MIDI and Songwriting: Enhance – Don’t Hinder Your Creative FlowBy Brian Casel • Category: Songwriting Articles
MIDI is an enormously powerful tool in the music producer’s arsenal. The technology has been around for years and has proven its value in almost every musical style. It allows the composer enormous flexibility and control over both the audio output as well as the structure of the recorded performance itself. But does all of this flexibility truly enhance the composition process?
In this article, I will offer some tips for harnessing the power of MIDI without hindering your creative flow. This is the second article in a two-part series. If you’re new to MIDI and computer recording, check out the first part: MIDI and Songwriting: How it Works, What You Need To Know.
It’s All About the Sound
Part of the beauty of MIDI is it gives you the ability to choose among many different instruments or sounds for each part. These days it’s not uncommon to store gigabytes of instrument samples and synth patches to use in your productions. You might have 100 different Rhodes keyboards, each with a slightly different tone or effect. Maybe you found 500 drum kits to cover all the bases from jazz brushes to booming hip hop beats. You can spend hours or even days sifting through your massive library, previewing sounds until you arrive at the perfect voice for any given part of your song.
Here’s a word of advice. Prioritize your creative process wisely! First spend your time crafting, performing, and recording the musical part in your MIDI sequencer. Later you can spend the time choosing the perfect sound for the output of that part. If you spend too much time picking sounds before you record the part, you risk expending your creative energy and losing your inspiration. Be sure to lay down the goods as soon as inspiration strikes!
Start out by quickly dialing in a sound or instrument that’s along the lines of what you’re going for. A basic grand piano sound, a generic pad synthesizer, a tight drum kit perhaps. Then go wild jamming, crafting, and recording a killer take. Once you’re finished recording the part, go back and choose the perfect voice for your part. A perfectly colored piano, a drum kit with just the right punch, or perhaps a synth that creates the perfect “airy” atmosphere.
The Perfectionist’s Best Friend. Or is it?
MIDI allows you to go back and tweak, fix, re-record, and perfect to your heart’s content. With just a few mouse clicks, you can drag a misplaced note back into place. Perhaps you’d like to adjust the intensity of how you delivered part of a riff. Maybe you need to shorten or extend the length of time your final chord rings out. All of these are easily accomplished using MIDI technology. But that’s just the beginning.
How about when you’re faced with the challenge of performing an extremely fast and complex part but physically you can’t pull it off? MIDI laughs at this challenge! You can slow down the tempo during recording, then speed it back up during playback. Or even record the root notes first, then go back and add the harmonics separately. With MIDI, the recording and editing capabilities are endless. But then you’re faced with that age-old question. When is the song finished?
It’s up to you to hold back. Limit the amount of time spent analyzing, tweaking, and perfecting each note and rhythm. You will do your song a great service by keeping the human element intact.
I’m here to say that quantization is NOT your friend! It’s easy to overuse this seemingly cool feature. Quantization tells the computer to adjust your performance to conform to a strict tempo. Yes, you could vary the degree of quantization, which can be effective. But I say avoid using it altogether. Allowing your own human error to peep through can give you that extra touch of character, soul, and groove. Don’t be afraid to let your song breathe!
In the end, it’s all up to you. Everyone has their own style and process. Over time you will see what works and what doesn’t. Just be sure to take a step back and be aware of how the technological tools at your disposal are enhancing or hindering your creative process.
Serve The Song