Computer-Music.com contains articles and product reviews related to making music using computers and creating 3D computer animation in sync with music. Computer-Music.com is also the home page of  Donald S. Griffin, an experienced professional composer, sound effects designer and audio consultant with an emphasis on computer games,  video games and internet music and sound effects. For pricing and contract availability send email to: DGriffin (@) Computer-Music (.) com

Computer-Music.com  contains articles and product reviews related to making music using computers and creating 3D computer animation in sync with music.
Computer-Music.com is also the home page of  Donald S. Griffin, an experienced professional composer, sound effects designer and audio consultant with an emphasis on computer games,  video games and internet music and sound effects. For pricing and contract availability send email to: DGriffin (@) Computer-Music (.) com



 

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Assembling Your MIDI Studio

If you have been following my MIDI train analogy then you probably know most of what I wanted to convey in this article. For those of you who like it short and sweet I will summarize and then make some specific suggestions. It would be impossible for me to tell you everything you might want to know about each piece of hardware and software you might be considering to fill the three roles I described above but I can make a few suggestions based on my personal experience and some things that my associates have told me about how they prefer to work. I don't prefer you do things the way I do. I just know more about the way I have decided to work based upon many difficult decisions over the years since MIDI began.

MIDI is best thought of in terms of the path it follows through your MIDI system. Composing music using MIDI requires a MIDI controller, a MIDI sequencer, and a MIDI synthesizer. The synthesizer must also be hooked up to sound equipment so you can hear it. All three of these components can be found in a single device. The Kurzweil K2000S is an excellent sampling synthesizer with keyboard and a decent sequencer. Most MIDI keyboards are actually Keyboard/Synthesizers. There are also many devices that are a combination of hardware sequencer and synthesizer with no keyboard or other kind of MIDI control device. Just because you have a device with two or three capabilities does not mean you have to make use of all of them. I don't use my K2000S for sequencing and usually use another keyboard as the MIDI controller. I always use a computer running one of several good software sequencers to work with my MIDI data. I could use my K2000S as though it was actually a MIDI keyboard that was not connected to its MIDI synthesizer by setting the K2000S synthesizer to ignore me when I press the keys and only play notes in response to data coming from my computer sequencer. In this configuration when I press a key it sends a MIDI message to the MIDI-OUT port and through that cable to the MIDI-IN port on my computer then it is recorded and re-transmitted through the MIDI-OUT of my computer through that cable to the MIDI-IN on the K2000S where its synthesizer responds by generating a sound that goes out the AUDIO outputs of the K2000S and into my sound system to be heard through those speakers.

Nearly everything you do in MIDI will involve some variation on the path I just described. When you play back a MIDI tune it starts as a .MID file that is loaded into your software sequencer. When you click on the play button the MIDI data for that sequence (tune) is sent out the MIDI out of your sequencer through a MIDI cable to the MIDI-IN of your synthesizer and is played through your sound system.

Because this path can weave in and out of any combination of physical devices that contain these basic components and are hooked up to create this MIDI signal path it is difficult for me to tell you exactly what devices you need. First look at what you already have that fits the bill. A man hired me as a consultant because he felt he didn't have long to live and just wanted to composed music using MIDI but every time he couldn't make his set up work a salesman in a music store had sold him yet another piece of equipment he didn't need. That's what salesmen do. He was amazed when I told him that he didn't need any new hardware or software and I was able to quickly piece together a simple but efficient system from all the stuff people had sold him. Through our discussions of the way he expected to work I was able to recommend one software package that I thought he would be more comfortable using and a small Mackie 1202 mixer so he would not have to constantly unplug and re-plug his different music equipment. The story is a happy one because he was quickly doing what he wanted to do all along and has lived several more years than I think he expected. Probably because of all the hassles I helped him to avoid. The moral of this story is to ask questions and try to anticipate what you might need in a product but don't let any salesman make your decisions for you. Computers are not like cars. You are going to need some feature six months from now that you don't have and that the salesman should have told you you would need. You may find that the software (or hardware) does everything the salesman said but it is very awkward to work with. Find a store where you can sit there for awhile and read manuals and test drive software or, even better, download working demos that allow you to get a feel of what the routine of working in that software would be like. Don't be dazzled by features. My favorite sequencer is not very powerful and is several years out of date but the basic interface for composing music is so elegant, friendly and efficient that it allows me to think about music, not MIDI. That is what you want.

I have had so much to say here that I will leave discussions of particular features and techniques to later articles. If you have read Composing Music Using Computers as well as this article you have ten times more information than most people do when they start buying MIDI hardware and software. You still have a ways to go before you can forget about MIDI and just think about music. Allow yourself time to get comfortable with MIDI before expecting to compose your magnum opus but don't spend all of your time reading manuals either. Reading manuals will save you endless hours of confusion and frustration but the best way to learn things on a computer always seems to be like mixing mortar or cake mix where you combine a little of the dry ingredients at a time while stirring. Start with the simplest thing you can think of like loading MIDI sequences and playing them back, then try recording a single track of just playing around on whatever sound is the synthesizer is already set for. Read a little more then try a little more. I took about a year out from serious composing to get comfortable with MIDI before I tried to do any real composing in this totally new medium.

Give yourself a chance to learn before giving up and when are just having too much trouble it probably really is the fault of the software. Most sequencer software does some things really well and some things really stupidly. Forgive yourself for not understanding why it sometimes seem like a dumb way to do something. It probably is. All in all MIDI is still one of the best things to come along for composers since the pen.

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