What is MIDI and what does it have to do with making beats?
When I was a teen, I worked part time in a music studio in NYC. I used to hear about MIDI all the time, but I never knew what it was, and I never asked. All I saw was the engineer guy working in studio controlling a bunch of hardware with just his beat machine. I Just thought, “this guy is advanced” and left it at that.
Without getting too technical, MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It was invented in the 80s so that instruments could communicate with one another. MIDI itself does not produce sound, instead produces and transmits information about how sounds should be triggered or handled. For example, midi information could be a note, the length of a note, how hard the note was struck, and control signals such as volume, audio panning, vibrato and timing/clock signals that set and sync the tempo between multiple devices.
MIDI and BEAT MAKING
The role MIDI plays in making beats in this day in age is a simple one. You might go to a studio or watch youtube and see someone making beats on a computer with what looks to be a small keyboard.. or banging out a beats on something that looks like a drum pad. These are called MIDI controllers. They don’t make sound on their own, but rather allows you play the sounds on the computer. These controllers also allow you to control and change parameters for things in your software or DAW without having to use a mouse.
There are two types of MIDI controllers: performance controllers that generate notes and are used to perform music through buttons, keys or pads, and controllers which may not send notes, but transmit other types of real-time events by the use of knobs and buttons. Most devices are a combination of the two types. If you were to be making beats using software without a MIDI controller, you would have to place your drums, notes and samples by hand or use your computer keyboard (yes, the one you type on) as a drum machine and piano keyboard. Needless to say, it would be easier and look much better to bang out beats on keys or drum pads. For beatmaking, you’d need one of the two. Controllers range from small boxes with a few knobs, to units with drum pads, to large full size keyboards, and they usually come with a software package that includes at least one plugin or a lite version of a DAW. There’s so many types out there that you won’t find it hard to get one that fits your style both practically and visually. Some people prefer to use pad controllers while other swear by keys. People like me like to use hybrid controllers that feature keys AND pads. I personally like M-Audio Axiom 49, which has 49 keys, 8 drum pads and adecent amount of sliders and knobs for fine tuning things if need be. Some of the more popular Keyboard controllers are made by Alesis, M-Audio, Roland and Korg .. while the popular pad-only controllers are made by Akai, M-Audio and Korg.