How to Successfully Use MIDI Files in 6 Quick Steps

I LOVE MIDI files.

You ever get super motivated to create a song, and you are in your zone, knowing exactly what you want to do and bam! You know longer know what to do, or how another artist created the thing, or you just don’t have the knowledge yet?

MIDI FILES! The great source of information, a welcome tutor in a world that doesn’t care about your goals, the magnificent teacher of the hidden patterns, and things you never thought to think about.

Oh, how I love them.

And no, I am not being sarcastic.

What are MIDI Files?

MIDI Files are files that were created off the basis of an established song. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and it is the basis of most of what you will be working with.

When you create lines and dots in your DAW, that’s MIDI. When you press the keys on your piano while recording, that’s MIDI.

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s a MIDI.

No, I guess not, but you get the point.

A MIDI file on the other hand, is a completed (sometimes) song, with a lot of the foundation of the song you are trying to replicate. It will usually have the drums, bass, melody, and supporting instruments all in MIDI format so you can manipulate the song however you would like and learn from it!

So if you have a song from an artist you really like, and want to see how they may have achieved something that they did, you can find it in the MIDI file.

It is not a foolproof process, but fuck it, it’s better than nothing.

Reasons You Need to Know About MIDI Files

MIDI Files are to music what paint-by-numbers is to art. It’s basically right there, waiting for you to mess around with and change up your favorite songs.

You can figure out what your favorite artists did for their chord progression, study their bass line technique, watch how the melody unfolds, and all of that stuff. It’s pretty enlightening, as it puts a visual reference to what you are trying to hear when you are actively listening to the song.

I use MIDI files personally just to learn from. It is not the stems of the song, so you won’t be remixing the song this way, but it does give you the ability to learn your synthesizers, DAW, and all of the other tools in your production toolbox.

It is also a great way to continue making music when you have an artists block and can’t figure out what to do with you own music. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been there.

Now put it down, you look weird sitting alone in a room with your hand in the air.

Lastly, you cannot release the music you create from MIDI files on your own and monetize it.


You can play the music live, so in some sense, this is like remixing, just without the stems.

Where do I get MIDI Files?

Downloading MIDI files is simple, there are a million different websites out there for you to download them from. Some of them are more reputable than others, and offer higher quality products.

Others suck. Bad.

It’s just the truth. As you look around for MIDI files, you will notice that some files are just cut super short an don’t offer the full length of the song, or they get the key signature wrong, or the tempo.

Good news about the tempo and key signature is that you can transpose it yourself, which is also a good skill to have.

And really, if you’re remixing a song and just messing around, what does it really hurt to have some things messed up? It’ll just make for a more interesting cover.

Although, not everyone wants to look for a silver lining every time they sit down to cover a song and mess around for a while.

So let’s get into where you can find these super special MIDI files.

1) Google It

This is kind of a joke, but also the truth. If you go to google and type in the name of your song and the artist and add “MIDI File” to your search parameters, you might be met with many websites that contain the MIDI files you are looking for, but you also might not.

2) Order Custom MIDI

There have been many times that I haven’t been able to find the MIDI files for a song I am looking for.

My personal favorite MIDI website to use for this purpose is Nonstop2k. Nonstop2k allows you access to many high quality MIDI files, as well as ordering your own custom MIDI files as well.

I get the legendary membership as I find the 60 MIDI downloads per month to be WAY more than I could ever need so it’s basically unlimited, plus you get two custom MIDI songs for free on top of that.

In my opinion, it is the best website for ordering custom MIDI, and the cool part is that the more people use it, the custom MIDI files are then put into the library for others to share in. That means that the more users participate, the more access to high quality MIDI files you will have as a legendary member.

Step-by-Step Instructions Using MIDI Files in Your DAW

Finding MIDI files is one thing, but downloading them? Now that is another story. No one reading this could possibly anticipate the steps to downloading something off the internet, right?

I’m not here to judge, if you don’t know, feel free to read on.

1) Download the file

I don’t know what to say here. If you are on the internet and don’t know how to download something, you are going to have a hard time. But, on your Tablet, Phone, Mac or PC, go to a MIDI library.

Search for MIDI Files

2) Open Your Daw

This may go without saying, but opening your DAW is an essential step in properly using your freshly downloaded MIDI file. I see GarageBand here to show the steps.

Open DAW (GarageBand Pictured)

3) Locate MIDI File in Your Downloads

The next step is locating your new MIDI file. You can move it to another location if you would like to to keep things organized, but you don’t have to.

Search your download folder

4) Drop the MIDI File in Your Tracks Section

If you are using Logic Pro, the simplest way to use the MIDI file is to drag a drop it into the workspace. This also works for GarageBand as shown. Depending on which MacBook Pro you have, and the size and complexity of the file, depends on how fast this will load.

It usually only takes a few seconds, and then all of the MIDI tracks will appear.

5) Check Tempo and Key Signature

Sometimes the website you downloaded the MIDI from mess up the key and tempo of the song.

If you are trying your hand at replicating the song exactly as the artist did to train your ear and proficiency with your DAW, then you will want to make sure the DAW is set to the correct key and tempo.

6) Delete Unused Space

Some MIDI files come with extra space between notes all around the song. Usually at the beginning.

You can leave this extra space here if you wanted to mess around with an intro to the song, that is usually where I will leave the space.

The rest I go through the files and see where the notes hit, and delete the space between them to keep things more visually appealing to my eye.

When that wall of green hits, and especially in the drums section, notes can be lost and when you get moving on creating the song eventually you will hear the random sounds and not know where they are coming from.

This is one reason why I like to delete the additional space, as well as separate the drum track into multiple tracks based on their percussion type.

Delete unused space (optional)

7) Mess Around

Now that it is loaded up, you can play around with the files however you would like.

Cut the song and move pieces around, manipulate the MIDI to turn it into your own song, change out the instruments, whatever.

The sky is the limit.

Key Considerations For Using MIDI Files

The one thing you will notice is that MIDI files do not contain vocal tracks. Usually, there may be a MIDI file that follows along with what would have otherwise been a vocal track, but MIDI files do not contain them.

The MIDI files themselves also sound like “crap,” and they are supposed to.

This is because the file loads up the most basic instrument it can find in your DAW related to the sound that belongs to the track. Honestly, it does a pretty decent job at selecting what sounds the original song went for. However, there are always some mistakes but that is to be expected.

For instance, I’ve had accordions playing as the “vocal” track before; it can make for some pretty hilarious moments, especially when it’s one of your favorite songs. If you are just trying to make an instrumental cover of your favorite songs, this is the route to take.

Vocals are usually stems, and they are heavily copyrighted. All that means is they are hard to get access to, and illegal to monetize without express permission. It is hard to find the vocals from your favorite artists and it is doubtful many of them are about to hand their recordings out to anyone who asks.

That does not mean they are impossible to find or use. There’s are AI tools out there that will help separate the vocals from songs you own the .MP3 of.

So as long as you are using them for your own knowledge, I don’t see the harm in using them. You just cannot monetize them, and I cannot express that enough. You will not get rich or famous using MIDI files and someone else’s vocals.

This is learning ONLY!

Although, I suppose if you’re a streamer and doing it all live, maybe? I don’t know, I am not a lawyer. Best not to I guess.

Taking it to the Next Level: How to Improve Upon MIDI Files

As I have said numerous times, MIDI files should be educational and fun only. I like using them to learn more about the patterns I didn’t think of, or to cover a song for a friend of mine.

I never use any MIDI files for my own work, or believe them to be my own work, no matter how much work I put into them. The song will always be copyrighted and belong to someone else.

However, if you pay close attention to how the notes are patterned in the tracks, and notice how your DAW reacts to certain inputs, it can help you figure out what you would like to do with your own music.

Pay attention to when certain instruments stop playing, and why. If you practice active listening on top of studying and playing with MIDI files, you really have an excellent teacher right in front of you that gives you homework to study at your own pace.

It really is such a great tool for learning, and I strongly suggest it to any aspiring music producer.

Alternatives to MIDI Files

There are two other forms of musical teachers that you can get your hands on if MIDI files aren’t your jam, and those are stems and audio files.

Stems are the direct audio files created by the artist, that you can mess around with and change into an entirely different song.

Unless you’re friends with an artist, these are difficult to come by. One of the best ways to get your hands on them is to enter a remix competition, even if you don’t plan on winning, you get the stems that you can use to practice with.

The other is audio files. There are a lot of free audio clip in websites like Splice that are royalty free. You can find something you like and try to build a song around that. Some artists put random segments of songs and vocals on these sound libraries and they are high quality and it allows you to how to manipulate vocal samples.

One important note when working with vocals is that the vocals need to match the BPM of your song. If your drum patterns and vocals don’t align, your song is going to sound like a mess. So get an idea of the tempo you would like in your head, and then hunt down some vocal samples with that key signature and tempo.

Another cool thing you can do with vocal samples is to take the instrumental MIDI files you are working with from your favorite song, and blend the lyrics from an entirely different song or vocal samples and make a Frankenstein of sorts type of song. But again. It is imperative you match the tempo and key of the song or it will most likely come out sounding like hot garbage.

There are ways to transpose your audio and MIDI files into other key signatures, however.

Regardless, in my opinion, sans human teacher, MIDI files are the best visual to audio aid there is.

Wrapping Up and My Experience With MIDI Files

I am a big fan of MIDI files because of the knowledge that it has allowed me to gain. I took some classes in audio arts just to kick start my musical knowledge several years ago, and one of the first things they taught was MIDI files because they are a wealth of information and an easy tool to learn your DAW with, without the struggle of writing your own melodies, and bass line, and programming the drums in.

Writing and creating music is a challenging process that requires years of practice, failures, perfections, and tweaking. MIDI files offer a way to dissect what the pros are doing so you can see how they build tension and crescendo into those killer drops and expansive choruses.

Everything is already done for you, and you can listen to the original song while you work on your version as a reference.

There was a time when I was resistant to using MIDI files, but as I kept growing as an artist and stumbling into writers block, I found my way back to them and I wish I had used them a lot more, a lot sooner. But, even though a lot of people tried to give me tips on the fastest way to start, I wanted to be a prodigy and just learn how to make my own music with little experience.

I learned a lot doing that, but the biggest lesson I learned was that I should also remain humble and take the lessons other people are trying to teach me and to learn from them. Not everyone is correct all the time, and I am no exception, but…

I hope you will take my mistakes and learn from them.

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