A little background info
About a week ago I bought myself a shiny new synth! Well, it’s actually more of a workstation than just a plain synth. I thought it was time for 88 weighted keys backed up by some seriously good synth capabilities. After googling around a bit I decided to go for a brand new KORG M50 88. I almost bought a second hand M3 88 but the seller wouldn’t bend for my maximum bid… can’t really blame him, it would have been a great deal for me. The only sad thing is that he did a final counter offer AFTER I bought the M50… too bad: I already had my gear, and in the end it still may be better for me to have a brand new M50 instead of second hand M3. Although I will be missing out on the M3’s sampling capabilities and built in KARMA.
Still, I’m really happy with the M50. I don’t really need a sampler anyway and for the KARMA… well, I can still upgrade to software KARMA (running on a PC/Mac) in the near or distant future.
After playing around with the keyboard in standalone mode I quickly noticed that the built-in sequencer is just not my cup of tea. It’s way too tedious to perform even the simplest of operations (think select, cut, copy, paste kind of stuff). Frankly, I expected it to be like this and to be honest it is still better than the built-in sequencer of my MC505… but since the main usage of the synth will be as a controller / sound module inside my home set up I am not planning to pre-program combi’s, sequences, arpeggiators and other stuff for any live gigs.
As you may know, Reaper is a pretty complete, solid, full-featured digital audio workstation (DAW) that has had some pretty good reviews. It has been a while since I used this kind of software (I have an ancient Sonar version laying around here somewhere) but coming in at a price point for home usage you can’t beat I thought I’d give Reaper a spin and see where it takes me. The evaluation license gives you a fully operational environment that you are allowed to use for 30 days (not enforced) with the only ‘annoyance’ being a 5 second start-up delay.
After fiddling around for a while I finally managed to get the KORG M50 MIDI-integrated into Reaper and I thought I’d share this process through the means of this blog post.
You need to install the KORG M50 USB MIDI driver, and the M50 Plug-In Editor VSTi from the supplied CD-ROM (or alternatively, download them from the KORG website). Hook up your M50 with your PC using an USB cable (or alternatively hook it up using plain MIDI cables… I can’t vouch for this 100% since I haven’t tried that out myself but that should also work). You can test the connectivity by launching the Standalone M50 Plug-In Editor and seeing if it synchronizes with your M50. After you’ve tested it, close the standalone editor again since it will prevent the VSTi from loading otherwise.
You’ll also need to install Reaper of course :)
This blog post is about getting the M50 Plug-In Editor operational inside Reaper. Which means you will have perfect MIDI integration. I won’t explain how t0 record the M50’s audio inside Reaper… I may do so in a future post (and on a side note, you will need to hook up the M50’s audio out with your PC’s audio in in order to do so since the USB connection does not carry any audio signals; only midi).
In order to make Reaper find the VSTi you’ll need to configure it’s location. The default installation folder is %program files%VstpluginsKORG which on my Vista 64 system translates into “C:Program Files (x86)VstpluginsKORG”. You can do this by opening the menu ‘Options – Preferences’ and navigating to Plug-ins / VST. Fill in the correct location and click the ‘Rescan directory’ button to let Reaper find the VSTi and add it to its repository.
Also important: The Plug-In will take control over your M50 so make sure it is disabled in Reapers’ MIDI configuration. In the same screen choose Audio / MIDI devices and disable M50 input and output if that is not the case.
Add a VSTi instrument track
Choose the menu ‘Track – Insert virtual instrument on new track…’. Choose All Plugins/Instruments and if you’ve configured Reaper correctly it should list VSTi: M50 Plug-In Editor (x86) (KORG). When you choose the plug-in and click ‘OK’ it should start synchronizing with your M50 (this can take a minute so be patient) eventually showing the plug-in UI.
Configure the M50 VSTi
Some additional settings need to be done on the M50 to be able to use it both as a midi input controller and as a midi playback device. You can do this on the M50 itself, or by using the Plug-In Editor VSTi. I believe I can best explain this using the VSTi: Click the ‘Global’ button and press the MIDI tab.
Check the Basic ‘Local control on’. This will allow the M50 to listen to its own MIDI commands while recording them in Reaper.
Set the MIDI Clock to ‘External USB’ (or alternatively ‘External MIDI’ if you hooked up your M50 using MIDI cables instead). This will give Reaper the control over the MIDI clock (tempo and transport controls…)
Any changes you make inside this configuration are not immediately synchronized with your M50. In order to apply the changes press the ‘DUMP’ button to send these settings to your M50.
And… also an important setting (which took me a while to find out about) is on the Global – Software Setup tab. Make sure the option ‘Send M50’s MIDI Out data to the host application (VST Plug-In only)’ is checked! This is a plug-in configuration setting so you do not need to synchronize this with your M50.
Keep it simple: for the moment I suggest you choose a simple program instead of a combi. Experiment with the use of combi’s and drum tracks after you’ve accomplished this first.
Reaper can record lots of different types of input. The track with the M50 VSTi needs to be set up to record the output of the VSTi (yep, the VSTi takes the input from the M50 and routes it to its own output). Click the ‘Select Recording Mode’ button of the track (it should be defaulted to ‘in’ and is the second button on the lowest row of the track).
Choose ‘Record: output’ – ‘Record: output (MIDI)’. When you’ve selected that, the small button ‘in’ should be changed into ‘out’.
That’s right. Now you can record, edit and play back MIDI from within Reaper using your M50! You still have only a single track for now, but you can easily add more in the same way. Do make sure however that the midi channels between the different plug-in instances do not overlap (unless you want them to…). Start experimenting with combi’s and drum tracks… I’ve pointed out most of the important settings, but there are many many more :)
You cannot run multiple instances of the VSTi. However, you won’t need to since the VSTi controls all the M50’s midi channels when you put it in Sequence mode (or half of them in Combi mode).