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MIDI Home Recording Studio Essentials

If you plan on establishing a MIDI home recording studio there are some essentials you will need to acquire, including controller, sequencer, and interface.

MIDI controller

A MIDI controller is a device that can control another MIDI device. MIDI controllers come in many different formats. In fact, a MIDI controller can be anything from a synthesizer to a drum machine or a computer to a xylophone.

When MIDI first came out, your controller choice was limited to a keyboard, but now you can choose among keyboards, wind controllers (for saxophones or other wind instruments), guitars, and drums. So even if you don’t play piano, you can find a controller that resembles an instrument that you know how to play. Look around, and you may find one (or more) MIDI controllers that allow you to create music your way.

Sequencer

Although you can get stand-alone sequencers and sequencers integrated into a synthesizer, you probably want a computer-based sequencer for your home studio. The reasons for this are many, but the overriding factor is that you can have your MIDI and audio tracks in one place, and a computer-based sequencer gives you more-powerful editing capabilities than a sequencer that’s contained in a box and that uses a tiny LCD screen.

Of course, if you want to do only a minimal amount of MIDI in your studio, you don’t necessarily need all the power of a computer-based sequencer program.

For example, imagine that you have a drum machine and an 8-track recorder that has synchronization capabilities (your owner’s manual describes whether the recorder can synchronize with other devices) and that you play guitar-based music.

Being a guitar freak, you want to use six tracks for your guitars and two for your singing. With a MIDI connection from your drum machine to your recorder, you may be able to synch these two machines and wait to record your drum parts until the final mix.

This effectively gives you a lot more tracks — one for each drum sound that you’re using because you can adjust the volume, pan, and sound of each instrument in your drum machine. This setup is similar to recording each instrument on a separate track in your recorder.

MIDI interface

The MIDI interface allows you to send and receive MIDI information from a computer. Many sound cards have a MIDI port, but if you end up doing a lot of MIDI sequencing and use more than one sound module or external controller, you need a separate MIDI interface, such as the one shown in the following illustration.

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MIDI interfaces come in a staggering variety of configurations, so you need to consider several things when you buy a MIDI interface. The following questions can help you to determine your needs:

  • What type of computer do you own? MIDI interfaces are usually configured to connect to your computer using either a USB port or an audio interface, and audio interfaces use one of three available options: PCI, FireWire, or USB. You determine which option to use by the type of port(s) you have in your computer.

    For example, most Macs have a USB and FireWire, whereas a PC may only have a USB port (though you can add FireWire ports if you like). Having said all that, most dedicated MIDI interfaces use USB ports, which come with nearly all computers nowadays.

  • How many instruments do you intend to connect? MIDI interfaces come with a variety of input and output configurations. Models are available with two ins and two outs, four ins and four outs, and even eight ins and eight outs. You can also buy “thru” boxes, which have one or more inputs and several outputs.

    If you have only one or two instruments, you can get by with a smaller interface (in this case, a 2x2 interface — two ins and two outs — would work great). If you have many instruments that you want to connect, you need a larger box.

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