Audio tracks or MIDI tracks
October 17, 2015 2:57 AM   Subscribe

If I want to try to do a fair amount of editing, is it better to record audio tracks or MIDI tracks?

I'm learning Logic Pro and I've been trying to record tracks from my synthesizer. So far, I've been recording audio tracks and have been using different synth patches. I realize that if I want to use the software patches, I need to record in midi, but if the patch quality is the same, is it easier to edit audio tracks or midi tracks? Are there any big advantages or disadvantages of one or the other (either for editing or sound quality, etc)?
posted by gt2 to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Disclosure: I am far from a pro at this stuff.

If you are using a synthesizer then I would definitely go with midi. Editing midi is easier because you can actually change the note information (what note is played, note attack, duration, etc...). You can pretty much always go from midi to audio. To use a somewhat awkward metaphor, using just audio is kind of like trying to edit a book and only being able to rearrange the pages instead of edit individual words. But that's what you have to do if you are playing in live instruments. (not that there aren't lots of fancy tools for editing/timestretching/etc audio tracks, but generally they are going to degrade sound quality)
posted by ropeladder at 3:44 AM on October 17, 2015

The difference between MIDI and PCM in audio work is roughly analogous to the difference between vector and raster formats in graphics work. The main practical difference is that with audio it's easier to do the "raster-style" edits at a high enough resolution to ensure that unintentional edit artefacts won't audibly affect the final result. PCM is essentially one-dimensional while raster graphics are two-dimensional, so audio file sizes don't blow out to anywhere near the extent that raw raster graphics do as you wind up the resolution.

If you're starting with MIDI material, then doing all your editing in MIDI will mean your edits don't cause even theoretical degradation before final mixdown. But if your source material includes any recorded audio, and you want to pre-mix that with something MIDI-derived and then do further editing on the result before final mixdown, you still don't really need to worry about degradation.

Logic Pro uses 32-bit floating point PCM internally, if I recall correctly; that gives you such massive precision and such massive dynamic range that the final mixdown to 16 bit integer PCM is always going to lose way, way more information than all the edits before it have done. And because 16 bit integer PCM can encode audio to beyond the accuracy of human hearing, that lost information is simply never going to matter.

Yes, professional graphic designers do use vector editing tools to ensure that the final render won't ever come out with visible jaggies or blur. But they don't generally have tools that will happily work with raster images at millions of pixels per inch, which is kind of like what Logic Pro PCM audio editing is.

Short answer: pick your editing tools on the basis of how much you like what you can do with them, and don't worry about Doing It Wrong until you have genuine and specific reason to.
posted by flabdablet at 4:53 AM on October 17, 2015 [2 favorites]

If by editing you mean time quantize and note stretching / compressing, editing audio is going to cause artifacts. Editing MIDI, of course, doesn't.

If you've got a particular hardware patch you really like but can't perform the part you want to record, you could always program the part in Logic, route the MIDI back out to your synth, and record the audio that way.

If your edits are just looping and cut / paste edits, either workflow should be fine. Use whichever is more comfortable.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:11 AM on October 17, 2015

What do you mean by "edit" exactly. MIDI and Audio are just so very different there are usually really obvious circumstances in which you want to record one rather than the other.

A) If you are unsure of the "sound" / Patch you want to use for a particular part / voice or unsure about arrangement details then you could just do it all in MIDI.

B) But if you are sure that you want this patch / sound and you are "committing" to it then you just record the Audio.

C) Record Both simultaneously - which is something I used to occasionally do. Arm both an Audio and an MIDI track and record both as I manually play the synth. then you have that exact take but also a record of what you played which can be handy later on if you can't remember or what to change it.
posted by mary8nne at 5:58 AM on October 17, 2015

There are a couple of takes on this.

One is - keep things MIDI as long as possible. As noted my many answers above, this lets you change the patch, or otherwise reprogram the synthesizer, during the development of the track. There are lots of things you *can* do with plugins, eq, effects and other audio editing to change the timbre of the synth sound after it's recorded to audio, but changing the basic nature of the synth sound like changing oscillator types, or heavily modifying the ADSR of the synth, etc, can't really be done once the sound is bounced down.

The second is - record to audio as soon as possible to stop you from endlessly tinkering with the synth sound and driving yourself crazy, which forces you to at least commit to something, which can stall actual development of whatever you're working on.

But generally, while you're still fleshing out the melody/effects/synth sound you're going for, keep things in MIDI.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 11:19 AM on October 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, lots of great answers. I am mainly a keyboard player, not a synth player, so this is all helpful. mary8nne, by edit, I mean that I might want to correct notes or rhythms that sound wrong to me, as well as cutting and splicing parts. I also might want to change the dynamics in different sections. Nothing too fancy. I'll try your method and try to record both at the same time.
posted by gt2 at 12:03 PM on October 17, 2015

^In that case, you DEFINITELY want to go the MIDI route. Correcting pitch, rhythm and dynamics are not something you can do all that easily with audio, but they are the bread and butter of working with MIDI.
posted by darkchocolatepyramid at 4:26 PM on October 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Lots of good advice above, but I just want to stress:

If you record the MIDI, you can *always* reproduce the audio you would have recorded, by running the midi out into your synth and recording the audio from that.

The reverse is not really possible.

I would record both, personally.
posted by RustyBrooks at 5:10 PM on October 17, 2015

Since you're in the digital domain, audio and MIDI will sound exactly the same.

It might be helpful to think of MIDI as sheet music that gets read and played by your computer. When you record your keyboard performance as MIDI the computer "listens" and transcribes the score, then can play it back perfectly and identically every time. Anything you can do with a pencil, eraser, and staff paper you can do with MIDI - change pitches, duration, tempo, transpose, make corrections, write in a 2nd part, "give" the sheet music to another musician (synthesizer), etc.

Audio is more like a single performance recorded to tape - for your purposes you can't easily do much more than splice or erase.
posted by STFUDonnie at 9:53 PM on October 17, 2015

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