Want to use your external MIDI devices with Pro Tools? Record MIDI from a keyboard and then end up with audio tracks of the MIDI sounds? But how does MIDI become audio into Pro Tools? How do you connect everything? Isn’t MIDI a form of digital audio? Ring a bell? This tutorial is for you!
MIDI is NOT audio
Yes. This IS the place to start. Most, if not all of the difficulty that people have with utilizing hardware MIDI devices with Pro Tools has to do with a common misunderstanding of the differences between MIDI Data and Audio Signals.
More specifically, problems are caused by the assumption that somehow audio signal is carried along MIDI cables, when it is not.
MIDI is a command language
Back in the early 80’s, leading synth and keyboard manufacturers (Yamaha, Roland, Sequential Circuits) devised a standardized way to digitally interface electronic musical instruments. They called it MIDI. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface.
MIDI made it possible for one MIDI device to send commands, or instructions, to another MIDI device.
For example: if you had a keyboard equipped with a MIDI interface, you could connect it to another MIDI equipped device, say a MIDI Tone Module. Then you’d be able to use the keys on the keyboard to play the sounds in the MIDI Tone Module.
There are a specified set of commands that can be sent and received via MIDI. There are basic MIDI Note Events such as:
- Velocity (how hard the note is played)
- Note Number (what pitch is being played)
- Note On (when the note is hit)
- Note Off (when the note is released)
- Pitch Bend (if you’re using the pitch bend wheel/knob)
There are also commands for adjusting the following parameters via MIDI:
- Selecting Sounds
- Adjusting a synth filter
- Sustain Pedal On/Off
The more you get into it, the more you’ll realize that MIDI is one of the most important musical inventions ever.
What You Need Before Starting
- Installed MIDI Interface, or Pro Tools interface with MIDI
- Two MIDI Cables
- One External “MIDI Device”, like a synth or sampler
- Audio Cables to connect your MIDI device to your Pro Tools interface
- Basic familiarity with your MIDI device
Step 1: Cable Connections
There are MIDI and audio connections you’ll need to make.
- MIDI Out of your MIDI Device to the MIDI IN of your Pro Tools Interface.
- MIDI Out of your Pro Tools Interface to the MIDI IN of your MIDI Device.
- Connect the LEFT & RIGHT AUDIO OUPUTS of your MIDI sound source to the LINE INPUTS of your Pro Tools audio interface.
Note: If you are using an interface (like the 003, 002,), make sure you’re aware of which line inputs you’re using. You’ll need to know this later in the tutorial.
If you haven’t already, launch your Pro Tools application.
Step 3: Create a New Pro Tools session
In Pro Tools 8, in the session QuickStart screen, select Create a Blank Session and press OK. If you’re using Pro Tools 7, create a New Session.
Step 4: Track Menu
Go to the Track menu → Select “New…”
Step 5: Creating New Tracks
In the New Tracks dialog window, create the following tracks:
- 1 x MIDI Track
- 1 x Stereo Aux Input
- 1 x Stereo Master Fader
Step 6: Viewing the Mix window
Go to the Window menu → Select Mix.
Step 7: New Tracks Look Like This
In your Mix window you should see your three newly created tracks. They should look something like this.
Step 8: Aux Input I/O
Notice the Aux Input Tracks I/O Settings. By default, it’s set to no input.
Click on the Input tab of the Aux track. (The input tab is the one that says no input).
Hover your mouse over the word interface to reveal a menu of available interface inputs.
Select whichever Inputs on your Pro Tools interface that you connected to the audio outputs of your MIDI sound source.
It’s a good idea to keep things organized when it comes to Pro Tools Inputs and Outputs.
Right-Click on the Aux Track input tab. (The one you just set in step 8). When you do, you’ll get a little context menu.
If you’re using an Apple Mighty Mouse and are not sure how to enable it’s right-clicking feature, this post will show you how.
In the Rename pop-up dialog, enter something that will make it easy for you to identify this input as the one that your MIDI sound source is connected to.
The I/O tab of your Aux track should now show the new name.
Step 13: Assigning MIDI I/O
In my set-up I’m using a Roland XP-50 as the MIDI device. Notice that my MIDI track inputs and outputs display this correctly.
We may want to set specific MIDI input and output channels for this track. Especially if we are using a multi-timbral workstation keyboard.
Click on the MIDI track Input tab.
Select All Channels. This will allow you to send MIDI into Pro Tools from whatever channel your controller keyboard / midi device happens to be set to.
Click on the MIDI Track Output tab to set the MIDI output channel.
Set it to Channel 1, unless you have a reason to do otherwise.
Go to the Options Menu at the top of the Pro Tools screen and select MIDI Thru. If it is already checked, there is no need to select it.
Click on the Record enable button on the MIDI track to get it ready to record some MIDI. (Get ready to play something, too!).
For the next few steps we’re going to work in the Edit window.
Use the Command+= keyboard shortcut to toggle windows.
Or, go to the Window menu → Select Edit.
Click on the Record button on the Pro Tools transport. It will start flashing red.
When you’re ready to start playing your keyboard, press the Play button on the transport.
Pro Tools start recording.
Play in something from your keyboard and Pro Tools will record the MIDI data not audio signal onto the MIDI track.
Click on the Record Enable button on the MIDI track to take it out of record mode.
You should now be able to play back your newly recorded MIDI track and hear the audio from your MIDI sound source through the Aux Track.
Try it out.
Go to the Track menu → Select New…
In the New Tracks dialog, create a new Stereo Audio track. Then press “Create”.
You’re going to be sending the signal from the Aux track into the new Audio track.
You’re going to use a BUS to do this.
Click on the Output tab of the Aux track.
Hover your mouse over the word Bus to reveal a list of available Buses.
From the list of Busses → Select Bus 1-2.
Check to make sure the I/O tab of your Aux track looks something like this.
Once again, right-click on the Output tab of the Aux track and select rename.
Rename Bus 1-2 “Print”
Check to make sure the I/O tab of your Aux track looks something like this.
Click on the Input tab of the Audio track.
Select the Bus called “Print” from the list of available buses.
You’ve just assigned the output of the Aux track to the Input of the Audio track.
Now, whenever you want to record the sound of your MIDI device (which is going to the Input of the Aux track), you would just change the output of the Aux track to be set to “Print”, instead of the default “Analog 1-2”.
Click on the Record Enable button on the Audio Track to put it in Record mode.
Press Record and Play on the transport.
Pro Tools will now record the signal from the Aux track, in other words, from your MIDI sound source.
There it is! The sound of your external MIDI sound source recorded as an audio track.
Start learning Pro Tools online now at pttuts.com. Hours of expert instruction on the essentials of Pro Tools. Topics include Audio Recording, MIDI, Editing, Mixing, and Pro Tools Workflow. Members forum and access to the complete Music Production QuickStart Guide are included! Check it out right now.
- The right-click-renaming is not available in versions earlier than Pro Tools 7.3 ↩