The MIDI Myth
It seems that as we continue in the technology race, certain stalwarts of our music hardware become less and less known to newer users. In this case, MIDI is a shining example of just that. Nowadays, it is often just seen as those weird 5-pin connectors that most people don’t use, or it is taken for granted, going unnoticed in USB data transfer. But many users don’t understand the full potential of this control message language that hasn’t really seen any sort of major upgrade for more than 30 years, yet it is still used. It is pretty simple stuff really, and new users shouldn’t be scared of it. It is just a simple set of commands and control changes that travel from one device to another. In this case, when recording MIDI data, your DAW will be set up to a MIDI channel, rather than audio, and you will record the key strokes and controller motions that are made whilst playing. These can then be edited and sent to a sound engine at a later stage, making it a very tactile method of working. You don’t need to worry about how the audio sounds at this stage, you can simply edit the notes and control changes as you please, for the audio is yet to be produced and will only be recorded once you have the right performance to capture.
The VST Trap
Once you have your MIDI notation recorded, you can send it to any number of virtual instruments to achieve any sound you like. Your sound has not been locked to tape with the rst recording; you can change it and modify it all you like, whilst still applying the performance recorded via MIDI to it. This can be dangerous though. You can very easily get caught in the trap of sound hording – stockpiling VST instruments to increase the variety and options available only to end up getting lost amongst them. There is no need to have every sound ever created available to you if you are only going to use one. Or worse, if you need to listen to all of them in order to make a decision. This does result in a freedom of choice, but also a certain slavery to indecision at times. The same goes with feeding that MIDI information back into the keyboard to use the hardware engine for its sounds. It can result in too many hairs being split over the specific sound rather than worrying about the performance itself.
The Classic Way
Something that is often overlooked in recording synthesizers is the audio. When faced with all this technology, it is easy to forget the pure analogue sound that is created by these machines. It is easy enough to send the audio out from your synth to the input on your audio interface and record your performance directly. Sure, but you can add more depth to the sound with a little creativity. Sending your synth sound to a valve guitar amplifier, one that has a big clean channel that doesn’t break up with volume adds a new depth to the synthesizer’s capabilities and brings the sounds to life. This then allows you to employ a series of microphone options to capture the tone of your keyboard like it were a real instrument on stage and not just another link in a computer signal chain. What results from this is the inability to tirelessly edit you MIDI score and change your software sounds to find the right one. You need to go back to basics and capture the essence of the performance itself. Get the amp working hard and make the most of the headroom that it has to offer to bring real analogue warmth to your keyboard sound and you will never want to record direct in ever again.
But, whether you go through an amp, DI or MIDI ports, there are always certain advantages and disadvantages to each method. The important thing to remember is that you allow the keyboard to act as a means of expressing your music and don’t let it become a tool of technology.