Holding my Horses!!


I feel comfortable enough around here by now to pose this one for throwing around:

I’ve never had an interest in MIDI. I’m an analogue guy, and am into playing real instruments. What the heck am I getting into MIDI for? I don’t know (and as if you do!), I muse… upon some reflection and a ground-check (it’s a short drop from here!).

Now, I have an ARP Omni- decrepit and mostly functioning, but it does enough to “get 'er done” for demo-ing tunes for a band, etc. It has a direct line-out, I can run it to the mixer, etc. I also have looping capability, and a wave editor. Got drums, decent bass, shite electric guitar, and enough mics to do nice work with. I can sing.

We sometimes have a house-mate, and then I can’t go bashing just whenever I want to. MIDI drums… cool idea, but I have drum samples in .wav format. And headphones. I admit it’d be nice to “play” the non-real-drumkit drums on something, though. MIDI wins this one!

I’m bringing this up because I find myself caught up in what I percieve to be a wave of excitement about VSTi’s, controllers, soundbanks, and virtual drums! I’m about to trade my ART Tube MP and a Rickie replacement pickup for a MIDI keyboard (a decent one- a Roland PC70 MKII), and I just don’t know if it’s the right thing to do. I have a Presonus Tube Pre, and a mixer with Phantom power, so the ART’s not a big loss (never mind :p !), even though I find it a good unit and might miss it.

I originally got into this because I had a project of re-mixing some old 4-track jams I did with a couple friends, one of whom died- it was a tribute thing for our great friend and a great drummer. Now the handed-along (by our friend) vision of a small working studio is about to come to bear from it, and I think I need to keep it’s integrity. It’s not just my own little project cave- it’s for getting music heard that some local talent might have to offer. ? Maybe I need to pull back on the reigns a minute.

I have found that in most things, simplicity is best; and without some kind of self-imposed limitations, I seem to be able to get less done (read: “Nothing”). Less = Happy!

Thoughts? Am I getting sidetracked by this MIDI thing? Am I wasting my time?

Same thing is happening to me Sloom. Never had a clue what midi was…I found out…didn’t appeal to me in the least. But low and behold a bought a cheap little keyboard with midi out hooked it up to nTrack, downloaded a pile of soft synths and I’m hooked. My opinion anyway is if it adds new dimensions and inspirations to your music than it’s not a waste of time. The time wasting comes when you are experimenting with too many softsynths in the collection.

I wouldn’t sell anything. If your not an accomplished keyboard or piano player why get something fancy? I’m keeping things real simple, note on/ note off, no velocity sensitive, xy bending mombo jombo. My keyboard cost me 50 bucks. Bought it at a toy store. I’ve reduced my softsynth collection from 20 down to 5 to make things more efficient.

Well, this is a trade. It’s a small-ish sacrifice, my ART Tube MP. That’s a laugh to some, but maybe because I don’t record/mix for a living I don’t think it is. Also, if I’m going to do it, I want it to be a pretty decent instrument. Anyway you can get 'em used for $70-90 I think.

I just… (no whining…) feel I’m leaving my substance. Don’t like that. I might call it off- I’m just weary of stuff, and the collecting of it. I’d rather have ways to record than have MIDI stuff, which is more liek “playing” to me than actually playing.

I just need a little feedback- which is great of you to offer. I hear you, your thoughts are on the thinkpad. Thanks, Stu.

I don’t care much for MIDI but it can be used very effectively by an expert. My interest in it would be primarily to make a good click track. I can’t stand the normal ones and my “sound-card” (DM-24 digital mixer) doesn’t have any synth capability so soft-drums look interesting.

Overuse of MIDI synths destroys a lot of otherwise decent songs. It is very difficult to get the kind of expressiveness a real player has with a “real” instrument. This can be true even if a “real” musician is playing it. Part of the reason is that the MIDI paradigm doesn’t allow for it. The protocol is to send a “note-on” and “note-off” message, with velocity and some provision for what are called “continuous controllers”. This is very keyboard-centric and can be totally usuitable for a virtual instrument such as a violin where there are not necessarily any clear boundaries between a note being on and one being off. Violin notes tend to glide one into the next which is difficult (not impossible) to properly record using the MIDI format. There are other expressive gestures that cannot be represented with MIDI data (even if you can figure out how to sense them).

Drums work better but you have to be careful if you want naturalness. Of course for techno it is great and MIDI lighting controllers make a lot of sense.

There are also issues with polyphony due to the finite number of synth voices (this may be the source of the problems outlined on one of the other MIDI threads).

Overall I view MIDI as useful in moderation and very useful as an auralization tool to figure out an arrangement for real instruments to play. If your tastes in music are different you may like it much better than I do.


That is informative, Jimbob. The truth is, that I have no actual use for MIDI as concerns performances. I’d rather go find a bagpiper than download a soundfont. Your post confirms my gut feeling about it. And honestly, I’ve heard little that was MIDI in a performance that I actually enjoyed- as if it were a person playing- which is most of the point, I think.

This is a different tune than I was piping three weeks ago, but I’m finding ‘something’ gone lackluster on me, and I’m about to throw it off. The only thing I can find to redeem MIDI, after some recent searching, is for ‘playing’ VST drums when someone else is studying or sleeping! And for my purposes, I think the time I’d spend on virtual drums would be redundant and therefore wasted.

Think I’m going to keep my little ART pre. This has been helpful and has helped me to think! Thanks, guys- I’ve found my feet here.

If anyone wants a Roland PC70 MKII, I’ll hook you up if the guy still has it after tonight!

I’m a guitarist and view midi as letting me do things I wouldn’t normally be able to do…

I can play some very basic keyboard.
If I had to record an audio track of me playing a part it would be terrible.
Midi lets me record a midi track, maybe doing several passes and not playing all the notes at once and then going in and editing my mistakes (keys hit accidentally, slightly off timing etc.)

I don’t do complex piano pieces, but even just simple background chords etc. midi lets you record a midi track and then edit it afterwards.

Also means you can audition different sounds by routing the midi track to different soft-synths or outboard gear afterwards.
Kinda like recording your guitar signal dry and then re-amping it later.

If an accomplished pianist played a piece on a digital piano and the midi output recorded and then played back using a good piano sample it would probably be hard to distinguish it from a recording done of someone playing an acoustic piano and recorded with a microphone. In fact most people wouldn’t have access to the piano used to create the sample set or the mics… and an audio recording they did with what was available to them probably would not be using as nice a sounding piano…

A lot of people think midi sounds cheesy because they are using the GM sounds on their inbuilt soundcards or soundblasters or cheap consumer keyboards as a reference.

The quality of midi is only really limited by the sound you route your midi signal to… (why do you think people buy drum sample sets like DFHS etc instead of using the default drum set that comes with the roland drum kit?)

Quote (RichLum @ April 13 2006,01:14)
If an accomplished pianist played a piece on a digital piano and the midi output recorded and then played back using a good piano sample it would probably be hard to distinguish it from a recording done of someone playing an acoustic piano and recorded with a microphone.

I’ve been reading alot of recording magazines of late, and some common tips on bringing midi to life is to use learned automation control or live tweaking. One tip for piano type synths was to change the velocity of each note ever so slightly and adjust resonance etc… So perhaps introducing some variability to this may produce a more realistic result. This is likely more difficult to do on nTrack but a rewire system like Reason would make it easy, albeit at a steep cost.

Let’s not forget vocoders and audio to midi tools either here. These can bring some wild dimension to a humanly crafted piece and I sure as #### wouldn’t be guilt ridden using them. The more tools the better.

Not trying to convince you to change your mind Sloom but I think there are more angles to look at before concluding.

MIDI has been around a very long time - I remember writing a program to generate MIDI drum tracks on an Atari years ago.

In its purest form, MIDI allows two MIDI aware instruments to talk to each other. MIDI is just a serial stream of commands from one piece of kit to another… “Start playing this note”… “Stop playing this note”. Etc.

Book 1 application: Hook up a MIDI sound module to a MIDI keyboard to expand the voices available. Artist plays the keyboard, module makes the sounds. No PCs in sight!

However, the attraction for us recordists is the ability to capture those Note on/Note off MIDI commands and store them in a computer. That captured file can then be “re-played” and sent back to any device that understands what to do with it, eg an external sound module, a VSti, etc…

Then add the ability to be able to edit that stream of MIDI commands whilst in the PC (replace that dodgy note with a correct one), and the sky becomes the limit.

A while back I had a keyboard player do some tracks for me. At the time I recorded the MIDI as well as the audio. Glad I did. On revisiting the tracks I found I needed to change the key of one of the songs. Easy. Ditch the original audio keyboard track, dig out the MIDI, transpose it up a bit, send it to a VSTi. Same performance, different key. Very cool.

MIDI isn’t a fad; it’s been around a long time and has been used on countless pro recordings. IMO all studios should have some MIDI capability.

So Sloom, if you haven’t got the message so far, then here it is … Have a go at MIDI. You might get a headache, you might waste some time, but the end is worth the hard work.



Hey, Sloom !

I’m not the right guy to comment, as I have me a roland drumkit and a little 49 key Roland midi controller.

I use it for ‘fill in’ pads and strings and piano in the same way as Rich.

There is one thing however out of your posts that are significant (imo)


It’s not just my own little project cave- it’s for getting music heard that some local talent might have to offer. ?

You might want to have some midi capability for that.
But chances are that if someone needs midi, they’ll have a keyboard.

Having different preamps (for your needs) seems to be more needed than having midi.

Tough choice


Edit : Mark posted as I did, he is making some mighty valid points.


MIDI isn’t a fad; it’s been around a long time and has been used on countless pro recordings. IMO all studios should have some MIDI capability.

I am also a guitar player who dabbles a bit on a keyboard. After connecting an inherited Yamaha keyboard to my PC and learning to use MIDI, I have to agree with the above. The subtle embellishments you can add to a piece of music are endless. I would think any working studio would have MIDI capability.

Even though I don’t use it all of the time, I would definitely NOT give mine up.


Sloom, read what mark said carefully - there are two general ways to use midi. One is simply as a way to contol something else in real time - so “feel” is not sacrificed. My primary keyboard set up is an old casio cz-1000 into my laptop, as a midi controller for dozens and dozens of synths, organs, drum machines, etc., that either run standalone or in orion. E.g., there are re-creations of your Arp that sound pretty much like the real thing without all of the hassles that come with decrepit instruments. This is exactly like playing any keyboard but, it’s MUCH cheaper, and there are MANY FEWER hassles. In my book, this sort of use only enhances possibilities for folks like you and me who like tracks to "breath."

Then there is sequencing using midi data. The data can originate from a live performance and can be recorded as you play it, and can thus be tweaked very easily to eliminate bad notes or whatever as Mark pointed out, without losing feel. Or it can be a real performance and recorded with a “snap to grid” thing on, in which case you get very “on” playing (not always in a good sense). Or the data can be put in by hand, through step programming in something like n-Track’s piano role, in which case it is also very “on,” or even by directly entering midi data in the form of numbers.

Now, most of the complaints about lack of “feel” apply to the stuff that has been “quantized” to the grid, or which was entered through step programming or in the form of midi data. The truth is, there is a specific “feel” even to that stuff: very square, very techno, perfectly useful for “4 on the floor” electronic music. I rather like that “feel” but I recognize that it would not work for, say, Wilco. And I really like Wilco, too.

Which brings up the issue of “humanizing” the quantized midi data. There are several issues here. First concerns “feel” and note placement with regard to the beat - since humans don’t usually play on the beat, but rather around it in interesting ways, we need to mimic this with our midi data. There are two general ways to do this. One is to actually apply a “groove template” derived from real performance. This can work very, very well. Another is to try to mimic this by shifting some of the beats around in various ways, either in mathematically specifiable ways (this is what the “swing” function does, which doesn’t sound quite natural but still can have a very usable “feel”) or randomly (Orion does this, e.g., but this never sounds quite right to me, for obvious reasons - the variatios in beat placement are never really random when we do it, so randomness is sort of a mistake in my book).

The second issue concerning humanizing is the actual sounds themselves, but this only comes up when you are trying to mimic real instruments - most drum machines in the past only used a few sounds, one snare, e.g., so it got pretty boring. But most good drum VSTi can have “velocity layers” - essentially they changes samples when you play harder, and hence can mimic the changing sounds of a given snare, e.g., as it is hit harder or softer, pretty well.

My take on all of this is that midi offers compositional possibilities that real humans can’t easily reproduce, or perhaps sometimes not even at all (very “square” performance, big masses of notes all at once, impossible sounds) and hence midi instruments should be viewed not as replacements for real drums or pianos or whatever, but as instruments in their own right, with thier own aesthetic. Hence if you are interesting in exploring ways of being musical that you haven’t yet tried (and in my book all serious musicians try out as many things as they can) then you owe it to yourself to try it out, if you have the time. I used to be of the mind that no good music could come from machines, but then I realized that this would mean that no good music could come from a Les Paul through a Marshall stack. Additionally, even if the goal is to use midi to make only “human based” music, midi plus a sound module is a great tool. You already use a synth, so in that case nothing would change for you except you would have that many more sounds to work with. (incidentally, I understand the need for limits, but it is also the case that new sounds bring new compositional ideas, and there is something to be said for too many options as well - i know, that is not a fashionable thought, but I find it to be true.)

Try it, you may discover that you have music in you that cannot be accessed in any other way.

There are a lot of good offerings here! Good points all around.

My current take on it at this point is that I’m limited by 2 things:
Time… 2 youngun’s, wife and house that is getting attention. And the day job, which is pretty physically demanding, so there’s what I have to work with for new learning curves.
Money… 'nuff said.

I have to sort of move slowly, and not be trading off things I’m not through learning about yet! MIDI is obviously something I have to learn more about to be able to make conclusive statements about- but it’s not compelling enough at this point to focus on. That might change sometime, and when it does, I’ll be more ready to explore it, I think.

This has been enlightening, glad I came here to bring it up. Thanks everyone for your time!