t just map a MIDI button (such as on Launchpad X) to Ableton’s Quantize… they won’t let you map most of those “deeper-function” things in MIDI-map mode (as with everything, you’ll need a script).

So, the Launchpad Pro has dedicated buttons on the left side and bottom… that cover basically everything you’d need, when writing songs with Ableton, as well as launching clips. And the price is right (heavily-discounted $249 new… since the new Launchpads came out). But what sucks is… the Launchpad Pro has no custom midi-mapping for the pads. It has a User Mode, but it’s fixed-assignment MIDI notes (on a channel you specify).

“Dude, what about Push 2?” Yes, I know you’re asking yourself that, while you’re reading this. Push is $800. Eight. Hundred. Dollars. And that includes a stripped-down version of Live, which I don’t need, as I’m using Ableton Live Lite, which comes with every damn MIDI controller, or so it seems (yes, Live Lite doesn’t support Max4Live, or advanced functions, or most of the instruments but I use 3rd party synth plugins anyway, most of the time)…. that said, I have Push 2 (since 2017).

Push 2 is as ridiculously-priced as Maschine Studio, when it was first released 6 years ago ($999). And yeah, I bought Maschine Studio in late 2013 right when it was released. Push 2 is a great tool for an Ableton Live expert or professional performer, but I am not either of those. However, like I said above… I own a Push 2 (thanks to 12-month interest-free payment plans). And I really like it. But, I am way, way more familiar with Reaper, and I’m not even close to being a Reaper Power User…. one huge plus about Push 2 is Jurgen’s (aka Moss’) “DrivenByMoss4Reaper” script/plugin….. works with a ton of different MIDI controllers, and GREATLY enhances Reaper functionality. So, not only do you get an amazing controller for Ableton, you also get an amazing controller for Reaper, thanks to genius European programmers!

Let’s get back to Novation… and the Launchpad Pro…. The LP Pro can work with custom scripts for it such as the wonderful Launchpad95 script (which works with Launchpad MK2, as well– and offers step-sequencing which is super, super cool)… and as of version 10.1 (but NOT 10.1.3), it works perfectly alongside the SL MKIII, even though the script was designed for Ableton 9.5.

Oh, did I forget to mention the Launchpad Pro can also work standalone without a computer? Yes, it can control your midi hardware (at least, playing it in scale mode, not necessarily “launching clips”)… without the USB cable. Sweet. I don’t have an immense need for that MIDI functionality, but oh man, when I do, it’s so nice that it’s there. But again, no custom MIDI maps. But still… Launchpad Pro is awesome and MUCH cheaper than Push 2. I feel they both offer a lot.


One piece of gear is more useful for one thing, and the other is more useful for another thing. Launchpad Pro — insanely useful for Ableton Live (performing, recording clips, live-looping, and launching clips/scenes). But it has little to no use with Reaper 5 (except when using the DrivenByMoss script, and/or the Playtime plugin, which is like an Ableton Session View for Reaper). But as far as scene/pattern/clip launching goes, and using with Ableton…. it’s dope. And Push 2… well… Ableton Live is much, much, much more fun and fast, with it, than without it. And I think anyone who’s familiar can agree on that. Push 2 is amazing.

Keep in mind that Maschine MK3, MK2 and Studio can do nearly all of what Ableton can do….  and so can Maschine MK3 / Maschine JAM (you see where the confusion comes in?) Do I stick with Maschine Standalone, or the Maschine Plugin, inside Reaper, for my step-sequencing and “clip-launching / scene-launching” needs? Maschine? Launchpad? Push 2? MIDI footpedals??? (slowly I feel myself going insaaaaane).


You didn’t think I’d forget about Circuit, Beatstep, Beatstep Pro, SparkLE, and the SL MKIII, did you? (and the Zaquencer?) Haha. CONFUSION GALORE. Pretty soon, all that will come out of my mouth will be beeps, blips, boops, and white-noise blasts that used to be drum one-shots.

The Beatstep and Beatstep Pro are beautiful pieces of gear. I love them. If you want truly fun, random jams… they can’t be beat. But, I don’t use them that much (at least at the moment). But I love how they can control hardware, or synth plugins in your DAW. Maschine Jam can also step-sequence, easily (within Maschine)… Maschine Jam can also be used in Reaper, using Reaper’s Megababy step-sequencer… (the possibilities are truly endless). And Arturia’s SparkLE is probably the best damn drum machine I’ve ever used. Gorgeous layout, everything you need right there, and the SOUNDS are utterly fantastic. Makes my Elektron Model:Samples kind of redundant (but oh man, I love my one and only piece of gear by Elektron). There’s something about that beautiful box… it brings me much happiness.


Yeah. It is. Or is it? Haha. If you are reading this, you know the pain we all experience. Too many fuckin’ options (SYNTH PLUGINS ALONE!!!), and the music becomes more a fun, goof-around experiment, rather than a daily completed task, with YouTube videos and album releases on Bandcamp. That said…. how the fuck did I get here? I used to release stuff on Youtube and Bandcamp ALL. THE. TIME. Then weird life shit happened. Now I’m here. Goofing around, experimenting, tweaking, and not finishing a fucking thing.


Keep the Launchpad Mini MK3 for clip-launching only and fixed-velocity drumpad and fixed-scale synth ideas (god, I love the SIZE of that thing)?

Keep the Launchpad X for the Custom MIDI maps and tiny size of THAT, too? Hella useful with both Ableton AND Reaper (well, at least when Ableton fixes the broken SL MKIII stuff)…..

Use Circuit with Reaper (instead of Launchpad X)? I love the scale mode… 32 pads isn’t 64, but usually that’s enough, for a lot of applications… velocity-sensitive pads…? It can basically do what I want, with Reaper… and BONUS… all those pages of encoders!!! (this is an idea I’m going to develop more, for sure)…

Keep everything and set it all up and figure it all out? (I’m trying to, haha)

Use the “Maschine MK3 Legacy” Ableton script, and have a 4×4 pad grid instead of a 4×8 or 8×8 (still pretty usable… velocity-sensitive pads, scale modes.. etc?)\

Or better yet, use the Maschine MK2 or Maschine Studio Ableton scripts/templates, for use with Ableton (they truly are better than the MK3 implementation, which is half-assed)… or even better, combine a Launchpad Pro or Launchpad X, kept in Session view? A Launchpad Pro / Launchpad X combined with a MK2 or Studio is basically just like having a Push (for the most part)… interesting… or….

Pick up an APC40 MKII, since the hardware gives you full tactile control? Really good for live performance and mixing… ?

Stick to ONLY Reaper, and using Maschine as a plugin inside it? Basically does everything Ableton does… and the controllers are doubly-usable (as control surfaces with Reaper, as my big project is capable of)..? (but I still love Ableton!)

Familiarize myself insanely with Ableton, Maschine, AND Reaper, and make music with all three, whenever certain inspiration strikes? (this is kind of what I do, anyway)…?

Launchpad Pro? Push 2? Start a new song idea in Reaper? In Ableton? In Maschine?  Begin at the beginning? Which specific….


Dude… this shit is insane. Isn’t it?

And let’s be honest…. I’ve been completely brainwashed by the Music Production Industrial Complex (since 2009). We all have. Own it (god knows, I’m trying to). I watch all the YouTube videos all the time. I get obsessed with new gear, or people who discover the benefits of gear you’ve had sitting around forever… (or that you regret selling)… I watch all of this, and I know what’s going on, but I can’t detach myself from it. It’s like the 2019 version of the Home Shopping Network.

We all need to simplify (or figure out a workflow that best suits us) and we need to stop and think….

“How the FUCK can I simply get back to MAKING MUSIC and RELEASING IT? Without getting hung up on the consumer/money/new sparkly product BULLSHIT?”

Go make music! Or watch some YouTube videos on the latest dope shit. Either way, you’re happy. Aren’t you? Am I happy?





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1 Comment

  1. person147

    Wow. Simply, wow…

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