I’ve never met a musician who doesn’t love to show off their rig. It’s a badge of their persistence and pride, revealing glimpses of personality and musical style. It can even uncover the journey musicians have taken to hone their sound over decades. These are the tangible markers along the path to a future actualization of creative expression.

Perhaps you’ve just begun to learn and are still finding the instrument that works for you. Maybe you gig, record, and are experimenting with your sound. Maybe you’ve played long enough that you have found what you need to get in the zone. Wherever you are, there’s one constant: Spending time preparing, practicing, playing, and performing with your gear is key to using it effectively. I’m going to key in on one technique to show how a little preparation can help you use all your gear seamlessly during
a gig.

I’ve already covered the basics of setting up your iPad to be a digital binder using OnSong. It lets you stay organized and move through songs in your setlist hands free. You can also play songs by request without shuffling through stacks of paper. This alone is a game-changer, but we’ve only scratched the surface. Digital binders can also store the bits and bytes that instruct your gear to do things using MIDI. Call up a song to play, and your gear is ready before the first strum.

MIDI stands for Musical Instrument Digital Interface, and it’s been around since the mid-80’s. Despite being old enough to party with Peewee Herman, it hasn’t remained stuck in the past. It has grown up, matured, and dropped that awkward flock of seagulls hairdo. Modern MIDI enables instruments talk though a simple USB cable, or even wirelessly.

Your first homework assignment is to get your iPad working with your MIDI devices. Check out wired Lighting port adapters from IK Multimedia, or Bluetooth adapters from Yamaha. Even though we are using the latest technology to connect, it’s all backwards compatible, so you can rock out on older effects processors or use the latest in amp modelers or loopers.

It only takes one MIDI connection to control all of your equipment. The secret to keeping everything straight is to use channels. Configure each device onto its own channel. For instance, you could set up your vocal processor on channel 1, your guitar effects processor on channel 2, etc. There are 16 channels in MIDI, so there’s plenty of room for everything, even with a complicated setup.

Most devices have presets that you want to change, or adjustments you can make with controls. Let’s say you want to start with a clean vintage sound for the first verse of a song, and then switch to something with a bit more grunge in the chorus. To do this, MIDI uses “program changes” to switch your device’s presets. If you want to change the amount of reverb, you would use “control changes” to adjust parameters. Don’t get too wrapped up in terminology. It’s just different ways for a computer to identify what to change. Setting it up once means no more kneeling down to tweak things in the middle of a performance.

OnSong lets you easily assign MIDI to the song, or to specific sections. You can tap and hold on those parts to add MIDI events on various channels for each of your devices. Though it’s a bit of work up front, it’s a set it and forget it scenario. In practice, you just open the song or highlight the part of the song and your pedal board automatically configures itself. No more remembering settings or fiddling with knobs on the floor – just one pedal press that does it all.

MIDI is a powerful tool, but programming it may feel like you’ve died of dysentery on the Oregon Trail. The fine folks that make MIDI have just announced MIDI “Capability Inquiry” which will detect what your devices can do and let you make those choices in a human way.

It’s time to take one more step to simplify your rig, play more gigs, and continue on your journey as a musician.


  1. Hi Jason
    If I have an iPad 4, a Roland gr-55, a Boss RC-300
    Can I program thru midi to have each of the pedals call up their programmed settings for individual songs just by calling that song up on Onsong? If so, is there instructional video or ? that could teach me What I need for cable and how? That would be a huge timesaving bonus for me.
    Cheers Ron.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here