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MIDI Paradise was put together by Devin Smith in March of 2020.

The MIDIs came from a ridiculous set of 130,000 files scraped & collated by the aptly-named Reddit user MidiMan in 2016. The backgrounds were ripped from Sega Genesis ROMs by the Spriters' Resource users Silversea, Shadowbot, and Rabidrodent.

Audio Process

Mea Culpa: You're not actually listening to MIDI files. These are recordings of MIDI files played back on my Roland SC-155, mastered with T-Rax 3CS, and exported to MP3s.

There's good reason to do it this way! For one, the quality of the SC-series instruments is fantastic, extremely 90s-sounding, and generally better than most modern OS's GM sets (which often seem to be included only as an afterthought, for legacy support). And secondly, the SC-155 also employs Roland's proprietary GS extension of the General MIDI spec.

GS includes useful extras like configurable reverb and chorus, and instrument-level settings for filters, envelope shaping, and vibrato controls. Many of the MIDI files selected here make creative use of these features: For example, check out the wah guitar in Waterfalls, achieved via automating the GS filter settings. Which brings me to my next point...

What Makes a "Good" MIDI?

A set of 60 songs from 130,000 is an awfully deep cut! For this round, I elected to forgo Jazz, Classical, etc, and focused only on pop songs. A few things became apparent here.

The pop material generally ends in the mid-2000s, around the time MP3s superseded MIDIs online. There's a recency bias towards 90s pop, and a large portion of the songs come from the omnipresent chart-toppers you might expect (Beatles, Madonna, etc).

Multiple arrangements for a single song is more the rule than the exception, and it quickly becomes apparent which arrangers are just slapping notes on the page, and which are really Going For It.

Musically, judging a non-MIDI arrangement revolves around how an arranger employs the ensemble's particular instrumentation and techniques in service to a song. With MIDI, you have access to a full orchestra, slammin' 808s, a jazz combo, death metal guitars, futuristic synths -- the whole gamut! Coupled with all the expressiveness of MIDI CCs, you've got a wide palette here.

One hallmark of a good MIDI is an attentiveness to this plethora of options: Like including juicy pitch bends and vibrato to guitar leads (Right Down The Line), using instrumentation to mimic iconic production details (Escapade, Diamonds And Pearls), or tackling absurdly ambitious material (Roundabout). A killer MIDI is truly a labor of love.

Sometimes, a MIDI arrangement gets better as it tilts slightly toward the absurd. Sure, you could use a flute, but the shakuhachi has that certain special something -- a good MIDI knows that it's a MIDI.

Lastly, this collection is a bit heavy on Smooth R&B, Adult Contemporary, and Yacht Rock. This isn't just personal taste -- though, obviously, that's a factor -- but that the arrangers who gravitated to this material clearly knew their stuff. Considering the laborious and confounding state of music software in the 80s & 90s, it seems likely that many were professionals. The The Steely Dan tunes in particular show a dedication not only in transcribing these rather obtuse charts, but going the extra mile to really make the MIDIs slap.

Maybe, in the end, that old canard about pornography may best describe a "Good" MIDI: you know it when you hear it.

   - Devin