Today I’d like to show you how I record my MIDI piano parts! Basically, this is one of the most important steps in my entire production process. If it’s not an all-piano song, then it will be a dynamic and expressive guide for the orchestration.
1 – Prep your lead sheet
Print it and not down the intensity of each section from 1-10. Until quite recently I never used to to this, but the fun thing is that The Addiction Formula and my vocal teacher both say this is important.
And indeed, it helps so much with figuring out where your song comes from and where it goes! You can adapt your playing style to the intensity of the section, instead of just playing the same thing over and over just because it feels comfortable.
2 – Hook up your MIDI piano to your audio setup
Well, first things first: I actually never record piano audio. Virtual piano instruments are so advanced right now, you can make it sound like the real deal. So having some extra room to edit and perfect your takes is quite nice!
In my case, I just leave the cables on permanently because they all run pretty much along the wall. Perks of a small home studio 😉 I use a Yamaha S90ES, an Focusrite Liquid Saffire 56 and Logic Pro.
Don’t forget to choose the right External MIDI source in your DAW! When I was a beginner I totally didn’t get why I couldn’t record MIDI parts. I mean, the cabls were in the right ins and outs! Took me a while to understand I had to actually select the MIDI source. Ah well, you can’t be a pro in everything right from the beginning!
3 – Record all sections
Sometimes I record the whole thing at once, but most of the time I record all sections separately. Especially when it’s a totally new song and I haven’t practiced much, mistakes happen quite easily. It’s so much easier to just record sections in such a case!
When you turn on recording mode, don’t forget the clicktrack and TAKE YOUR TIME. You don’t have to start playing after one bar already. Especially when recording section by section, you can just glue them together afterwards. No stress!
After recording I put all the right takes in a track with East West’s Steinway piano (from Gold Symphony Orchestra).
4 – Timing
Check your timing and nudge everything that sounds off. Mind you, SOUNDS off. Sometimes stuff looks off, but it sounds perfectly fine. It’s natural to have slight tempo changes in every musical phrase.
Usually I move entire chords, to not damage the human element too much. Remember that nobody plays perfectly on time like a robot! Only on rare occasions I move a single note.
5 – Velocity
One of the things I love about recording MIDI parts, is that I can edit everything afterwards. Not only timing but also velocity is very important to fix before you start recording vocals. Usually I make the softer parts a bit softer and the louder parts a bit louder. This is very helpful for expression and dynamics in your vocal recordings. In music it’s hard to overdo it!
6 – Playback
Don’t forget to play back the whole thing to check if it’s exactly as you want it to be!