The development of MIDI

By the end of the 1970s, electronic musical devices were becoming increasingly common and affordable in North America, Europe and Japan. Early analog synthesizers were usually monophonic (capable of playing only one note at a time), and controlled via a voltage produced by their keyboards. Manufacturers used this voltage to link instruments together so that one device could control one or more others, but this system was inadequate for control of newer polyphonic and digital synthesizers. Some manufacturers created systems that allowed their own equipment to interconnect, but each scheme used a different transmission rate, so one manufacturer’s systems could not synchronize with those of another.

Sequential Circuits engineers and synthesizer designers Dave Smith and Chet Wood devised a Universal Synthesizer Interface, which would allow direct communication between equipment from different manufacturers. Smith proposed this standard at the Audio Engineering Society show in November 1981. Over the next two years, the standard was discussed and modified by representatives of companies such as Roland, Yamaha, Korg, Kawai, Oberheim, and Sequential Circuits, and was renamed Musical Instrument Digital Interface. MIDI’s development was announced to the public by Robert Moog, in the October 1982 edition of Keyboard magazine. By the time of the January 1983 Winter NAMM Show, Smith was able to demonstrate a MIDI connection between his Prophet 600 analog synthesizer and a Roland JP-6. The MIDI Specification was published in August 1983.

MIDI’s impact on the music industry

MIDI brought an unprecedented state of compatibility which revolutionized the market by ridding musicians of the need for excessive hardware. In the early 1980s, MIDI was a major factor in bringing an end to the “wall of synthesizers” phenomenon in progressive rock band concerts, when keyboard performers were often hidden behind huge banks of analog synthesizers and electric pianos. Following the advent of MIDI, many synthesizers were released in rack-mount versions, which meant that keyboardists could control many different instruments (e.g., synthesizers) from a single keyboard.

MIDI introduced many capabilities which transformed the way musicians work. A musical act with as few as one or two members, each operating multiple MIDI-enabled devices, can deliver a performance which sounds similar to that of a much larger group of musicians. The expense of hiring outside musicians for a project can be reduced or eliminated. Complex productions can be realized on a system as small as a single MIDI workstation, a synthesizer with integrated keyboard and sequencer. Professional musicians can do this in an environment such as a home recording space, without the need to rent a professional recording studio and staff. By performing preproduction in such an environment, an artist can reduce recording costs by arriving at a recording studio with a work that is already partially completed. Rhythm and background parts can be sequenced in advance, and then played back onstage. Performances require less haulage and set-up/tear-down time, due to the reduced amount and variety of equipment and associated connections necessary to produce a variety of sounds.



Please take a minute to go through this great Tutorial of MIDI from Indiana University