E07 - Creating Brilliant Midi
No matter how good your sample library, or beautiful your analogue synth. Bad midi will give you bad results, every time. This week’s topic covers how you can avoid stale, poor sounding midi in 5 easy steps.
Step 1 - Check for Realism
The first part of the final midi recording or arranging process is checking the believability of the parts you have written. If you want your parts to be impossible, then thats cool too, but for the most part software instruments are more convincing when they are something that a person could actually play. Things like hitting 3 cymbals and a snare at once should probably be avoided. In the same way, a pianist won’t play all the notes in a chord at the exact same time. A slight variance in when they are struck and released is natural.
In addition, the dynamics inside of a performance should vary in line with how you would like it to sound, and how a performer would play it. If you write a drum fill with max velocity on each strike, it may sound cool, but it will lack the realism and impact of one that is more in line with what is possible. Generally during rolls, drummers have to reduce their velocity to keep up with the more frequent hits. Reflecting this in your programming will allow your software instruments a degree of realism that is hidden when fed consistent velocities.
Step 2 - Check for Errors
Theres nothing worse than getting to the end of the writing process, arranging everything, committing your software instruments to audio, to then find a mistake! We’re all human, and we all make mistakes. So taking a few minutes to listen through to each part carefully will save you time down the line. Double stacked notes can trigger two of the same sample at once, missing crashes can be a copy and paste error, and overlapping notes with expression pedals can ring out for ages, sounding horrid! Take the time. Check it over.
Step 3 - Consolidate MIDI to big file
This next process is something that I personally do, but everyone is different. I like to have all my midi files starting at bar one, beat one of the session, not the song, allowing me to move seamlessly between sections inside of one large file. Inside of pro tools this can also solve some issues where notes that overlap slightly are occasionally not played, or unable to be written into the section. It also makes things easier when sending files to people which is necessary on some sessions. To me, it also looks cleaner, but like i say, this is a personal thing. Regardless though, single large midi files help in a number of ways and are worth considering at the very least.
Step 4 - Humanise Midi
A vital part of making parts gel together, is to humanise midi performances. Like we mentioned last week, if parts are played perfectly they sound stale and uninteresting. No performance by a person is ever ‘perfect’ so when we hear perfect performances from software instruments we can tell that they aren’t real. This even applies to the sound of the patches themselves, where a great patch can be made to sound cheap by playing static lifeless midi.
Humanising midi includes changing the timing, velocity and duration of the notes to make them sound more lifelike. This can slightly improve an uninspiring midi part, but can really bring a well programmed midi part to life. For me, the best practice to achieve this ‘lifelike’ performance is through trial and error of the humanise parameters. What I’m looking for is the point between robotic and sloppy, siding slightly on the side of robotic. Before you do this though, duplicate your midi to another playlist, so you can always go back to the original file.
To clarify, adjust the notes so they are just off the grid. Randomise the velocities slightly outside of your programmed parameters so they keep your desired dynamics, but without identical velocities. Modify the length of the notes to not be exactly equal with those around them.
Step 5 - Commit MIDI to Audio
The final part of the midi process for me is to commit the midi to audio. This reduces the strain on memory and cpu, finalises the performance, and reduces the chances of missing files down the line. It may be unlikely, but you may have a sample library issue stopping you from getting your exact settings back. You may want to send the files on to someone else to mix or produce, and they may not have your software instruments. In addition, certain sample libraries play different samples at the same points in sessions meaning your performance from the sample library may change with each play through. If any of this applies, then committing the midi to audio is definitely worth doing as it keeps you covered and ensures consistent playback conditions.
Once the midi parts have all be consolidated, I like to save this as a new session, and get rid of all of the midi tracks, keeping access to them inside of the previous session for the sake of cleanliness.