Episode 008 - MIDI, keyboards, controllers, that weird number 127 - Everything you need to know to get started with MIDI
In this tech-talk episode: Everything a self-producing musician needs to know to get started with MIDI production.
Covered in this episode:
- Input devices, from mouse to keyboard, to USB keyboards, pads and synthesisers
- Hooking up keyboards and synths
- Note number and velocity
- Why 127?
- #CC: The most important continuous controllers
Some links mentioned in this episode:
Free Virtual Instrument (VI) Plugins:
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Contact the podcast host Yarn at mixartist.com.au
#music production, #MIDI, #home recording, #recording, #mixing, #music production
Transcript (auto-generated by a robot - please forgive the occasional error):
Jan 'Yarn' Muths:
Welcome to the production talk podcast with me yarn of mix artists.com know you in this podcast series, we celebrate the modern way of producing music. We want to talk about all things related to songwriting, recording at home and music production. So if you produce your music at home, this is the place to be. Please subscribe and recommend this podcast to all your friends. This is the production talk podcast episode eight. Welcome back to the podcast. Thank you very much for tuning in. Glad that you're on board today. Today I would like to talk about the world of MIDI. MIDI obviously has been around for a long time since the 80s. And it's a very popular form of producing music. So that's definitely something that is useful. For most of us today. Some productions especially EDM comes entirely out of MIDI, other recordings are pre produced in MIDI than re recorded. Or sometimes it's simply a blend of all your media doesn't really matter. But it's really good for all of us to know a little bit of both worlds. So if you're an EDM producer and MIDI is your main world, it's still a great idea to know a little bit about audio so you can lead on some vocals if you want to. Or if you're the old school rock band, it's still a great idea to know a little bit about MIDI if you just want to do some writing while sitting on the tour bus on your laptop with headphones. So let's talk about MIDI for a moment, what do we need. Step number one is definitely some kind of an input device. That could be just a mouse. And in modern doors or recording softwares, you can usually open up an editor such as the piano roll editor, or whatever the name is in your software, and displace notes with a mouse. So that is an input device by itself. Many of these programs also have a little feature where you can disable the computer keyboard and use it as a MIDI input keyboard instead. So the letters on your keyboards become the musical notes. And you can literally play melodies using the keyboards built into your laptop or desktop computer. That is definitely not the very best way to do it. But if you just quickly need to lay down a good idea so you won't forget about it. It's definitely worth going for. It can do a few things that we may need a little bit later. But we'll talk about this we'll get back to this when we talk about velocity. If you want to move away from just the mouse and your computer keyboard, it's probably wise idea to get yourself a USB MIDI keyboard. These mini keyboards are fairly cheap. There are some phenomenal brands around they're very affordable Akai comes to mind but even cheap brands like Beringia do great gear, and it will not break the bank. When you buy one of those, there are a few things to consider. Step number one is how many keys Do you need. So if you're traveling and you're writing songs on the tour bus, maybe a small one will do in this situation, you can probably get yourself a 25 key USB keyboard, and there's sometimes on sale for not much more than 100 bucks or so. So definitely worth going for. However, if you're a piano player 25 keys is definitely not enough and you need to get a bigger one they have 60 or even up to 88 keys depends on which size you want. Another factor to consider is how many extras Do you want mini USB keyboards often have extra controllers or ports or little faders on board that can be mapped to certain features in control sound that way. Some of them are very rich and additional controls. Some of them are extremely basic, but the one thing you definitely need is a pitch band which literally every single MIDI keyboard that I'm aware of should have on board. What else should we consider here? Don't just only think about the USB keyboard itself, because by itself, it's worth nothing. It's literally like a boat anchor, they all need a driver to work. And if your driver doesn't work or is dodgy, then the nicest feel keyboards is pretty much pointless. If you're a Mac Just be aware that a lot of USB MIDI keyboards work natively with the inbuilt OS X. What's a quad core meriam? Yeah, so no driver required for most of them. Some devices on a Mac have additional drivers that you can store to open up additional features that's often for the most advanced users. If you're on a PC, the driver is definitely relevant to you. Make Sure the drivers are available and the drivers have a good reputation. So check the product reviews not every great device comes with good drivers unfortunately, and that can really spoil the experience if the driver is not well written or dodgy, Well, okay, but for most modern devices, definitely, the drivers are programmed well and check if they're compatible with your operating system and so on. With a new USB MIDI keyboard, you can literally play the keys and it will then travel via MIDI data via USB lead to your computer and then needs to be recorded into a piece of software whatever your weapon of choice is there. As far as I'm aware, every modern door should support input from MIDI keyboards nowadays there are very few specialists that are all your only mastering doors for example, but all the common doors like Pro Tools, logic Cubase Ableton Studio One and sorry if I forget the all the other big ones, they all do perfectly fine with audio and MIDI. Good so USB has the advantage is easy to connect, and many USB keyboards actually don't even need an external wall wart to run. In many cases, the USB cord actually powers the USB keyboard, which makes it really easy for you. If you need to travel a lot now came so whenever you is one of these USB keyboards, you need to select the inputs in your door and then you will route the data into what we call a virtual instrument plugin is some people just call them VST s. That's not exactly correct, because VST is actually a plugin standard by Steinberg, the inventor of Cubase and NUENDO and other gems and VST is actually a plugin format that can be used for anything a virtual instrument or EQ or compressor or any type of plugin. However, in many situations VST S is often used for virtual instrument. When I talk about vi or virtual instrument, I basically mean a plugin that you feed metadata and it produces audio at the output. Standard is probably a piano plugin. And most doors have one onboard. There definitely a couple of extras as well. There are free plugins that we could probably list in the in the show notes. But if you use let's say Ableton or logic or Pro Tools, all of those have amazing sounding virtual piano plugins built in, and you insert them across an instrument channel, you play the MIDI data into it, and then you just record the MIDI performance. And you can change the sound later. That's the beauty of it. But before we get into plugins too much, and the inner workings of MIDI, let's just talk about other input devices. There's something else that I want to talk about, obviously, some people are proud owners of synthesizers, one of my favorite is the nort amazing sounding one, or you could take a profit or whatever you have. There are so many amazing devices. So what's the difference between a USB keyboard and a synthesizer? It's a keyboard combined with a sound module, which means the synthesizer produces sounds by itself, which makes a synthesizer definitely a great choice for live performance on stage. And many of these synthesizers sound absolutely phenomenal. So if you ever come across a profit, while all the good old virus, well there are so many to mention. So what's different when using synthesizers instead of a MIDI USB keyboard? Well the synthesizer does both it works just like a USB keyboard if it has a MIDI out. In this case, you use a standard MIDI five pin cable on Connect the synthesizers MIDI output to your computer's MIDI input. Well where would you find that have a look on your audio interface. Some audio interfaces also have MIDI IO at the back. Some do not. And in that case you might need to invest into a USB MIDI interface. It's just like a USB audio interface. But MIDI i o ports instead of audio i o then you can connect the synthesizers MIDI out to your MIDI interface, MIDI input. And then from there you route the signal into your door and feed a virtual instrument if you want to do so. So in other words, a synthesizer can also act as a USB keyboard. You just need a MIDI USB interface for that. However, the synthesizer can also produce its own sound. If you have a profit, you know that there's probably very few virtual instruments that come close to the amazing side of the synthesizers, so why not use the onboard sound. In that case, you just need to connect the audio outputs of the synthesizer to your audio interface input make an audio track to record At Off you go. What are the pros and cons? Well, if you record a MIDI error to feed a virtual instrument, you can change the performance later. So if you missed a node or you played a note too many, you can simply go into the editor and change and edit those notes. Once you do an audio recording, the same is not possible. Well, with few exceptions, maybe, but definitely not as flexible. So it might be beneficial to first simply record your metadata to feed a virtual instrument plugin in some situations. There's definitely also another way where you can use let's say, your synthesizer only record the metadata first and then later feed it out of a MIDI ports output back into the synthesizers input, and then record the audio in a second take. That way, you first only record the metadata and then later when you record the audio, there could be another take or even the same tag. If you are into routing, you could record the audio later on. That's up to you. We can go into this maybe in another episode if there's much interest. If you want to know more about that option. Let me know in the show notes or in the reviews and your feedback, and other go into more detail there. The last input device that I wanted to mention is Pads, Pads or input devices that don't offer black and white keys. But often individual drum pads the Ableton push comes to mind. But there are many other devices that offer drum pads. These pets are often great to perform rhythmical performances such as Trump tags and other other things. The Ableton push is definitely a great device for all kinds of creative input devices. These pets are often used to play drums with your fingers or chopsticks work really well as well. So they're very similar to USB keyboard. But instead of black and white keys like a piano, they will offer little drum pads that you can play. So I think that covers the range of input devices. So let's talk about MIDI in a little bit more detail. MIDI is known as performance data. So when you record MIDI notes on a MIDI track or instrument track into your software, only the performance data is captured and not their sound. So what does that mean, you could play into your computer and maybe feed a virtual instrument that produces a piano sound. After you're done performing, you could replace that with another virtual instrument that plays let's say, organ sounds, or lead synth sounds and the same performance we're not so different. You can also go to the editor and change or the performance mate. So effectively what mini stores is the node that you played, they all have a node number assigned, also the velocity and the velocity indicates how hard you hit the keys. Effectively on a MIDI keyboard, there are two little sensors. And as you press the button down, the key travels past the first sense. And then to the second, the distance in between is measured as a time course the velocity where longer time indicates a softer performance, or more gentle performance. A shorter time between the two senses is interpreted as a hard hitting performance. So when you play MIDI notes, the node number is stored to the computer so is the velocity for each node. While you hold along node there's actually nothing really happening in MIDI any anymore. It's only the beginning. When you play the note. That's what we know as a note on command. And then a note of command as you release the key again in between not much is recorded. But there's also additional information that MIDI can capture, such as the pitch bend wheel, if you play organ sounds have a play with a pitch band. It's way too cool. This is additional data that's also transferred by the MIDI protocol. And in this case, it indicates a pitching up and down effect which can be really really cool sometimes. But middie can do so many more things. Let's just go into some more details here. Continuous controllers are very popular. Those are actually MIDI events that don't actually make them note the server is known as a node. Instead, they control something else. For example, continuous control and number seven is volume. If you have let's say a synthesizer or a MIDI keyboard, with let's say a little fader you can map volume number seven to it. While you play with one hand you can then move the fader with the other and control the volume of what you play which allows you to mix yourself as you perform other continuous controllers to mention is number 64. That's the sustain pedal which usually switches only on and off the piano players love it. If you're more into synthesizers, you really need to know about the continuous controller 71 and 74 which is the footer resonance and the further cut off does map to have your in coders to continuous controller 71 and 74 start playing and ever listen, you'll love that. So in other words, why you perform, let's say synthesize bass, you can also play with an encoder that controls the fouda resonance, it's a lot of fun, great ways to make your performance more interesting. And in MIDI 1.0, you will find that everything happens on a short scale from zero to 127. That's a number range of 128 steps, which coincidentally is actually two to the power of seven. In other words, in the MIDI code, we have seven bits, each one representing either a one or a zero. And if you look at all the possible combinations, you can create using seven bits, you will find it can have a total number of two to the power of seven or 128 steps. That's why in many language, everything seems to revolve around this number range. panning, for example, goes to negative 63, on the left hand side, then to zero in the middle, and positive 64. On the right hand side, that again, is a number range of 128 steps. When it comes to volume, it's usually zero to 127. What zero is often interpreted as no sound or mute, or even a note of command 127 is done the loudest possible sound velocity is also scaled on 128 steps. But we're getting a little bit carried away here with the inner workings of the MIDI protocol. Well, the MIDI protocol is full of amazing theory and you don't actually need to know all about it. If you want to produce a music However, people who study the MIDI protocol will often find that the DRI theory you learn there can actually be really amazing and sometimes can, you know give you a little bit of a leap forward in your production. So depending on where you're at in your production learning curve, maybe it's worth digging a little bit deeper. The middie.org is the official media website and all of the, the details are accessible there. Good. Okay, this is all for today. So let's just sum it up one more time. We spoke about MIDI input devices pros and cons we discussed USB keyboards, synthesizers, which have inbuilt sub modules, or drum pads such as the Ableton push, sometimes you need an external MIDI interface, sometimes you do not that really depends on the gear you use. And then we spoke about the advantage of virtual instruments, where you can then later edit the performance why you can do this when you do audio recordings. And we spoke about the aspects of the MIDI protocols such as the node numbers, velocity pitch band and some of the most fun controllers check them out again, volume was number seven pan number 1064 is the sustain pedal and 71 and 74 are definitely the fun controllers if you if you want to produce synthesizer music, they really make a huge difference and so much fun to play with. Good That's all for today in this MIDI based episode if you want to know more about MIDI please let me know. I would really appreciate if you could please give me a review on Apple podcasts that will be absolutely amazing. Please subscribe to the podcast so that you get notified once the next episode is out and recommend this podcast to all your friends and fellow musicians. Thank you so much for that this is all for now. Speak to you next time.