GEAR SPOTLIGHT – Akai MPD18 Controller

Ableton Live 8 is great. And so are the bevy of third party external controllers available to manipulate Ableton Live’s countless features and functions.

Akai is one company that has put some concentrated effort in developing a variety of USB control surfaces to send specific MIDI signals to Ableton.

They now have an arsenal of products – just head on over to and search “MIDI Controller”. You’ll see a ton of products, and many with an Akai label.

At North Point, we used to use a Korg padKONTROL, but as it wore out, the cons of the way we needed to use the product (footprint size, button location) caused us to search for something else to use in its place.

The piece of gear we’ve since adopted for use is the $99.00 Akai MPD18.

Akai MPD18

I recently read the biography of Steve Jobs, and one mantra of his is clear throughout his life and leadership at Apple: “Simpler is Better”.

And in this – and many cases – I agree.

Our drummers are the one who start and stop songs via Ableton Live, and the MPD18 is a simple interface that allows them to glance over and easily find the appropriate button to launch the song or clip. And its single variable slider does allow the user to control any desired item, like being able to fade the volume of a loop or click, etc.

Now if you’re looking for more bells and whistles to manipulate more stuff during live performance, then Akai has some other controllers that may take your fancy, like the MPD26, and MPD32.

And if you dare, the APC Series… Can you say “overkill”?

Actually, the APC Series is meant for folks using Ableton Live in a far different fashion than we are. If anything, the APC Series beckons the spirit of Ableton Live’s original program intent – that of DJ’ing and song creation, and not that of single clips and scenes launching different songs like we do.


Now one obstacle to this (and any external controller) is placement.

While you may be blessed with a large spacial footprint to put a laptop stand, music stand and controller stand (and stick stand, beverage stand, etc…), we are not. We have a 8’x6′ riser on which to cram an entire drum set, audio snake, computer and audio interface, etc. So the small footprint of the MPD18 becomes ideal in our world.

We’ve made a pretty decent stand for it using a snare stand and small, cut piece of wood. (Yep, had to get out the power tools!). The wood was then covered by a miracle called “The Two Minute Matte Paint Job”.

Aka black Gaff Tape. 🙂

The finishing touch was to get out the labeler and make a “1”, “2”, “3” and “4”, just to help the drummer’s eye. For the vast majority of our services, these four buttons suffice.

On a recent more elaborate service (Night of Worship), the drummer wrote out the 10 or 12 song titles on sticky notes and stuck them to the buttons. Simple, (tacky), and effective! 🙂

MPD18 with drums

Also, as with many external controllers, the MPD18 is powered via the USB cable, so no need for another wall wart!

There you go!

What controller(s) do you use? Do you like ’em?


3 thoughts on “GEAR SPOTLIGHT – Akai MPD18 Controller

  1. Cool man. Wasn’t aware of this box. Thanks for the post. We are using the Korg NanoKontrol from the keyboard position (which I love), but I’ve been looking for something that would be more practical for drummers at our other venues.

    I’m assuming your ‘stop’ button is for the transport stop not the clip or scene stop, right?

    One thing that has been helpful for me is having three stop buttons:
    Stop click, stop transport, stop everything but click

    Stop click: Helps if I’m using a pad track or something else with a tail. In a spot where I want to stop the click, but not have the pad or whatever suddenly drop out.

    Stop everything but click: is helpful if I need to kill a loop or other track but keep the click going

    Stop Transport: stops everything and resets the transport so that any new trigger starts immediately (i.e. doesn’t wait for the next bar to come around)

    Of course, this adds complexity. I might go to something simpler if volunteers start controlling Ableton.

  2. Hey there,

    Just found your “crash course” post while looking for vocal count-ins for our loop sets. We use the APC 20 for our Sunday services; our keyboard players run the rig, and as you mentioned, we’re playing multiple loops through the course of a song. I’ve looked into ways to do drum-triggered versions of our loops (primarily recording a version of the loopset for the whole song, and then setting markers the drummer can jump between), but the APC is FAR simpler…and it’s a ton of fun for loop creation and playing around with some of the deeper features of Ableton, Reason, and Omnisphere.

    If you’re looking to expand your loop usage, check out the APC 20! It’s a lot of fun, and once you get the hang of it, there’s a lot of great stuff you can do with it.


  3. Hey,

    We are wanting to get away from ProTools for live music/worship sets. Would you be willing to put us in touch with someone that could help us with Ableton Live? We want to use it the same way you guys have modeled so well.

    Let me know. Blessings,


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