Monday, March 06, 2006

The Long and Short (and Strange) of Turning MIDI Files into MP3's

One of the things I noticed emerging in the 90's that I thought would end up a much bigger deal than it has was sound font technology. I mean, what's not to like about the idea? You get to ditch all of those pieces of outboard gear and have all of your sound modules reside inside the computer, even a laptop! I thought it would be revolutionary, so of course I did ditch my E-MU Virtuoso 2000 and my MOTU MIDI Timepiece and all of that other crap. And I have no regrets about it either. Some point to bandwidth limitations inherent in sf2 files, but for composing and sketching I think they are perfect. But, I'm in a minority, as soundfonts are still not nearly as popular as I thought they'd be. Whatever. I love 'em, and I have a fairly decent collection of them now.

Problem is, soundfonts don't port out with MIDI files, so if I share MIDI files I know that whoever gets them will probably have the insufferably crappy standard GM garbage that QuickTime and/or Windows Media Player comes with (Probably a big reason soundfonts aren't more popular is because the standard fare is so lame, and so not many recognize the potential there). The obvious solution would be the ability to convert MIDI files into MP3's, thereby "freezing" the soundfont in place. Sure, the resulting MP3 is going to be a huge file compared to the original MIDI (A 15K MIDI file often ends up an MP3 of over 5MB), but if you want to share sketches you've created with a notation program and speciffic soundfonts, that's a pretty cool way to do it, no? Well, yes, it would be, if it were only possible to do so.

On my Mac, MIDI files can be played back either by my notation program's sequencer, or by the QuickTime Player. I usually use the notation program so I can follow along with the score, obviously. In both cases, the MIDI file is playing back using whatever soundfont bank I happen to have loaded at the time. I've always thought it would be cool if QuickTime Pro would allow for a "save as MP3" conversion option, but it doesn't (Which is - of course - simply assinine). As a result, I've never bothered to upgrade to QuickTime Pro (There isn't anything else I'd use it for). I thought QT was the only hope for ever doing a MIDI to MP3 conversion, but I was ignorantly and ridiculously wrong about that.

While looking at the various QuickTime threads on the Apple Discussion boards that addressed this issue, one of the posters asked why you couldn't just use iTunes to do that. It was a major forehead-slapping moment for me, that's for sure! I mean, of course! iTunes converts MIDI files into QuickTime audio files (Still using whatever sounfont bank you have loaded "live") to play back under the iTunes player, and then you can convert to MP3 if you want to burn a CD or upload them to your iPod. I knew that! But, for some reason I never made the connection.

There was only one slight problem. Just a little thing. An itty-bitty thing: Apple had just broken that particular feature with it's latest upgrade to iTunes v6.0.2, and I had just installed that upgrade... last week. $#!*&%@!!!

Well, after cursing my way through some of the iTunes discussion threads, I found a guy who had posted the earlier v6.0.1 version on his downloads page, and I was in bee's-wax once I snagged it and trashed the later version.

So now, if you would like to hear an MP3 of the Axial Fugue in E Minor - which I have converted from a MIDI file with my Symphony Hall nylon guitar font - you can just go here and download it.

How freaking cool is that?!

OK. Cool, but not that cool.


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