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Does MIDI Have an Image Problem?

Does MIDI Have an Image Problem?

What do you think of when you first hear the word MIDI?

In a few weeks, MIDI will have been around for 34 years.  For the first 10 years after MIDI was developed it was on the cutting edge of technology. If you look at a Keyboard Magazine from 1989, you'll see tons of ads for MIDI software and hardware. Remember at that time  "Sequencers" only recorded MIDI.  There was no audio recording on early computers and MIDI was at the center of music production. 

Also in the first 10 years of MIDI, there were a lot of additions to MIDI's core capabilities,  The initial MIDI specs was only 7 pages. For an inside look at the early  days of MIDI, take a look at this article by Jeff Rona, the first president of the MIDI Manufacturers Association.

Then in 1991, the MMA announced General MIDI.  GM was a big step forward for MIDI, It allowed interoperability of song files between different devices.  It created a whole new industry of companies that made General MIDI Standard MIDI Files.  Roland released the Sound Canvas and Korg released the M1R both of which were hugely successful. But there was also another side to General MIDI. 

"Several years ago, Roland Corporation and Passport Designs spearheaded an effort to establish a new minimum "industry standard" for MIDI instruments. The basic idea was to create a universal, specific preset instrument and drum setting that any manufacturer could easily include within their synthesizers. This new specification became known as "General MIDI." If this idea was accepted, GM could eliminate several of the problems and complexities that the MIDI composer had previously faced. In other words, there would finally be reasonable assurance that his or her composition would play back properly with the intended instrument and drum sounds, regardless of the brand of synthesizer being used. More importantly, this would also establish a "consumer level" MIDI standard that would require far less effort to master for those without a great deal of technical expertise."

 by Michael Tyler
Computer Music Products

The above is a quote from Michael Tyler and it points out the other side of GM. Here is a link to his full article explaining details of the General MIDI spec. 

Article3 - General MIDI, Why You Need It!

The General MIDI Standard is vitally important for compatibility with musicians all over the world. Music software and hardware makes it possible to share your compositions with practically anyone, anywhere.

If you look at this quote, you'll find the words minimum, general, standard and consumer level. The early 90's was the start of the first big computer technology boom based on MultiMedia. There was a period where Roland, Yamaha and other musical instrument companies were selling technology to larger computer companies and there was a lot of attention on MIDI. But it also meant that a lot of people's first introduction to MIDI was not through pro level sounds, but lowest common denominator computer sound cards.

In 1988 a panel of computer-game CEOs stated at the Consumer Electronics Show that the PC's limited sound capability prevented it from becoming the leading home computer, that it needed a $49–79 sound card with better capability than current products, and that once such hardware was widely installed their companies would support it. Sierra On-Line, which had pioneered supporting EGA and VGA video, and 3 1/2" disks, that year promised to support AdLib, IBM Music Feature, and Roland MT-32 in its games; the cards cost $195 to $600, A 1989 Computer Gaming World survey found that 18 of 25 game companies planned to support AdLib, six Roland and Covox, and seven Creative Music System/Game Blaster.

by Wikipedia

See a link to the full article below,


Sound card - Wikipedia

For some years, most PC sound cards have had multiple FM synthesis voices (typically 9 or 16) which were usually used for MIDI music.

Now 20 years later, years, unfortunately many people associate "MIDI music" with low quality computer "beeps and blips".  There are a number of websites that take a nostalgic look at older websites and they always mention animated GIFs and MIDI. 

Maybe nothing sums up MIDI's image problem better than this video  about "The Cinco MIDI Organizer" from the Tim and Eric Awesome Show on Adult Swim. 

There are also some new hobbies that are MIDI based like the very popular Black MIDI sites that we covered in an earlier article on the site. People like to hack things with MIDI , for example taking MP3s and converting them into MIDI, then back to MP3s. 

These all contribute to the image that "MIDI Sounds Bad".  In fact , MIDI doesn't sound at all. It simply controls things.  

Also MIDI has become more and more transparent.  In a recent survey of MIDI users some younger MIDI users actually said, "I don't use MIDI, I use USB".  

The reality is that when you play a software synth from an external keyboard or use something like a Push controller, you are connected to your computer via USB, but what is being sent over USB are the same types of MIDI messages that made those awful sounding beeps and blips 20 years ago. 

That's the beauty of MIDI , it's an abstract control language so it can adapt to whatever new sound technologies and products are developed.

Black MIDI is a strange combination of music, visuals created by notation or often with the use of a music learning game called Synthesia.  The idea is to put so many notes in the pieces that the notes themselves become a type of synthesis and also create stunning visual effects. 

This original video has over 220,000 views, but that's small compared to something like Bad Apple from the Blacker -SuperMariobros2.  This video has over a million views and over 8 million notes!.

by The MIDI Association

So when you think of MIDI, do you think of these?


Old Web Advent Calendar

Titled the 'Old Web Advent Calendar,' the webpage features 24 doors counting down to the big day. Behind each is another page from that early web goodness. Those unforgettable MIDI songs. Those precious, teeny tiny animated gifs. Behind the second day's door is a wall of intrusive pop up windows, heralding from a time when that stuff wasn't sponsored by Audi.

Or things like these innovative new MIDI controllers?

Whichever of these MIDI related items you think of first, it's okay,  but remember they are all MIDI.  
MIDI never gets old because it always connects to the newest products and technologies available. 
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