Guitar | Bass | Keyboard | Microphones | Mixers | Audio Interfaces | Monitors | Sequencers | Soft Synths | Live Sound | Drums | Club | Accessories | Blowouts
The Many Functions of MIDI DATA
Ok, dudes, you're doing good if you are still with me. By now you should be aware that MIDI is something you cannot afford to ignore, particularly in this day and age. I've put together this chart that sums it all up pretty succinctly.
Capabilities of MIDI Data
Controlling Sound devices like keyboards, module, samplers
The main function of MIDI us to send note and controller data to and from keyboard, modules and samplers to make them sound. Because MIDI data is compact in size its easy for a computer to manipulate it. You can easily have 50 tracks of midi instruments running in a song if you have enough ports and channels. In the sequencer, midi tracks can be copied, looped, transposed, doubled, stretched and edited to fine detail. You hit a wrong note? No problem, edit it to the proper value. You have a great idea but your timing is off? No problem. Simply apply a quantize template and your notes will lock to a grid or a groove. You don't have to be a good keyboard player to make excellent sounding compositions. Simply correct the tracks till they sing for you. In the sequencer, every element of the MIDI stream can be modified. You can call up a track and edit it on a musical stave like the "old" composers used to or on hi-tech grids, or in a list of events.
Most basic synths follow a specification called General MIDI or GM. This protocol specifies what programs (instruments) are available for the 16 channels. Drums are typically on channel 10. You can assign the rest the way you want. The basic GM set consists of 128 programs which always have the same program number. Piano is always program 1. 34 is always Picked Bass, 67 is always Baritone Sax. Ok, Here's the Chart of GM sounds. Because there is this common reference, any file you make with GM can be played on any computer or synth that follows the GM spec. That's what a MIDIFILE is. Its a sequence made up of tracks filled with timing information and NOTE ON/OFF information.
or Midifile has no audio data again. It only has note and controller and time
data. But because manufacturers follow this standard spec, it sounds the same,
or similar, on different soundcards. Its possible to do a great composition
with GM, but the limits are in the relatively small palette of 128 sounds. But its
an excellent way to get started. After a while you might want better, more
varied, or more specific sounds--that's when you know its time to move on to standalone
modules that give you hundreds, often thousands of instruments, or focus on specific
genre's like dance sounds, orchestral, hip hop, world fusion, R&B, etc.
Selecting Programs, Banks and Instruments
As we just saw, the GM bank has 128 instruments, or presets. If you get a bigger better, synth, you get more banks. My nearly maxed out Triton Rack for example has 16 banks of 128 instruments, or 2,048 instruments to choose from. My Pro 53 softsynth has 512 presets in 4 banks. Thanks to the Program change command I can select any instrument I want with the mouse from my sequencer. Now imagine the full MIDI rig with several softsynths, virtual drum machines and a good hardware synth. Thousands of sounds, any type of drum kit you want, all freely assignable to your MIDI tracks. I have been using a large MIDI rig for a long time and have never exhausted the possibilities.
The program change commands are not limited to synths, but can also be used to switch programs on effects boxes (such as reverb, delay, harmonizers, etc). Many studio devices can be switched internally by program changes. There are MIDI features on automated mixers, amp modelers, patchbays, even some compressors.
Virtual Mixer Automation with a Control Surface
MIDI data is also used to
control software mixers in the sequencer and is sometimes used
to control hardware digital mixers as well. MIDI data can automate volume, position, effects
sends, and even the parameters of hardware and software synthesizers. Using
MIDI CCs you can turn the dials on your synths and record the knob
movement. When you overdub 5 times it is like having 5 hands controlling the
knobs on your synth. If you "almost" had the tweak perfect, you can go in
the editors and edit the CCs with exacting detail.
Synchronization among several studio devices to Tempo or Timecode
Later on we'll get into synchronization such as MIDI clock, Midi clock with SPP, Midi Time Code (MTC) and Midi Machine Code (MMC). I don't won't to bog you with these now, just know it happens! Here it is if you can't wait. Just know that it is MIDI that keeps all your machines working together at the same tempo and in sync with the computer's time.
Sound Development and MIDI :
OK, all you homeboys who think that MIDI is "old" and not as cool as hot
audio loops and beats take note: Most commercial loops are built with
MIDI data controlling digital samplers. The true and authentic
tweakhead and groovemaster either uses MIDI to make their loops or has such
impeccable timing they just record it cold. Of course you could buy
and use store-bought loops, but you'd be restricted to using other people's
sounds and stuff. Get a sampler, makes some noises, edit to perfection
with MIDI, grooving, quantizing, transposing and you are 100% originally
you! Record the output and edit the sample and you just made your own audio
loop. That's how the true tweaks do it.
A view of Logic's Matrix Editor. All sequencer's have a similar editor that allows for exacting placement of notes along a timing grid. Extremely elaborate sequences are possible because the sequencer only sends note triggers to your synth, not audio data.
Ok, lets let the pros back in but never let these guys intimidate though, OK?
Don't think for a minute that MIDI is not a serious musical tool. Nearly all TV/film scores today make use of MIDI. Many top 40 songs are made with sequencers in home studios and converted to professional audio using the same process we just talked about. MIDI is the core building block on which to build a totally original musical masterpiece on a computer. When you have it working properly, with a good synth, your musical output is truly only limited by your musical imagination. As we go deeper into understanding the modern recording studio, I'll show you more on how MIDI data is used to control your virtual mixer. For now, think of it as a data pathway for connecting and controlling many studio devices.
Go to the Next Class
Go to the Previous Class
More on MIDI by Tweak