MIDI or Audio for recording your keyboard tracks?


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I am primarily working on piano compositions and recording with Garageband. I'm curious, for those of you who play piano and record, which approach do you prefer for recording, MIDI or audio?
 
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It depends what your goal is.

MIDI records are a history of what you played, but contains no sound whatsoever.
Some advantages: You can edit simple mistakes by editing the MIDI data (e.g. change MIDI note C to a C#). You can play it back using an entirely different sound (a better piano sound you find later, or a whole different kind of sound).
Some disadvantages: It will never sound exactly the way you played it unless you play it back using the same instrument you created it on. If you recorded it using the GarageBand piano sound, it will never sound the same except when you play it in GarageBand. If you recorded it using the sound in your keyboard, it will never sound the same except when you play it with your computer connected to that keyboard.

Audio records sound. So the file will always sound the same, and can be played back at any time by you or anyone else, with no extra gear or particular software.
 
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It depends what your goal is.

MIDI records are a history of what you played, but contains no sound whatsoever.
Some advantages: You can edit simple mistakes by editing the MIDI data (e.g. change MIDI note C to a C#). You can play it back using an entirely different sound (a better piano sound you find later, or a whole different kind of sound).
Some disadvantages: It will never sound exactly the way you played it unless you play it back using the same instrument you created it on. If you recorded it using the GarageBand piano sound, it will never sound the same except when you play it in GarageBand. If you recorded it using the sound in your keyboard, it will never sound the same except when you play it with your computer connected to that keyboard.

Audio records sound. So the file will always sound the same, and can be played back at any time by you or anyone else, with no extra gear or particular software.

I'm clear on the differences. I was just wondering what approach others prefer in their own work, given their focus. I'm pretty much focused on composing solo piano instrumentals, with little else on the recording. I'll have to experiment more and see.
 
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I record MIDI and I record audio, depending on what I'm trying to accomplish. If you want to be able to listen to your recording outside your computer (or have anyone else listen to it) then you need to record audio. If the only time it will be played back is within garageband, and you'll have no need to manipulate either the MIDI or the audio afterwards, then it doesn't really matter which you pick. Though if you record the MIDI, you can always record the audio later, which doesn't work the other way around.
 
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I've taken the guitarist approach of recording both on single takes. I typically like the audio as my base, but having the midi for re amping, or changing sounds is nice. I think I use the midi most for adding in the perfectly timed pads and whatnot underneath my audio. Hard for me to argue against adding a string layer and pad layer in seconds to my piano audio recording.
 
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I think that it also depends on what type of piano you are recording on/from. If you are using a digital piano, recording a MIDI sequence is a fantastic way to capture the note information. That way, you can edit any wrong notes.

If you are using an acoustic piano and doing a live recording, then audio is one of the only ways to go, unless the piano has a retrofit for MIDI transmission.

I have released 3 specific 'solo piano albums' in my discography. The first one, recorded back in 2009 (but released in 2015), was recorded live and to an audio recorder. I took those files, cleaned them up in my studio, and released it that way. Any mistakes I made while playing are still there, because I did not record it to MIDI from the digital piano I was using.

The second piano album was recorded on another digital piano and I recorded MIDI into a sequencer. I then fixed any errors, and played it back through the digital piano while recording to a WAV recorder. I mastered the files and released it as an album.

For the most recent solo piano release, I kind of did the same thing, but had some older original audio recordings of piano songs I did on another instrument. I added EQ and such to them and cleaned them up. I also wrote some newer material and I used a different digital piano for those songs. I EQ'd them as well and tried to make them sound similar to the other original songs that were done 'audio only'.

On this recent release, most of the compositions were done on a Kawai, one being an older one and one being something newer that I bought. Since they were from the same company, the piano sounds were fairly close anyway, so it took very little to make the sound similar. The exception was one song that I recorded live on a Casio Privia a number of years ago and it is very different than the Kawai piano sounds. I left it alone, since the only I could make that one sound like the others was to physically play it again...

If you are using an acoustic piano, unless the piano has a MIDI retrofit kit on it, your main option is recording to audio. I have tried 'audio to MIDI' programs in the past, but unless the audio is a monohonic lead line, it generally does not turn out too well.

Grace,
Harry
 
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happyrat1

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I'm a half assed mad scientist composer who can't play the same notes consistently so I always end up recording as multitrack MIDIs (Cakewalk CWP's actually) then recording the playback in Audacity to create MP3's.

For me all the fun is in what new sounds I can squeeze out of my gear. :D :D :D

Gary ;)
 
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I think that it also depends on what type of piano you are recording on/from. If you are using a digital piano, recording a MIDI sequence is a fantastic way to capture the note information. That way, you can edit any wrong notes.

If you are using an acoustic piano and doing a live recording, then audio is one of the only ways to go, unless the piano has a retrofit for MIDI transmission.

I have released 3 specific 'solo piano albums' in my discography. The first one, recorded back in 2009 (but released in 2015), was recorded live and to an audio recorder. I took those files, cleaned them up in my studio, and released it that way. Any mistakes I made while playing are still there, because I did not record it to MIDI from the digital piano I was using.

The second piano album was recorded on another digital piano and I recorded MIDI into a sequencer. I then fixed any errors, and played it back through the digital piano while recording to a WAV recorder. I mastered the files and released it as an album.

For the most recent solo piano release, I kind of did the same thing, but had some older original audio recordings of piano songs I did on another instrument. I added EQ and such to them and cleaned them up. I also wrote some newer material and I used a different digital piano for those songs. I EQ'd them as well and tried to make them sound similar to the other original songs that were done 'audio only'.

On this recent release, most of the compositions were done on a Kawai, one being an older one and one being something newer that I bought. Since they were from the same company, the piano sounds were fairly close anyway, so it took very little to make the sound similar. The exception was one song that I recorded live on a Casio Privia a number of years ago and it is very different than the Kawai piano sounds. I left it alone, since the only I could make that one sound like the others was to physically play it again...

If you are using an acoustic piano, unless the piano has a MIDI retrofit kit on it, your main option is recording to audio. I have tried 'audio to MIDI' programs in the past, but unless the audio is a monohonic lead line, it generally does not turn out too well.

Grace,
Harry
Hi, thank you so much for this information. It makes complete sense to me. I am using a digital piano and am working with MIDI on my tracks for the reasons you described. I will go audio if I decide to add guitar or vocals. My hope is to create a four song EP and release it.

One question for you: When you compose for piano via MIDI, do you play your piece straight through (as if via audio w/ your acoustic), or do you create distinct sections/bar lengths ahead of time to structure the piece as you go?
 
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Hi, thank you so much for this information. It makes complete sense to me. I am using a digital piano and am working with MIDI on my tracks for the reasons you described. I will go audio if I decide to add guitar or vocals. My hope is to create a four song EP and release it.

One question for you: When you compose for piano via MIDI, do you play your piece straight through (as if via audio w/ your acoustic), or do you create distinct sections/bar lengths ahead of time to structure the piece as you go?
It depends on how I am led to play :)

I know that sounds somewhat cliche, but it is true.

I remember when I first bought the Lowrey EZP3 digital piano back in 2017. Since Kawai owns Lowrey, the sounds on the digital piano were Kawai and it immediately brought me back about 8 years when I had a Kawai MP5. I LOVED that piano sound. It was same feeling on the Lowrey, but the piano sounds were even better on the the new one. Within two days, I had 11 songs recorded into my Korg Kross Sequencer. I waited a couple of days and started listening to them and noticed that there were very few mistakes, so I listened again and the song names came at that point. The album was released later in 2017.

I literally sat down at the thing and was inspired to play it and wrote the songs.

It also happened back in 2009 when I worked as a full-time musician at a nursing home (which became my career). They had a Yamaha CLP-240 digital piano there and hooked up a digital recorder to the outputs and simply started playing. 12 songs came out of two days and I had another album. Since I did not record this one via MIDI, what I palyed was what went on the album.

There are other times, where I actually start noodling on something and it turns into a song, and other times I record them for later, usually in the sequencer. I will listen to them later and see if anything comes out of them.

Sometimes I have very solid ideas and I simply play them beginning to end in the sequencer. Sometimes a verse will come to me and that is what gets archived.

I tend to be more structured when I am writing full soundbeds. That is when I usually do the intro/verse/bridge/chorus/solo/ending type thing and track it in the sequencer for each instrument. I do this especially when I am writing orchestral music.

When I do a recording session, I usually go from the start to the end of the song, mistakes and all, into the sequencer. I can fix mistakes later, but I may not be able to duplicate the feeling that I have when I am playing right then, so I go through the whole thing (including stumbling sometimes...). It is my training that causes me not to stop and start over again, because an orchestra or band will not usually wait for you to start over again if you make a mistake :)

Solo piano, to me, is completely different than doing anything else. It is truly when I am the most vulnerable, musically. The piano will not lie. There are many times that I do not even know what time signatures I am playing in until I try to write the song out on paper or with notation software. It is really neat to listen to something after you've done it to find that you have intertwined 4/4, 6/4, 7/8, 5/4, and other time signatures into your creation. It can get a little crazy when you try to add other instruments to that because the sequencers need to know what time signature you are in.

I believe that we are in a wonderful time where the sounds we use on our synths and digital pianos can sound SO GOOD. If you use software based piano programs, they are even MORE detailed because of all of the hard-drive space that can go to just one sound with all of the nuances.

I think that I have may written a novel again, and I apologize. I hope that I provided something in this novel that you can use.

Grace,
Harry
 
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It depends on how I am led to play :)

I know that sounds somewhat cliche, but it is true.

I remember when I first bought the Lowrey EZP3 digital piano back in 2017. Since Kawai owns Lowrey, the sounds on the digital piano were Kawai and it immediately brought me back about 8 years when I had a Kawai MP5. I LOVED that piano sound. It was same feeling on the Lowrey, but the piano sounds were even better on the the new one. Within two days, I had 11 songs recorded into my Korg Kross Sequencer. I waited a couple of days and started listening to them and noticed that there were very few mistakes, so I listened again and the song names came at that point. The album was released later in 2017.

I literally sat down at the thing and was inspired to play it and wrote the songs.

It also happened back in 2009 when I worked as a full-time musician at a nursing home (which became my career). They had a Yamaha CLP-240 digital piano there and hooked up a digital recorder to the outputs and simply started playing. 12 songs came out of two days and I had another album. Since I did not record this one via MIDI, what I palyed was what went on the album.

There are other times, where I actually start noodling on something and it turns into a song, and other times I record them for later, usually in the sequencer. I will listen to them later and see if anything comes out of them.

Sometimes I have very solid ideas and I simply play them beginning to end in the sequencer. Sometimes a verse will come to me and that is what gets archived.

I tend to be more structured when I am writing full soundbeds. That is when I usually do the intro/verse/bridge/chorus/solo/ending type thing and track it in the sequencer for each instrument. I do this especially when I am writing orchestral music.

When I do a recording session, I usually go from the start to the end of the song, mistakes and all, into the sequencer. I can fix mistakes later, but I may not be able to duplicate the feeling that I have when I am playing right then, so I go through the whole thing (including stumbling sometimes...). It is my training that causes me not to stop and start over again, because an orchestra or band will not usually wait for you to start over again if you make a mistake :)

Solo piano, to me, is completely different than doing anything else. It is truly when I am the most vulnerable, musically. The piano will not lie. There are many times that I do not even know what time signatures I am playing in until I try to write the song out on paper or with notation software. It is really neat to listen to something after you've done it to find that you have intertwined 4/4, 6/4, 7/8, 5/4, and other time signatures into your creation. It can get a little crazy when you try to add other instruments to that because the sequencers need to know what time signature you are in.

I believe that we are in a wonderful time where the sounds we use on our synths and digital pianos can sound SO GOOD. If you use software based piano programs, they are even MORE detailed because of all of the hard-drive space that can go to just one sound with all of the nuances.

I think that I have may written a novel again, and I apologize. I hope that I provided something in this novel that you can use.

Grace,
Harry

Thank you Harry for your thoughtful reply, and I understand your reasoning for differences in approach to playing and recording. Oftentimes I find myself sitting down to play and, as if guided by some unknown entity, I improvise a melody, chord progression, or motif etc. for several bars. Like you, I feel inspired to go with it, right then. I am actually working on a piece right now that began in that way but which I need to re-create in the DAW since I only recorded it on video. Your post makes me think I should just sit down and play the whole piece through and see what happens. I can fix the mistakes later. I basically have two main themes (or sections) with added variations that I am working on. I am using the Ravenscroft 275 piano plug in on my iPad. Boy oh boy, what a sound!
 
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Thank you Harry for your thoughtful reply, and I understand your reasoning for differences in approach to playing and recording. Oftentimes I find myself sitting down to play and, as if guided by some unknown entity, I improvise a melody, chord progression, or motif etc. for several bars. Like you, I feel inspired to go with it, right then. I am actually working on a piece right now that began in that way but which I need to re-create in the DAW since I only recorded it on video. Your post makes me think I should just sit down and play the whole piece through and see what happens. I can fix the mistakes later. I basically have two main themes (or sections) with added variations that I am working on. I am using the Ravenscroft 275 piano plug in on my iPad. Boy oh boy, what a sound!

I have heard about the Ravenscroft, and others, and think that they are really well done :)

I am a hardware guy, myself, and rarely use the PC for any soft synth sounds. I normally use my PC for file manipulation and mastering. I have been using Reaper for the last few years for mixing, but still initially record to my Tascam DP32-SD (for the immediate interface) and then send those tracks to the DAW for mixing.

There are still some wondeful things happening with hardware keyboards and that is where I like to be. In addition to the Kawai piano sounds I have, I custom program most of my sounds and I have gotten great results with the Kross 1-88 for piano sounds. They work well live too and are much more immediate than bringing a computer/tablet on stage to interface with, at least for me.

I wish you luck, sir, on your compositions. If you ever want additional stuff on there, let me know and maybe we can work together or something :)

Grace,
Harry
 
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