Touch Screens in the Studio
Touch screens are becoming more and more common in composers studios. By utilizing a touch screen, composers are able to quickly and efficiently access many custom programmed macros in and out side of their DAWs, at the push of a finger. This allows them to work quicker, be more efficient, and adapt their software to their own custom workflow needs.
Touch screens as a DAW Controller
Composers typically use touch screens as a control surface for their DAWs. You can program a touch screen to provide a unique and custom experience to suit whatever your workflow needs. You can program it to start/stop recording, change velocity, run macros, thin out or change CC data, add new tracks, etc. Generally any touch screen will work (phone, tablet, touch monitor, etc.) if the software you choose is supported, but there are only a handful of apps that are worth being aware of.
Lemur, TouchOSC, Open Stage Control and Metagrid
Lemur, TouchOSC, Metagrid, and Open Stage Control are the most popular choices for controlling your DAW with a touch screen. Lemur is perhaps the oldest and most well known of the lot, though (in my opinion) it is not as “up to date” as some of the other options available (last update was 2018, and does NOT support M1 Macs).
Lemur, TouchOSC, and Metagrid (not Open Stage Control) are apps that are downloadable via the app/android store on your tablet or touch screen. These are apps that work over your studio’s Wi-Fi network and interface with your computer to send and receive messages. You can take all four of these apps (including Open Stage Control) a step further by integrating it with a program such as keyboard maestro, auto hot key, or Cubase’s logical editor (if you’re running Cubase) to truly maximize your macro potential.
With Lemur and TouchOSC, you create your controllers and buttons via a separate editor program on your computer and program them to communicate with your DAW. Metagrid’s editing software is entirely within the app on the tablet. Some of the editors are more intuitive than others, and some (such as Open Stage Control) require a small bit of scripting know-how, but you can easily find help on their respective forums or other online groups. You can also download or buy pre-made templates for these if you don’t want to invest the time into making it your own.
Open Stage Control is a little different than the above three, as it is web-based and runs as a server/client. The app is actually on your main computer, and you access it with a web browser from a separate device – so any touch screen that you can access the Internet with (on your home network), you can access your template from regardless of operating system it is running. Open stage control does require the most knowledge of scripting however, but there are posts on VI Control and youtube videos that can help.
Choosing between these can be like choosing a DAW, so be sure to consider your workflow, set up, and goals when choosing to go with a touch controller program. Some of the apps have built in functionality with your DAW and come with presets, others may be way more customizable but require more set-up work and scripting knowledge, and some may not even be compatible with your newest “State of the art” system, so consider all of this when choosing. I would highly recommend watching set up videos on youtube to see what the workflow is like and how easy/hard it may be for you to get going – I think this is a great way to see what the general experience is like.
Besides using tablets (the most common option), touch screen monitors are useable. In conjunction with a raspberry PI*, this can be a more affordable way to utilize a touch screen while also getting access to a much larger screen to use. Some of the apps mentioned above won’t work unless you are on a specific platform (though this looks like it may change with windows 11 where you can download mobile android apps directly on your pc), but open stage control is web-based. So any touch screen connected to the Internet will work, including this raspberry pi method.
*I believe an android box “may” work as well based on this VI-Control post if you would rather an android-based app than open stage control, but I have heard mixed things so do your own research
If you are setting up a touch controller and would like some ideas about what to add, here are some I’ve seen or used before:
· Articulation Switching
· Quantizing (presets for different values)
· Add New Tracks
· Pitch changing (octaves or other values, up and down)
· Velocity changing (+/-1, +/- 5, +/-10, etc)
· Track Zoom
· Showing/Hiding instruments
· Transport controls
· Faders/CC Controllers (even XY grids rather than just linear!)
· Soloing/Muting Tracks
Outside of touch controllers, there are other ways to utilize macros in the studio such as additional computer keyboards or el gato's stream deck. We will look at these in a future post.
DAW Specific Touch Screen Apps
Some DAWs have proprietary control apps that grant you access to many features such as fader control, enabling/disabling tracks, start recording, etc. Digital Performer, Cubase, Protools, and Logic are some of the DAWs that have their own apps, however be careful with these as they may not have been updated or maintained throughout the years and may be incompatible with your current system.
Touch screens as a second display
Some composers opt to use their touch screens as an additional display. You do not necessarily need to have a touch screen monitor to achieve this. There are apps such as Sidecar, WiredX display, and more to utilize your iPad or Android tablet as a seamless second display with your main computer. What’s great about this approach is it’s extra screen space and you can work directly in your DAW rather than having to use additional software to send and receive messages between them. If you don’t need a large monitor dedicated specifically to something like video, this can also be a great way to utilize an old tablet you might have lying around.