Community Tip - Using Gaming Controllers To Control Pro Tools

09-28-2013 10:00 PM

With the support of iLok, more tips & tricks from the community. Here is one from Craig Williams….
Here is my tip offering… it’s become crucial part of how I work every day, and has completely revolutionised my approach to DAW operation!

Gaming Keypad for DAW control.
For super fast DAW editing, I’ve adapted a system combining a gaming controller like the Razer Nostromo, and the ControllerMate software. This allows me to group all the keyboard control of (in my case) Pro Tools under my left hand freeing up my right for trackball/fader use. I got onto this when trying to find a solution to the increasing pain a producer friend and I were experiencing while frantically editing to meet tight deadlines. I also found that editing in the stereo sweet spot was sometimes hard with a control surface right in the centre of the desk at the front. With the Nostromo I could put it to the left of a pro control or smaller icon controller and have my trackball on be right, and be in the centre instead of putting everything to one side, and ending up with a twisted back! I have been using this system for over 10 years now and have been fine tuning the mapping and custom macros to the point now where I can work much faster on it than a regular keyboard.
Some of the added benefits I’ve found…..

App Focus Sensing
Most of these controllers have software that will recognise which app is in focus and change the key map according to what you have set up for that app. So switching between DAWs (with a bit of preparation) means all the controls like zoom etc. can be in the same place for every DAW you use. It also means if your DAW is discontinued, or you are in a situation away from your favourite DAW, with some preparation, you can re-map all the commands to your controller and hit the ground running, rather than having to re-learn where everything is.

Some of these controllers actual allow you to store profiles in on-board memory, so you can plug into any computer and have all your shortcuts available without installing a thing.

Multiple Layers
The Nostromo concept has always been about packing as much as possible in a small, easy to reach space, and they’ve done this by allowing you to switch between 4 layers, a normal state, and three additional ‘shift’ states. You have to sacrifice three keys as ‘shift’ keys to activate these layers, but it’s well worth it for almost four times the amount of functions. The shift keys can be set up as latching or momentary, like your regular shift key. Using this system with the Nostromo, roughly 20 keys will allow 51 different commands and, or macros. If any of those keys includes a mapping to, ‘command/alt’ ‘shift’ or ‘control’ then that increases to even more commands!

More Intuitive DAW control
I always found the keys for moving the cursor up and down and left and right in Pro Tools are in a really hard to get to place (‘P’ is up, ‘;’ is down etc. - why didn’t they use the cursor keys?!) with the Notromo it has a “D-Pad” right under your thumb so I mapped these controls to that. Further to this, with custom shift layers, I can make the up and down on the “D-Pad” do other up and down functions, like waveform size, and track size. Way more intuitive.

Ergonomics and Comfort

Sitting at the computer editing for hours on end can take its toll, and end up being quite painful. I found with the Nostromo with it’s ergonomic adjustable hand/wrist rest, that you can find a comfortable position for your hand size quite easily. Not having to stretch your hand halfway across a traditional keyboard for some commands is also a God-send.

Once you spend some time with a constant mapping set up, you’ll find muscle memory will start kicking in and you’ll end up “touch typing” with your DAW! The more I did this the more I found that I could look at the screen and not the keys, and the faster I was working. The speed increase was so great that I started finding and mapping new key commands that I might have traditionally used the mouse for, to continue to increase the efficiency and speed of my Pro Tools operation. I’ve talked mostly based on my experience with the Belkin and Razer versions of the N52/Nostromo controllers, but a quick google of “Gaming Keypads,” will reveal a whole host of options to suit almost any physical/budgetary needs. Notable alternatives are the Logitech G13, and Razer’s own recent additions; the larger Orbweaver, and the smaller update to the Nostromo, Tartarus.

I know, there’s a fair bit of info in there, so feel free to pick out some key points if you think this could be of any use.

Mike - This is a very interesting set of ideas, especially in the light of our discussions about what technologies that we use to interface with our technology.
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