Control Your DAW With a Gamepad

Hello, Jake again from The Underground Alliance, and today I’ll be teaching you how to control your DAW with most USB controllers. I’ll be using Reaper for the sake of this tutorial, but this meathod will work with any Windows DAW. There are ways to set this up as a Control Surface/Midi Control, but we will be using JoyToKey as middleware to control the keyboard.

I will be using a homemade arcade controller, that uses a similar driver to a PS3 controller.


STEP 1 – The Driver

Plug in your controller, if you haven’t already. With many controllers, provided you are connected to the internet, windows will automatically find and download the latest driver to run your controller. If this doesn’t happen, or it comes back with a notification saying “driver not found”, a quick google search of controller name – driver should yield the results you need. After you’ve found a site you trust, download/run the installer, and we are rolling!

STEP 2 – The Middleware (JoyToKey)

PC gamers may already be well familiar with this handy piece of freeware, but it allows the input of a gamepad to be translated into keypresses and mouse movements. After you download the file, unzip the folder to a location you like to keep your software. Once running, it will look like this.

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STEP 3 – Select Controller

Give your controller a few button presses, and see if the software starts highligting options yellow. If so, the controller has already been detected by the software as the gamepad to use, and you can move on to step 4.

If your inputs aren’t coming through yet, you will need to go into “Settings” dropdown menu at the top, and select “Configure Joystick Devices”, In the second tab, there is a dropdown menu with the descriptor “Please Select Your Device”.

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Pictured above, you can see that I only have the one option, “XInput Device #1”. Make sure your proper controller is selected, and we are ready to move on.

STEP 4 – Configure Button Presses

Launch your DAW, while keeping JoyToKey open. In REAPER, by default, the horizontal arrow keys moves the tracking cursor, and the vertical arrow keys zoom in and out. I’m thinking that is a solid layout to put on my arcade pad stick, so that is where we will start.

Double click the button you want to assign a key to, and you will have a new menu open up. I will be selecting Stick1(left). From here, click the first of four “disabled” boxes, and press the left arrow key on your keyboard. From here, to my preference, I will set the Auto Repeat on and to 2 times per second. This will effect my scrolling speed, and can be set to your own personal taste. This is best left off when assigning something like a record button. Repeat this process for all directions.


Next, I am going to turn one of my red buttons the record button. In REAPER, the default hotkey for record is Ctrl+R, so I will be assigning 2 keys to one button. In the same process as the arrow keys, select your button, and press Ctrl, and then R respectively in the first 2 boxes. Press OK, and the button is set.

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Continue this process until all functions you want on your joystick are assigned.

STEP 5 – Save Your Profile

We definitely don’t want to have to configure our keys every time we load up, so it is time to save our profile! JoyToKey will have automatically loaded you with a “Profile 1” saved within the program folder, so just pressing save under the file menu will do the job. If you’d like to keep multiple profiles, it is as simple as pressing FIle>New, and starting again. Previous profiles can be loaded with File>Load.
All done! That’s all for today, hope this helps a couple of you out.

JoyToKey Download Link