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Everyone say to me that my music composition "sounds like old midi" For example :

But... is it is possible to make a music without real instrument without midi 100% on computer ? How ?

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    Use better sounds.
    – PiedPiper
    Feb 20 at 20:37
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    @PiedPiper I would even add, fiddle more with automations with better sounds ;)
    – Tom
    Feb 20 at 22:05
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    I'd say people have these associations because of your stylistic choices. You chose to build this tune almost solely from retro synth sounds which all give that 80s early MIDI or old computer games type of music. So it is not about better or worse sound but being more deliberate about what actually you want to put together and selecting sounds that are appropriate
    – Jarek.D
    Feb 21 at 15:08
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    Some instruments are inherently almost impossible to make sound good in MIDI, or at least have a limited range of uses (violin comes to mind). Edward's answer will get you some of the way, but it's also worth learning to work within the limits of your medium. If you have an instrument that's a little iffy, you might still be able to use it, just not for the melody, for instance. Feb 21 at 15:09
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    I think it has a charming early noughties lo-fi sound. I can see it working well in a quirky indy film of the same era. Sounding 'MIDI' isn't necessarily a bad thing.
    – AkselA
    Feb 23 at 20:25

4 Answers 4

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The biggest improvement is going to come from using better sounds.

The easiest way to achieve this is to buy or download high quality sample libraries, virtual instruments and presets.

Working with just what you have, here are some specific ways to make your sounds better-

I am hearing lots of "machine gun effect" in your example. The machine gun effect is what you get when every note is exactly the same- repeated notes hits sound more like a record player skipping than a musician playing an instrument. Some instruments are more sensitive to this effect (hi-hat, piano) and some less so (kick drum, pure sine synth basses). The solution here is to either use synthesized sounds with some variation (random phase, randomized parameters/envelopes, generated noise) or to round robin a collection of similar but different samples for each note. Professional sampled instruments will typically include several samples for each note, and when a midi note is played, the virtual instrument will randomly play one of those samples. In virtual synthesizers, you may also find that random or global phase options help make the sound more natural. (This is largely adapted from another answer I wrote)

It sounds like you are already using some different note velocities (or it could just be the compressor fooling me), but real instruments change throughout the dynamic range in more ways than just volume. Check out the velocity mapping options in your virtual instruments. You could try linking a high shelf filter to reduce high end at low velocities, or have the attack time linked so that soft notes have a slightly longer attack.

A bit of variation in note lengths, timing, and dynamics can help make the track more "human". If you record a take, this is solved for you. If not, you can try randomizing these parameters, but a technically better solution is to manually nudge notes and adjust velocities in a sort of pattern, like a real musician might play. For example, if two notes are played quickly, a real musician might consistently play the second note quieter or louder than the first, and they might consistently put more space between the notes than is technically correct.

Using a bit of high quality reverb on your mix may help. The track sounds quite dry as it is.

You may consider recording MIDI performances rather than programming notes- but this isn't required to get a more natural sound.

You could also add a recording of a real instrument. It's common in drum and bass to add a recorded "drum break", played by a real drummer, to add some life to an otherwise 100% programmed drum loop. These breaks are usually taken from old vinyl records.

I also notice that the lead instrument is often in a different key than the accompaniment- I get that there is no "incorrect" music, but stuff like that, when it doesn't sound clearly intentional, can reinforce the image of an ameteur product, like you'd expect from non-musicians using whatever free MIDI software is popular.

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    Isn't the strict, robotic feel desirable in this style of music?  I'm not sure that putting in the work to ‘humanise’ it would improve it.  I agree that some of the sounds (esp. the piano) are lousy, and some (esp. the drums) could do with some reverb and/or other FX — but others sound OK for this style; I think it's the lack of sonic variation (in dryness, pitch range, stereo placement, EQ, etc.) that works against it.  Finally, I absolutely agree that the obviously wrong notes in the melody (or, at least, false relations) really don't help!
    – gidds
    Feb 21 at 23:27
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    @gidds I don't know, is it? OP is giving that as an example to demonstrate what he doesn't want people to hear in his tracks. So it's hard to tell if "humanizing" would get closer or further to his vision. But it would definitely make it sound less like "old midi".
    – Edward
    Feb 22 at 0:32
  • "Using a bit of high-quality reverb on your mix may help. The track sounds quite dry as it is." I'm just a hobbyist arranger, but this is what came first to my mind when listening to it for the first time (which, I have to be honest, is also my weakness about utilizing reverb and panning)
    – Andrew T.
    Feb 22 at 15:34
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I’m not 100% sure if I have your question right because the title conflicts with what you wrote after so I will answer two ways. I think one will be what you want.

If you want to record without MIDI, get an audio interface and digital audio workstation, or DAW software. You can record the audio from any instrument without MIDI into your computer by using a microphone or by plugging the instrument directly into the interface. You can record as many individual parts as you like and mix them together just like you would with MIDI.

If what you meant is how to make MIDI sound more natural then there are a few things you can do. One is to choose sounds that are more like real instruments. The other is to play your parts manually and not quantize them so they have more of a natural human feel.

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    I think the second interpretation is more likely. If it were the first interpretation, I feel buy stuff is not the best answer, or at least throwing money at a problem can be taken as read. For the second I would also add leaning in as a viable solution. Experimenting with algorithmic composition, creating scores that wouldn't be humanely possible to play. Of course, it depends on OPs skillset
    – fdcpp
    Feb 21 at 19:00
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I think the first question you need to answer is what aesthetic are you aiming for?

A lot of people work deliberately to make music that sounds like retro electronic instruments, stuff like chiptune. Your Youtube sample sounds like that to me. If you want that kind of retro electronic sound, there doesn't seem to be anything to change in terms of "the sound."

On the other hand, if you want your playback to sound like real musicians playing real instruments, there are some things you can do.

In my opinion MIDI itself is not the problem. MIDI is just an electronic communication protocol for music and essential it gives information about pitch, duration, and loudness. That information goes to some kind of electronic instrument instrument to actually make sounds.

That instrument could be an old 1980's keyboard with unrealistic synthesizer sounds or it could go to an instrument using digitally sampled sounds which can be very realistic sounding. If the sound quality, technically we are talking about instrument timbre, try looking into the many free online sound fonts that can be loaded in music programs like MuseScore.

Another problem could be about rhythm. Again, this isn't really a MIDI problem, but a problem with whatever is sequencing the music. A MIDI signal can be sent as some kind of playback or computer music file. A music sequencer is the general category of software that can make such computer files. But, a MIDI signal can also be sent by a live human performer playing a MIDI instrument, like a MIDI guitar or MIDI keyboard.

MIDI sequencers usually compose rhythm with absolutely perfect timing and unchanging tempos. Actual human musicians don't play rhythm so perfect and that is part of what makes a performance sound human.

If strict, robotic rhythm is a problem, you can try to use your software applications capabilities to added small tempo fluctuations. Some applications have options to "humanize" rhythm. Another option is to actually perform the music parts with a MIDI instrument and record them into a DAW on to various tracks. That way you can play with natural, imperfect rhythm and timing, and get a more natural feel.

Similar to the rhythm issues are volume/dynamic issues. MIDI samplers and notation programs normally just set one dynamic level that never changes. Actual human musicians don't play that way. They use fluctuating dynamic levels to give a performance human expression. You can fix that problem either by setting dynamic levels in your sequenced file, which can be a tedious process, or by performing the parts with a MIDI instrument.

If you actually perform your various musical parts with MIDI instruments, record in a DAW, and use high quality, digitally sampled sounds, you can get very realistic sounding music.

So MIDI isn't really the problem. The problems are likely stiff, sequenced rhythm and dynamics, and poor quality instrument sounds.

Finally, this isn't an all one or the other situation. You can combine different approaches. You could, for example, have the percussion part strictly sequenced and using an old 1980s style drum machine sound. Over that could be various synth or sampled sounds, like horns or strings, that you record in real time with a MIDI keyboard.

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But... is it is possible to make a music without real instrument without midi 100% on computer ?

Yes. There are various kinds of virtual instruments that can be plugged into music arranging/production software to create sound that approaches that of live instruments. This isn't a free lunch, though. The "reality" of the sound comes from recording not just MIDI keypresses, but complex inputs from e.g. a breath controller. The breath controller is a common way to add expression to a variety of instruments, including string instruments, orchestra sections, etc.

As in all things musical, it takes musicality to make it sound good - the computer is just a tool, not a substitute for musicianship.

For a tour-de-force of what is possible in this area, I suggest listening to the Dutch pianist and composer Ad van Nederpelt. He publishes his excellent work on SoundClound: https://soundcloud.com/ad-van-nederpelt

To an untrained ear, a lot of the music he produces sounds live or mostly live, whereas the only live recordings he uses are of him on his piano, and the occasional collaborating artist - always explicitly mentioned in the song description. He uses software to produce orchestral and ensemble pieces, a lot of it his own compositions, some are his arrangements of pieces written by otherss.

He replies to comments left on his songs, and sometimes mentions technical details of what controller and/or software he used.

To see what a good composer can do when playing live using expressive controllers, see this demonstration of Vangelis's home studio setup.

my music composition "sounds like old midi"

Live music performed by good musicians has a lot of expression. A good musician can play exactly to a metronome, and with no expression, and will sound like a robot. In most music this aesthetic becomes stupefying, and is not desirable. Deviations from a fixed rhytm, dynamic choices, articulation - all those liven up the music and make it sound less like old midi.

There are old midi files that were captures from decent controllers played by good musicians and those sounded fine in spite of technical limitations of MIDI playback on low-end hardware. It takes quite a bit of work to reproduce this using just MIDI editing software (or retro tracker software.

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