Samples vs. Organic Sounds in Recording Music: Which is better?


Nowadays, recording music is within reach of anyone who owns a laptop or computer. You do not need to purchase massive and expensive soundboards that music producers used to use back in the day, which was not too long ago. Now the real question is, has the quality of the songs decreased in terms of sound? Because instead of using organic instruments, most modern producers use samples or recordings of instruments on their tracks. In this article, we will compare and contrast MIDI samples vs. Organic instruments based on a given criterion.

I don’t really think there is an exact way to tell which of the two are better. It is all about your preference. A purist would always choose organic over MIDI, but the process of recording organic instruments is far more challenging. They might sound a lot better live, but to capture that excellent sound on a track would be delicate. On the other hand, MIDI sounds are already pre-recorded in high-quality samples, so you would not have to go through the trouble of trying to record the original instrument. So, that still leaves us questioning, which is better?

To determine who really wins, I will set the following criteria, and we will tally the points for both contenders in each category to figure out which one is better. You can also choose which one of these choices wins in each criterion and tally your scores. Think of this article as a sort of like an online quiz rather than just your regular blog post.

Criteria # 1: PRICE

Real instruments such as a classical grand piano, analog, and modular synthesizers, and other acoustic instruments will cost a lot more than purchasing a DAW like Logic X PRO that is loaded with a lot of virtual instruments. Some DAWs provide an extensive library of samples and MIDI instruments that are more than half the price of one organic instrument. So, in this category, SAMPLES takes the win. They cost a lot less than the natural instruments.

You can get a massive selection of sampled instruments through DAWs and VSTs that you can purchase on the internet for a relatively low price if you compare them to the real thing. Classical grand pianos will cost more $5000 depending on the brand and condition. That amount of money can buy you more than what you need in the world of virtual studio technology.

So after this round, Samples win. The current score is Samples- 1, and Organic Instruments- 0.

Criteria # 2: EASE OF ACCESS

To purchase organic instruments, you can either go to your local music shops or order them online. It will take some time before it gets shipped to our house. And sometimes, the particular item you are looking for is either out of stock or has been discontinued. You will have to search the internet for that instrument or go to pawnshops just to find one.

On the contrary, VSTs are always there and very easy to access. With one press of a button, you can purchase and download the instrument of choice and install it on your computer almost instantly. With that in mind, this category is easily won by SAMPLES and VSTs.

The score as of category number two is Samples- 2, and Organic Instruments- 0.

Criteria # 3: RECORDING PROCESS

When you are recording using MIDI instruments and samples. Sometimes, all you need to do is drag the samples into the recording timeline, and you are done. Some people like to take the sample and rework it to make it their own, by cutting and chopping parts to tweak the sound a little. You can also add effects to the sample, and arrange them in any way you want with a few clicks of a button. Take note that samples are usually in time and can change the key whenever you change the settings of your project. It can also modify tempo without losing much of its sample rate, meaning, the quality doesn’t get noticeably compromised.

The samples that you purchase, whether it is already included in your DAW or not, are all royalty-free, meaning to say, once you have purchased them, you are licensed to use them on your tracks. These are sometimes high-quality samples made by world-class producers in world-class recording studios. They may not be organic instruments, but they were recorded from the real thing in high quality. Producing samples like those on your own can be very challenging, especially for beginner music producers.

For recording or programming MIDI on the piano roll, it could take a long mathematical process to get the right notes where you want them to be and play the notes when you want them to play. However, it is still easier than setting up gear for recording an organic instrument. In setting up an instrument for recording, there are so many factors you need to consider, such as the wires, input and output levels, and so on. In my opinion, electric guitars and bass, are one of the most accessible “real” instruments to capture on record. Because all you need to worry about is plugging them in, and adjusting certain levels, you do not need a mic to record them, unless you will be using an amplifier. But, that topic is a whole other article.

Getting high-quality audio off of pre-made samples is so easy, even a kid could do it. Therefore, this point goes to SAMPLES. As of now, samples still outscore organic instruments by 3 to nothing.

Criteria # 4: SOUND QUALITY

Pre-made samples were recorded and produced by some of the company’s best producers. They were recorded from organic instruments themselves, which is why they turn out really good when you put them on your tracks. With that in mind, organic instruments will always produce a better sound even if they are sampled or not.

The only thing you need to keep in mind is the recording process. The process of recording is a whole lot of work. You will need to isolate a room with the right acoustic treatment. Buy quality instruments that can be expensive and buy high-quality mics to capture the true essence of each instrument. But in this category, we measure the sound quality of samples vs. real instruments, so we will not include the price and process in the scoring. In terms of sound quality, organic instruments get the W. The score is samples- 3, and organic instruments- 1.

Criteria # 5: FILE SIZE

For these criteria, we will be talking about the file size. This factor is essential because home music producers sometimes have limited storage. So with that being entailed, as a music producer, you should always buy additional hard drive space. Or, you could still upload your projects on the cloud to save space on your computer, but that option is not yet free. You could quickly get Terabytes of extra storage space for a couple of bucks, without having to rely on the cloud. I would prefer getting additional hard drives instead of using the cloud for compression, speed, and quality issues.

MIDI files will have the “mid” suffix after the file name, and usually, they are much smaller than the “wav,” “M4a”, and “Mp3” format that an audio track has. In this category, the bigger file sizes will mostly have better quality. If your projects are adding up to gigabytes worth of data, it doesn’t exactly mean they high quality yet; make sure you capture the best audio tracks to ensure the best quality. For this category, I would give the score to organic instruments because their files are filled with high quality even if they take more space than a MIDI track. 

How is your tally? Do you have the same scores as mine? Samples are still up by 1 with a 3 to 2 score against audio tracks.

Criteria # 6: MASTERING

Mastering is another crucial aspect of a track. Whether it is a MIDI or audio track, you will need to master every single track to get the mixing right. You want to clean all the extra noises and hisses, before mixing and rendering your project into a song. Once you have recorded an audio track, you cannot do anything to improve or edit the errors in recording. You can, however, adjust the EQ, so it goes with a mix. You have to record the raw files close to perfect to be able to master the track. It may sound like a lot of work, but if you nail the recording part, the mastering part would be a breeze.

It is almost impossible to edit the tempo and key of an audio track without compromising quality. So before you go ahead and use energy for recording guitars or vocals, make sure you have decided on the tempo and key of the song. Unlike MIDI tracks or samples, you can edit the key and tempo without decreasing the quality of the tracks. Mastering MIDI tracks are a lot easier because you cannot go wrong with the levels, you can easily adjust the velocity to make everything coherent enough, and that is basically mastering already.

However, I would still give the point to Audio Tracks. It is very fulfilling to record a clean raw audio track before you move onto mastering. Because it is a lot more comfortable to master MIDI, I think this point will go to what is more challenging to accomplish. The score is tied up at 3.

Criteria # 7: MIXING

Since the environment does not play such a significant role in recording MIDI tracks, they are a lot much more comfortable to mix. You do not have to worry about extra noise when you record them because, unlike recording an audio track or instrument, you do not have to use the live output for recording. All of your MIDI tracks will mix on together almost flawlessly, even with minimal mastering involved. The challenge, however, is to mix an audio track to a MIDI track.

Mixing is probably my most favorite part as a music producer. At this stage, you are done with recording and arranging all the pieces. All you need to do is tweak it a little and adjust the levels before your project becomes a full song. However, mixing can take the most of your time when producing a song. If recording took you about a whole day, blending could take weeks of making decisions and listening to your song over and over again. For this category, I think both would take the point which keeps the score tied at 4 to 4.

Criteria #8: EXPRESSION

Initially, when I was writing the article, I only intended to include seven categories. However, since the score is tied, we are going to need a tiebreaker. This category will settle the beef once and for all. Expression, it is self-evident that you would capture the human side of playing better when you record an audio track or organic instrument. Therefore, organic instruments take this point and lead 5 to 4 against MIDI.

You can, however, use some techniques to make your MIDI tracks more expressive and less robotic. But all of it is just techniques. Nothing beats true human expression. The dynamics and feel, when playing and recording with a real instrument, can never be genuinely emulated by software instruments and samples. Though sometimes, MIDI tracks have a higher quality depending on how you record your organic instruments, nothing is better than saying that you used a real instrument to record that track. May it be a drum, guitar, or violin. No matter how better a MIDI track would sound, fulfillment is the best result when recording a track.

If you do not really play instruments at all, you can hire musicians and sound engineers to set up and record the music for you. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with using MIDI and samples for your music. As long as you keep creating, everybody is a winner.

KEY POINTS

Now before going to the results, let’s list down what we have learned about samples or MIDI tracks and organic instruments. Let’s make a shortlist of the pros and cons, along with some vital information to refresh our memories.

MIDI TRACKS and SAMPLES

PROS CONS INFORMATION
You can quickly change individual notes including pitch, duration, and velocity MIDI tracks lack a human touch. It lacks the least expression that audio tracks and playing instruments are abundant in. Software instruments, VSTs, and samples are used to create MIDI tracks.
You can instantly switch the playback of a MIDI track. May sound entirely mechanical and robotic if you do not add automation. However, samples can have a human touch because they are recorded with real instruments. MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. The suffix of a MIDI file is mid. They do not make sound waves. It only tells the software instrument which notes to play.
You can transpose the keys and alter the tempo without losing quality with a MIDI track. There is a chance that you may create tracks that are impossible to play live by a person who only has 4 limbs. You can edit the information, change the note length, and remove notes and parts on a MIDI track, which is impossible to do with an audio instrument track.

AUDIO TRACKS and ORGANIC INSTRUMENTS

PROS CONS INFORMATION
It creates real and realistic human expressions. It is harder to edit, change tempo, and transpose individual tracks without losing quality. Recording an acoustic or electric instrument creates an audio track. Instead of notes on the MIDI piano roll, a waveform will appear on the track screen on your DAW.
It captures the expressions, dynamics, and nuisances of a performance. It will take a lot more time to record, especially if you make too many mistakes. Unlike MIDI, you can edit out the errors after recording. Standard files of audio tracks are MP3, MP4, WAV AIFF, and AAC. They are often recorded through a microphone or by direct input.
You can use the room to your advantage and capture how the instrument reacts to the condition of your recording studio. The environment or room plays a significant role in the recording process. you will need a lot more equipment to capture the perfect sound in the highest quality possible You cannot separate the tracks if the audio file has two or more instruments. You can, however, filter the EQ, but that is not good enough to completely isolate each instrument track.

RESULT

As the tally shows based on my scoring. The win goes to Organic Instruments or Audio tracks. Though MIDI won in some of the categories, nothing really beats the real thing. Though it may be a lot more work to capture real instruments, there is nothing more fulfilling. However, these are only my results. Your scores may end up differently, as mine did. Don’t forget to put your results in the comment section and tell us what you think.

RELATED QUESTIONS;

  • Which organic instrument is the easiest to record?

For me, the most accessible instruments to record are electric guitars and bass. If you use a direct input, since you will be using direct input or audio interphase, the room acoustics do not play much of a role in the recording process. Recording guitars directly to your DAW is the same as using a digital guitar processor as you would use the software amp simulators and effect to go on your track.

You can easily edit and choose which guitar effects you want and want to cut from your mix by doing this method. Unlike recording a guitar using a mic pointing to the amp, you cannot edit the effects as much. However, you could still add some effects and select the EQ so you can mix it with other tracks.

  • How to know whether to use a condenser or dynamic mic to record instruments?

Basically, the main rule is to use a condenser mic for low gain instruments such as piano, vocal, violin, etc. And you should use a dynamic mic for recording louder and higher gain instruments like distorted guitar, slap bass, and drums.

  • How can you make your MIDI samples sound more organic?

To make your MIDI tracks sound more human as possible is to play the notes using a MIDI controller. When you program the notes using a MIDI editor, you tend to align the notes perfectly, and that is not a bad thing. Except for missing the human element of a slight error. When you play the piano, you wouldn’t regularly hit all the notes at precisely the same time. The same goes for the endpoints of the note. In the piano roll, tweak the end of the notes so that they do not end at the exact same spot. Make a subtle change, and you will notice a more human articulation. You can also change the velocity on various sections to imitate emotion.

CONCLUSION

Samples vs. Organic instruments is an ongoing beef that divides the industry. However, nothing is better than the other. Both of them have characteristics that make them great for music production. Choosing one over the other does not make you a good producer; it’s all about how you utilize these tools that are given to us. Do not look down on any music producer who prefers MIDI over audio. It is their choice. It is also a good idea to mix them up a bit. You can use organic drums and MIDI tracks and mix them together. In this world, where music production is a lot more accessible than before, it is time to take advantage.

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