Not many engineers know how to import and export MIDI files until they’re well into their careers. This happened to me as well! The most common use case for importing and exporting MIDI files is when you’re collaborating with other producers or musicians, mostly pianists and beatmakers using MIDI keyboards or drum pads. If you are new to this, you should check out my article on export settings as well as the different encoding formats in Ableton here.
Unlike audio, which you export from Ableton’s export menu, MIDI is exported in session and can be exported from both the mix and the arrangement view. In both these views, you can only export one clip or track at a time. The process is exactly the same otherwise. This is how you do it:
Step 1: Select your clip and make sure that all the notation is correct and quantized.
Step 2: right click on your clip and select Export MIDI Clip (or use the shortcut Cmd + Shift + E on Mac, or Ctrl + Shift + E on Windows)
Step 3: name the clip appropriately and the save location.
MIDI clips in Ableton are encoded as .mid files
Tip! If you do not want to export one clip at a time and save time, you can consolidate your audio clips and repeat these steps
There are two ways to import MIDI in Ableton; you can either drag and drop the clip, or use the ‘import MIDI’ feature in Ableton.
Drag and Drop
Step 1: Under the Create options, select Create MIDI Track (Cmd + Shift + T on Mac or Ctrl + Shift + T on Windows)
Step 2: Drag and drop the MIDI Clip into Ableton
‘Import MIDI’ Feature
This step is a bit longer but you will achieve the same results.
Step 1: Create a new MIDI track or use an existing MIDI track and select the point where you would like to import the clip
Step 2: go to create and select Import MIDI Clip
Step 3: Select the MIDI clip from your browser
Tip! In both of these import methods, Ableton will ask you if you want to import tempo and time signature data. I recommend you know the exact tempo and time signature of the clip before you import. If you select ‘yes’ this will keep the original data of the clip. If ‘no’ then your clip will snap to the session’s tempo and time signature.
You can also convert audio into MIDI so you can import and export the sample as MIDI. Simply right-click on the track and select your MIDI conversion preference.
If you share audio, you need to consider a lot more to make the most out of your samples. If you look at my writings on sampling, and Dithering, you will notice that you can run into multiple errors when importing and exporting audio.
Using MIDI allows for a lot more versatility. You can load and create many instruments from the same clip. Likewise, you can also edit a particular notation or key of your clip. You get a lot more control than as compared to an audio sample. Know when to apply these techniques and have fun!