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Q. How can I best connect several MIDI synths/keyboards to my computer?

By Martin Walker

To record multiple MIDI instruments to different tracks in Logic simultaneously, tick the 'Auto demix by channel if multitrack recording' option, and set each MIDI input source to different channels.To record multiple MIDI instruments to different tracks in Logic simultaneously, tick the 'Auto demix by channel if multitrack recording' option, and set each MIDI input source to different channels.

I really need some advice on how to set up my synth collection. I have a Korg Kronos, a Yamaha Motif, a Roland Jupiter 80, and a Roland JD–XA. I also have an audio mixer and three different types of monitors. I'm going to get a multi-channel MIDI interface and some MIDI cables, and want to connect everything so all synths work through MIDI into Logic. I already have everything going through the mixer so I can record audio, but want to have everything working through MIDI (not just the Kronos, as it is at the moment).

Kevin Whereat

SOS contributor Martin Walker replies: This situation faces all of us when we start collecting keyboards and synths, and the initial setup will evolve over the years as we acquire more MIDI gear, or change what we have. You can already record the audio output from each of your synths via your mixing desk, and then route the output of the mixer back into Logic via a spare pair of inputs on your audio interface. But the beauty of recording MIDI from each synth is that this captures the note and expression data from your performances — so you can edit this after recording to correct any wrong notes or tighten up dodgy timing using Logic's quantise facilities, and you can overdub extra notes, or record further passes of performance controls such as pitch bend, modwheel or aftertouch, too.

The simplest approach is to connect the MIDI output of each synth to a different MIDI input on your multi-channel MIDI interface, and then connect the corresponding MIDI output from the interface to the MIDI input of each synth. This will allow you to record the MIDI data from one or more of your synths into your DAW when you play their keyboards, and then when you select playback in Logic each and every MIDI track recorded in your song will play back through your synths in real time. To avoid confusion it's best to disable any currently unused MIDI ins and outs in your DAW — this just makes your list shorter — and rename each of the used interface inputs and outputs, with a short, easy-to-read and appropriate name for each synth. (For example, your Logic MIDI inputs and outputs could be labelled Kronos, Motif, Jup80 and JDXA).

Then locate and disable the Local MIDI control within each of your synths. In the default Local MIDI On condition, when you play a note this MIDI data is forwarded directly onto the synth so you immediately hear the result. But when the MIDI data is sent to your DAW and then returned to the synth to play back the note, you'll instead trigger two notes. By disabling Local MIDI control, only the notes and other data being played back via your DAW will be heard, which avoids 'ghosted' notes and prevents MIDI loops. Everything should now be in place to record and play back your synths via your DAW. An advantage of using an audio mixer is that you don't need to switch on your computer to make music, but note that if you want to play your synths without your computer switched on, you'll need to re-enable Local MIDI control.

Things get slightly more involved on the MIDI side if you intend to use software synths, or to add hardware synth modules which lack keyboards. In these situations you must decide which of your keyboards you want to use to 'play' the other devices. The chosen keyboard's MIDI output should be routed within Logic to the MIDI input of the appropriate project track, and then the track output routed to the software synth, or to the MIDI output to which you've connected the synth module. The keyboard you choose should be dictated by the sounds it's playing — for instance, if I'm playing a grand piano sound I'd always route my 88-note keyboard controller to it, while a monophonic synth will probably be OK played back via a keyboard with a two– or three–octave span, and a polyphonic synth sound by a keyboard with four or five octaves.

SOS Reviews Editor Matt Houghton adds: Martin's given some great general advice on hooking everything up, and for most DAWs that's pretty much all you need to know. But if you need to record multiple synths' MIDI outputs to different MIDI/instrument tracks in Logic simultaneously you'll need to tweak some Logic Pro settings, as the default is to receive all MIDI inputs on the record-armed/monitored tracks.

To route individual MIDI devices to different tracks in Logic, go to the Advanced preferences pane and select Show Advanced Tools. Choose Project Settings / Recording / 'Auto demix by channel if multitrack recording'. You can then engage Record Enable in the track header of each track you want to record to (the buttons will blink red to indicate which tracks are armed for recording), and in each track's Track Inspector, choose a unique MIDI channel via the MIDI Channel pop-up menu, and set the desired hardware synth to transmit on that channel. That should allow you to record all your synths's MIDI outputs to dedicated tracks in Logic, or have each one trigger a different virtual instrument. Note that until you finish recording you'll only see MIDI recording into the currently selected track — when done, the MIDI data for the other tracks being recorded will become visible.

Published February 2020