Not just a clip launcher, the Launchpad is a mixer, a drum machine, and more! The Launchpad arrived a few days ago, from Novation UK. I wanted to try it…

Novation Launchpad Review and Tutorial

Novation Launchpad Review and Tutorial

Not just a clip launcher, the Launchpad is a mixer, a drum machine, and more!
The Launchpad has landed

The Launchpad has landed

The Launchpad arrived a few days ago, from Novation UK. I wanted to try it because it seemed the ideal thing to go with the Nocturn I already have.

I also wanted to review it for MacAbleton.com because it’s relatively inexpensive, and of interest to a lot of Ableton Live users. Could I recommend it, as I do with the Nocturn? The answer was a definite yes!

Installation and setup

Setup was easy. First I installed the driver from the Novation website. Then I plugged the Launchpad in—it’s powered by it’s USB cable—and selected it in Lives’s preferences. If you use a USB hub, make sure it’s a powered one so the Launchpad gets enough power. You don’t need to use Automap. That’s all there is to it.

Launchpad Preferences-2

The software disc also includes a Live Pack with demo sets. You just click the pack to install that, and then load up one of the three sets in Live.

3 demo sets come with the Launchpad

3 demo sets come with the Launchpad

There are 4 modes:

1. Session mode
2. User 1 (drum racks)
3. User 2 (custom)
4. Mixer mode

1. Session Mode

The session button puts you in the clip launching mode. There are 64 launch buttons, so you can control a block, represented in Live by a pink box (the colour actually depends on which slot you put it in in preferences) of 8 clips x 8 tracks at a time, as shown in the picture. The ▲▼◀ ► buttons on the Launchpad move this block around your set.

Controlling a set with the Launchpad, notice the pink box which shows the currently controlled block. There is another on the master channel.

Controlling a set with the Launchpad, notice the pink box which shows the currently controlled block. There is another on the master channel.

The Launchpad in Session Mode, green means a clip is playing

The Launchpad in Session Mode, green means a clip is playing

Pressing the session button at the same time as a ▲▼◀ ► button moves your block 8 slots or tracks at a time. All the slots that contain clips are lit up yellow. Pressing a yellow button turns it green and launches the corresponding clip in Live. Clips launch at the start of the next bar, if that’s how you’ve set up Live.

The buttons on the right launch whole scenes (all the clips in one row). To stop a clip, press an unlit button from the same track (column). Some of the clips in the demo are un-looped, so they play a bar and then turn off. You could use this technique for short phrases, end of bar fills and reverses, and start of bar crashes etc.

A group track gets it’s own column on the Launchpad. If you press a group track button to launch a group, it will launch all the tracks in that group. If you launch one track from a group, it’s group track will automatically launch for you. So launching whole or part groups is easy.

Session overview

Each button in this view represents a block of 8 tracks. This means you can navigate a large set without needing to look at the computer screen very often. Hold down the session button and just a few buttons light up, each represents a block. The colour coding is different than in the main session view—yellow is the currently selected block, and green indicates that clips are playing in another block which isn’t currently selected. Red means no clips are playing in that block, and no colour means there are no clips there to play.

Session overview, one light per block of 8 tracks/clips

Session overview, one light per block of 8 tracks/clips

2. User mode 1 – tapping out a beat

When you load up a drum rack, the buttons on the Launchpad will automatically correspond to the drum rack pads in the same positions as they appear in Live. Usually the kick is in the bottom left corner. Some drum racks have an extra kick below that, and it won’t show on the Launchpad, so drag it to a different slot in the rack. Watch this video to see the Launchpad playing a drum pattern. I’ve mapped it to light up as each beat plays. This helps you know which buttons play which drums. In the top corner you’ll see lights acting as a visual metronome. How to do all this is explained below.

Select 16th note record quantization from Live’s menu and tap the beats in. The buttons respond really well—they’re designed so you can tap out rhythms with two fingers on the same one. When you’re ready to record, hit the overdub button. But first, read on to set it all up.

Mapping drum racks to the Launchpad

You can get the buttons to light up using the routing explained below and in this video.

Create a track to route the midi back to light up the Launchpad, and another for the visual metronome. I’ve included an image of the midi for the metronome.

The Launchpad lights up in different colours for drum hits of different velocity. When you tap beats in, the Launchpad converts them all to maximum velocity, so they all light up yellow. So to get the first beat of the bar on the metronome to light up green, I reduced it’s velocity, and made the others maximum in the note editor. You could also have different coloured lights come on every 4, or 8 bars to help you keep track of a song.

Routing to light up the Launchpad buttons for drum racks, click for full size view

Routing to light up the Launchpad buttons for drum racks, click for full size view

Midi map the the overdub toggle in Live to a button on the Launchpad, and the Midi In toggle of track 2 to another, as you’ll need to toggle it back to auto when in other modes.

⌘M, click on the parameter in Live, tap the button on the Launchpad.

3. User mode 2

This mode is for custom midi maps. To map a row of buttons to act as a slider or knob, go into midi map mode in Live (⌘M), and click a knob or slider. Then hold down the top left button (or further to the right if you want a smaller range) on the Launchpad, and tap the top right one. This should select a range in the midi map, designated by two notes. You can map several things to the same row of buttons or to different ones. Here’s a Novation tutorial, and here is my variation.

Beat Repeat mapped to the Launchpad. The first few seconds are silent.

4. Mixer mode

Mixer mode on the Launchpad, the columns act as sliders as well as buttons

Mixer mode on the Launchpad, the columns act as sliders as well as buttons

Mixer mode gives you control over volume, pan, sends A & B, stop, track on, solo and arm for any track in Live. You can solo one track, and by keeping your finger on the button, you can then solo another track or several at the same time, as long as they are in that bank, before going back to the main tune. The columns of buttons act as sliders. It doesn’t take long to get used to, and very soon you are swapping from session to mixer mode and back.

Building a track with Launchpad

When using the Launchpad, I was using the trackpad less, so it made sense to squash the tracks together so they could all be seen at the same time. This way, as you navigate around the ‘pad, you can glance up and see where you are without touching the mouse or trackpad. You soon get used to which tracks are where, and don’t need to look up as much.

Block 2 shown, the colour contrast isn't the best on this skin

Block 2 shown, the colour contrast isn’t the best on this skin

You can have a song playing in Arrangement View, and still play clips in Session View at the same time. This is what I did in the video below, with a few drum fills in arrange and the rest in Session on the Launchpad, mostly in one scene. Doing it this way means you can’t launch scenes*. If you do, you lose all the sound from Arrangement View, as Live switches focus to session view. These are features of Live itself.

* edit – I’ve found a way to actually launch scenes and have stuff playing in Arrange, see the tutorial on moving a set from Arrangement to Session View.

One of the great things about the Launchpad is being able to launch and stop several clips or tracks at the same time, without necessarily launching whole scenes. This is vital if you have tracks playing in Arrangement View at the same time, as in this next video, and is a way to try out some ideas for combinations and variations. Even if you are launching scenes and sticking in Session, the Launchpad gives you a lot more scope.


Starting to make a tune in Session Mode on the Launchpad using just one scene. I am looking at Arrangement to keep track, but you could map lights to flash every 4 and 8 bars, see the Drum Racks section.

Later I found that I was more inclined to make different scenes and play with them on the Launchpad—it seems to restrain you from going over to Arrangement too early. You want to stop, and try out ideas on the Launchpad. So I got my crashes, white noise and drum fills from Arrangement, consolidated them into 8 bar chunks, and loaded them into Session.

You can then launch scenes and clips using both hands—far more flexible and enjoyable than just clicking with a mouse.

I think I would still do things the way I did in the video initially (with some bits in Arrangement and not launching whole scenes), then do the above technique and use scene launching to build structure, and then record into Arrangement. Of course you can mix up all three methods.

Summary

I learned how to use the Launchpad in a few hours and then played it over several days, and had a lot of fun doing so. It doesn’t take long to get used to.

The Launchpad is a very useful tool that will change the way you work and inspire you creatively. It’s definitely for production as well as live performance.

It’s also the perfect partner for the Nocturn, or something similar, which uses Automap to control Live’s knobs.

Founder of MacAbleton.com

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