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 http://www.musiciansfriend.com 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. πŸ™‚

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! πŸ™‚

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?