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History of MIDI

What is MIDI?

By textbook definition, MIDI is an acronym for Musical Instrument Digital Interface. It’s an electronic standard used for the transmission of digitally encoded music. But what exactly does that mean?

MIDI isn’t a sound or an instrument, it is simply the carrier for messages that specify the instructions of music. For example, if a chord progression is laid down via MIDI, those same chords’ notes, velocity, vibrato, panning, tempo, and pitch can be transmitted to an instrument that has MIDI capabilities.

Every time a musician plays a MIDI instrument, the exact way the musician played is transmitted into MIDI data. That data can then be transferred to a computer and played the same exact way through another MIDI instrument.

When Was MIDI Invented

In 1981, Dave Smith of Sequential Circuits, presented a paper on the “Universal Synthesizer Interface.” Just two years later, in 1983, at the winter NAMM Show*, a Sequential Circuits Prophet-600 was able to talk to a Roland Keyboard over a 5-pin cable.

*Fun fact, Hosa’s first NAMM Show appearance was just one year later, in 1984.

But in those days, polyphonic synthesizers cost thousands of dollars and one could really only get their hands on one if they were wealthy. So, Dave Smith came up with another idea; an interface so simple, inexpensive, and easy to implement that no manufacturer could refuse it. Smith helped develop it — but at the time, MIDI was widely viewed as “too slow” by peers and industry leaders… until it wasn’t.

The MIDI Manufacturers Organization (MMA) would not back down. In an industry of intense rivals, the MMA was able to hold a coalition of the most competitive manufacturers of the time. The message became clear: if MIDI is successful it would drive the industry into even greater success. The MMA was right, manufacturers were on board and immediately helped educate the market on MIDI through books and even online materials such as “Introduction to MIDI.”

MIDI Cables

MIDI cables help connect to MIDI devices. MIDI devices range from instruments, modules, computers and much more.

Hosa carries affordable and reliable midi cables in singles and doubles (for the in/out pair), we offer right angle MIDI, and we even have a MIDI to USB interface.

MIDI Interfaces

MIDI interfaces changed the way the world makes music. No longer did someone have to be in a luxurious studio to lay down guitar tracks or vocals. With the development of MIDI interfaces, emerged the concept of a “bedroom producer” — leveling the playing field for musicians across the globe. And when a “bedroom producer” wins multiple Grammys, it’s hard to justify the reason to even use a studio.

MIDI Today

Now, MIDI is everywhere. Initially just an idea that separated sound from a keyboard, it is now built into the least expensive keyboards to the most expensive studio gear. And, until just recently, the spec remained at version 1.0. MIDI data is responsible for nearly all of the music made today and, more importantly, helped lower the barrier to entry for music production. Instead of acquiring multiple instruments, use MIDI devices and simply pick out whatever sound you want. 

If you want to learn more about MIDI, head over to and get started using MIDI today!

- Hosa
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