MIDI, AUDIO, AND THEIR CAPABILITIES WITHIN A DAW HISTORY OF MIDI AND SEQUENCERS MIDI was created in 1982 by Dave Smith and Roland and it’s been the answer to the demand for a universal standard that could allow interfacing between different pieces of musical equipment from different manufacturers. Since then, MIDI and sequencers have gone hand in hand, from the development of the legendary Atari ST (Fig. 1) to the modern DAW. Fig. 1 (Musictech.net, 2014) HOW TO RECORD MIDI Fast forward to our days, MIDI is still used as the universal standard by which musical equipment communicates, although the original type of connection used1 has been superseded to some extent by USB connections.
But how do we use MIDI to make music within the context of a modern DAW? The best way to approach that would be by using a MIDI controller, which could be for example a MIDI keyboard, drum pads, a MIDI guitar or a wind controller2. A MIDI controller allows us to control many different parameters of a music performance3, however, it’s important to remember that absolutely no sound is sent via MIDI, just digital signals known as events.
So how do we turn all this data into sound? To do that we need a sound generating device, which could be a synth or a sampler4. Using a keyboard controller is a great option for recording MIDI since it allows us to retain the human feel and to program polyphonically. However we Ableton users are so fortunate to have at our disposal a tool such as the Push 2, which I personally fell in love with, so I’d like to talk about that. First of all the Push 2 gives us all of the advantages mentioned above, but there’s more to it: as a musician, I felt quite surprised the first time I used a Push, by how just finding myself in front of a different layout of the keys could give new life to my creative process. I find this tool to be very user-friendly also for people who don’t play any instrument or don’t know much about music theory because you can easily set it up to play only the notes from a particular scale, which really frees up your mind when jamming. Not to mention the fact that it’s way better than a keyboard when it comes to drum programming. The pads respond immediately to the touch and this makes you feel like you’re really hitting that cymbal or that snare, whereas with a keyboard you can always feel the hit coming a bit late just because your finger takes that little more time to fully push the key down. HOW TO EDIT MIDI As we know, one of the biggest advantages of MIDI is the possibility to edit recordings. Ableton gives us many tools to do that. One thing we can do is quantize, that is basically getting the notes perfectly on the grid, hence perfectly on time. It goes without saying that this will nullify the natural time fluctuations derived from human playing. Of course, we can tell Ableton how much to quantize a performance, so we can get just the right balance between human feel and perfection, but I must say I’m kind of a purist and I’d rather re-record a performance if it’s just half-good than quantize it, keeping quantization just for extreme cases. HOW TO RECORD AUDIO When we want to record audio in our DAW there’s a piece of equipment that is absolutely essential: an audio interface5. We’ll notice that an audio interface will always have a USB, firewire or thunderbolt connection, some audio inputs, and some audio outputs. But let’s get into some details on how to record something: a guitar for example. Doing that in Ableton Live 10 is a very straightforward process, since it comes with built-in devices6 that allow us to shape our tone directly inside the DAW, basically allowing us to record our guitar by connecting it straight into the interface7. Of course, it’s never going to sound like recording a real amp, but the results we can get with some tweaking are astonishing indeed. The main advantage of doing this would be to maintain the possibility to change the tone even after the recording has taken place. Some important things to remember before recording are checking if the input level is healthy and not clipping and reduce the buffer size to minimize latency issues. HOW TO EDIT AUDIO One of the greatest Ableton features is warping. Warping allows us to bind an audio file to a grid, basically allowing to accelerate or slow down the clip without altering its pitch, but also to play around with the clip’s timing structure itself. Warping relies on an algorithm and Ableton provides us with different ones to suit the type of clip we are dealing with, for example, the beats algorithm is excellent for percussions. Bibliography Future Music, 2012. 30 years of MIDI: a brief history. Musicradar, [online] 3 December. Available at: [Accessed 12 May 2019]. Max Swineberg, 2014. The Basics of MIDI: Overview & Applications (Part 2 of 10), The Basics of MIDI. Available at: [Accessed 12 May 2019]. Arar, R., Kapur, A., 2013. A history of sequencers: interfaces for organizing pattern-based music. Proceedings of the Sound and Music Computing Conference, [pdf]. Abstract only. Available at: [Accessed 11 May 2019]. Swift, A., n.d. An introduction to MIDI. [online] Available at: [Accessed 13 May 2019]. Albano, J., 2019. MIDI Signal Flow; Instrument Tracks, Audio and MIDI Signal Flow. Available at: [Accessed 15 May 2019]. Albano, J., 2019. Hardware MIDI Instruments, Audio and MIDI Signal Flow. Available at: [Accessed 15 May 2019]. Maningo, E., 2011. What’s the Difference between Line, Instrument and Microphone Levels? [online] 18 October. Available at: [Accessed 16 May 2019]. Sweetwater, 2005. Mod Wheel. [online] 28 March. Available at: [Accessed 18 May 2019]. MusicGurus, 2015. How to set up external instrument in Ableton Live – Korg Volca Beats. Available at: [Accessed 19 May 2019]. MusicTech.net, 2014. Atari-520st. [image online] Available at: [Accessed 23 May 2019].