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razor7music

Curious- Why Use a Control Surface?

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Hey All

I'm from the old school outboard gear days of recording, but over the years have become 99-100% in the box.

I'm just curious what the appeal of using a control surface is besides it being able to be used from a longer distance from your DAW than just a keyboard. I like keyboard shortcuts, so I think I'm missing something.

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I use a CS a Mackie Control. I do because some things are easier with a CS and faster.  Also, some DAWs can loose focus but with a CS they are always in focus to it. 

If you do a lot of automation on multiple tracks in real time a CS is a very good way to do that. Further a CS gives one the feel and ergonomics of a mixing desk at a low price.  I have been using a CS going back all the way to Pro Audio with a Cakewalk Studio Mix by Peavey. 

 

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shopping?q=tbn:ANd9GcRwCAZBstrx9ethSffnv

The MC (Mackie Control) is for me the best CS around. 

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1 hour ago, razor7music said:

I'm just curious what the appeal of using a control surface is besides it being able to be used from a longer distance from your DAW than just a keyboard. I like keyboard shortcuts, so I think I'm missing something.

JMO: Its all personal preference; there is no one right way.  For example, I like sliders as opposed to knobs, keypresses, mouse clicks, etc.  So for me using a couple of nanoKontrols as midi controllers works well for my eye-ear-brain-hand coordination.  Also, my preferred usb keyboards have sliders (in addition to knobs).

Purely personal choice.  For me, moving sliders just feels so comfortable.

PS: To be clear, for some tasks I use keyboard shortcuts, for other things mouse movement/clicks, menus and dialog boxes, etc.  

Edited by User 905133
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I got a nanoKONTROL II because I wanted to experiment with "physical faders vs. mouse drags."

This may seem odd, but when I'm in the final stages of mixing a project, I often close my eyes. This if for a couple of reasons. Primarily it's so I can visualize the sonic space I'm creating.

My favorite mixes are ones that create a virtual space. It can be one that simulates a real world place like an arena stage or an intimate room, and in the case of purely electronic genres, it can be an abstract space. David Tipper is a master of the latter. He creates 3-D sonic sculptures with elements that are so vivid I can almost touch them. If I close my eyes and can't picture what I'm hearing happening in a coherent spatial environment, with the individual elements distinctly audible, I know I have to keep going.

Also, it relieves the load on my brain, frees up the visual processing task. Like we mute plug-ins to conserve resources in the DAW.

Obviously, when have my eyes closed, I can't see the screen, the best I can do is click and hold on a single control and then trust my mouse hand not to move unless I tell it. With a control surface, the slider won't move unless I touch it, and of course I can keep my eyes closed and move around to the pan controls and mute and unmute.

There's also the matter of live mixing and composition of electronic music, where you improvise, using a controller to trigger and fade loops and samples. If you've ever wondered why anyone would pay to stand and watch some person fiddle with a laptop, well, don't knock it till you've tried it. At its best it's a form of live improvised music, and someone good at it can "read" the crowd and get everyone moving, thin it out and get everyone in a trance state, rise and break it down all on the fly. When I fantasize about getting back on stage, it's more about doing this than it is slingin' my guitar.

It can be done using a touchscreen or MIDI keyboard or even the QWERTY, but it's just plain more fun to use a pad controller.

There is a LOT more I would like to be doing with the nanoKONTROL than volume, pan, and track controls, but I don't even know how to ask for help.

I would like to be able to use it in Breaktweaker and other synths and FX without losing the ability to control the transport and channel strips. The Korg has a "SONAR" mode where all the controls are automatically set to present to Cakewalk as a Mackie, and I use this because it seemed easiest, but I'd like to do more with it if I could. An RTZ button would be a handy thing.

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9 hours ago, razor7music said:

Hey All

I'm from the old school outboard gear days of recording, but over the years have become 99-100% in the box.

I'm just curious what the appeal of using a control surface is besides it being able to be used from a longer distance from your DAW than just a keyboard. I like keyboard shortcuts, so I think I'm missing something.

I use the Advid Artist Transport for scrolling and moving my way through the project. I can zoom in and out on tracks faster, in a split second!! Its way faster than moving the mouse wheel to the corner and then clicking on the zoom. I can scrub, play, stop, record, Rewind measures at a time or FF measures at a time.

This control surface fits my workflow. 

avid-artist-transport-top-600x665.jpg

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They're a convenience thing. Some people prefer mapping parameters to something tactile. They're also useful if you like manually automating stuff, but on the whole they're 100% not essential to a DAW setup. On my VS-700, I'd say probably 90% of what I use on it are the transport/jog wheel and the save/undo functions. But everyone's mileage varies.

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My MIDI keyboard controller also has knobs and sliders it is designed to be used with the Synths I use the most so I can easily tweak the controls I am most likely to want to tweak.  The only things I really have configured to control anything in CbB that is not a synth is the transport.

That is why I have my Arturia Keylab 88 Mk I because it makes life very easy to edit synths and stop and start the transport.

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Mine mostly sits on the shelf. Sometimes, when watching TV from the couch I use it as a volume fader. My dad has no trouble understanding or working it. 🙂

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In my experience you have to learn a control surface by working with it over a period of time. Until your muscle memory gets to the point where your fingers go automatically where you want them to go, a control surface can get in the way of your workflow. However, once you get proficient at it (which can take a couple of months, or maybe I'm just slow), you can move a lot faster.  (I think the best, but most frustrating way, to learn a control surface is to go cold turkey on using the mouse for anything that can be done with the control surface.)

Another factor is being able to control multiple functions at once. For example I use my mouse left-handed, and work the control surface with my right hand. Keyboard shortcuts get you partway there, unless you need to use both hands to hit a combination of keystrokes.

12 hours ago, Starship Krupa said:

This may seem odd, but when I'm in the final stages of mixing a project, I often close my eyes.

Not odd at all!! When I was a studio musician one of the most important lessons I learned was watching the mix for "Brandy (You're a Fine Girl)." The engineer closed his eyes and moved the eight faders (yes, it was that long ago) with very subtle rhythmic movements. Those little movements added life to the song. It would have been difficult, if not impossible, to make those changes one fader at a time with a mouse. 

Also, if you use a control surface, try turning off the monitor...it's an interesting experience :)

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13 hours ago, Wookiee said:

That is why I have my Arturia Keylab 88 Mk I because it makes life very easy to edit synths and stop and start the transport.

So....okay, this is relevant to my interests. My nanoKONTROL II probably gets the most use as a remote transport controller. I can set up my tracks and monitor mix, get myself comfortable behind the drum kit, then use the nanoK II to start and stop recording, play back the last take, etc. Sometimes I use the faders and pan knobs when mixing.

Since you say control synth(s) plural, and you use the transport, how does this work? My guess is that Cakewalk passes the input from the Arturia to your synth if its UI has focus? And then if you switch to a different synth, with differently mapped controls, the controller input will automatically switch to that synth. The Arturia's transport buttons stay permanently mapped to the main Cakewalk transport. Do I have that right?

If so, what I want to learn how to do is, for instance, map the controller for Breaktweaker. Breaktweaker is like a DAW-within-a-DAW, with multiple tracks, its own transport, etc. Not all of the buttons and knobs have a 1:1 correspondence, so I might want to map, say, the "Marker" button on the Korg to do something different.

Then when I close the Breaktweaker UI (or maybe switch focus to a different plug-in's UI), I don't want the controller to affect its settings any more, I want to switch back to controlling Cakewalk's transport and channel strips.

Even after careful study of the Reference Guide, I still don't know how to get started. I read the section on ACT.  I have my controller in SONAR mode and Control Surfaces set to use @msmcleod's MmCl Mackie Control. That got it to work for how I'm using it now.

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4 hours ago, Starship Krupa said:

Since you say control synth(s) plural, and you use the transport, how does this work?

Yes basically because of the way Arturia have the MIDI mapped all I need to do is make sure the synth I want to tweak has its MIDI in focus.

Have you tried keeping the ACT window open I have noticed previously SONAR tracked moves to different items in focus but I have not really tried recently.  I would also check out  http://www.azslow.com/index.php he has some interesting tools for configuring ACT far more simpler.

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I remember nice video how blind musician was recording/mixing using computer keyboard (Sonar 8). There is no much difference in transport or other buttons, but changing continuous parameters with keyboard is not fun.

That leaves mouse as the only usable computer device for most parameters.  And it is rather bad device for "shortcuts" like operations (I have written special plug-in to use it that way, f.e. press button+turn the wheel, not good in practice).

I still prefer turn physical knob to change volume of my interface over mouse or keyboard buttons, I mean outside DAW. And so turning knob or moving slider feels like the "right" way.

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17 hours ago, Wookiee said:

Have you tried keeping the ACT window open

I'm not even sure if I know what the ACT window is. The reason I've not asked for help about this is I'm so clue challenged that I don't know what to ask. I've had the thing for years without knowing that it was possible to control plug-ins with it.

The only thing I've done with the nanoKONTROL in Cakewalk is follow Mark's instructions. I think I need to watch a tutorial before I go any further.

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@Starship Krupa this is what it looks like and how to open it, you need to configure it in Preferences > MIDI > Control surfaces to create one and set what the MIDI I/O ports it will use.



 

Act Module Open.png

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When I ran a home commerical studio I used 4 behinger bcf2000s in mackie mode because it enabled me to quick mix what the clients just laid down. Now that I have closed it to the public I still have them before me but leisurly mix with a mouse again.

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I've got a Korg nanoKontrol Studio + Mackie C4 in the office, and a Mackie MCU/XT/C4 in the Studio... but as I'm constantly swapping between my laptop, office PC & studio PC, I must admit I don't use the control surface to its full.

For tracking, I'll quite happy swap between the control surfaces, and the PC keyboard without a thought, but the control surfaces always come into play in two workflows:

1. At the beginning of mixing, when doing the initial rough mix balance
2. At the end of mixing, when doing my final bus automation.

In both these scenarios, being able to control 8 faders at once (usually with my eyes closed) is a huge plus.

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@Starship Krupa, I saw @msmcleod mention in another post that Cakewalk by BandLab was updated to include many of Mark's control surface features.  You may want to look back through the release notes.

I've connected my Korg nanoKontrol2 to my older XP computer with Cakewalk's consumer product, Music Creator 6.  It did everything I wanted including switching between plugin and DAW when I changed focus.  I haven't connected it to my new computer yet so I haven't tried it with CbB.

Edited by Jim Fogle
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6 minutes ago, Jim Fogle said:

@Starship Krupa, I saw @msmcleod mention in another post that Cakewalk by BandLab was updated to include many of Mark's control surface features.  You may want to look back through the release notes.

I've got a Korg nanoKontrol2 that did everything I wanted with Cakewalk's consumer product, Music Creator 6.  I haven't connected it to my new computer yet so I hven't tried it with CbB.

You can actually do a fair bit with the nanoKontrol 2 in CbB.  I've still got mine, but it's stuck to the wall in my studio next to my vocal mic, so it's duties are limited to transport control & marker navigation.

The cycle button can be used like a shift key to access other functions such as Track < > for switching between tracks & busses,  and a bunch of other functions like plugin & synth parameter controls (using the pan knobs to change the parameter values):
image.png.abb69a681fce967c80638a44108fad95.png
 

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I use my BCF2000 all the time. My electronic drum kit is not in direct line of sight and I can press a button and play back, or a couple of keys presses let's me record from my from throne. I can set other instrument levels without looking at a screen.  My acoustic guitar/vocal area is also not in direct line of sight and the computer keyboard is not within reach, so the iPad works here. Also, using trackball for extended periods is troublesome to my hand, it is nice to give it a break. I am planning on recording a bunch of key presses into the Eucontrol app for my ipad to save further wear and tear although you could use combinations of key presses( alt, control, shift etc) to do the same thing. However, once setup up it will be a one press on my iPad.

Pretty useful to me!

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1 hour ago, Jim Fogle said:

@Starship Krupa, I saw @msmcleod mention in another post that Cakewalk by BandLab was updated to include many of Mark's control surface features.  You may want to look back through the release notes.

I've connected my Korg nanoKontrol2 to my older XP computer with Cakewalk's consumer product, Music Creator 6.  It did everything I wanted including switching between plugin and DAW when I changed focus.  I haven't connected it to my new computer yet so I haven't tried it with CbB.

I currently have my control surface set like this:

MMcL.jpg.c541aca55257ac9fc39bd78d9da704bc.jpgControlsurface.jpg.ce20b030451b13d9500409ac08b8e4d2.jpg

The documentation says "if you want to use Active Controller Technology, ....select either the Cakewalk Generic Surface or the ACT MIDI Controller." I detest when manuals say something like this. "If you want to use XXX, then do this" when I have no idea if I want to use XXX. I never heard of ACT until I started using Cakewalk. If it said "if you want to use ACT, which is necessary for controlling plug-ins" then I would know what to select.

If I need to change it to "ACT MIDI Controller" or "Generic Surface," will the transport and faders still work when I don't have a plug-in in focus? If so, why install Mark's thing? I was under the impression that "MMcL Mackie Control" had special mappings for the nK2. Do I lose that if I switch to Generic Control Surface?

Is what I'm trying to do the realm of "want to use Active Controller Technology?" I'm getting the feeling it does. The documentation also goes on and on about importing ACT data, tells you where to go to find new ones, but then gives no hints as to what folder to install them in. It says that Cakewalk already comes with "built-in mappings for all relatively recent Cakewalk plug-ins." Relative to what? I tried opening PX-64 and wiggling the faders and knobs on the Korg, and CbB obediently moved the faders and pan in the Console. This was while the plug-in had focus.

I don't even remember how I installed Mark's control surface driver or definitions or whatever the nomenclature is. If CbB has been updated to incorporate his features, do I still need to select MMcL Mackie Control?

(if you get the idea that I find the documentation frustrating, you're right. If not for the forum, it would be so much harder 😂)

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