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Make Your Own MIDI Controller [Instructables How-To]

Here’s a tool to make your live DJ/VJ sets more interactive.

When we were in the studio with our Creators Project NYC Recording Session winners, we not only got to observe them exploring and experimenting with different styles of electronic music, but got let in on a secret: when they recorded their EP, they played their music “live” instead of using something that was already perfected and pre-mixed. This technique lent a human touch and improvisational air to the finished tracks, and we think it would also be a good way to give live DJ sets a more performative feel.


This week we found an Instructable, on how to make a MIDI controller that lets DJs/VJs move off their computers, allowing them to control their software (at least in part) from a set of buttons.

What’s great about a MIDI controller is that the controls can be mapped to any effect that you like, so buttons that control the volume could manipulate another effect for someone else. Here we’ll highlight the main steps of making your own MIDI controller.

First you’ll need to gather some basic materials including an Arduino (or variation of), Sanwa arcade buttons, slider knobs, a USB cable, a plastic enclosure, and some tools like a soldering iron, drill, and needle-nose pliers. Then you’ll need to design the layout, figuring out which buttons and knobs will correspond with which effects, and where the best placements will be. The author suggests using a diagramming software like Microsoft Visio or Dia to help ensure dimensions and scaling are accurate within the finished product. Then you’ll cut and drill holes for the buttons and sliders in the enclosure.

Now it’s time to mount and wire the hardware, and screw it all into place. You will attach the Arduino (with the USB side facing the backside of the controller) making sure it can rest comfortably underneath the mounted hardware. You may have to bend some wires to make sure none of the components touch the Arduino. Then drill a space in the enclosure in order to connect the Arduino’s USB to the computer.

Once all the components are securely mounted in the enclosure, it’s time to wire everything together. Connect each resistor and arcade button leg one by one, referring to the wiring document, additional reading material, and detailed instructions that the author provides. Each input wire will then be inserted into the Arduino. Then carefully close the enclosure box.

Now it’s time to program your Arduino by installing Timer1 library. Once the Arduino is programmed, you’ll need to load the sketch that reads all the digital and analogue channels and converts them into MIDI messages. The author recommends using MIDI Yoke to connect the MIDI port to the audio/visual software, and then Serial-MIDI Converter to convert incoming MIDI messages.

The last step is firing up your favorite audio/video software and experimenting with your new toy!

Visit the Instructables How-To for further instruction, more detailed photographs, and tips on where to buy materials. Photograph of the Creators Project NYC Recording Session winners courtesy of Christophe Wu.