Friday, March 9, 2012

Back to DAWs - Garageband update

While I wait for my new iPad to arrive, I already am enjoying the updates to Garageband for the iPad. There has been a lot of discussion around whether or not it is a complete DAW now that it has note editing and of course the comparisons to other iPad offerings.

So, here is my take on it all. The product itself at $5 is a no-brainer. If you make music on your iPad, buy it! Even if you use only a fraction of its features, it is phenomenal. DAW-wise however, there are areas in which it excels and still some weaknesses.

The note editing is a welcome addition and makes it a bit more complete as a music tool. I think NanoStudio's editing is superior, but in most respects the Garageband solution is "good enough".

The addition of smart strings is phenomenal and is a very nice addition to its instruments. The performance instruments is one place where Garageband shines over most others. So one thing I look at now is what will be most impacted by the new Garageband? Which of my tools might I use less? If you follow the blog, you know that like most, I have a huge collection of music tools on my iPad.

I think there are sort of 2 categories of DAWs on the iPad at this point. One type is the DAW that encourages patch creation and custom sound sculpting. NanoStudio is one such DAW where you dial in your oscillators, filters and carefully craft your sounds. SunVox is similar in the tracker subcategory in that you create your own sounds from the ground up and then use them. The other category is DAWs that rely on samples and pre-built instruments. This group includes Xewton Music Studio (and FL Studio for iPad by same company), iSequence and in most respects, Garageband. You use the sounds provided and can do minor tweaks or adjustments to them via a limited range of dials or modulators.

So, Garageband is most likely in my environment to supplant Xewton Music Studio. It is much cheaper, provides superior samples and is a joy to use. Music Studio is pretty nice in many respects but is more or less the same category.

One common knock on Garageband is that it doesn't interact that well with other tools which is true to some extent. If you are in a Mac environment at home, it is very easy to begin a piece in Garageband for iPad and then complete it on your iMac with Garageband for iMac or Logic 9. This works beautifully though it is a one-way trip.

Garageband doesn't audio copy exactly, but it DOES let you audio paste in sounds. So if you want to incorporate your Korg or Sunrizer tracks, its pretty easy to do. You can also bounce down tracks to get around the 8 track limit if you need to.

One other knock is that Garageband doesn't background play. If I want to play a Sunrizer track in time with the Garageband tracks I have to use a little workaround. I have written before that emailing the track to yourself with Garageband is not a good idea because it degrades the sound to 128kbs AAC. BUT, if all I want to do is use the track to guide my recording of another one, I can email the track to myself, do an "open with" and play the track via Thumbjam or some other background program. I then record my Sunrizer track in time with the music and then paste it back into the original uncompressed Garageband song as audio.

In my environment, Garageband is now my go-to DAW for any sample based music I want to put together. For synth creation I either paste in audio to  Garageband or go back to my standby - NanoStudio!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

My underutilized iPad music tools

As I wait for the next iPad announcement, I am dusting off some of my portable music tools that I have yet to use much in my music. I often return to NanoStudio, Mixtikl, Garageband, Music Studio and the usual suspects when making music on the iPad but I've picked up a number of other tools that are taunting me to use them!

All of the Korg tools are great on the iPad and recently I've acquired iKaossilator which has been sitting on my devices as a pattern toy. With a little experimentation, I find that I can string together variations on the patterns in other DAWs and add some very nice sounds to my pieces. Such as here:

This piece uses the iKaossiliator patterns along with some NanoStudio tracks overtop of them.

One thing Korg does very well is to integrate their tools with Soundcloud, but to upload to their groups, the ENTIRE piece has to use only the Korg tool in question. This can be somewhat limiting but it lets other Korg users download your patches and setups as well as the music and gets TONS of hits, listens etc., so on my to-do list is to make a piece with only the iKaossilator. The only way to really get a full piece composed is to use the live recording function and to manually switch between patterns, parts or play them live while recording. This works well but if you want to tweak or edit the final piece, you are limited to audio editing.

Another tool that has been on my devices and even desktop for ages is the Tracker sequencer Sunvox. I tried on several occasions to fire it up, start programming patterns and....ran away screaming! Its a bit um...fugly in its interface but there's a reason for that!

Sunvox runs on almost every device known to man. Windows, OSX, Palm devices, old tablets and iOS. Therefore its odd interface is consistent in every environment - sort of reminds me of Mixtikl in that respect. Equally bad everywhere!

Nonetheless it is a very powerful DAW if you can get your head around the tracker concepts. I guess it brings out the geek in me typing in hex numbers for volume values. 

I have yet to get a full piece put together with this but it is a very interesting process. Like Mixtikl, Sunvox lets me move my pieces from device to device and work on them anywhere. 

I will eventually figure this thing out!

Still another synth that baffles me is the TC-11 which everyone raves about. It is a completely new idea on interface and is made from the ground up for touch screens. Incredible depth and sounds but I have yet to get anything remotely musical out of it. I think if you want a melodic line, you really have to use its internal sequencer since there is nothing remotely similar to a keyboard in the synth. It was a bit expensive as well, but its another piece I want to add to my sounds soon.