Thursday, March 25, 2010

What's a MIDI File - An Interview With Yamaha's MIDI Song Producers

Here at Yamaha's Online Services, we talk quite a lot about Yamaha's MIDI files. We talk about how you can use them to play along with your favorite keyboard songs, and of course we talk about the latest files released each month. But we don't talk much about the files themselves.

What goes into making these files? What makes them worthy of bearing the Yamaha name? To get these answers, we went straight to the source and asked some of Yamaha's Japanese MIDI producers for the low down on Yamaha's MIDI files. These are the musicians and programmers responsible for the MIDI song files that come pre-loaded on Yamaha's keyboards, as well as the songs we sell at Yamaha MusicSoft and Internet Direct Connection, so feel free to think about these answers the next time you listen to a song on your instrument.
Q. Let's start simple – what are MIDI files, and what is their appeal?

A. First of all, MIDI is a universal music format. This means that anyone can record a performance and play it back by using a MIDI file. It also means that professional performances can be recorded in a MIDI file, then played back precisely by any MIDI instrument.

Some advantages of MIDI files are that players can easily change notes, tempo, sounds, and so on when they use MIDI. MIDI provides flexible accompaniment tracks to play along with, and also allows players to study and change the arrangements of songs. This flexibility of changing musical elements is an advantage of using MIDI, especially when compared to pure audio tracks. MIDI files can also include various data, like scores, chords, and lyrics, other than main musical performance data. These kinds of data can be used in many occasions, even if players do not use MIDI files in a performance setting.
Keep reading for the full interview, including tips for cool uses for MIDI files on your instrument, details on what makes Yamaha's files the highest quality files around, and what exactly goes into the MIDI production process.
Q. So, as someone who creates the MIDI files we sell on our website, what is it that you actually do? What does creating a Yamaha MIDI song file entail? Walk us briefly through the process.

A. When we create a MIDI file version of an existing song, we first plan the main arrangement and instrumentation, based on the original version of the song. We then start writing the score. At this point, we need to decide which parts of the song to include, since all parts might not fit within the 16 tracks available in the MIDI file format. Then we have to choose the correct instrument sounds for each part of the song and edit them to sound right. At that point we’re ready to start programming and recording the actual music.

To do this we edit and input the MIDI data by using MIDI sequencing software. In this process, Yamaha’s MIDI producing team uses various editing techniques, not only recording the notes, pitch and dynamics, but also system exclusive messages, such as effects, that make the performance as real as possible. In some cases we need to consider data compatibility issues, to make sure that the files will play back appropriately in all of Yamaha’s MIDI instruments. Then our mixing engineer and producer do a final mix of the song by balancing volumes and effects, and finally our quality assurance team checks the file to make sure it meets all of Yamaha’s standards.

Q. Yamaha puts a lot care into making sure that their instruments are top quality, and that same care goes into MIDI file creation. But what does that mean in the final product? How does Yamaha's famous quality come across in a MIDI file?

A. Yamaha has a set of “XG MIDI Song File Creation Guidelines” that the MIDI production team follows whenever we create XG MIDI Song files. These standards specify that the arrangement of song must be highly musical and well-written. This means that a complete Yamaha MIDI file is never based solely on playing or programming what is written on a score. To reach a high quality level, we keep editing and listing to the data while focusing on musical elements, such as the nuances of pitch change, dynamics and timing until we're satisfied that the file can't get any better. In order to maintain the highest quality, Yamaha’s MIDI producing team does not compromise this content creation process. As a result, Yamaha’s MIDI song files not only sound great, but the data in each file is clean and easy to work with or edit.

The authenticity of Yamaha’s MIDI files also has much to do with the both the technology of Yamaha’s instruments and the creators themselves. All of the produceres are professional composers and arrangers with excellent musicality. You can see this in the orchestration, chord progression, and phrasing of our MIDI song files. The MIDI producers also take into account the characteristics of each instrument sound to get the maximum effect. Especially in the case of Yamaha’s Mega Voices, you can also see the importance of the masterful recording techniques our producers use.

Q. Since Yamaha's keyboards are compatible with most types of MIDI files, there are lots of websites that provide song files that work on Yamaha keyboards. What makes Yamaha's files different from the files on other websites?

A. First off, all Yamaha’s MIDI song files are perfectly compatible with Yamaha’s MIDI instrument functions and guarantee that the musical performances in each file will be perfectly reproduced on Yamaha’s instruments. Beyond that, Yamaha’s files contain useful data other than main performance data, such as lyrics and chords. Plus, Yamaha’s MIDI files are 100% legal in terms of copyright protection.

Q. What are some of the coolest uses for MIDI files you've seen?

A. There are lots of great uses for musicians and hobbyists. One thing I’ve seen is MOTIF users importing Yamaha’s MIDI song files to use the data for arpeggio and phrasing patterns in original performance and compositions. With some basic MIDI software, you can also convert the performance data to a score that you can print out. I’ve also seen users play a Yamaha MIDI song file through a Yamaha instrument, and record it as an audio file, then send it to his/her cell phone as an original ringtone.

Beyond that, professional commercial composers and song writers use MIDI all the time. By using MIDI files they can change the key, tempo and other aspects of the song freely. This gives them the advantage of flexibility and helps them responding to clients’ requests in a timely manner. Recently it has become possible to change key and tempo with audio; however, the flexibility of audio is very limited because of drops in sound quality that occur during editing.

- Doug