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DJing using a computer has become more popular than ever – and it’s never been more accessible.
Many DJs will already be using their computer to DJ with, using software such as VirtualDJ and Serato. They will likely already use a MIDI-compatible controller such as the Hercules DJControl Inpulse 500.
However, if you’re new to this or looking to improve your skills and your creative flow, you might well be wondering how to use MIDI mapping to get the most out of your particular combination of hardware and software.
You might even be wondering exactly what MIDI mapping is!
Don’t worry – although it might seem like a complex topic, it’s actually pretty simple. A few minutes of learning will make you better at using your DJ software, increase your productivity and creativity, and maybe even help you bring something new to your music!
What Is MIDI?
Thankfully, unlike many computer terms, MIDI has a fairly self-explanatory name. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, which in computer terms is about as easy to understand as it gets! But what does it mean?
In short, it’s the Digital Interface – that is, the way your computer connects with, understands, and controls whatever Musical Instrument you’re trying to play!
These musical instruments could be anything from an ancient hardware synthesizer, right up to the newest, most modern software-based synthesizers – MIDI has been around since the early 1980s. Therefore the sheer amount of instruments (and effects too!) that can be used with it is practically priceless!
That’s not all, though – it’s also what you can use to connect whatever hardware you’re using with your chosen DJ software! This can mean your DJ controller or other MIDI-compatible devices such as keyboards, pads, drums… the list goes on and on.
Suffice to say; if it’s something to do with music that involves a computer chip in any way, there’s a pretty good chance you can use MIDI to control it.
What Is MIDI Mapping?
Simply put, MIDI mapping is connecting the various knobs, buttons, pads, keys, pedals, footswitches, etc. – to whatever sound-generating or sound-affecting piece of hardware or software you have.
This could be your DJ software or any compatible DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) too.
Say, for example, you’ve got a MIDI-compatible piece of hardware or DJ controller with some knobs on it, and you’d like to be able to twiddle them in your software and have them do something.
In this case, let’s say you simply want to be able to tweak a filter on the track you’re playing, but you don’t want to use your mouse to do it – no, you paid for these knobs, and you’re going to use them!
So, you want to modify the filter with Knob 1 on your controller – how?
We understand the MIDI part already – what does “Mapping” mean?
Simply put, it involves telling the software that (in our example) whenever you turn Knob 1, you want the value on your filter to go up or down! The filter parameter, in this example, is “mapped” to Knob 1!
How Do I Use MIDI Mapping?
Of course, that’s possibly the simplest example of MIDI mapping. Used to its full potential, MIDI mapping can be the gateway to the most complex and involved control of whatever parameters take your fancy.
Maybe instead of just adjusting a parameter on one filter, you want to be able to control multiple filters and effects, using your hardware to help you change them on the fly together to enhance your DJ performance.
If your DJ controller works out of the box with your chosen DJ software, you may have minimal MIDI mapping to do – but if not, you can use the power of MIDI mapping to enable you to use your controller to control almost everything in your software!
Or, going deeper – perhaps you’re using virtual instrument plugins and effects to play your own lines over the tracks in your set.
With proper use of MIDI mappings, you could control them all from your hardware controller in real-time, and the possibilities are, of course, endless.
You could run a thousand effects on a thousand instruments – or even more! And, should you wish, you could tell the DJ software you’re working in to control each of them with a separate knob, pad, button, switch – whatever you have!
Or, you could have every single thing all controlled by one single knob, switch, or button – although it might be unwieldy to control, there’s absolutely nothing stopping you!
Once you start playing around with MIDI mapping, you quickly realize that the possibilities are endless. You could have not just your DJ set but also an entire orchestra, a complete studio of effects, and you could control them all from your DJ controller.
If you have other hardware too – such as a MIDI-compatible keyboard, like the AKAI Professional MPK Mini MK3 – then you can use these too, all at once! Of course, this can lead you down a rabbit hole – after all, you can never have too many MIDI controllers!
How Do I Remap My MIDI Controller?
This might all sound exciting – maybe you can’t wait to get started! You’ve got all sorts of ideas running through your head. A button that instantly applies a low-pass filter, for example.
Or a foot pedal that controls a wah effect on an instrument you’re playing over your set – and modulates a phaser at the same time! Possibly, you’ve finally realized just how you can set your controller up to fully utilize your software in ways you didn’t know possible.
There are genuinely limitless possibilities – but this infinite freedom can also be extremely daunting. You’d love to use the knobs on your controller for something musical, but where to start?
How do you tell your computer program what you mean it to do when you start turning knobs and pressing buttons?
Luckily, it’s actually a straightforward thing to accomplish in most modern DJ software! The hardest thing is usually coming up with ideas for what to map and not the mapping process itself.
Each program is a little different, but they all do pretty much the same thing under the hood, just in slightly different ways.
Likewise, MIDI mapping is a similar process in whatever software you use – each program will have a slightly different menu to use, but at the end of the day, they’re just slightly different ways to do the same thing.
The easiest and best way to find out about your software is to consult the user manual.
MIDI mapping is a common enough process to be in the manual of every piece of software that supports it – it’s an essential part of the workflow and creative process for many DJs. So, have a quick look at the manual, and go nuts!
MIDI mapping could well be the catalyst for your next creative explosion! At the very least, if you’ve never used it before, it’s a great way to squeeze more out of the hardware and software you already own – which always helps us, frugal musicians!
You might well discover new uses for your gear – and new, unique ways to make music!