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Digital Subscriptions > MusicTech > Dec 17 > THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO CONTROLLERS


The MusicTech Beginner’s Section is your definitive primer for music making. We’ve looked at the software and inbuilt instruments you can use to create music, but to get the best from both, you’ll need a hardware controller…

As we’ve seen, software is at the centre of music production. The DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) is the central component, the engine if you like. Here, you take your sounds – either generated by the computer itself or recorded from the outside world – and you manipulate them, arrange them, turn them into a tune, and everyone is happy. Within the DAW, you have software instruments and effects to help you create, mix and edit your tune (so lots of software all round), but the ideal studio has a piece of hardware to control them all and it’s called, guess what… a controller!

As music software evolved, so controllers had to keep pace – and the grid controller was born…


The controller was born out of a fairly twisted and odd part of music-production history. As computers became ultra-quick at the turn of the century (or so it seemed back then), more and more music production was done ‘in the box’, ie, in a computer. Software instruments and effects were born and it became something of a dream to run everything in this new ‘virtual studio’. That dream was realised and today, you can literally run everything that used to be run in a hardware recording studio, in software. “Hurrah!”, everyone said, and then realised that something as creative and tactile as music production was actually a bit rubbish when all done within the virtual four walls (six walls?) of your desktop or laptop.

Yes, many do happily produce within that environment, but many more also prefer something to play, twist, fade and turn that is hardware – and, perhaps more importantly, something that is not a mouse. So the irony is that the hardware controller was born to control the software that eliminated a lot of hardware in the first place. We are a fickle bunch, aren’t we?

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About MusicTech

Making music is an expensive pursuit. From monitors to microphones, DAWs and plug-ins: before you know it, just getting your creative space in order has made a serious dent in your bank account. But it really doesn’t have to be this way. In Andy Jones’ in-depth cover feature this month, he dives head-first into this ocean of free software, highlighting the best of the best and detailing how to use it effectively to build a track – for free! Elsewhere this issue, we’ve got the first in a new A-Z series, detailing some of the oft-used, key terms that you’ll likely hear and need to understand in the music-making world. Alongside all this, we’ve got our usual range of reviews, tutorials, tips and a complete guide to the vast high-tech world of controllers. We’ve also, very excitingly, teamed up with the best studio in the world with this issue’s free Abbey Road calendar. We hope you enjoy the issue.