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  • Chris Anderson

Music Revision - Music Technology

There was a time that pretty much everything you heard was an acoustic instrument. Film and TV music was recorded using orchestras, pop groups and singers would sing and play live (unless they were on Top Of The Pops). As time has gone on though, more and more music is made using music technology (though it has been around and used for decades). In this blog I’ll briefly write about music technology.



MIDI

Musical Instrument Digital Interface - Invented in 1983 it is a standardised way of connecting electronic instruments. Back in the day instruments would be connected via a MIDI cable. The round connectors would have 4 pins. The IN would connect to the OUT and vice versa. Nowadays though USB is used. You can send up to 16 channels of data to MIDI equipment, and Channel 10 would always be for percussion/drums.


General MIDI has 128 voices, or patches. This is a standardised list in that every MIDI console will have the same instruments for the same numbers (though some lists start at 0 and others start at 1). As the proficiency of digital instruments developed so has MIDI in that you can now have banks of patches and some modules can have upwards of 5,000 patches.


You can use MIDI with a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) such as Cubase, and this enables you to connect your MIDI instrument via a computer and play/record your music. The digital signal is then converted into notation and a sound. MIDI effects can also be added using a knob or slider in addition to the notes themselves. This can be done live as you’re playing, or added afterwards.



Synthesizers

In the 70’s and 80’s synthesisers had lots of different sliders and knobs - to produce lots of different effects and sounds. These were known as analogue synthesizers. Then as the 80’s progressed, so did synthesizers (we know them as keyboards now). A lot of the knobs and sliders disappeared and instead you’d press a button (or key in a number) to get a different sound. Some of these tried to replicate the analogue sounds of their predecessors - not very successfully IMO - but most mimicked acoustic instruments digitally.


By the 90’s software synthesizers became a thing and the ability to connect them to computers to use with software became more prevalent. More knobs and dials would be added, and as LCD touch screens became a thing the controllers would be there.



Samplers

A sampler will let you record a snippet of music which you can then modify (process) and playback. Modifications can be pitch, speed, direction…to name but three. There is no limit to what you can record and use in a sampler. You can then insert the sample into your own work. Many artists have done this to great effect over the years.



There have been many other songs that use samples. Maybe try doing your own song using a sample - being sure to give credit where it’s due!



Another way of using a sampler (or a sample) is by over-dubbing audio. Over-dubbing is where tracks get layered on top of each other. In a recording studio you normally record the rhythm section first starting with drums. This gives a solid foundation for the other musicians to follow. It’s unusual to record the entire band at once as you get a lot of instrument bleed onto other tracks, (that is to say, drums on a vocal line (for example)), however sometimes this can be effective.



Sequencers

This is a piece of equipment, or software, that allows you to record, edit, and playback sounds. Usually they are scored using MIDI and audio tracks. A piece of software like Adobe Audition (or even Audacity) is a kind of a sequencer. You can record multiple tracks at once or individually. With the correct equipment, you can record many different instruments in their own channel, all at the same time. Once recorded you can then edit the tracks and mix them down to a single track. Unlike MIDI which restricts you to 16 tracks, Adobe Audition (for example) will allow you to easily work on up to 32 tracks.


Remix

A remix is when a DJ (usually) or record producer, sometimes even the artist themselves, will take a song and remix it into a different style (normally a dance/club version). They’ll take the original audio and add a faster, or heavier drum beat. They may also add some other instrumentation using synthesizers. This is Calum Scott singing a cover of Robin's Dancing On My Own and the remix by Tiesto.

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