TCM Mastering: Home Music Studio Tips and Information

Part 52 Introducing MIDI

If you’ve been following this series of Home Music Studio blogs from TCM Mastering, you’ll have noticed that from time to time, I mention MIDI. I’m sure  some of you already use MIDI in your home studio setup. For those of you who don’t but would like to – over the next few weeks, I’ll try to explain what it is and what you can do with it.

If you have a music project that you need help with…..TCM Music Group and TCM Mastering provide full recording, mixing, mastering and production services from their facilities in the UK and Nashville, USA. For more information, click here.

The 1955 RCA Electronic Music Synthesiser.

First, let’s start with a bit of history. Synthesisers arrived on the scene in the 1950s. These ‘instruments’ were large (by today’s standards), cumbersome and not very user-friendly. And certainly not in general use by musicians.

Keith Emerson With Moog Modular 3C – Which Used Patch Cords To Connect The Various Oscillators And Modulators.

The Minimoog.

Robert Moog is most often credited for bringing the technology out of the lab into the hands of musicians in the mid to late 60s, with the Moog Modular System. The Minimoog released in 1970 was the first popular monophonic synth that was portable and simple to use.

However, the synths of the early 1970’s were still quite limited in their stability and polyphony. It would take the Japanese (Korg, Yamaha and Roland) to transform the synth into an affordable and popular musical instrument.

The 80’s Classic Analog Synth – Prophet 5 From Sequential Circuits.

The Prophet 5 by Sequential Circuits, was introduced in 1978 and offered good levels of playability and polyphony, albeit at a price ($4000). This was a fully programmable, polyphonic analog synth, which became a classic of its time – renowned for its strings sound and punchy bass. Although like many of its competitors, it suffered from tuning problems.

By the 80s the microprocessor brought prices down, allowing any serious musician to buy a synthesiser.

Unfortunately, compatibility between the different makes was still an issue. Each manufacturer produced instruments that were unable to ‘talk’ with the other makes, despite improving the onboard facilities.

Some manufacturers were beginning to worry that incompatibility would stunt the growth and sales of their instruments. So in 1981 a ‘universal digital communications system’ was discussed and in 1982 at NAMM, further meetings took place between the leading American and Japanese manufacturers, eventually leading to what we now know as MIDI.

Roland JX-3P Synth – 6 Voice Polyphony Plus MIDI.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It first appeared on a synth in 1983 – the Sequential Prophet 600. Followed by many others, of which the Roland JX-3P became another classic.

In the beginning, MIDI was capable of handling pretty basic messages. The way that MIDI works has not really changed since it was first developed. But over the years greater functionality has been added, giving much more detailed control of synths. Today, MIDI is also used to control stage lighting and recording equipment.

For many of today’s musicians, MIDI has become an essential part of a studio setup. Without it synths, samplers, sequencers and drum machines would not hold such an important place in a large part of modern music.

Essentially MIDI allows certain musical instruments to communicate with one another when they’re connected by a MIDI cable. No sound is present in MIDI. It contains the performance information – which note(s) are played and when, how hard the key is pressed (for example on a keyboard), whether the key pressure changes after the initial press and whether there is a pitch change whilst a key is pressed. This information can be ‘recorded’ and then altered after the performance is finished. Note timing, pitch, length and volume can all be adjusted. It even allows you to change the instrument from say a piano sample to an organ or guitar.

Next week we’ll get into more detail about what MIDI is and what it is not.

Over the years TCM Mastering and TCM Music Group have worked with most of the major record labels and several major artists. If you would like more information on what TCM can do for you and your music, our UK contact details are above.

Our USA contact details are listed below.

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