Thursday, August 4, 2011

Some thoughts on iPad Music workflows

I still enjoy the convenience of being able to put together electronic pieces on my couch with an iPad. In "How to Make a Noise" (a great book for learning how to put together synth sounds), Simon Can stresses the point that you should thoroughly learn a synthesizer tool before purchasing many more.

While this is good professional advice, as an amateur, I am free to ignore it and buy synth apps as soon as they come out which, of course, affects my productivity - fortunately I lack the talent and the inclination to try to make a living a producing music so I am free to fritter away my time collecting new apps, DAWs and soft synths.

With so many tools to play with, when I DO want to create something I am forced to think a bit about where I am going with the project. Early on I have to decide:

  • Will this be developed solely on the iPad or will I upload and refine the project in Garageband or Logic 9?
  • Will I use a "studio" type app that lets me put together all the tracks in one go or will I be using Audiocopy and paste?
If I am going to go the "upload" route, I am inclined to use Garageband on the iPad as a starting point. It is one of the best "performing" tools that I have and is incredibly fun to use for guitar riffs, bass lines or even synthesized leads. With the new capability to paste in audio files from other apps, it can even act a a bit of a DAW. I can then upload to the iMac and continue to refine the project in Logic 9 or Garageband '11.

More often than not, however, I am finding myself putting together projects on just the iPad - not sure why that is but I seem to enjoy it more. There are several "self-contained" tools that let me combine beats, bass and leads and I do most of my work there. These tools include NanoStudio, GarageBand, Mixtikl, Korg iMS-20 and Xenon Studio. 

The tools I own that get neglected are the single synth gems such as NLog Pro, Sunrizer, Addictive Synth and SynthX. For these "single-tracking" tools, it takes a good deal more work and imagination to get something going and I have yet to do much with them. I tend to take a "layering" approach to building up songs starting with drum beats and basslines and then gradually adding in leads.

One project I am still working on was done as: 
  1. Creating some patterns in the Korg iElectribe
  2. Pasting the patterns into Mixtikl and adding some generative sounds and a few Mixtikl loops
  3. Moving the project to the iMac, mixing down the Mixtikl song with the desktop version to a WAV file
  4. Importing the WAV file into Logic 9 and adding some synth leads there
In tools such as SynthX or Sunrizer, they play more or less on their own. You can with Sunrizer play background drum beats but it takes a lot of imagination to hear the finished project. SynthX is much worse - a great synth but not even a metronome - how on earth do you create something that fits the beat? I don't really want to beat-stretch in Logic after the fact.

So for now I seem to be doing most of my work with the "studio" type products on the iPad. I'd love to hear other ideas and workflows that work for others if you care to comment.

Here is a "studio" style project I put together with the Korg iMS-20:


  1. Good post. I've been thinking about this as well. Lately I've been using Garageband mostly as I play guitar and bass. The inconsistencies of being able to copy and paste from app to app do bug me. Amplitube, for example. It's a wonderful guitar amp simulation app but it doesn't support copy/paste or CoreAudio (the Apogee Jam doesn't work) or background audio. It's far superior to the amp simulation in GB.

    There's still a way to go on the iPad.

  2. I am lucky in that I do mainly electronica so the amps don't come into play for me but I do find apps that don't share easily frustrating. I keep coming back to the studio type apps - I think this is mainly because I used mainly Garageband and Logic prior to iPad development - I sort of like having everything in one tool.