Welcome to Day 18 of 31 Days to Better Recordings.

We’ve talked about recording instruments with microphones quite a bit, but what about virtual instruments?

What if your song needs a piano, and you don’t own one?

What if you need an orchestra, but you don’t have the cash to hire the Nashville Symphony?

Then it’s time to take a trip to MIDI Town.

I Know What You’re Thinking…

Are you a recording snob? “MIDI is lame and sounds fake.”

I know. I kinda used to be a recording snob, too. Then I just tried out some of the virtual instruments out there. The truth is…a lot of them sound amazing.

If you mix them right, and if you factor in the cost of finding/hiring that weird instrument you’re looking for, virtual instruments make a lot of sense for most home studio folks.

The Benefits

Not too familiar with MIDI? Never really tried it? You should. Check out my Intro to MIDI video. That’ll get you moving in the right direction.

MIDI has some obvious benefits. Here are just a few:

  • Access to instruments/sounds that you would otherwise be unable to find/create.
  • The ability to edit the performance after the fact. This is HUGE. Play a wrong note? Play the wrong chord? Just go back and change those notes. You can’t do that with audio recordings.
  • The ability to change the sound after the fact. Recorded a piano part, but want to know what it sounds like as a Wurlitzer? Click…click…done.
  • The ability to quantize, i.e. automatically align the timing of notes to a grid. (Watch my video on How to Quantize MIDI.)

Do I use MIDI on my songs? Heck yes. ALL of the drums from my album Out of Indiana were created using EZDrummer (a MIDI drum module). I’m a fan.

The Downsides

As with most things, there are some downsides to using MIDI. Here are a few:

  • The patches sound fake. Yep, sometimes that’s the case.
  • The sounds are too perfect. Believe it or not, a pristine, crystal clear piano may NOT fit into your recordings. Sometimes you need something a little…dirtier.
  • You can waste a lot of time just finding the right sound for your song.
  • The ability to change/tweak the sounds and performance can lead to endless adjusting, never being satisfied, never being finished.

Needless to say, MIDI is a language we should all be able to speak. As a recording engineer, it can only help you to have a good, working knowledge of MIDI.

Day 18 Challenge

Do you like MIDI? Do you use it when you should perhaps be using a microphone and actually recording something? Explain.

Do you hate MIDI? Don’t you think you should give it a chance, and learn how to use it to make your tracks sound awesome? Explain.