Recording with MIDI
MIDI can be one of the most powerful tools or greatest frustrations in the budget home music studio.
The truth is, understanding a few basic principles of MIDI can saved a lot of potential headache. Following a process to set up your equipment will help assure that things work every time.
I'm going to list these steps below. Before I do let me first explain what
MIDI is and how it works.
What is MIDI and How does it work?
MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It is an electronic method of connecting one device to another. MIDI can both send and receive this digital information. That information is transferred in essentially 3 ways, velocity, timing, and control.
Velocity is the form of data that determines how loud the signal will be. Timing determines when the signal is triggered and how long it will stay triggered. Timing can also be used to sync two MIDI devices together. This assures that they trigger at exactly the same time or tempo. Control is used to change the program or patch data on one MIDI device from another.
Perhaps the greatest advantage to using MIDI is the fact that it is not an audio feed so it is not sound specific.
MIDI data can be changed after it has been recorded. This is helpful in correcting performance mistakes. It also gives you the ability to change the sound of your recording in post production. Recording with MIDI is typically an integral part of the home music studio.
3 STEPS TO RECORDING WITH MIDI
1.) Setup your connections
MIDI data follows the same flow as audio in that the signal is sent and received (input/output). With that in mind it's important to understand what the flow of that signal will be. If you're connecting two devices by MIDI, in most cases, one device must send the signal while the other must receive it.
Do you want to use your MIDI enabled keyboard to program or trigger sounds from your MIDI drum machine? Then you would need to set up your connections by going from the "MIDI out" on your keyboard to the "MIDI in" on your drum machine.
One exception to this configuration comes when you have multiple devices all using MIDI. Some gear has a MIDI OUT/THRU. This allows a connection into one device then back out again to another. The purpose here would be to daisy chain multiple devices together.
Recording with MIDI on your DAW requires some type of MIDI interface installed on your computer. This is perhaps the most common use of MIDI in the home music studio.
Some audio interfaces have a MIDI IN/OUT built directly into them. Many newer keyboard style MIDI controllers have a USB output that allows you to directly connect it to your DAW.
If you are looking for an affordable, quality USB MIDI interface here is an affiliate link to the device I personally use: Roland UM-ONE USB MIDI Interface.
2.) Configure your MIDI connections
There are 3 primary areas to check when configuring your MIDI connections. The program control, IN channel, and OUT channel. This step may require a bit of browsing through your gear's setup manual to properly configure. Each device is different but the principle is the same.
Program control allows one device to change the sounds and settings of another. Both devices must be connected via MIDI to allow this change. The device receiving this MIDI signal must be also be configured to receive program changes.
The other two areas of your MIDI connection have to do with the IN and OUT. MIDI operates through an organized set of digital channels. There are 16 of these channels in a single MIDI connection. This allows for separate control and triggering of multiple devices simultaneously.
Your triggering device (like MIDI keyboard) must be set to output the same MIDI channel as the device that is receiving it (like a drum machine). The configuration possibilities here are almost endless. For simplicity sake just know that by using different channels, multiple devices can be controlled and triggered at the same time but will produce different sounds.
If you only use one MIDI device to trigger another then look for the OMNI channel setting. This setting enables sending and receiving of all channels simultaneously. Some devices have a preferred default channel (MIDI drums are often channel 10). I would recommend reading your equipment manual to clarify your situation.
3.) Monitor the device being triggered by MIDI
This step is very simple but can be easily confusing. Remember that MIDI does not transmit or receive audio. So you need to listen to the audio output from the device being triggered.
If I were using my MIDI keyboard to trigger the sounds from my DAW's synth, then the audio patches on my keyboard become irrelevant. The synth track on my DAW would be the device I must listen to. Otherwise I will not hear any of my MIDI triggered sounds when I play my keyboard.
Recording with MIDI is a very useful tool for the home studio. At the same time it can get complicated very quickly. These 3 basic steps to follow are truly the building blocks for all that MIDI can do.
I'd love to hear your input. You can add your comments and questions to the section below.