A major criticism of modern electronic performance is the reliance upon laptops and software, which encourages artists to stare at a computer screen instead of the crowd.
A MIDI controller enables you to tweak software using traditional hands-on controls such as faders, sliders, buttons and rotary encoders, so you can get more tactile with your live set.
Luckily, there are plenty of MIDI controllers on the market, so it’s a case of working out exactly which one you need.
Ableton Live users are spoilt for choice, with lots of ‘all-in-one’ MIDI solutions available. Most featuring backlit grids of buttons for launching clips and scenes in Live’s Session View. When combined with faders and rotaries, it’s possible to fly around Live’s interface without looking at your laptop screen at all.
Keyboard players will likely need a more traditional MIDI keyboard controller, and finger drummers will naturally require drum pads - preferably ones that are velocity-sensitive.
We've rounded-up a selection of performance-friendly MIDI controllers for you to consider. There are plenty of other great options on the market, but these are some particularly notable examples.
NEXT: Ableton Push
Created in collaboration with Akai, Push is designed to be the definitive electronic performance instrument, allowing you to create and jam with Live 9 without looking at your laptop. It features 64 RGB pads, 11 rotary encoders, a touchstrip and a whole host of Live-specific navigation buttons.
Native Instruments Maschine Studio
Native Instruments’ flagship beat production environment is as at home on stage as it is in the studio. Live sampling, step sequencing, finger drumming, one-shot playback and looping make it ideal for live production and remixing. Many pro electronic stage acts combine Ableton Live with Maschine for the best of both worlds.
NEXT: Akai APC40 MkII
Akai APC40 MkII
The original APC40 has been one of the most popular ‘all-in-one’ Ableton Live controllers for some time, and the second version’s layout has been updated for a more streamlined workflow. It features a 5x8 RGB clip-launching matrix, nine faders, assignable A/B crossfader, send routing and more.
Novation Launch series controllers
Novation’s Launchpad S is a cost-effective and rugged controller, featuring a grid of 64 pads for clip and scene triggering in Live’s Session View.
The newly-released Launch Control XL (pictured above) is the perfect partner, with 24 knobs, 16 buttons and eight faders for plug-and-play control.
NEXT: Nektar Panorama P4
Nektar Panorama P4
If you’re after a traditional MIDI keyboard with extras, Nektar’s offerings are worth checking out. In addition to the 49-key keyboard, the Panorama has 16 encoders, nine faders, motorised touch-sensitive faders, 38 buttons, ten pads and more. A 64-key version (the P6) is also available.
NEXT: Arturia BeatStep
BeatStep is a reasonably-priced MIDI/CV controller featuring a 16-step sequencer, 16 velocity/pressure-sensitive pads and 16 rotary encoders. What’s more, the unit outputs both MIDI and CV, so you can sequence hardware gear quickly and easily in a live performance environment.