How to use a MIDI controller with Reason and Pro Tools

The topic of this tutorial can be quite convoluted as different platforms behave differently in certain circumstances. In Windows, Pro Tools “steals” the MIDI from most other applications, and Reason shows an error message about not being able to select a MIDI controller, and many people get confused and wonder how to get their controller to control Reason.

The simple and most common solution is to use Pro Tools as your MIDI sequencer instead of Reason, and just use the Reason devices to generate the sound for the Pro Tools Instrument/MIDI tracks. The outcome is the same, and is honestly how a majority of the people who use Reason with Pro Tools work. The only reason to use the Reason sequencer is if you prefer the Reason sequencer for some *ahem* reason. I might see this being the case with the newest version of Reason, 4.0, but IMHO, the Pro Tools sequencer is much easier to use than any of the pre-4.0 Reason sequencers. (YMMV)

So how is it done?

  1. Make sure your MIDI controller hardware is setup, has any necessary drivers installed and is working correctly (that’s really up to you following the manufacturer’s installation instructions and out of the scope of this tutorial ;) )
  2. Create an instrument track (Stereo or Mono, depending on the sound you are going to use) and insert Reason on the track.
  3. In your Reason session, create a device that you want to use to produce the sounds, and select a preset. (Reason Adapted users can actually skip this step because you are forced to use a specific set of devices because of the limitations of the Adapted version)
  4. On your Pro Tools Instrument track, in the Instrument section (make sure your instrument section is not hidden from view on the mix or edit window), select the device that you are going to use from the MIDI output selector. When you add devices to the Reason Rack, they automatically appear in the MIDI output drop-down. (Again, Adapted users will get the fixed set of devices in this list; just select the one you are going to use)
  5. Make sure that the MIDI input is set to “All” or the specific MIDI input that you are using.
  6. Make sure MIDI Thru is selected on the Pro Tools Option menu.
  7. At this point, as long as your hardware is setup properly, you should be able to play your controller and hear the preset you selected on the Reason device, assuming that you have the Default Thru Instrument set for “first selected MIDI track”. If not, either make that setting (Setup->Preferences, MIDI tab) or record enable the track.

After that, you can record enable the track and record your sequence into it. The MIDI that is recorded in Pro Tools will playback the device you have selected in Reason, and the audio from Reason will pass back through the Instrument track.

There are a number of ways to expand on this procedure, like using multiple devices and tracks (instrument, AUX and MIDI), but those will be covered in a different tutorial later; this is just the “basics”.