With our routing sorted, it’s time to record some MIDI!
In May 2022’s workshop, we got stuck in with making MIDI connections in Studio One. We learned how to set up external instruments, delved into keyboards and knob controllers, and discovered that MIDI tracks are called Instrument tracks in PreSonus‑world. But now that we have our MIDI hardware connected, let’s look into how we can start recording MIDI notes and examine all the tools that enable us to do that.
So, hit that Record button and you will be capturing MIDI notes the moment you start playing. Studio One doesn’t stand on ceremony: it immediately leaps into recording when the button is clicked or you use the * (asterisk) shortcut on the numeric keypad. You’ll see little lines in the block of colour being generated on the track as you play. These are an overview of the notes you’re playing. You might also see wiggly lines from modulation or aftertouch being picked up from your performance.
You can press Stop or bump the space bar to stop recording. Hit the Return to Zero back arrow and then play back the notes you’ve recorded. The key thing to remember is that it’s the notes you played that have been recorded, not the sound of the synthesizer or instrument you were hearing as you played. These are MIDI notes, and the beauty of them is that you can edit them and direct them to any instrument you like for playback. You can check this out by changing the preset on the software or hardware synth you’re using and then playing your recorded MIDI notes back again.
If you create another Instrument track alongside the existing one, you can record more notes to play a different instrument while the original one is playing back. It’s important to note that the ability to play back different sounds at once is not a universal trait in MIDI instruments. With software instruments, you can simply create another instance of the plug‑in and have different presets loaded on each. With a hardware synthesizer, you probably only have one of any given model, and the capabilities can vary enormously between synths when it comes to playing back more than one sound. The ability to playback more than one sound is known as being ‘multitimbral’, and is most often a feature of digital synthesizers. Most hardware analogue synths can only play the sound that is currently set on their front panel.
So, by using another hardware synth, or loading up more instances of plug‑ins, you can record tracks of MIDI notes side by side, and your composition will start to emerge.
The key thing to remember is that it’s the notes you played that have been recorded, not the sound of the synthesizer or instrument you were hearing as you played.
Timing & Transport
At the moment it’s all a bit free‑form, which is fabulous, but it’s probably more common to work to a time signature, bars and beats, and perhaps even apply some quantisation to keep things together. There are also various tools in the transport section which will give you a smoother and more ordered experience.
If you move your attention to the Transport Bar at the bottom of the Studio One screen, you’ll find it packed full of useful information. On the left you have an indication of MIDI coming in and out, and then some performance meters and information on sample rate and how much time is available for recording. Next, you have the timeline section, which shows you where the song pointer is currently positioned, in both seconds and a choice of bars, frames and samples. The middle section shows the familiar transport controls with rewind/forward, marker navigation, Return to Zero, Stop, Play, Record and Loop on/off, with information on the loop position denoted by left and right markers. Then we have a small section of tiny icons that can help us set up our timing and recording options.
The first option is Sync, which allows you to set Studio One to respond to an external MIDI Clock or MIDI Machine Control. In most cases, having Studio One as the master clock is the best option, so leave this off. To the right is an icon that will enable the Replace recording mode. Normally, if you attempt to record MIDI over the top of an existing MIDI clip, the notes will get added to, or overdubbed onto whatever’s there. With Replace enabled, the new notes will wipe any that already exist. The cog button beneath it reveals the rarely found Record Panel, which we’ll come back to.
Next up is one of the most essential tiny buttons. Pre‑roll sets the transport to start playing back a specified amount of time before the point where recording is enabled at the song position cursor. With Pre‑roll off, you hit Record and Studio One immediately starts recording from the cursor. With Pre‑roll on, you get a bar to prepare yourself. Below Pre‑roll is Auto Punch In, where recording will only take place between the left and right markers — very useful for ‘dropping in’ to a section of an existing track.
And then we have the greatest of all music‑making tools, the metronome. No, wait, the greatest tool is quantisation, but the metronome is a close second, along with Pre‑roll. Anyway, a metronome generates a click that follows the time signature (to the right) and tempo (further to the right) that you’ve set for your song. That click gives you a good chance at staying in time with yourself and your other tracks. Pre‑count, meanwhile, vies with Pre‑roll for the title of being the next greatest tool. Pre‑roll starts playback from a bar or two before the cursor, which, assuming you are recording mid‑song, plays your song leading up to the point of recording. With Pre‑count there’s no playback, you just get a count‑in before recording starts. Using Pre‑roll or Pre‑count with the metronome is a recipe for successful recording.
There are some options associated with the metronome; for example you can choose the sound of your click for each beat, offbeat and accent. You can even store different combinations as presets. You can set the Pre‑count/Pre‑roll length and whether the metronome clicks only during the Pre‑count or carries on during playback.
Hands up who’s never heard of the Record Panel before? It took me by surprise as I was examining the Transport Bar, and it’s brought up by clicking that cog icon. Here you can set some advanced MIDI recording options and have fun with Note Repeat.
The first section is Record Mode, which changes a few settings about what happens when you record. On the left we have a button that toggles between the default overdubbing and Replace, which you can also do with the Record Mode Replace button that I mentioned earlier. Next, Takes to Layers is relevant when recording in Loop mode, so that on each loop, a new take is created in a Layer. This works in conjunction with the Instrument Loop Record section, where you can set Record Takes (which generate a new take on every loop) or Record Mix (where a new Layer is created with everything you’ve done so far when you hit Stop). It sounds a bit complicated, but makes sense once you start using it.
Input Quantize can also be found as a big IQ button at the top of Studio One, next to the quantisation settings. If you enable it, all your inappropriate timing can be pushed into the grid of your choice. For most modern tempo‑focused electronic music, this is the greatest tool of all. Of course, many people like to do a sneaky bit of quantisation after they’ve recorded their performance just to tweak things a little; that’s fine, you can do that. But leaving IQ on is the fastest way to get things done, in my opinion.
Undo Last Loop and Undo All Loops are spectacularly useful, and do just what you imagine they would.
I’m not sure why we find this feature in this particular place, as it feels like a fun creative tool rather than a recording option. The basic idea is that it’s a ratchet effect, where whatever note you play is sounded repeated at a regularity specified by the Rate parameter. It’s great for thumping bass lines, rhythmic chord progressions and gating effects. But there’s a little bit more to this than meets the eye.
Using the Key Remote, you can use keys on your MIDI keyboard to change the rate and other settings as you’re playing. The Note Repeat is baked into your recording and so appears in the recorded clip; it’s not an effect that is placed over the top of something on playback, which is unexpected but also makes it very useful as a performance tool.
Single Mode is deliciously odd: you specify a note, and then you can play that note at different speeds depending on which key on your keyboard you play. I had trouble working out what use this would be until I loaded up a drum kit, and it all became very clear. You can quickly and easily generate interesting drum patterns by combining Note Repeat and Single Mode. The last button is Note Erase, and that will delete any existing notes of the same note value. So it’s like Record Replace but with single notes rather than the whole performance, and thus great for overwriting a single drum sound in a kit.
Now that we’ve recorded some MIDI notes and become familiar with the various options available to us, our next task is to investigate how we can edit those notes once we have them. Tune in next month, and we’ll get into it.