Who Says MIDI Can’t Sound Good?

Before we jump into the real discussion about the MIDI Wars (my own term for the ongoing debate about MIDI), let’s just take a moment to appreciate something very cool.

Daniel Brown makes beautiful art. Would anyone disagree? Here’s some of his work:

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Yeah, yeah, that’s a pretty picture. Probably used a nice Digital SLR and had some…wait, what? This is 100% computer generated code? It’s not real? THAT MEANS IT’S TERRIBLE!

No one in their right mind would say that about this image – they would be amazed at the fact that someone can create such a beautiful image with code. So why is it that we have that exact same reaction to MIDI?

Before reading any further, let’s make sure we’re on the same page. Read this article on the basics of MIDI and watch the video to catch up to speed if you haven’t already.

Ok, so let’s continue. It’s not that MIDI sounds bad – it’s that it can sound bad if not used properly. This is the exact same reason why a terrible drummer will sound terrible – it’s not because of the drums.

When used properly and to its fullest capacity – MIDI and virtual instruments can perfectly replicate any natural sound that you can create with an instrument. And I do mean perfectly. And it’s not easy.

But just like every other part of the recording process, it is a skill that needs to be developed. Which is why beginners who use MIDI don’t usually sound so great – but beginner cellists also don’t sound great. You much achieve mastery to truly make something incredible and breathtaking.

So while it may seem difficult to master the art of MIDI programming, there are a few things you can remember to get you going in the right direction.

1. Learn your sample libraries. This is key – know how to use velocity and pitch to create compelling parts is one of the most important things to remember when working with MIDI. Spend time with your virtual instruments to really get to know all of the complexities.

2. Manipulate pitch, velocity, and time to create realistic parts. Without being an expert at these basic concepts, it will be very hard to create convincing parts using MIDI.

3. Listen to great players and study their performances. Listen to amazing drummers and figure out why their performances work. Learn to emulate their characteristics in your programming.

There are a lot of ways to get good at MIDI programming, but if you stick to focusing on these three elements, you’ll be well on your way to creating amazing, lifelike tracks!

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