Can mp3 be converted in to a
With the right software, Midifile backing tracks can be converted
to mp3, but unfortunately mp3 backing tracks cannot be converted
Midifiles need individual instrument data for each sound (drums,
bass, piano, brass, strings etc), but you can't extract this individual
instrument data from an mp3 file. This is because an mp3 file
is a stereo recording which has had all the individual instruments
in the song mixed together so they can't be seperated in to individual
sounds. To best explain this, we should first look at the fundamental
difference between a midifile and an mp3 file.
A midifile is multi-track arrangement
whereas an mp3 file is a two track arrangement (ie stereo). A
typical midifile may consist of up to 16 instruments (eg drums,
bass, guitar, brass, strings, piano etc) each on their own individual
midi channel. Although an mp3 file can consist of exactly the
same number of instruments, the fundamental difference is that
in an mp3 file these instrumets are all mixed together on two
channels (stereo - left and right). Imagine you are baking a cake...you
have all the ingredients to hand (flour, eggs, water, sugar etc).
You can deal with each ingredient seperately and decide how much
or how little of each ingredient you want to use. But once it's
all mixed together in the bowl, you can't go back and take the
eggs out of the mixture! So, in this sense, the midifile is like
the individual ingredients, and the MP3 file is the mixture in
My article on comparing
MP3, CD, Minidisc & Midifile formats goes in to this subject
in more detail and you should read through it if you are still
in doubt as to the difference between backing track formats.
Midifile = Multitrack
If you have a song in midifile format, then by using a computer
running the right type of software (or a hardware midifile player
with editing facilities), each channel in that midifile can be
isolated and treated seperately. You can change the volumes, notes
etc of each and every instrument on those 16 midifile channels.
Some entertainers who use midifiles will carry their midifiles
and a keyboard or sound module to their gig. Others who don't
want to carry around so much equipment will record the midifile
to stereo beforehand (perhaps to mp3 or minidisc) so they only
need to carry an mp3 player or minidisc player to their gig to
play their tracks.
MP3 = Two-Track
Once a backing track is in a stereo format (mp3, CD, Minidisc,
Cassette, DAT ) it is no longer a 16 track arrangement - it is
now a two track arrangement (stereo means two track - left and
right) so the instruments are all mixed in together and can no
longer be isolated and individualy edited. If, for example, you
tried to change the volume of the left and right channels of an
mp3 backing track, then the voloume of ALL the instruments in
the song would be affected. You can successfully make some
changes to a stereo recording but they are always going to be
"global" changes ie they affect the whole song. Changing
the overall volume of a track is one such change that falls in
to this category and also, to a lesser extent, is key changes
- by changing the key on the left and right channels, you are
changing the key on EVERY instrument on the recording, so it will
work. Only problem with this though is that by changing the key
down your tom tom drums may end up sounding like timpanis
and changing the key up might make any backing vocals on
the song sounding like the chipmunks!
If you've been reading through
this article thus far, then you're most probably a midifile user
and by now you'll be realising that midifiles are more flexible
than mp3 files. So does that mean they're better? Well, don't
be too hasty - there are some very major drawbacks to midifiles
so read on before you abandon the idea of mp3 altogther...it's
not as straightforward an argument as you may think...
Problems with midifiles
There are a number of drawbacks to using midifiles.
Drawback 1: Carrying back-breaking
equipment to a gig.
Many years ago singers used to carry a mountain of equipment to
gigs - a PA system, a bunch of midifiles, various keyboards and
racks containing expanders (sound modules). But now you can get
the exact same sound (well, actually a better sound), simply by
turning up to gigs with a PA and an iPod in your top pocket!
Drawback 2: Good midifiles
are hard to find.
If you've ever bought or downloaded midifiles from the internet
you probably know by now that many of them are very poor representatives
of the songs they are supposed to be(!). If you're not a musician
it can take you forever to get the midifile to sound right and
most times you end up having to ditch the idea altogether and
try to find a better midifile.
Drawback 3: Inferior quality
A midifile is only as good as the sounds on the equipment you
use to play it through. Unless you have access to high quality
expensive sound sources and equipment like they use in professional
recording studios, even the best midifile in the world will sound
thin and "unprofessional". If you want to portray yourself
onstage as a professional artist, your home-made midifile derived
backing tracks can seriously affect your image. Remember, professional
artists always use professional backing tracks...when was
the last time you saw Madonna or Robbie Williams do a gig with
a bunch of midifiles (try never...)! And don't think that big
name artists always have an orchestra or backing band with them
all the time. Most big name acts have to regularly turn up at
promotional events and daytime TV studios and sing their latest
song...without their band. To do that, they sing live but use
a backing track for the music...and the backing tracks they use
ain't no midifiles!
Despite the above drawbacks, the flexibility of midifiles still
ensures that this type of file format for backing tracks remains
popular with a small number of pub/club acts to this day even
despite the fact that it has been overtaken by mp3 as the favourite
playback format for professional entertainers. And for good reason
- you may be surprised to know that you can actually still get
that same midifile flexibilty from an mp3 file! I've written an
article on backing
track editing which goes in to this in more detail which you
might find useful.
Article Written by Kenny Campbell
(This article cannot be reproduced without express
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