Jason Vertucio

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I just got an Akai MPK Mini USB/MIDI Controller

So I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a MIDI controller. And I wanted something I could use instead of the old, tried-and-true method of click, drag, drop, right-click, edit I used to do for my drum programming.

And I figured, it’s got two octaves, and a set of actual pads at the top, maybe this is just what I need. So I dropped some money into the hands of the guy at my local Guitar Center and walked home with this, along with two desperately needed pop filters.

I got home, tore open the box (ok just the corner) and plugged it in. So, this is actually my first MIDI controller, and already I’m having problems with it.

And I’m writing this partially because I want feedback from actual users to tell me something like, “Welcome to the world of using MIDI controllers and doing drum programming. You’re doing it wrong.” Or whatever.

First Impressions

So on Saturday I had set up my MXLs 990 and 991 and recorded this acoustic rhythm thing I had in my head. It had a cool rock and roll groove that I was able to pick up well enough despite just setting up the mics arbitrarily and hitting GO. Well, plugging the Takamine directly into the board helped fill the gaps the mics didn’t get, and I got the low end perfectly with the 991. Anyway, after listening back to the song structure I put together, I really wanted to add drums to it.

After spending too much time trying to figure out how to use any software drum machines I had, I decided to just grab my old Sound font and grab a free VSTi to load it. Then I was back in business.

Ten years ago I bought some Sonic Implants (now SONiVOX) session drums as a SoundFont, and I have never stopped using them. Well, there was that ‘dark period’ in my life where my entire spirit fell into blackness for about five years, from which I am still recovering. But anyway, so I am still using these SF2 drums from ten years ago coz I love them. I’ve learned how to have them play in a way that I like. Multiple, velocity-triggered samples per drum, and a great clean sound.

So I got to work, the old way that I used to do things, which was to click to add a note, right-click and edit its velocity to give some sort of dynamic feel to the music. Click, drag, right-click, edit, wash, rinse, repeat.

And it’s funny that I ruin these drums by playing them at a velocity of about 120, and then lower as necessary to make it sound less like a computer playing. I know I should probably be using 90 or something as my base velocity  . . . .

Anyway, so here I am with this new toy. Plug it into my computer, run the Editor to configure the pads, turn off SONAR so I can actually perform the edits, and then plug back into SONAR.

The pads felt at first stiff and not very responsive, but I tried anyway. I deleted the entire Drums track (for my purposes I separate all drums and then all cymbals when tracking) and then hit the REC button in my editor.  Well, at that speed I can’t play the drums, and the pads still feel stiff and hard to use, but damn if they didn’t record practically every single tap that I made. the most fun part was just randomly banging on the Tom pads to get a cool sound.

It was still crap so I trashed it. I can barely play real drums unless it’s Hall & Oates, and even then it’s crap. But I don’t know if it’s

  1. me not knowing how to track drums properly,
  2. me not buying a real drum machine with better buttons
  3. the Akai being new and still needs some breaking in

Anyway, if you’re reading this and have any advice to offer, I’m all ears.