In 2020, songwriters and producers of every genre and experience level are relying on technology to create and explore music like never before. While EDM and hip-hop comes to mind for most people who think about tech’s relationship with music creation, music-makers of all backgrounds are using tools like MIDI to shape musical ideas, record, and perform live.

If you don’t fancy yourself an especially tech-savvy musician, you may have been interested in exploring MIDI for music creation or performance, but have put off trying because it seems too intimidating. The good news is that MIDI is affordable, accessible, and easy to wrap your head around! That’s why so many musicians are using it.

If you’re interested in learning how to incorporate this powerful technology into your musical process, you’ve come to the right place. In this blog, we’ll break down everything you need to know about the world of MIDI technology, including how it works, ways to edit your performances, and some of our best selling MIDI tools.

What is MIDI?

MIDI is shorthand for “Musical Instrument Digital Interface.” When we talk about the way musical instruments, computers, and hardware communicate with each other, we’re talking about MIDI.

Aside from standalone production devices, most MIDI instruments like keyboard controllers can’t produce sounds on their own without computers. MIDI is a communication protocol between devices that interprets musical messages. It determines things like when sounds occur, how loud or soft they’re played, and whether pitches are bent or not. Composers, songwriters, producers, and performers use MIDI to write, edit, and play music live.

How Your Tracks Can Benefit From MIDI

Why use MIDI when musicians are perfectly capable of producing sounds on their own?

For starters, MIDI gives us access to an endless array of instruments, textures, and soundscapes. When you record or perform with conventional instruments like guitars and drums, what you play is what you get. This also goes for keyboards with sound libraries. MIDI, on the other hand, essentially gives you a massive blank musical canvas that you can transform into any number of virtual instruments available. Because MIDI is designed to interface directly with your DAW, it gives you the ability not only to access vast sound libraries, but also to create and explore new ones. 

MIDI delivers huge advantages when it comes to recording and editing music. This is because what you play gets interpreted and recorded down to a granular level and can be manipulated once it’s recorded. MIDI messages are set up on a grid and organized by pitches and rhythms when they’re interpreted through a DAW. Sloppy performances can be polished through features like quantization, which adjusts passages of musical information automatically, or by manually altering individual notes. Overproduced music runs the risk of feeling cold and inaccessible to listeners, but MIDI lets musicians control exactly how their music is edited. 

With MIDI, songwriters and producers have an endless amount of musical options at their fingertips. Working with a MIDI controller gives you the power to incorporate virtually any instrument into your music you can think of. This is a huge help if you don’t have the budget or contacts needed to have a live orchestra or salsa band play on your album. Synthesized instrumentation has vastly improved over the last decade, and MIDI gives music-makers of all backgrounds and budgets the ability to feature studio-grade instrumentation in their music. There’s also a universe of arps, classic and modern synths, beats, textures, and pads to explore when MIDI is a part of your music-making process.

If you’ve ever wanted to quickly transpose entire songs or individual passages on the fly, MIDI makes it easy. It’s a mandatory asset for modern songwriters, producers, and composers who want a direct and seamless way to incorporate sound-shaping capabilities in their processes.

Perfecting A MIDI Performance After Recording

There’s an incredible amount of options when it comes to editing MIDI information after a musical performance. Like we mentioned before, quantization is a tool that gives you the power to alter or “fix” passages of music large or small with the quick of a button. This tool works within the designated pitch and rhythm restrictions and makes changes based on those.

If you find parts of your performance are too loud or soft, MIDI lets you alter the velocity of specific notes. For musicians who want to add character to their MIDI performances, bending pitches is a great editing option. And when you listen back through your performance during the editing process and find notes are missing or are in places you don’t want them, the pencil and delete tools will be of interest to you.

Musicians also have an easy way to transpose with MIDI, whether it’s a small passage of notes or multiple instruments within the same track.

What's Required For A MIDI Set-Up

There are multiple MIDI setups to consider, and what’s best for you will depend on your goals and needs as a musician. The simplest set-up requires only a computer, MIDI controller, and USB cord. This is the most basic MIDI setup, but it’s by no means the only option.

MIDI interfaces extend capabilities even further by interacting with your DAW and performing exactly what you instruct them to do. This is especially helpful for playing live. And if you’re looking to harness the power of MIDI without a computer or DAW for writing sessions, performances, or recording, hardware sequencers allow you to create and adjust music on-the-go seamlessly as you make it.

Different Types Of MIDI Controllers

There are several different types of MIDI controllers, and you'll want to choose one that best fits your needs. Continue on for a breakdown of MIDI controller types and discover some of our favorites!

Keyboard MIDI Controllers

These are the most commonly used MIDI controllers in the music industry. The reason comes down to convenience. The musical keyboard included with these types of MIDI keyboards mirrors the piano’s keyboard, which means all the chord shapes, scales, and musical intervals are the exact same. From keytars to mini MIDI keyboards that can fit in your backpack, you have an endless array of options when it comes to these sorts of MIDI controllers.

Suggested Keyboard MIDI Controllers: Arturia KeyStep Pro, Arturia KeyStep 32-Key, Arturia KeyLab 61, Arturia Microlab, Novation Launchkey 49 MK2, Novation Impulse 25, Akai MPK Mini Mk2, and Alesis V49.

MIDI Control Surfaces

These hardware devices deliver control of MIDI messages in real-time. They program software instruments to be operated without the hassle of having to go through the computer on stage or during recording like some sort of sonic middle-man. Instead of combing through computer programs and selecting digital instruments through your computer, control surfaces are operated seamlessly with buttons, sliders, and knobs.

Suggested MIDI Control Surfaces: Ableton Push 2, Novation Launchpad X, Akai Pro MPC X, Akai Pro MPC One, Akai Pro Force, Native Instruments Maschine Mk3, Soundwell DEK, and Nektar Aura Beat Composer.

MIDI Drum Pads And Kits

When it comes to MIDI, keyboard players aren’t the only musicians who get access to this incredible technology. Percussionists have MIDI-compatible drum pads and electronic drum kits to play as well. Everything you perform can later be edited and enhanced with these instruments.

Suggested MIDI Drum Pads And Kits: Alesis Strike Pro, Nord Drum 3P, and Yamaha DD65.

MIDI Step Sequencers

These handy devices store MIDI data and send it to compatible instruments exactly when and how you want it to. They’re incredible for live performances, as well as studio recording experimentation.

Suggested MIDI Step Sequencers: Korg SQ-1, 1010 Music Toolbox, and Polyend Seq.

MIDI is accessible and intuitive to use, but it still takes work to learn. The best way to get yourself acquainted with this incredible technology is to jump in feet-first and start exploring. With a minimal amount of gear and learning experience, you’ll be able to rely on the power of MIDI for as you create, record, and perform music.

Alex St. CinIf you have any questions about MIDI or would like to purchase any of the controllers mentioned in this blog, we're here to help! Please contact a Vintage King Audio Consultant via email or by phone at 866.644.0160.