Working with MIDI files

  • Live Versions: 4 - 10
  • Operating System: All

This article provides information on common MIDI file format questions.

  1. Importing MIDI to Live
  2. Exporting MIDI from Live
  3. Standard MIDI files
  4. MIDI export resolution
  5. General MIDI
  6. Importing MIDI files from NI Maschine
  7. Issues importing or working with MIDI files

Importing MIDI to Live

MIDI files can be dragged and dropped directly from Explorer/Finder or Live's browser into a MIDI track in Live.

Note that Live supports the .mid and .smf extensions only. If you are importing a file with a .midi extension you need to rename it to .mid so that Live can read it.

Exporting MIDI from Live

MIDI clips in Live can be exported as standard MIDI files. Select the MIDI clip you wish to export and select the “Export MIDI Clip” command from the File menu, or directly from the clip's context menu:


Please note that only a single MIDI clip can be exported at a time. If you want to export all MIDI events from one MIDI track, select all clips first, consolidate them and then export the consolidated Clip:




Standard MIDI files

Following the MIDI standard, MIDI data is saved as a standard MIDI file. There are three different file formats.

While being different internally, all MIDI files have the same file extensions (*.mid or*.smf). From the outside, one can't see which format a specific MIDI file is actually using. This information is stored in its header chunk only and can be revealed by opening the file with a hex editor. The format of a MIDI file is initially defined by the device or software the file is created with.

  • SMF0
    • All MIDI data is stored in one track only, separated exclusively by the MIDI channel.
    • If such a file is imported into Live, all MIDI data will appear in one track.
  • SMF1
    • The MIDI data is stored in separate tracks/channels.
    • If such a file is imported into Live, the MIDI data will appear in different tracks.
    • Up until Live 9, SMF1 formatted files appear as a folder in Live's browser, which can be opened to import only some of its tracks if necessary.
  • SMF2 (hardly used at all)
    • The MIDI data is stored in separate tracks, which are additionally wrapped in containers, so it's possible to have e.g. several tracks using the same MIDI channels.

MIDI file converters might also help to switch formats for an already existing file. Those converters have meanwhile become quite rare and are a makeshift only: an SMF1 with all original information can never be restored from a file once saved as SMF0, since some information is completely dropped for the latter.

MIDI Export Resolution

Live exports MIDI files with a resolution of 96 ppq, which means a 16th note can be divided into 24 steps. All MIDI events are shifted to this grid accordingly when exported. Bear this in mind in case you notice that the position of MIDI information like note and controller events have changed when exporting to MIDI files.

General MIDI

General MIDI is an enhancement of the original MIDI standard. It describes minimal sound generator / content conditions. The data itself is stored as standard MIDI files (see above). Live does currently not support automatic sound assignment following the GM standard.

Importing MIDI files from NI Maschine

When trying to import MIDI files from NI Maschine into Live, please note that it needs some preparation in Maschine. You can find more information in this video tutorial. In order to directly record MIDI from Maschine into Live, please watch this video.

Issues importing or working with MIDI files

1. No sound after importing a MIDI file

MIDI files do not capture and store actual sounds.
Instead, MIDI files are just a list of events which describe the specific steps that a soundcard or other playback device must take to generate certain sounds. MIDI files can be used on a Live MIDI track, but require an instrument to produce sound - the MIDI data of a MIDI file can play a internal Live instrument device, a virtual VST or AU instrument or external MIDI equipment.

2. When importing a MIDI file, all data appears in one track

MIDI files saved in SMF0 format store all MIDI data in one track only - so Live will also import them into one track. The MIDI file needs to be changed to SMF1 format which stores the MIDI data in different tracks:

  • Save or export the file as SMF1 from the device or software it originally was created with. Refer to the device or software's manual for further information.
  • If that is not possible, MIDI file converter applications might help. An SMF1 with all original information can't be restored from a file once it is saved as SMF0, but splitting the tracks should work.

3. Unable to import .midi files

When trying to import MIDI files to Live from Finder/Explorer they can't be dragged in, instead showing the No Sign (Circle with diagonal line). This could be occurring because the MIDI file has the extension .midi. Only .mid files are supported. Change the extension from .midi to .mid in Finder/Explorer. Then try the import again.