Five Questions: The MIDI Association's Athan Billias - EMusician

Five Questions: The MIDI Association's Athan Billias

Charting the course of an evolving protocol
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MIDI has provided the backbone for electronic music for more than three decades. And though we’ve seen the adoption of significant extensions (Standard MIDI files, General MIDI, MIDI over FireWire) during that time, with the advent of Bluetooth LE, Web MIDI, and integration into Android, Chrome, and other consumer platforms, the scope of MIDI users is broadening considerably.

To meet growing demand for education, the MIDI Manufacturers Association, a nonprofit trade association of MIDI technology providers, announced The MIDI Association, which is conceived to educate and nurture a global community of MIDI users through its MIDI.org web hub (above). The MIDI Association (TMA) advisory board member and longtime MMA advocate Athan Billias, Yamaha’s director of strategic planning, walked us through the association’s plans and goals.

What led to the MI DI Manufacturers Association launching The MI DI Association?

At Winter NAMM 2015, we looked at all of the upcoming advances to MIDI. We knew that wireless Bluetooth MIDI Low Energy was coming, spearheaded by Apple; we knew that Microsoft was working on a new MIDI API and unifying their platform for audio and MIDI across all their devices from desktop to xBox; and Google was planning on putting the Web MIDI API in Chrome and adding MIDI to the Android platform. We realized that by the end of 2016 there would be an estimated 2.6 billion MIDI-enabled devices on the planet, but no centralized place for people to learn and share stories about MIDI.

How are the goals of the The MI DI Association different from those of the MI DI Manufacturers Association?

The MIDI Manufacturers Association (MMA) has been focused on the companies that make MIDI products, and maintaining and developing the MIDI specification. TMA is focused on people who use MIDI. As a standards body, the MMA needs to be somewhat protective of information and is an exclusive group. [Members must be companies that make MIDI products and pay a membership fee to join.] TMA is an inclusive global community of individuals who create music and art, and is free to join.

The MIDI.org website is the central repository of information about anything related to MIDI technology, from classic legacy gear to next-gen protocols on the horizon.

Individuals who use MIDI technology can join The MIDI Association to learn about MIDI, share their experiences and creative projects on forums, participate in TMA webinars and broaden their MIDI knowledge. This includes musicians, artists, educators, retail salespeople, DYI/Arduino enthusiasts, DJs, game developers, sound designers, and audio engineers.

How does TMA facilitate dialog between technology providers and users?

There are forums on the site where end users can post questions and interact with MIDI experts from member companies. Member companies are creating articles about new MIDI technologies and posting them in the site. So MIDI.org is where MIDI companies and MIDI users can meet to interact.

How will educational outreach expand as the community of MIDI users expands?

We have partnered with Nonlinear Educating and Ask.Audio. There are 93 hours of free video training available on the site now, and you can sign up for full MIDI courses and curriculums. These courses have quizzes and tests built in to them. We are planning on adding official MIDI certification in the very near future.

We also have an education panel led by Paul Lerhman from Tufts University, and they are looking at institutional solutions for classroom curriculums on MIDI. We encourage educators at all levels to get involved.

Why is it important for music creators at every experience level to get involved?

MIDI is like air. It’s transparent, it’s all around you, and most of the time you don’t have to think about it much. But if you’re a musician today, imagine trying to live without it.

Staying on top of the newest MIDI specifications, exploring new creative possibilities, sharing stories, and interacting with other people who have a passion for creating with MIDI is what the new MIDI Association is all about.

So please go to midi.org and join the global community of people who work, play, and create music and art with MIDI.