Making use of the Touchbar
May 2, 2021
How to customize the MacBookPro TouchBar for your DAW using BetterTouchTool
Table of Contents
I was a bit hesitant to embrace the Touchbar on the 16" Macbook Pro when I upgraded my laptop last year, but I’m happy to say it’s been steadily growing on me. That is to say, I only became satisfied with its functionality after purchasing, installing and extensively configuring a 3rd party piece of software. Nice, Apple. 👍🏻
Snark aside, this is thanks to Better Touch Tool, which has been around long before the touchbar, and has features that extend way (way) beyond the scope of this little writeup. Full disclosure, Better Touch Tool isn’t free. At the time of writing this article, it’s available for ~$9 for a 2 year license, or ~$20 for a lifetime license. Either one is worth it, in my opinion.
Better Touch Tool
Primarily functioning as an input remapping tool with macro and scripting capabilities— it allows you to customize Apple’s built-in hardware such as the trackpad, keyboard and touchbar, as well as external devices such as the magic mouse, magic trackpad and other non-Apple peripherals.
Where it gets interesting is when you start defining application-specific rules. Combined with the touchbar, you essentially have a contextual hotkey bar with completely customizable buttons.
Mapping your hotkeys
Before you start adding buttons for every single hotkey you can think of, let me just say this: I’ve found the touchbar to be really great for quick actions. Anything that requires more than half a second to select ends up feeling cumbersome— so while it is possible for hierarchical actions nested within folders, my recommendation is to keep it simple.
With that out of the way, here’s the step-by-step.
1. Select your DAW
The + in the bottom left corner allows you to define an application. Browse the file picker and select your DAW, or select it from the list of currently running applications.
2. Create a new button
With your DAW selected on the left sidebar and Touchbar selected (⌘1) up top, you’re ready to add a new Touchbar button.
3. Define the trigger and action
In this example, I’ll be creating a new button for REAPER’s Action List which is usually mapped to ' ? '
For touchbar buttons, select “Touch Bar button” in the righthand column.
In the column to the left, add an action and select the text input field below “Send Keyboard Shortcut”— you can now enter the shortcut.
4. Testing the button
Switch over to your DAW and give the new button a whirl. 🎉
Note: you won’t see your new touchbar button until the application selected in step 1 is running and currently selected.
Repeat steps 2 and 3 as needed.
I’ve been playing around with this thing for a while now, and I’ve went through dozens of different iterations of configs at this point. I’ve since landed on what I think is my ideal BTT config for audio work, and it’s pretty simple.
I use REAPER, so there’s a combination of hotkeys, macros and cycle actions in there, but the functionality is pretty straightforward.
- A/B Solo: toggles solo between two selected tracks
- Toggle FX: toggles FX chain for current or last touched track
- Last Touched: show automation lane for last touched parameter
- Loudness: pulls up SWS loudness extension
- RX 7: opens a new copy of selected audio in RX 7
- Monitor FX: toggles monitor fx chain window visibility
- Media: brings up media explorer
- 3 Finger swipe left: load screenset #1 (track view)
- 3 Finger swipe right: load screenset #2 (monitoring view)
Aside from the touchbar, you can also define application-specific rules for the keyboard, trackpad and other peripherals. Suddenly 3 and 4 finger clicks start making sense when you can contextualize them.
- 3 Finger click: opens FX window of track under mouse pointer
- 4 Finger click: closes window under mouse pointer
Out of the box, the Touchbar doesn’t grab my interest. After some tweaking and experimenting with BTT, it’s definitely a part of my workflow when I’m on my laptop— which seems to be more often these days than not.
Aside from integrating the Touchbar with your DAW, I’ve found some other useful applications for BTT. Namely text templates— I find myself answering a few specific questions a lot via emails or DMs, so after a while it makes sense to have my retort locked and loaded.
My CRM of choice also happens to limit the amount of text templates available for my price tier, but that isn’t really a problem for me anymore.
I’d love to see how you work the Touchbar into your workflow, don’t hesitate to leave a note in the comments section below or hit me up on social media!