Having access to an endless amount of sounds, textures, and instruments sounds like a good thing at first. Songwriters and producers often adopt a “more is better” approach when it comes to their work, so making music using MIDI seems like a good method for many. But, lean in a little closer, and you’ll see that making music using MIDI has plenty of drawbacks.
For the uninitiated, MIDI is an acronym that stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. In short, MIDI technology lets musicians record sounds straight to their computers where the sonic information can then be easily edited. In this article, we’re breaking down some of the drawbacks and benefits of making music with this powerful technology.
More musical options often translates to indecision and weaker musical directions
The “more” that MIDI delivers isn’t always a good thing, and can actually dampen your creative energy. An endless array of soundscapes and instrumentation options often detracts from the creative process because it gets musicians bogged down and overwhelmed by all the choices. Maybe you want to try using a synth patch for your next song, but which one should you choose? When you finally settle on one, should you tweak it to your specifications or stick with the original sound? Questions like these are valid and important, but they can distract a musician from creating music.
It’s also important not to underestimate the power of writing music on one instrument. Endless sound options can make it tougher to move in a concise musical direction. This mostly applies to the beginning stages of the writing process, not treating a song with extra instrumentation and production once it’s already been written.
MIDI can be hard to humanize and replicate in live settings
The quantization feature is a tempting but troublesome feature that often goes hand in hand with using MIDI. We’re quickly conditioned in music lessons and band rehearsals to strive for musical perfection, and quantization seems like a sensible shortcut to get there.
But making all the instrumentation in your MIDI-derived music could leave your work sounding dull and predictable (click here if you want ideas on how to write something totally unexpected). Music written and recorded with the humanity of mistakes and genuine feeling is usually more interesting to listeners than “perfect” sounding music.
And then there’s the live performance aspect of MIDI compositions to consider. Writing complex parts and quantizing them to musical perfection could leave you in a position of not being able to perform your own music live. This won’t be a major concern for every musician, but if you’re intent on being able to perform each and every part you write, maybe think twice the next time you set out to write new music using MIDI.
There is no right or wrong way to make music, and every method comes with benefits and drawbacks. But composing through MIDI is unique in the innate digital barrier that’s set up between a songwriter and the music they’re creating. None of this means that you shouldn’t write with MIDI, of course.
There’s a universe of great ideas you can access through writing like this that you couldn’t come across by strumming a guitar or plinking away at a piano. Instead of making music blindly over and over again and hoping for something interesting to happen, it’s always good to keep limitations and drawbacks in mind in order to compensate for them.
For example, if you get hung up on knowing what MIDI instruments to write with, try limiting yourself to something simple and easy to start with. Making yourself write within boundaries could actually help you get the most out of making music with MIDI.
Patrick McGuire is a writer, musician, and human man. He lives nowhere in particular, creates music under the name Straight White Teeth, and has a great affinity for dogs and putting his hands in his pockets.