Is iPad Music Production Really Radical?

TTechnology makes life easier, or so they say. I personally think consumer technology is just perceived new ways of doing the same old things. Books were being written even without proper A4 paper and books are still being written and published online at the click of a button.

But the creative process is still the same overall, so technological innovation is more an index of convenience rather than an innovation to creation. I surmise the same can be said about music production on tablets. For most of us who have spent hours learning our craft, it almost seems redundant when you see the preset-ready productions that are done so rapidly on modern devices. I use an iPad as many other musicians do, and I have no complaints as of yet. However, it’s a long shot from the detailed arrangements, notation, and signal chaining that gives DAW a timeless edge.

GarageBand's Live Rock Kit

GarageBand’s Live Rock Kit

While being tactile is the primary novelty factor for the iPad, detailed editing is going to be a tricky business. I remember hanging out on forums back in the days when Emagic still existed and the flagship DAW Logic Platinum 5.5 popularity was at its peak. One of the most innovative creations in music software, things like the Environment, or the Autoload.LSO were common discussions. Much like car mods, it was an inside thing and you got to learn a lot by analysing workflows and communicating with other like-minded individuals.

Nowadays, it’s presets and ease of use that takes precedence, which in my humble opinion is a rather good thing. No one has enough time to conduct elaborate tea ceremonies. With software crashes becoming a rarer phenomenon and audio latency being very usable for most well-built systems, why does the iPad seem so important or useful to us as musicians? To answer that, the biggest feature would be the portability, which is the younger brother of convenience. From large studios to computer desktops and then to laptops  and on to tablets, the pattern is evident. It’s all part of the evolutionary mechanism and Moore’s law.

Human interactivity brought back digital music making as a fun activity and not a producer’s game only to be done in a sequencer with tons of equipment, lengthy instructional tomes, and complicated jargon all over the place. Beat making and beat matching should not be mystified beyond the reach of the very people who consume it. Before DJing became an international phenomenon, most people didn’t understand what DJs do. And the videos of cut shots and flashy editing only hid the fact that they are basically beat matching. The other side of the story is turntablism, which was an even more mystical art to most laymen excluding clubbers and well exposed connoisseurs of music. The iPad? Everyone gets it in about 15 minutes of playing with it, and as far as visibility and proceeds, thank marketing for that.

GarageBand

GarageBand

To sketch an overall session producing music on iPad, I want to focus on the GarageBand app for iPad. It set the base for music production as the common denominator on mobile platforms, but not Android or BlackBerry. These are still millions of miles behind the audio prowess of iOS. Anyone can make music using GarageBand. The main instruments collection is quite sizable, but what sets it apart from other larger libraries is that it is also playable. So, GarageBand out of all the other apps really does it for me. I also use Oxygen midi controller for proper keyboard playing connected via camera kit USB and the results are very usable and excellent for drafting compositions. Low latency and great UX is the main technical bonus that comes with a platform as stable as iOS and a hardware as well designed as the iPad. For the gamut of beat making or live rock music type styles much can be done with the features on board.

Apps and hardware from iRig and Line6 show the innovative spirit that the iPad evokes. Use a hardware device from any one these vendors and you augment the already capable base. From vocal recording to guitar playing, notation apps to sound design oriented apps, to mastering apps – the ken is huge and diverse, and yet fulfill the essentials. Now you can draft something in the plane or taxi and connect back home to augment the original idea that was captured when it struck. While the bar is lowered, the skill-sets are not, it’s not the art but rather the technology that has become more accessible. You still need to know music to a degree where you can start creating your own – everyone has their own mileage in this matter and the journey is endless. Skills like ear training or relative pitch, keyboard technique, blowing and bowing technique, composition skills, orchestration & notation skills are all time-consuming pursuits that ideally should start very young in a musician’s life.

Do you think that gear and app lust seems valid even on a minimal platform like the iPad or do some compromises occur due to this perceived advantage in a miniature device for a young generation? What is your workflow in the iPad and what are your favourite apps?

Comments

  • I could not imagine making music solely on the iPad. But it is useful as a controller. Check out Lemur, Touchable 2 and V-control apps for example.

  • Victor Marak

    I agree to a point as lots of DAW functionality is greatly is simplified in iPad but we are getting there, it’s not yet Ableton and Reason in terms of power but usability is taken off with accessibility and that promotes a kind of ubiquity that never had a precedence earlier, along with the biggest benefit of portability. More R&D is needed for sure! For now it’s fast drafting and software specific use like a particular synth preset that gives the iPad a value. Gorillaz uses it as do many others, it’s taking on and I hope we see more of this from both innovative companies and innovative musicians.