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Control Your VSTs Live Using MIDI Controllers

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In this era where EDM, Dubstep, Techno and other forms of electronic music are flourishing, a MIDI instrument or device will help you keep up with the trend. There are tons of MIDI devices available, and each is unique in many ways. Luckily, all the DAWs support almost all of these MIDI devices.

In this tutorial, I will show you how to properly set up your MIDI device and get the most out of it. You will also be able to control the settings of your VST instrument through the controls available on your MIDI device.

Basic Setup

First and foremost, you have to connect your MIDI device to your MIDI interface or your laptop, using the standard MIDI cable or Firewire ports if available. This has to be done before you fire up your DAW, so that you don’t have to go through searching for the device later.

Since this tutorial is focused on using the Quick Controls setting, you need to add a VST track to the project. I have chosen the HalionOne VST, so that you can control it later through the MIDI controller. Select any other VST that you want—one with a few controls that you can modulate is best. After that is done, you need configure your device in the Device Setup menu.

Device Setup

In order for the MIDI device to work properly, you need to set it up from the MIDI Device Manager. Go to the Devices menu and select the MIDI Device Manager.

In this window, you will be able to install the device from the Install Device button. Select the device that you are using from the list. If you can't find your device, select a generic XG or GM type, and edit the settings.

You can also define a new device from the Define New option. Here, you will have to select the channels that you will be using as well as the channel settings that are available for the device.

Quick Controls

You can use the Quick Control option from the Device Setup menu to configure your MIDI device, to modulate the various settings of a VST instrument, or any type of track. To start using this feature, open the Device Setup and select Quick Controls under the Remote Devices Folder. Here, set the MIDI in and MIDI out to the MIDI device that you created if it has a dedicated MIDI port. Otherwise, select All MIDI Inputs.

You can alternatively select a device from the Add Device list at the top left corner of the dialog box. If you cannot find your device in this list, you can add a Generic Remote device, and then configure it later.


Now comes the fun part. Click on the Control Name and turn the knobs on your MIDI controller. After that, click on the Learn button. This will automatically assign the knob’s MIDI control to the Control Name. Moving the knobs on the controller will change the value of the corresponding Quick Control.

Here is a description of what these columns mean, and the type of values that they contain:

  • Control Name: This is the name given to the control. You can change it to something descriptive by double-clicking on the name.
  • MIDI Status: This column shows the different types of MIDI messages sent from the control. The different options that are available are Controller, Program Change, Note On, Note Off, Aftertouch and Polyphonic Pressure. The other four are extended control messages, which is supported by various JL-Cooper devices.
  • MIDI Channel: This allows you to select the MIDI channel on which the MIDI controller transmits the data.
  • Address: This contains the value of the note or an address. The values from 0 to 127 are accepted.
  • Max. Value: This value determines the maximum value that the controller will transmit. It is used to calculate the range of data that the MIDI controller sends.
  • Flags: This drop-down menu contains the three types of MIDI message that the controller can send, and how it will be processed. The three types are:
    • Receive: This means that the MIDI message will be processed as it is received.
    • Transmit: This means that the MIDI message will be transmitted when the corresponding value in the program changes.
    • Relative: This is for controls which reports the numbers of turns instead of an absolute value.

Linking the Quick Controls

After assigning the Quick Controls to the corresponding MIDI control, now you need to link the functions to the Quick Controls. This is a very easy and simple process.

Go to the Inspector of the VST track that we just created, and select the Quick Controls option. If this option is not visible, right-click in the Inspector and select the Quick Controls option from the menu. Switch on the Quick Controls by pressing the power button on the top-left corner of the menu.

Now select a parameter that you want to control from the popup dialog box that appeared. Here you can select almost all the functions and settings that are available for that selected track.

Tip: To rename the Quick Control, double-click on the name of the Quick Control in the Inspector and type in the new name.

For the sake of this tutorial, select the Volume control from the list, and double click on it. You can add a maximum of eight Quick Controls to a track.


Now you can change the corresponding values with your MIDI controller, and the values will be changed live.


Quick Controls are an indispensable tool that will greatly help you in your performances, and can improve the control that you have over your tracks and mixes. You can control various settings that are available for the tracks and use them to spice up your live performances. For example, you can apply a high-pass filter on the track, and add interesting effects on your VST synths and pads.

Next time you're preparing to perform live, try experimenting with the various effects using the Quick Controls, and you will be surprised with the results.

What do you use Quick Controls for? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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