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MIDI has been around for over 2 decades yet it still seems mysterious to a lot of people.
This video quick tip describes what MIDI is and how it can be used to improve your home studio productions.

Remember: MIDI is not sound!

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What Is Midi?

Transcript »

Hey, Dezz Asante here once again from the TechMuzeAcademy with another video quick tip. This one comes from a member of the Recording Review forum who goes by the name Daniel Doctorfil Smith. Daniel writes in,

“I have a roll-in TD3 drum kit and I’m getting a TaskScan US600 recording interface soon. It has 4 input slots and 2 midi. We’re using the midi with my drum kit to improve the sound or what. I know I can do some research but I’m also trying to get my 15 posts here.”

Well, lets talk a little bit about midi. Midi for starters and this is a common misconception that’s a question…it’s a type of question that I get a lot. Midi in reality has nothing to do with sound. It is not sound. It is more…you could think of it as a statiscal representation of a performance that can be sent to an instrument to create a sound – to a keyboard or to a software instrument but the midi itself is not sound. So, the quick answer to your question is – no. Midi will not improve or have any impact whatsoever on the sound quality of your recording.

Where it might come in handy as I’ll explain in a moment is in being able to replace the sounds that you had originally recorded with higher quality sounds. More of that in a minute. But first lets start with the basics. Midi stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface and it’s a technology that goes back to the early 80’s and honestly hasn’t change much since the early 80’s. And it was a communication protocol design to allow instruments to communicate with one another. So, a keyboard for example could then communicate with a rack synth module and allow you to play the sounds of the module using the keys of a separate keyboard…using the communication protocol that we call midi.

So, essentially what midi data is – its a collection of points of information that represent your performance. So, for example if I were to plug a keyboard into my DAW, create a midi-track and record some playing onto the midi-track, what’s actually is being recorded is things like what note did I hit, when did I hit it along the time line, how hard did I hit it which we call velocity because in midi that is represented by the speed at which the key is depressed. And then also how long did I hold the note to sustain. When did I release the notes. Okay! Those are the types of information that are represented in basic midi. There are some other thngs like continous controller values and what not but I won’t get into that at the moment. The point is…is that information that got recorded is not sound at all. The beauty of midi is that it does allows you to edit to perfection your performance so that you can then send that performance, perfected performance to an instrument. Have the mid-track that has been edited play the instrument for you and then you could re-record the results, the actual audio results from that instrument.

So, in answer to Daniel’s question how might he improve the quality of his audio using midi, a way…a method that I like to use a lot especially talking about drums, he’s talking about a TD3 electronic drum kit from Roland is I will connect the analog output stereo left and right of my drum module to an input in my interface, setup a stereo audio track and record the actual sound of my module while at the same time using a midi connection to record the performance, the midi performance information from the performance as well.

This allows me a couple of options. One,if I play perfectly and the sounds of my electronic drum kit module are up to my standards then you’ve got a nice, simple recording – stereo recording of your drums. The midi however allows me to then edit. I can go in and if I you know…hit a wrong drum on a fill or maybe I rushed a fill a little bit as is common tendency. You’ll get a little excited in the good parts and you rushed a little bit. I can go in and quantized which means straighten up the timing of my notes. I can delete or add any notes that were incorrect in the performance itself. And once I’ve got that performance perfect in midi I now have a couple of options. One, I can send the midi if your drum module has a midi input as well as an output. Some of them don’t. I can send the midi track back out of the computer into the drum module. Have the perfected, edited performance triggering the drum module while then simultaneoulsy recording the analog audio output of the drum module back onto a stereo audio track and I get essentially a perfect performance every single time. That’s option no. one.

Option no. 2 which is my preferred method is to use some of the software drum sample playback engines that are available today. My favorite at the moment is TuneTracks Superior Drummer. I thinks it sounds great. I think its user-friendly interface and is very, very powerful. So, what I’ll do is I’ll open up a  VST instrument track, a midi track with an instrument…a software instrument attached to it. And I will send the midi performance to the software instrument which gives me fantastic sounds. The samples that come with Superior Drummer stock are beautifully recorded. I believed they were captured at Avatar Studios with…you know high-end mic freeze, high-end microphones, very, very pristine signal pass. An engineer who painstakenly placed all the microphones to avoid phase issues. The accoustics in the environment were spot on. I get a way better recorded  drum sound than I could ever possibly achieve in my basement with April Ceilings and my modest mic collection no matter how skilled I am. That’s the way I prefer to do it.

Now Superior also allows me once I’ve got the  midi performance there, I can then actually export all of the microphones that were used in the recording session for the sample library and end up with I believe with  16 or 18 channels of high-quality, high-bit depth beautiful recorded drums with my performance that was perfectly edited previously in midi.

So, I hope that helps to sort of clear up the mystery surrounding midi – what it is, what it isn’t more importantly and some…some quick ideas as to  how you might utilize it and ofcourse as always we’ll see you on the next quick tip.

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