Finally! 64+ buttons for Ableton live for a reasonable price. I just got myself a launchpad. Less monitor, less mouse, more music. Thats what i thought when i held it in my hands the first time. I was wrong. Heres the story:
The first couple of hours with the pad were awesome. I played around with the demo livepacks that came with it and had some fun with the drumrack mode on the User1 page. But i was looking for more. I wanted to create clips in a convenient way, navigate around in the session view without touching the mouse and i wanted visual feedback. Since the launchpads documentation is more or less limited to a 2 page pdf “quick start user guide” i started looking around on youtube. I sure found some interesting stuff like visual feedback, sequencers and a lot more things which seemed cool but weren’t really what i was looking for: Workflow enhancement.
I tried Automap from Novation which also came with the launchpad which seemed to work fine first: freely assignable buttons, more than two user pages, led feedback and so on. Unfortunately sometimes Automap disabled the core functionality (in my eyes) of the pad: The red rectangle in Live disappeared. Sometimes Automap totally screwed up the led feedback and i was left with a wild disco bling bling on the pad and without the clip matrix. A really unusable solution.
I even installed a Max/MSP trial Version which is very cool for all sorts of things but also quite pricy. Still a great catch if you’re into hacking your own devices.
After two days i slowly started being pissed off by Novation. The standard configuration of the launchpad seems to be programmed by a bunch of drunk monkeys. Seriously. It sends midi data on different channels (which would be fine with me, if they were configurable – which they aren’t.) (Actually not true – it sends on channel 1, but still the midi behavior is not configurable), it doesn’t support LED feedback out of the box. Nothing really is configurable. To make it short: its a great device to fuck up your entire midi setup by banging notes out on channels you actually had reserved for other controllers or whatever.
Watching one of the “official” launchpad videos i got the feeling that the Novation people try to trick people with it. The pad doesn’t even provide half of the functionality -out of the box- the guy in the video uses. Apparently they have mapped the buttons in the drumrack mode directly to a midifeedback channel in Live. This is -in my eyes- a bad idea because it its not very scalable to different situations, and you‘ll probably have to readjust it a lot, which can be a real pain in the ass.
If you are a launchpad owner, watch the video below, then plug in your pad and compare.
Fortunately i found a great solution which perfectly suits my needs: Bome’s midi Translator which comes in different flavors and is available for OSX and Windows. With the Midi Translator i was able to map all of the functionality i need to the launchpad. Now i barely touch my mouse or even look at the screen while outlining a track. In the following tutorials i’ll explain what i did to get it up and running and will also provide the preset i “programmed” for it. I’ll try to write this in a more or less non geek style so also unexperienced users will be able to kick their launchpads asses.
Please note, that this is work in progress. As i‘m writing this i always encounter new features or have ideas of different mappings, so bear with me, if some buttons in the explanations are in a different place than in the video or a screenshot, or if anything else is a bit stirred up or rough around the edges… Also don’t hesitate to ask any questions in the comments.
Heres what you can do with it:
- Programming keyboard shortcuts from live to the launchpad (undo, save, view switches, track activation/arming, clip deletion/creation – with automatic renaming, copy/paste, duplicate and anything else you could think of – even menu entries that don’t have a shortcut are assignable (at least on OSX))
- Virtually unlimited user1 and user2 pages selectable with the cursor buttons on the pad
- Automatic LED feedback on predefined pages which is actually not getting in your way on the session and the mixer page like all the other solutions i found so far.
- fun “screensaver” effects on the launchpad when you set it to a predefined page when you take a little break. – Not terribly useful but still cool. Oh, and this one doesn’t screw up the connection between live and the launchpad like the Novation one does.
- Virtually any aspect of live (with some minor drawbacks) is assignable to the launchpad… Hell, you could even play pong on it.
- Much more things, i probably couldn’t even think of… The possibilities are endless
First some words about the midi translator:
It functions as a layer between your launchpad (or the virtual midi ports assigned to it from your operating system) and the software you want to control. It runs in the background and takes the midi data you feed into it – then you are free to do whatever you like with that data, manipulate it, activate functions or entire scripts within MT. You can then advice MT to route that data to live or anything else to trigger exactly the functions you need OR if you choose to do so NOT route them back into the software which is a very cool trick to set up multiple (unlimited) user pages.
The things you‘ll need to set everything up besides the hardware and Ableton Live is Bomes MidiTranslator and the Novation Programmers Reference, which is very handy for a lot of things like colorcodes and a cheatsheet for notes in hex and decimal notation. Good to have! Thanks to Novation for this!
I cannot emphasize enough how useful the MIDI translator is. It is an extremely powerful tool. The guys at Bomes really did an awesome job. There is a trial version available which will work for twenty minutes before a restart. So you can try out everything i describe.
The user1 page has been split up in to halves. While the left side remains in the original state + MIDI feedback, the right side is not playing any notes anymore. The pads toggle various functions in Ableton Live.
The left side
The left side remains like it was before. It communicates via the MT with Ableton though. I‘ve noticed, that 32 drumrack samples on the left side are far enough for me to get beats set up and play a quick bassline. The pads have LED feedback with customizable colors for each track. The feedback is programmed into the Bomes script and does not come from Ableton, since this is a much cleaner approach than the ones most people use. I used to have a lot of weird behavior when i used Ableton to send midi feedback to the LP. The Bomes script just feels much snappier. Also the midi feedback is automatically turned off, when you leave user1 mode and turned on again when you come back. This was one of the most annoying things in the Ableton midi feedback approach. There was a *lot* of unexpected midi feedback going on in mixer and session mode.
The right side
The right side is kind of a multi purpose toolset. I have mapped various keyboard shortcuts to some pads. Some of them trigger one function, some more. All of them signal availability by LED feedback and give LED feedback when you push them.
The features on the user1 page include:
- cursor keys (useful for quick navigation in session mode) -they can send keystrokes once, or continuously when you hold the button
- enter button (to toggle the clips you have selected with the cursor buttons)
- undo/redo – i use these a lot 😉
- metronome on/off -this one changes the LED state with the Ableton button state, so you save one look at your screen
- overdub -also changes LED state when you push it. Less screen watching. This one is extremely useful, because when playing an actual drumrack you usually have a lot of samples in there (well, i do…). Having the overdub button handy lets you turn off the overdub mode, search for those snotty hihats you need while the rest of the loop is rolling, turn overdub on and play it in. –cool workflow, no clicking around
- Tap tempo
- duplicate -when i create a drumloop i usually create a 2 bar clip and put it in slot 1. Then i set the mouse focus on it, and from there on i only need my launchpad, thanks to this little trick:
- i turn overdub off with the according button
- i look for a kickdrum sample (or whatever it is i want to start with) on the left side
- overdub on
- duplicate and start over- this not only duplicates the clip but also sets the duplicated clip to play mode. This way i am able to preserve any step during the creation in a beat.
- i usually end up with like 10 clips in a row, each representing a state of the beat creation, which i very much like to toss around and use them as variations.
- track select/arm/solo/mute – these buttons actions are dependent to the currently selected track and are connected to the scene launch buttons (see below)
- create midi clip
- copy & paste
- view switch -very handy when you are using a lot of clips or if you are working on a small screen. It expands the clip matrix by hiding most of the other elements of the ableton screen
- the great almighty save button -this one blinks. constantly. different colors. it likes to be pushed.
The scene launch buttons
The eight scene launch buttons on the right function as track selection buttons. I almost never use more than 8 different tracks so they fit perfectly. The cool thing about them is that they remember their state. When i switch to user1 page to work on a track, i can select which track i want with these buttons, the one i choose will light up. The buttons arm, mute, solo and select instrument will act correspondingly to the activated track. When i leave user1 mode to the mixer, and return later, the user1 page will be in the same state as i left it, with the same track selected.
Heres a little youtube clip, showing some of the features:
And a short clip, showing the MIDI translator running in the background
Heres a quick overview of what the mapping currently looks like (this is actually a slightly different layout than the one in the video)
Check out the launchpad index page for future articles!