Keyboard Magazine "In The Studio"
Article # 15
Making The Most Out Of Midi
Alright, you've got some midi synth's, a midi drum machine and a midi sequencer and you're now ready to record some tracks ! Here's some tips that can really save some studio time, money and hopefully expand your creativity !
First, you bought all your midi gear to save time in the studio. Make sure that all your programming was done correctly. Recording your midi composition to cassette is a good way to sit back and analyze your work outside your midi environment. In this way you can hear things different than in your midi room. I prefer the car to check things out but a walkman will also do fine. Check that the tempo is correct. Once you transfer your midi song to tape, there's no changing tempo later. Make sure your midi song is in the right key for the vocalists. It's an easy affair, with most midi sequencers to transpose the entire song, but it's not possible to transpose your song without changing tempo after your data has been transferred to either an Analog or Digital tape recorder.
Choosing sounds is probably the most time consuming process of all. It may be easy writing the arrangement, but finding the right synthesizer patches that compliment each other and yet fit the song itself is no simple matter. If you wait to do this in the studio, you could blow your whole budget in one shot. When picking out patches, samples or whatever... keep in mind that if the vocals are not present yet, how the sounds you've chosen will work with the vocal tracks later. The drum sounds are also important to all the other sounds. For instance, if you've picked all your synth patches and/or samples listening to a particular drum machine. Then later, in the studio, you pick more ambient drum sounds, and all of a sudden, your original synth sounds may not work. Try to figure out before hand, what kind of stereo panning, placement and ambience you'll use on your synth sounds. In this way, you'll have that much better of a chance of being positive that your choices will be right.
Of course, even the best laid plans change once you get into the studio. Which brings us to the next step. Being prepared for anything! Let's say for instance you've picked all the right sounds, but the arrangement was not the Producer's cup of tea. You'd have a few choices. First find another producer! Ah but, you like your producer and you trust that he knows best. Well then at this point, I hope you still have your original data saved somewhere. What? You didn't save the sequences ? Not even the Drum machine data ? Well, happy reprogramming Dude ! Make sure you save it all !
Now, if you have to re-program your midi composition in the studio, here's a trick that seems to work. A lot of programmer's transfer their midi drum sequence ( provided that their drum machine has midi in/out capability ) into their sequencer. This can usually be accomplished by setting your sequencer up as follows: 1. Pick an unused track on your midi sequencer 2. Set that track up for an unused midi channel ( channel 16 is a favorite for midi drum data, but any channel will do ) 3. Place your midi drum machine in external Midi Clock mode 4. Place your Midi sequencer in record. Your drum machine should start at the top of the song and play all the way down the entire length of the song. If your sequencer has Keyboard thru ( Midi echo ) turn it off for this process. 5. After the track has been recorded all the way down, Stop the sequencer. Put the drum machine in internal clock mode. Connect the midi out of your sequencer into the midi in of your Drum machine. Be sure that your drum machine is set to receive on the proper midi channel ( in this case channel 16). Put the sequencer in play and the drum machine should play in time with all the other midi instruments recorded into your sequencer.
With the midi drum machine parts recorded into your sequencer, when you edit the arrangement of your song, you will be editing the drum parts as well. Many programmers choose to record the drums step by step on the sequencer when composing. It is totally a matter of taste whether the drums are initially programmed via the sequencer's quantization and looping features or the drum machine's. Sometimes both !!!
In fact this brings us to another interesting way that we at Unique have been programming. With so many sequencers to choose from, it has become apparent different sequencer's have different features "unique" ( Pardon the Pun ) to themselves. Some have different song assembly features, some have cut and paste features, others have step recording, others have graphic editing, some have notation editing, some have numeric editing, some have looping features, some have shuffle modes, but none of them make the coffee in the morning !!! What it all boils down to, is that thanks to midi, we can make use of more than one midi sequencer for composing and editing. It has already become standard procedure to bounce data in real time via midi out to midi in of one sequencer to another, sync'd up via midi clock to make the best of what each unit has to offer. For instance, let's say on your sequencer you've had to bounce between two tracks to create a multi-track midi effect. But now all the parts are together on one track (made up of different midi channels) and you want to edit the Bass which is on midi channel 1. Well you could use a midi filter and connect it between your sequencer's midi output and input and bounce only that track to your second track to punch in and fix it. But another way would be to bounce that track to another sequencer, even if you have to rent one, to fix the problem. Bouncing midi data between two different midi sequencers works like a charm! Some midi sequencer's can even read 16 midi channels from one track and filter each midi to it's own track to allow easy editing. But aside from editing, Quantization is the key factor here. Every sequencer quantizes differently! And some are better suited for certain instruments like bass or strings and etc. Most of the time it's an aesthetic thing that causes a musician to choose one sequencer over another but it is the features of that sequencer that causes a musician to create in a different way. For instance a certain popular sequencer quantizes poorly in real time but is very exact when you record in step time. This can be very useful if you want that style for a certain part, but maybe you want a different feel for another track. One of our client's uses an early sequencer, made before midi, for bass lines because it feels like it has more punch and is more on the down beat.
This has always been true with drum machines too. Basically a lot of rap records feature the same cheesy sounding drum machine. Don't get me wrong! I ain't got nothing against rap music, but have you noticed that the reason why the drum beats have the same feel is because it's the same machine. You could sample that machine's sounds into some other machine and if you programmed the same beat into the new machine the beat would definitely feel different. It hinges on the rate of the internal clock. For instance machines with a 24 beat per Quarter note (BPQ) internal clock have a noticeable more on the beat feel than machines with 96 BPQ internal clocks. Even when triggered by an external clock these characteristics don't change.
Getting back to transferring your data to tape, I'd like to stress the importance of a dependable Click or sync track ( see my column Jan 1985 "Putting Sync Tones and Click Tracks On Tape"). Without a solid way of syncing things up, it's a royal pain to change the chorus or verse later. Always try to leave the sync or click track on the tape at all costs. I've seen people erase their sync track only to pull their hair out during a mix session, when they've realized that a synth sequence had to be changed.
Once again, I can't stress it enough. Save all your data ... Even after you've bounced the drums into your sequencer, you still may only want to change the drum part. It may cost a few bucks more to archive all your work but you'll never know if you might need that data for a special remix or when you've sold your song to Coca Cola as their next commercial!
Being prepared for anything is The Real Thing !
Back to Bobby "Guitar" Nathan's Keyboard Magazine Articles Page
copyright 1985 - Bobby Nathan - May not be used without consent!