Overview of Desktop Production and MIDI:
Getting started with producing music on your computer

Personal production is one of the many ways that you can use your laptop computer. One of the goals of this course is to get you started producing music, and your computer will be the center of your music-making activities. As a system, your computer, GarageBand, Reason Adapted and the Oxygen 8 keyboard share many features with the tools found in any studio. This week we'll take a look at some of those, and see how we can get set up to start producing music.

Topics This Week

An Overview of the Production Process

How does a musical idea make its way from a composer's imagination to an audio CD or an MP3 file? Throughout this course we'll be thinking about that question as we take a look at how we use our computer in the desktop music production process.

A musical idea can take many forms, from a simple drum and bass pattern to a complete song with melody, lyrics and chord changes. How the final product sounds, has a great deal to do with musical arrangement and the tools used to produce it.

The steps in producing a piece of music are:
  1. Developing a Musical Idea - A musical ideal is the song you're going to produce, and the instruments you'll use in the arrangement.
  2. Recording - The performances that make up our musical arrangement are recorded using MIDI or audio sources.
  3. Editing - Recorded performances can be edited in a variety of ways to change either the original performances or the entire arrangement.
  4. Mixing - The individual tracks that make up a multi-track recording are combined and processed using effects to create a final stereo version.
  5. Mastering - A final version is prepared for distribution either as an audio CD or an MP3 by making adjustments to the overall sound of the recording.

Core Audio and MIDI

All MIDI and Audio connections to your laptop are managed in directly in OSX. Core MIDI and Audio allows applications on your computer to access MIDI and Audio devices attached to your computer.

Configuring Audio/MIDI Setup

Audio and MIDI devices attached to your computer are automatically recognized by the Audio MIDI setup application found in the Applications>Utilities folder. Audio/MIDI setup is used to recognize and configure the following types of devices:

  1. Audio Interfaces
  2. USB MIDI Controllers that can be used directly with sequencing applications.
  3. USB and Firewire MIDI Interfaces that allow MIDI hardware synthesizers and controllers to be used with sequencing applications. The synthesizers and controllers connected to a MIDI interface are not automatically recognized and need to be defined within Audio/MIDI Setup.

Many recent MIDI devices that connect to a Mac using USB or Firewire are "class compliant," meaning the drivers needed are included in OSX. Your M-Audio Oxygen 8 II is an example of such a device, and should be recognized in Audio/MIDI Setup as soon as it's conected.

Other MIDI and audio devices that you use with your MacBook Pro may need a driver in order to be recognized in Audio/MIDI setup. In order to be recognized, the driver that supports the hardware device must be installed. It's always a good idea to check the manufacturer's Web site for the latest version of the driver. For example, drivers for M-Audio products can be found at: M-Audio Driver Search.

A detailed explanation of MIDI configuration using Audio MIDI set up can be found at Sonosphere, a Web site maintain by Doug Wyatt, the programmer who designed the MIDI portion of OS X core services.

What is MIDI?

MIDI is an acronym for the Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and is a hardware and software protocol standard for communicating control information between various electronic music devices. The hardware section consists of physical connectors with five pin DIN plugs and jacks. The software part is basically a communications protocol that converts musical actions into binary code to which computers can respond. This language is transmitted in a serial fashion over a single line at a high rate of speed, allowing most musical actions to be communicated in real time. By connecting your computer to a MIDI synthesizer, you can take advantage of all of the high quality sounds stored in the instrument's memory. Since MIDI information contains only performance instructions for music playback rather than the sound data itself, MIDI data takes up relatively little space on your disk. For example, a four-minute song stored in CD quality audio will take 40 megabytes of disk space, while the same piece stored as MIDI information will use only 70 kilobytes! For a comparatively small investment in the MIDI sound module, you can get high quality sound without the high data storage overhead normally associated with CD quality audio.

Follow these links for a more detailed explanation:

MIDI Hardware Connections

MIDI Command Structure

MIDI Channel Messages

Take a look at this exercise using your Oxygen 8 and MIDI Monitor.

Sequencing: Basic Concepts

What does a sequencer do?

A MIDI sequencers is a software environment where we record, play and edit any type of MIDI data. There are several major manufacturers of MIDI sequencers. The main differences between their products are in the design of the user interface, or how you, the user, get things done in the program. In the last several years, manufacturers have focused on adding digital audio recording features to their products, making them very powerful platforms for producing music. These hybrid MIDI/audio sequencers are indeed becoming studios in a box. This week we will only focus on the MIDI features of a sequencer.

Common Sequencing Capabilities in GarageBand

There are a number of capabilities commonly found in any MIDI sequencer. This week we'll see which of these are found in GarageBand. Later in the semester, we'll do the same with Reason and come to some conclusions about the differences between the two.


All MIDI sequencers arrange MIDI messages in a grid that based on bars, beats and subdivisions of the beat.

Tracks and Channels - GarageBand, supports tracks that hold either MIDI or audio.

Record Modes Most sequencers enter note events in one of two ways:

Recording Options:

Assignment: Project 1

For this first assignment, you’ll produce a short piece of music using GarageBand. You can use either the lead sheet distributed in class, or a piece of your own choosing to create basic musical arrangement, once through the form. The project should include the following musical parts:

We’ll start the project in class by producing a drum and bass rhythm section arrangement. Sequence the melody and some sort of keyboard accompaniment part over the course of the next week. Bring the completed song file to the next class, where you will use basic editing techniques to fine tune the sequence. You’ll submit the finished project online at the end of class.

Review Questions

Some Things To Think About

Desktop Production Vocabulary