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Midi and Kar question

Posted on 2015-01-20
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Last Modified: 2015-01-24
Hi, I have recently received several hundred .mid and .kar files and after doing some research on the net, this is my understanding.  If I have misunderstood something, I would appreciate known what is the correct interpretation. The reason for wanting to understand this is that I would like to perform with my guitar and would like to have some backing tracks to help in the background with drums and other instruments.  However, I am deeply disappointment at the quality of the sound of both the mid and kar files and wonder if there is a way to make the instruments sound more realistic instead of toy like instruments.
Here is my understanding;
Midi files are created similar to a computer program in that it creates commands to sound like a particular instrument, the length of time a note should be pressed, etc. etc. but it does not record the actual sound.  The sound is generated by a sound card inside my computer and thus it makes the sound called for by the midi file.

Kar files are created the same way except they have an additional option which allows for the video display.

In other words, neither the Mid or Kar files store real instruments.  Now, is there a way for me to make the sounds sound like real instruments using my computer?  If not, why are these formats so popular when the sound is so inferior to real instruments.  It could be that a software program might do that but I'm not familiar with any.  Lastly, is there a place that sells backing tracks created with real instruments.  Thank you for helping me understand this.
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Question by:camtz
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by:BillDL
ID: 40562016
Midi and Kar files are, as you have deduced, electronic "instruments".
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MIDI
Even if you convert them to another format, they aren't going to sound like live band instruments.

In fact, a MID file really just contains instructions to the computer and sound card to render a certain tone at a specific pitch, for a certain length of time, at a certain velocity that translates into volume, and other instructions such as lyrics that can be rendered by certain media players.  The computer and sound card does all the work.  You can sometimes get a reasonably realistic kick drum or fretless bass sound in a MID file, but the more harmonically rich the instrument is that the midi file is trying to emulate, the less it will sound like a real instrument.  The "lead guitar" or "electric guitar" voice will usually sound like the bagpipes or a peruvian nose flute, and the "acoustic guitar" will usually sound like a muted glockenspiel or something.  They are too rich in harmonic overtones to be emulated truly, and the bent string of an electric guitar is almost impossible to render accurately.

I have used the occasional MID file to play guitar along with, but only after individually muting all the instruments other than drums, bass, and occasionally keyboard using free Midi playback software by van Basco (http://www.vanbasco.com/karaokeplayer/).  Basically I was just using the midi file as a "click track" with bass for the groove.  I would never even think of using a MID file as a backing track in a live situation, because it would sound amateurish.  Most karaoke MIDI tracks are keyboard-rich, and that is the one instrument that sounds truer than others in files that you download.

You can get a lot of backing tracks on YouTube:
https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=guitar+backing+tracks
If you want an audio file you either have to use recording and editing software like Audacity to capture the audio that is being played back through your computer as you play the video, or else use a browser plugin program that allows you to capture, convert, and save the audio content as a useful audio file like MP3 format.  I use Audacity for things like this but, as I haven't ever used YouTube Downloader programs I cannot recommend any.

I believe that one of the best sites to buy backing tracks is http://www.karaoke-version.com.  It provides a good search function and you can preview snippets from the various versions of songs recorded by real players and singers.  You need an account to purchase songs, but you can re-tweak and then download the song as many times as you like.  In the interface you can change the tempo and pitch, mute certain instruments (including vocals), then download your edited version in that form as an MP3.  You can go back and change the selections, pitch, tempo, etc, and download again.  As long as you name each MP3 with a useful name, you could download each instrument as a separate MP3 and then mix back again in multi-track software (read the copyright).  The songs aren't very expensive at all, although some are better than others.  If you choose a popular rock song, it is often the vocal rendition that lets it down, but the same is true of any band copying a very popular song anyway.
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by:camtz
ID: 40562313
Thank you for that.  This clears up the difference between MId and Kar.  I first thought that KAR were done with real instruments but that doesn't seem to be the case.  So basically what you are saying is that it would not be wise to spend the time to review the hundreds of MID and KAR files that I have because even if I bought the program you mention AUDACITY, the finished product would not be acceptable in a live professional setting.  Is that correct?  Instead, you recommend buying the tracks from KaraokeVersion.  So my final question is; are the tracks from Karaoke Version produced with real instruments or are they also Midi?
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by:Merete
ID: 40563497
camtz what do you use to play the background sounds? Software?
Audacity is free open source by the way.
Trying to picture you playing your guitar with background music.
I have watched many buskers and am familiar with creating my own music using a keyboard and or synthesizer recording this and using a trigger Foot pedal to control playback called looper and pedals
Looper & Sampler Effects Pedals
To keep the music going there are no accessories more versatile than looper and sampler effects pedals. Allowing you to record rhythm loops as you play, and play them back as you continue jamming, these pedals add layers to you music, helping you effortlessly create uniquely songs and sounds.
http://www.guitarcenter.com/Looper---Sampler-Effects-Pedals-Effects-Pedals.gc
They created their background music and use a mixer
this is my favourite busker using the Loop and Pedal with a couple of mixers he records the first loop live then if you watch he presses the pedal then it plays back while he plays a different piece., Very cool
Awesome Electric Violin - Ed Busking Chester
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUO6kYLb6As&index=26&list=FLTbE_VoNpPAT25Isv81Pn6A
Digitech JamMan looper phrase sampler pedal guitar lesson ( youtube video)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DbbtKZTFblE

I also have Ejay it is software to create your own drums loops
http://www.ejay.com/us/product
Most buskers have drums and beats to play with.
Would you be interested in Kits?
 The portable kit includes four sensors that attach to any part of a live set: could be a guitar, a microphone, an arm. Each sensor then connects with standard music software to dictate a different light or sound action based on the performer’s movements,
THE PLUG + PLAY KIT IS FOR MUSICIANS WHO STAND ALONE—TO DELIVER ALL THE LIGHT AND SOUND DRAMA OF A FULL BAND.
http://www.fastcodesign.com/1672914/an-instant-one-man-band-kit-twists-and-slams-the-solo-show
Just giving you some ideas
cheers
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BillDL earned 500 total points
ID: 40564205
Hi camtz

The songs on www.karaoke-version.com are real recordings of songs played by real people on real instruments.  Without an account you can preview sections of the songs.  It is unsurprising that they have usually picked the best or most recogniseable sections of popular songs.  There are also some free MP3 instrumental tracks (http://www.karaoke-version.com/free/karaoke.html).  Let's say you want to download an instrumental of La Bamba so guests can sing along to it at your Tequila parties ;-)  You will see the description alongside it:
La Bamba made famous by Mexican Traditional
• 2 music tracks in MP3 instrumental version
• 1 music track with vocals (cover)
MP3 karaoke file Vocal Backing Track MP3

http://www.karaoke-version.com/free/mexican-traditional/la-bamba.html

La Bamba - Free MP3 Instrumental - Mexican Traditional - Karaoke Version
Tempo: variable (around 156 BPM)
Song key: C
End without fade out
Duration: 2:19 - Preview at: 00:51

There are 3 versions :
-Instrumental Version MP3
-Instrumental Version MP3 - with guide melody
-Cover Version MP3 - A singer performs the lead vocal

The only user-changeable option you have with this free song is the ability to drop the pitch down by two steps or raise it two steps prior to download.

The songs that you pay for are multi-tracked, which is to say that each instrument is recorded to its own L+R stereo track.  On the La Bamba page you will see that there are other non-free versions in different categories:
-Guitar Backing Track
-Drum Backing Track
-Bass Backing Track
-Custom Backing Track
-Karaoke Video with Lyrics

Suppose you choose the "Guitar Backing Track" category, you will see that there are 4 versions to choose from, all in high 320 kilobits per second quality:
http://www.karaoke-version.com/guitar-backing-track-free/mexican-traditional/la-bamba.html

Tempo: variable (around 156 BPM)
Song key: C
End without fade out
Duration: 2:19 - Preview at: 00:48

-Guitar Backing Track With Vocals - with vocals but no guitar
-Guitar Backing Track Without vocals - no vocals, no guitar
-Full version with vocals and guitar
-Guitar without the other instruments

With each you can raise or lower the pitch by two steps before downloading the MP3 (i.e. up to up to D or down to Bb).

So far this has only been the free version.  There is a La Bamba performed in the style of Los Lobos available on the site for 1.50 British Pounds or $1.99 US:
http://www.karaoke-version.com/guitar-backing-track/los-lobos/la-bamba.html
You will see that you again have a few different preset versions, but if you want to gain more control over any of the non-free songs you should go to the "Custom Backing Track" option which will cost $2.99 US:
http://www.karaoke-version.com/custombackingtrack/los-lobos/la-bamba.html

The interface, which takes a moment to load, allows you to select whatever instruments you want, and when you then download the MP3 it has been mixed with only those instruments.
LaBamba.jpgIn the screenshot you will see that it only previews a section of the song.  It is always best to check the user reviews below, but as we know music is a very subjective thing.  The "click-track" and intro is normally muted by default.  In the example I have also muted the accordion and the acoustic rhythm guitar.  When I pay for this download (which requires that you create an account) I will get a good quality MP3 without the instruments that I muted.  I could, however, sign in at a later date, go to the "My Downloads" area, pull up that same song again, and tweak it in some other way eg. no lead vocals (lead vox), and download another MP3 in that mix at no extra cost.

In general you would want everything except lead vocals for a traditional karaoke song, but for a backing track to play the guitar along with you would mute one or more of the guitar tracks before downloading.  It all depends on the type of song and whether you want to practice electric/acoustic and lead/rhythm guitar.

If you want to use the backing tracks in any kind of public performance or for public entertainment, you need to observe the restrictions:

All music rights are managed by SACEM and PRS For Music. All musical material is re-recorded and does not use in any form the original music or original vocals or any feature of the original recording.  Without expressed permission, all uses other than home and private use are forbidden.
More Here: http://www.karaoke-version.com/help/use_33.html
(Weddings are private functions and are exempt unless you, as a musician, are charging for the entertainment)

Although it is possible to download each instrument of a custom backing track as a separate MP3, and then load them all into multi-track recording software (eg. Audacity) so that you can record your own parts and remix a new version, you have to be aware that:  "Recording rights of our soundtracks are not included in the price.  It is mandatory to file for a written authorization prior to the recording of any of our soundtracks."

Going back to MIDI again.  Old soundcards often used to come with additional software in addition to the drivers.  One of the programs was a virtual keyboard that was controlled by your computer's QUERTY keyboard using the codes that each key sends when pressed.  You could change the instrument to flute, strings, wind chime, etc, etc.  That was a novelty back then and soundcard software doesn't usually include such old-hat modules now.  The principle of MIDI interfacing is that one electronic device can trigger other MIDI devices or software and produce electronic synthesised music.  The reason why *.MID backing tracks were popular is usually because of the tiny file size because the files simply contain instructions rather than audio content.  In general, acoustic piano is rendered fairly accurately, but other instruments less accurately.  If you wanted to strum along to a slow Billy Joel song as a *.MID file, it would probably sound OK, but you would be very disappointed if you expected a *.MID rendition of an AC/DC song to sound anything other than a toy Casio organ.  As an example, here's a *mid version of Pink Floyd's song "Money" that demonstrates how disappointing this format can be:
Pink-Floyd-Money.zip
The Karaoke Player software by van Basco that I previously mentioned opens as several separate windows.  One of those windows allows you to mute the separate midi instruments.  If you mute all but drums and bass, you can sometimes get a useful jam track, but mostly it will sound very digitised.

Karaoke files come in quite a few different formats.  I am not intimately familiar with the *.KAR file format, but I believe that it is just an embellished *.MID file that also contains the lyrics, images, animation, etc, all in one file.

If you ever encounter an MP3 file that has a *.CDG file of exactly the same name alongside it, then this is the MP3+CDG Karaoke format.  The CDG file contains all the additional non-audio content and it is created so that it synchronises with the frames in the MP3 file.  The free VLC Player by VideoLAN has hundreds of its own decoders built into it, so it can play back a lot of different audio and video file formats.  If you open an MP3 file in VLC Player it will also open the CDG file and show the lyric prompts as it plays.  If you have ever saved a standard *.txt file (eg. one with your own lyrics in standard layout) with exactly the same name as an MP3 file, VLC Player tries to load this TXT file and complains that it doesn't have a decoder to display the lyrics because they are not in the expected CDG file format.

The YouTube guitar backing tracks are often pretty good quality, but I have to wonder what copyright infringements have been disregarded as they are all eventually "acquired" and re-used by others along the way.  Equipped with suitable software that can record whatever is being played back through the speakers of your computer and save it as an audio file (eg. Audacity or sometimes even audio editing software that comes on CD with a new CD/DVD Recorder), you can record the audio that is playing back from a YouTube video.  You just have to set the input source to your soundcard in the software settings rather than microphone, and you have to experiment with recording levels so that it doesn't distort.  There are websites and browser plugins that will automatically convert YouTube video content to audio files as you play them, but I don't use them.

The same is true of *.MID files.  If you play them back through Windows Media Player, VLC Player, or other media player, you can capture the audio that is being sent to the speakers using software like Audacity.  So, if you used midi karaoke software like the van Basco one and muted different instruments to give you a very basic backing track, you could then play it back and capture the playback to a usable audio file.

What you find acceptable and unacceptable depends entirely on your needs and intentions.  If you just want to learn some country lead guitar in 4/4 and 3/4 time at various tempos, a handful of very generic midi files with percussion, bass, and some kind of chord work will suffice, or else some generic MP3s recorded from YouTube backing tracks.  If you want to learn the guitar parts in specific songs accurately, then I would suggest that you need a few good quality MP3s with real instruments such as you would get from www.karaoke-version.com.

I hope this helps.
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Author Comment

by:camtz
ID: 40564496
BillDL - I am extremely appreciative of the time and effort you put into this.  I have now visited Karaoke-Version and have a pretty good idea of how it works so I will definitely be registering and buying some of their material.  The most helpful thing for me out of all of this is the fact that I now understand the difference between  .Mid and .Kar files and why they sound the way they do.  One problem I foresee with Karaoke-Version is that I only play and sing Latin & some classical music (like Malaguena, Granada etc.) and from what I have seen so far, Latin music seems to be limited.  So one option is for me to learn a few American songs (after all, I am an American now and I live in America which is the greatest country on the planet.  Your expertise has been enormously helpful and I will be going over this material for some time so as not to miss anything.  I will also download Audacity and play around with it to see if it can help me.
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by:camtz
ID: 40564507
An excellent explanation.  Thanks again.
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by:BillDL
ID: 40564728
Thank you camtz.  I am glad that this has been of some help to you.

I love Malagueña.  It has been played and sung by so many artists, in so many different forms, and even in languages other than Spanish, since it was composed by Cuban Ernesto Lecuona in 1928.  I like the versions that have powerful rhythmic content like this one by Liona Boyd rather than the more orchestral and fancy versions like this by Pepe Romero.  Or, were you talking about the traditional Mexican Mariachi-style song La Malagueña / Malagueña Salerosa?  I can't play either style because I work in a hands-on job where I keep breaking my nails and can't do the rasgueado strum properly.

Yes, I think that you certainly will find it a lot more difficult to find good quality backing tracks in "Spanish" styles of music, and that is a pity.  I hope you can find some.

I think maybe it is time for you to create your own backing tracks.  To record to a computer you usually need a device (an "external sound card") that allows you to connect a microphone and a guitar cable.  It connects to the computer with a USB cable.  You then use software referred to as Digital Audio Workstation or DAW software to capture the input to multiple tracks that you can then mix together and save as an audio file.  Audacity is a basic version of this kind of software, and there are other free versions of applications like MixPad.  There are others:
http://music.tutsplus.com/articles/7-free-digital-recording-apps-for-windows--audio-5485
http://www.audio-issues.com/home-recording-studio/free-audio-recording-programs/
You have to pay for the device that connects to the computer, but there are budget ones if you search for "budget usb audio interface".
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by:BillDL
ID: 40568300
Hi camtz

I found another place that you can customise and then download MP3 backing tracks, but they are more expensive than the www.karaoke-version.com ones, the range looks to be more limited, and the bottom of the window that you use to customise the instruments is hidden off my screen at the bottom.  It might be worth a look, but I don't think there are many (if any) Spanish / Latin American tracks and from the previews I don't think they are any better than the ones on www.karaoke-version.com.

http://www.yamahamusicsoft.com/en/instrument/Guitar/Electric+or+Acoustic+Guitar/category/Custom+Audio/catalog?keyword=&currency=USD&nav=2&pageSize=60&sort=title

I haven't ever searched for other sites that offer this kind of service, but it might be worth your while searching for "custom backing audio tracks" to see what else is offered.  I only discovered the Yamaha site while looking up details of a guitar.
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