Friday, December 28, 2012

Putting all those apps together

Obviously after all the hype, demos and finally a release, Audiobus is one of the most influential apps put out in 2012 for iPad music making. There are plenty of in depth reviews, previews and demos out there already so I finally got to making my own piece with it and will let you know my impressions. First and foremost though, here it is:

This particular piece was almost entirely done on Audiobus with live recording into Harmonic Dog's MultiTrack DAW. The source synths for this piece included: Animoog, Sunrizer, Rebirth and the Korg iMS-20.

The only non-Audiobus pieces were the vocal effects which used Audiocopy/paste and were captured from via the iPad GoodReader app and processed in Hokusai before pasting into MultiTrack DAW.

Audiobus allows iPad users to finally put together a sort of best-in-breed DAW. Rather than relying on sandboxed all-in-one solutions that are limited to one vendor, by providing live audio recording across apps, we can use any compliant synth, any compliant effects and any compliant target. Note the word "compliant"! This means that for apps to work with Audiobus, they need to update and include code to support the standard. The great news is that many apps have already done that. The not-so-great news is that not every app is there yet.

Already, tons of synth apps support recording their audio into target apps. On the target side, however, the choices are still a bit limited. I suspect it is harder to be a "target" than a source, so we will see this grow over time.

As you can see elsewhere in greater detail, audiobus supports "sources", "effects processors" and "targets" (apologies if I have the terms wrong). Many apps already exist in the "sources" and "effects processors", but for serious recording you need DAWs to support the target side.

I am very anxious to see Auria support, but that is going to take a few releases before it and Audiobus work well together. Since I'm impatient, I invested $10 in MultiTrack DAW which already supports Audiobus. I also bought "Loopy" which is a live looper app, but of the two, MultiTrack fits my workflow much better. Loopy is better suited to live performance but is by the authors of Audiobus, so its support is not surprising.

One of the biggest advantages of audiobus is that it allows you to live record audio from any source application - particularly those that do not have convenient or easy recording facilities on their own. In the piece above, I recorded Sunrizer and Animood directly into Multitrack DAW with Audiobus rather than rely on the flakey recorders in each app. This was really much easier than audio copy/paste.

In the sandboxed environment of the iPad (which is gradually becoming the norm on desktops as well), this may be the future for inter-application recording. We may see similar schemes eventually replace the VST and AU plugin architectures on desktop DAWs since sandboxing solves so many of the security concerns on desktops (but at a price of convenience).

I will be doing much more with Audiobus in the future and will let you know how it goes. As things stand right now, I think audiobus works well in conjunction with audio copy/paste. Things will only get better as time goes on.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Korg gets iOS

Its been a few years now with music apps for iOS. Many new companies jumped right in and started creating analog synth emulations, DAWs and tons of other music apps that no one thought would be possible on such limited hardware.

I think CPU wise, the iPad is maybe equivalent to my old Apple G4 table lamp iMac on which I first started making music with Garageband around 2004 or so. So its not going to outpace laptops or computers but it more than makes up for that with the touch interface. There is something more intimate or direct about dragging musical ideas around. An analogy might be when Nintendo brought out the Wii. Very underpowered compared to its competition but it took off due to a more direct interface.

So with all the music apps and software coming out, several established synthesizer companies are starting to take notice. Moog has 2 excellent apps - one basically just an effects processor - Filtatron and the other, Animoog is a wave table synth with great samples from Moogs and other sounds - just today they put out an update with Audiobus support, a 4-track recorder and what got me (sucker that I am!), Grateful Dead samples to use as timbres - Dark Star no less!!!

I think that the company best positioned to deliver on iOS though, might be Korg. Korg is a large company with a rich history of analog and digital synthesizers and some years ago they created incredible emulations or ports of their classic synths as plugins for computer DAWs. With iOS, Korg has ported a few of these to the touch screen with great success (and the help of DeTune - a contracted company).

The first app was the iElectribe which is an almost perfect emulation of their hardware drum machine. Every knob moves - every button works and the app goes well beyond what the actual hardware can do by adding in audiobus support, saving patches etc.

My favorite app is probably the iMS-20 which is an incredible emulation of their MS-20 analog synth. They do a great job of recreating the entire hardware along with virtual patch cables. In fact, when I first got it, I looked at videos by Marc Doty on the actual hardware synth and everything he showed, worked on the iMS-20 exactly as the hardware. They went further though and included a virtual sequencer and the Kaoscillator based on their hardware add-ons. Factor this in with 6 tracks of drum or synth backgrounds and its a sort of retro all-in-one DAW.

They followed this up with the ikossilator which perfectly emulated their hand-held hardware only it did it much better.

Just a few weeks ago they came out with the iPolySix which provides 2 instances of the iPolySix with up to 6 drum synths (or limited polysix parts). This is even better than the iMS-20 in many respects due to the polyphony. All of these offerings also support Audiobus so you can record them into a DAW.

The original Korg legacy collection for Windows and Mac includes many more soft synths and I expect that one by one these will find their way onto iOS since they are not all that CPU demanding yet they are emulations of classic hardware. I anxiously await the M1 (which I have on OSX already).

Its always interesting to see how hardware companies will treat software emulations. They have to tread a fine line of offering something valuable without making their hardware irrelevant in the process. I have seem a few examples where the software versions in most ways surpass the hardware. The ikaossilator and Yamaha's TNR-I are examples.

It will be exciting to see what other companies come up with next. PPG has the Wavetable - Moog, the Animoog. Roland? We're waiting!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Giving and getting feedback (or Carnegie 101)

In my professional career (IT - don't ask!), I've had years of professional development courses, management courses and coaching on getting and giving feedback which I occasionally apply to home, family and hobbies. This might not be a good thing, but when you are hit over the head again and again with ideas or concepts, sort of like a cult, it affects you.

One interesting point for amateur musicians is why do it at all? Of course, in an amateur case, music is not a livelihood - it isn't putting food on the table and it isn't in life changing terms, essential. So why does it matter so much to me? Tons of psychological reasons, no doubt, but it is a fact that I publish what I create and look forward diligently to feedback of almost any kind. At some level, for me, it matters!

I can at some level accept that music makes my life better and is also a healthy escape when life or life experiences are um...less than optimal. So again, I produce this "stuff" and publish it with no other expectations of renumeration.

One very nice thing about publishing musical works - finished or unfinished, good or bad, is that you will inevitably get feedback from other musicians. I think this is what I enjoy most about my "hobby".

If you do publish something to Soundcloud, or MacJams or iCompositions (or someplace else), you will hopefully see some form of feedback based on what you submitted.

Many of the listens and feedback that you receive will work best on a quid-pro-quo basis (i.e. I listen to you, please listen to mine) and if you contribute your own opinions to other works, you will have a much more positive experience.

The types of listeners will vary and I can't stress enough that even if all someone does is click onto your  profile, you are winning in a big way. Out of thousands or millions of possibilities, someone has stumbled onto you!

So every touch is valuable to me, but I do tend to value some listens more than others. Here is my take on what happens with my own amateurish compositions:

The "Pings" on your submissions - These are folks that clicked on your song in MacJams or Soundcloud and decided whether or not to listen to it. You win in that at least you caught their attention! If they don't actually listen, at least you managed to catch their attention with the song title, song art or something.

Speed listeners - This is a bit more subtle in that you will get feedback (often positive) on your submission and the user will comment on your songs (quite possibly, 5 - 10 of them) all within a 2 minute window (soundcloud, for example, will actually timestamp when someone comments or likes something) which is remarkable when your average song length is 4 minutes! Be grateful that you got the attention at all, but this is definitely an attempt at quid-pro-quo and don't feel obliged to listen to their 20 minute opuses based on their 10 comments all within a minute. Seriously, if you don't have the time to listen to my stuff, its ok! Really! But lets not pretend :)

Speed and Scatter listeners - There are other folks who will comment on many songs within minutes of each other. To be quite honest here: If someone is truly listening to your work and assessing it, it will probably take at least the play time of your piece for them to come to a critical conclusion. If you see on soundcloud or anywhere else that users comment on 20 pieces in 2 minutes - um...its great to get the feedback, but it isn't really valuable (see previous comments on "pretending").

Pure Quid-pro-Quo - This isn't really a hard rule, but I would say this is the norm for amateur musicians and it is terrific. Groups of amateurs wanting to perfect their craft will comment on each others' pieces with the hope that the recipient will reciprocate. This is honest, worthwhile and will certainly drive more traffic to your own submissions if you listen in turn and comment. Now the egoist in me wants music lovers to flock to me for some bizarre reason, but the norm is that other musicians are more likely to take the time when I take the time to comment on their work.

Serendipity - Some folks just seem to listen to amateur music even when they don't produce their own and they like to comment. This is RARE! If you are this lucky, its really good feedback to get. Some music lover stumbled upon you and liked something - or hated something! I once had someone pour out negative feedback on something I published only to later delete their comment. I was able to privately ask what happened and they responded that they had remorse about their comments (which were very direct and critical). I responded that honest feedback was the best kind and learned a bit more about what they didn't like about my piece which ultimately caused me to rethink some of what I do. Its important not to freak out about critical feedback but to balance it with any other feedback you get.

If you accept the many forms of feedback you get in the categories above, or other categories, you will undoubtedly get better at what you do. The truly honest feedback from non-musicians, when you get it, might prove the most valuable. Other musicians do tend to be overly positive in their comments which is fine, but doesn't challenge you to improve.

I can't stress enough that you should not snap back at critical comments or get into long arguments if you really want to get better at what you do. On occasion you might run into someone irrational who hates your "stuff". That's fine - they will tire of trolling or if they keep doing it, there is some undocumented fascination that you seem to provide them which is art in itself!

So anyone who takes the time in any fashion to click on my own submissions or works - Thank you!