Midi is used for a wide number of applications. In this post I stick to the basic function midi has in our music production. The difference between audio and midi files is extremely simple, once you understand the principles. But until you experience that “aha’ moment, lots of beginning producers get very confused. “Hey, I played a string sound and now I hear a piano playing the same notes??” Or: “Why don’t I hear anything? I see notes on my screen but I don’t get any sound? It something wrong with my soundcard?” Don’t worry, these kind of questions are normal. It comes back to one fundamental question:
what is midi ?
I have a simple way of explaining to students what midi really is. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think you are a five year old child or think you are an idiot, but it makes it easier to get a grip on the principles if I introduce you to your new best friend: Markus Midi. Markus Midi is a strange guy, that does things in his own unique way.
The four main unique charactistics of Mr. MIDI are:
ONE: Markus Midi is a world champion note repeater. Whatever melody or chord sequence you throw at him, he memorizes the whole part and is able to play it back without mistakes, every time again.
TWO: Markus Midi only remembers notes, he doesn’t actually care for the instrument you use when you play on your keyboard or input the notes on a midi editor. It is fine to him if you play with a piano sound, a synth sound or a trumpet, he will remember notes, but he will forget about the instrument sound you used. He simply doesn’t care. All Markus is interested in is: “What notes do you want me to repeat?”
THREE: You can tell Markus Midi to play that melody or chord sequence, faster, slower , in a higher or a lower key. No matter how fast, slow, high or low you want it, Markus Midi does the job with ease and comfort. He eats the thoughest notes for breakfast.
FOUR: When you push the play button on your digital audio workstation or DAW, Markus Midi starts playing the notes, but his keyboard is not necessaraly connected to a sound source. Markus Midi plays with passion all the notes and he can do this without making a sound. Actually, Marcus Midi is not interested in sounds, he fetishes on notes, notes and notes – I told you he is a strange guy. If you want to hear what Markus Midi is playing, YOU have to connect his keyboard to a soundsource, a hardware or software synthesizer , and select a sound.
Read the four characterics of Markus Midi a few times over. Midi is all about notes, not about sounds. When you load a midi track in your DAW all you have is note information. If you hear any sound, it is because you or your DAW have selected an instrument. You can perfectly change the sounds afterwards. The sound is not part of the track. This is the main difference between a midi file and an audio file.
On an audio file you record a sound as you hear it. This can be a lead guitar solo, a piano phrase, background music, a hip hop rap or non musical things like a barking dog, an car passing by or an explosion. When you play it back afterwards, you hear back what was recorded. It is like writing something on a piece of paper and reading it afterwards. The audio files contains all the information, so the one audio file is all you need to repeat the original recording over and over again. Send the audio file online to a friend or listen back to it in another DAW five years later, your piano phrase or your dogs barking sounds exactly the same.
Midi is different: the Midi file only contains the note information: what notes and chords were played. To hear something you must connect a sythn to the midi file.
An AUDIO TRACK contains one element: an audio file that has all the information to play it back.
A MIDI TRACK contains two elements: a midi file and a selected synth sound. You need both to hear music coming from the track. The midi file itself only contains note information on what note or chord to play, but no sounds.
Midi and Audio both have their strong points. In a future post I’ll get more in detail my and also post a FAQ on midi to help out the beginning producers.
In the meanwhile,