How to make music on an iPad

Animoog-001’s 25ThC considers the best way to make music using an iPad, and interviews the people in the know:

No-one can deny that the iPad, and the iPhone before it, has transformed how we interact with our screens and has created and pushed forward the tablet market. There are of course other tablets and operating systems out there but in my view the single most important thing with any tablet is the availability and quality of apps. I bought my iPad 3 when it was released in March 2012 with the main intention of using it for music production. Of course it is brilliant for using the Internet, playing games, productivity etc, but it was the touch screen interface that really drew me to buy it.

Over the last couple of years there has been a constant flow of amazing music applications ranging from toys such as Bebot, amazing synths including Animoog, Nave and Thor and fully fledged Digital Audio Workstations (DAW) such as Cubasis and Auria. It is now possible to perform and record your music, add fx, master it and upload it to soundcloud for everyone to hear, all wirelessly and from anywhere in the world from your iPad.

On a personal level I use my iPad in a number of ways for music. If I am am travelling then I use synth and drum applications to record into my DAW Cubasis via a superb app called Audiobus. This allows me to get down a few ideas to work on later and sometimes even a complete track. When I am in the studio I use the iPad in conjunction with Ableton Live 9 to either control the application using Lemur or Touchable or I use it as a midi controller using apps such as Orphion and Soundprism pro. Finally when I DJ out, I use DJay 2 plus some other effects apps.

The fact that more and more electronic and acoustic producers are using the iPad in their productions has also led to a rise in sites and groups to keep everyone informed of the latest software and hardware. There are sites that produce video tutorials of apps (iosMars) artists that solely use the iPad to produce (smite matter), labels that release just iOS music (lazer cat), blogging sites detailing the latest apps and news (discchord) and a very popular and fast growing Facebook group (iPad Musician). I regularly use and rely upon all of these sites for information and to educate me which in turn benefits my productions. I thought it would be a good idea to try and draw all of these people together to find out what it is about the iPad that has created such a prolific and large user base.

Smite matterSmite Matter, aka David Israel, I understand that you produce your music solely using iOS. How long have you been producing in this way and why do you prefer it to more traditional methods?
I have been at this for a little more than 4 years. I started with an iPod Touch, then moved to the iPad where I completed my first album (Technopolis Lost) using just those devices. There is a lot to be said for the mobility factor. Being able to essentially take a virtual studio full of everything I need, anywhere I want, has always been very appealing to me. The prices of the iOS software or “Apps” are insanely low. Many are just as capable as their desktop versions, but for pennies on the dollar. For example, the FabFilter ProQ in Auria goes for $30, opposed to the very same thing for $190 on PCs. You can have a iOS synth capable of the very same things as their hardware versions, but for a massively lower cost. Plus no need for wires or cables.

The audio quality is excellent, and if you want to, you can plug in to a MIDI controller/keyboard as well as many other hardware. It can all play and sound the same. The touch interface is unique and allows for some highly creative and expressive gesture controlled options. As far as I am concerned this is the best music production option.

What advice do you have for iOS producers?
It’s still pretty early for iOS music, but it is far more capable than what many “nay sayers” claim. You’re going to hear grumbles from purists, and doubters. My advice is don’t let them get to you. Most of them are just being snobby. They should largely be ignored. Fact is, yes, you can use iOS to do a complete, professional quality music production. Its not perfect, and not for everybody, but it is evolving fast. So, get comfortable with things changing rapidly.

Forget about finding the “best” apps and concentrate on the apps that work best for your needs. Doesn’t matter if you’re new to making music, or a seasoned pro, there are options suitable for all.

Are there any specific instruments or other apps that you would like to see on iOS and what would be your dream app?
As far as instruments go iOS offers a vast array that sound amazing. Think of an instrument, and there is very likely an app that emulates it very well. It would be nice to see more innovation in synthesizers taking better advantage of the touch interface. The instrument apps, synthesizers, etc available currently are amazing, but mostly just copies of some other hardware. That’s cool, lots are well made, we can use them, but it seems to me there aren’t enough that really apply the full range of options a touch interface provides. iOS has DAWs of several breeds. Each of them very capable, but none have offered a full service DAW experience yet. Close, but not quite there just yet.

Which iPad do you currently own and what is your favourite music app?
I have had each generation of iPad, but currently I am using iPads 3&4. The iPad 4 is currently the best option being the most powerful so far. It’s so hard to pick a single favorite app. I favour different apps in different situations. I’d be more comfortable answering what are my favourites in each category. For example, Auria is my favoured iDAW. It has pro grade plugins, outstanding FX, full automation, among other things. My favored synthesizers are Addicitve Synth, Waldorf Nave, Thor, and Sunrizer. Samplr is my favored sampler. DM1 for drum machines, Guitarism for acoustic guitar emulation, ThumbJam for a wide variety of beautiful sounding instruments, EchoPad, and VirSyns- Audio Reverb apps for Delay & Reverb effects. The list goes on and on. I can’t live with just one app. That’s part of what makes this all so great, a huge affordable and high quality selection of music apps.

DiscchordTim Webb, you run Discchord, a site that promotes news on new and upcoming apps, video tutorials and music hardware. You do include articles about other operating systems and hardware but the majority of your posts are iOS related. When and why did you decide to set up the site?
The site evolved over the course of a year. An instant community of musicians had flocked to iOS around the release of the iPad 2. By that time, it was clear that some truly excellent apps were not only possible on iOS, but relatively affordable when compared to similar computer-based Virtual Instruments. Korg lead this charge by releasing an iPad version of their legendary MS-20 synthesizer. This is a beast of a synth, but it’s from the 70s and has a lot of anachronisms that made it difficult to approach. When I had figured it out, I posted a video on YouTube explaining some of the more archaic features. This immediately caught the attention of the already large community. With this audience in mind I started to film other tutorials, and video reviews for apps. I needed a website to act as a landing page for all of the videos. The popularity of this simple site was staggering, so some months later I began to do daily posts about news and new music in the community.

What is it about the iPad that has created such a large user-base of musicians using it either entirely or alongside their regular production setup?
I believe the reason so many musicians have embraced the iPad is a combination of intuitive hand-eye use and affordability. There are some excellent virtual instruments available on PC/Mac desktops, but to actually control all of the knobs and sliders requires an investment in hardware controllers. These can get expensive, on top of the expense of the software itself. We’re talking about well over $1,000 to even get started. An alternative to software instruments are the tactile hardware instruments, which offer all of the controls and playability in a single package, but the expense here is many times greater than the software route. With iPad apps you get the best of both worlds for between $5-30 per app.

What is it that makes some apps succeed where others don’t?
The immediacy of the on-screen controls is a revelation. The time between having an idea for a sound, and making the changes to your instrument to make that sound, is reduced dramatically from the desktop; where you need to map controls to the expensive control surfaces, or else use your mouse to make changes. The mouse is a hugely inconvenient interface. We take it for granted now, but if you think about how your brain has to do all of this extra relative-position orientation you can see how that adds a layer between you and the creative flow. The price is also a very important factor, making it much more practical to explore and master different production apps without going into debt. You can have an amazing studio for well under $200, or get started for less than $50. Obviously this doesn’t include the price of the iPad itself, but many people already have iPads; if just to reply to interview emails on the toilet.

What advice do you have for any budding app developers?
The success of apps tends to be a combination of polish and innovation. There are already thousands of apps on the App Store in the Music category. To stand out you have bring something new to the table, and it needs to be visually or otherwise appealing. There are some great apps out there, so if yours looks like shit; no one is interested. That’s not to say ugly apps can’t succeed, or that overly artistic efforts are successful. Just as important to being visually appealing is a logical workflow that enhances this mouseless interaction. We’re well past the stage that anyone who released an app would enjoy popularity simply for being novel. This is the time for creative software engineers to shine, to really do something new on a now established platform.

LazerkatJeremy McGill, you set up the iPad Musician Facebook group just over a year ago and even in the 3 or 4 months I have been a member it has grown exponentially. Why did you decide to set up the group initially and did you ever expect it to get so big?
I set up the group originally because I wanted a cool place to hang out and network with other iOS musicians. There didn’t seem to be the place I wanted so I decided to create it. It has grown much quicker than I ever expected, and is full of so many talented people.

Why do you think the group is so popular and were you surprised at just how friendly and helpful everyone was to each other?
I think the popularity is 1) a direct result of how popular iOS is becoming as a musical platform; 2) the fact that i’ve worked so hard at making the group very interactive and we’ve had so many contests with lots of great prizes; and 3) we also have so many great developers of the apps we love as members. So it’s a very helpful place.

You are also the head of Lazer Kat records, a label that specialises in iOS produced music. Can you tell us about the label and Why you think people are using their iPads to produce rather than traditional methods?
Lazer Kat records is a label that’s focused on mobile music production. It just felt natural. We have an album coming out soon from smite matter, and our LKr compilation part 2 will release soon.

Which iPad do you currently own and what is your favourite music app?
I currently have an iPad 4 (and a busted iPad 2), plus I use my iPod touch 4. My favourite app, that’s tough. Only one? Samplr.

Ios marsRyan Hemeon you run iOS Mars and have produced over 100 video tutorials for iPad apps. When and why did you start the site?
I started the site in late January/early February 2013. I’ve always loved helping people and teaching things. iOS was the first time my help has become really valuable to a large amount of people, as opposed to teaching guitar to children and things like that. I started on the Audiobus forum helping people there, eventually it started to get frustrating that videos would get buried so fast. Thus iOS MARS was born.

I was sorry to hear that you have recently hit some financial difficulties and the future of the site is far from safe. Through the Facebook group people have rallied to support you by producing a few albums of iOS music to be sold with all monies going towards helping your site survive. How does it make you feel that people are being so supportive and generous with their time and skills?
Thanks man! It’s so awesome. Really amazing! I’m so grateful for everyone’s help. The whole idea was Martin Neuhold’s and he spearheaded all of the organization, so extra big thanks to Martin! Clif Johnston also did a lot of work in keeping everything organized. But thanks to everyone who helped, it was much more than I expected!

You have also been instrumental in setting up some music contests on the Facebook group page. What was the response and quality of the productions?
The response has been really good for most of the contests. Sometimes there is less response because most people already own the prize, like in the case of Meteor. I thought the productions were far above average for anyone doing home recordings. In some cases they are so good you’d think it was recorded in a pro studio.

Which iPad do you currently own and what is your favourite music app?
I have the iPad 3rd Generation 32gig w/wifi. It is so difficult to pick a favourite music app. It’s nearly impossible to even pick a fav DAW or fav Synth app. Depends what needs to be done. But if I had to pick a favourite, it’s Audiobus. It’s the glue that holds everything together. It’s gotten to the point already where it gets overlooked in people “apps used” lists. It’s just a given, “they used Audiobus”.



Interview by 25ThC