The DIY DAW-Controller

The DIY DAW-Controller

Playing the guitar requires a completely different mindset than pushing a mouse around to precisely move a cursor on the screen and hitting buttons – at least for me.

Whenever I sit down at my computer to record or arrange songs, this changing between mindsets is what frustrates me the most and steals my energy.

Up until 15 years ago, I used to use a tape-based recorder with knobs and buttons and noise and everything. With physical buttons these kinds of tasks are much more intuitive, there’s a lot less to think and worry about. Given that there are actually a lot more buttons than on a computer that might sound counter-intuitive but that’s just the way it is. One clearly marked button = one function. Everything is (was) simple.

Back then I used neither Tascam nor Fostex. I used Yamaha. Doesn't matter as long as it is tape.
Back then I used neither Tascam nor Fostex. I used Yamaha. Doesn’t matter as long as it is tape.

But those times are gone and if you need to save space or just have grown to like the additional features a computer-based DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) offers then, well, you are stuck with a computer.

That’s why I have been looking for a proper hardware DAW-controller for a long time. It (kind of) provides the feel of working with real mixer by giving you, well, real controls, buttons and knobs.

But commercially available controllers can be quite expensive and many of them have features I don’t really need and take up a lot of space. The small ones, on the other hand, lack a few features I really look for.

How to build your own DAW-Controller (and save money)

Since almost all DAW software packages allow you to map functions to keyboard shortcuts, I decided to “build” my own controller.

It is actually quite easy. All you need is…

  • a cheap USB number keypad,
  • self-adhering labels,
  • a pen,
  • a pair of scissors.

Now just decide which functions you need on your controller, re-map them to the numpad, draw your own labels cut and paste. Done.

Don’t you need faders for a DAW controller?

Well, I don’t. When I record or arrange, I don’t mix. And when I’m mixing, everything is already recorded so I don’t have to switch my brain from musician mode to sound engineer mode.

Sure it is nice to have faders – motor faders even, to impess little girls (or marketing people). But for me they are not really necessary. Your mileage may vary, depending on the amount of money you feel the need to get rid of and the amount of space you are willing to sacrifice.


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