The iPad and Professional Musicians

In our last couple articles in our series on the iPad and Professionals, we’ve been looking at photographers/artists and filmmakers. This week, I’m going to take as in-depth a look as possible on the iPad and musicians.

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Getting Started

This all comes with a caveat from me. If the iPod revolutionized the way we listen to music, the iPad is revolutionizing the way we write it, play it and record it. There’s no way that 1200 words is ever going to summarize this whole playing field. There’s thousands of apps in this category; I’d argue it’s the most diverse in the App Store. I probably could have written a series about it on its own. Beyond that, I’m primarily a guitarist and there’s a good chance I’ll miss your favourite app if you’re a pianist, drummer, hip-hop guru or obsessed with the flute. I apologize in advance.

With that in mind, I wanted to take a little bit of time to encourage you to join our discussion and share your favourite apps and workflows. I guarantee you that there’s going to be lots I miss in this massive product category.

Without further ado, let’s dig in.

The Heavy Hitters

Let’s talk a little bit about what you might expect me to write about here. First of all, we all know about GarageBand, and the iPad has moved past it (although I won’t argue that it’s not a beautifully-designed app, because it is). We’re moving on.

I'm not going to spend long on big apps like djay 2, but I haven't forgotten about them.

I’m not going to spend long on big apps like djay 2, but I haven’t forgotten about them.

You’ll also likely expect me to mention djay 2 for iPad. So my brief thoughts on it are pretty simple: I’m not a DJ, but I’m told by friends who are that djay 2 is the best app out there for that purpose. If you’re a DJ and you haven’t tried it, I’d recommend you do. Again, since this ground has been so extensively covered by major publications, let’s move on.

There is a third heavy hitter called Audiobus. We’ll spend most of the article talking about what makes this app awesome. Audiobus isn’t a heavy hitter because it’s gotten a lot of mainstream coverage — in fact, I don’t think it’s gotten as much as it deserves — but it’s a heavy hitter because it’s an incredibly powerful and ambitious iPad app.

Audiobus lets you chain multiple audio apps together. Pictured here: JamUp with MultiTrack DAW.

Audiobus lets you chain multiple audio apps together. Pictured here: JamUp with MultiTrack DAW.

Audiobus enables music multitasking on the iPad, allowing you to:

…send audio from an app, filter it through another and receive it another. Live.

I’m copying that description straight from their website, because it’s the easiest way to explain it.

If I could provide an example for myself: I could plug in my guitar using Amplitube, add some effects with AmpKit, and record it in Cubasis all at the same time thanks to Audiobus. Audiobus is effectively a beautiful, glorified guitar pedal in that situation.

Apps like Amplitube support Audiobus.

Apps like Amplitube support Audiobus.

But the app is transferrable. It can do similar work for DJs or electronic musicians who are trying to layer synths and drum machines. It can easily help you record a keyboard while listening to a drum beat. This is the killer music-making app, and I think it should take the world by storm.

Getting a Little Deeper Into Audiobus

Audiobus is one of those rare times when a fantastic app get tons of community support. Developers have to make their apps compatible with the service, so the community forum and the developer forum are both quite active. Audiobus knows that their app is dependent on happy developers and users, and they’re intent on creating their own little ecosystem.

This is NLog With Audiobus Connection Panel running.

This is NLog With Audiobus Connection Panel running.

There’s a very extensive list of apps that reveal some insight as to what you can do with the platform. I wish I had time to cover them all. Household names like the aforementioned Amplitube and GarageBand, along with popular companies like Line6’s Mobile POD (maybe they’re just popular in my home), are readily available. That being said, the treasures don’t end there.

Smaller, independent apps like SynthDrum Pads (honestly, just look at that detailed interface) also interact with Audiobus. Other popular apps, like SoundPrism Pro, which is a fantastic MIDI tool and composer, allow you to stream directly to Audiobus and other compatible apps.

Hopefully, you’re starting to understand the potential here. I know what you’re saying, though: “Why is this a big deal?”

Synthdrum Pads has an incredible interface and works with Audiobus. (Side note: Skeuomorphism works better with music apps than anything else, and I'm hoping developers still use it in the future.)

Synthdrum Pads has an incredible interface and works with Audiobus. (Side note: Skeuomorphism works better with music apps than anything else, and I’m hoping developers still use it in the future.)

Well, I’m glad you asked. I think there are two reasons Audiobus and Audiobus-compatible apps are hugely important in the iOS ecosystem. The first is because, as one commenter said in the introduction to this series, iPads are on stage now. As a former frontman for a rock and roll band, it’s really easy for me to recognize the potential of a tool like Audiobus. Onstage musicians are really demanding, and we need our instruments to be ready for whatever we throw at them.

Audiobus makes it easier for the iPad to be used as an instrument in our workflows.

My DJ friends all put on intense live shows, and most of them could benefit from an iPad instead of a bulky MacBook Pro. Audiobus is bringing that vision one step closer to reality.

The second reason I think Audiobus is tremendously important is because it helps musicians record their ideas. There’s nothing more valuable to a musician than an affordable and easy-to-use scratchpad, and thankfully, the iPad is helping overcome some of the problems I had bringing that vision to reality in my teens. Computers are often difficult to work with — not to mention very expensive to maintain and keep up — and using iPads to record beds could have been a lifesaver a few years ago for me.

For my workflow, Audiobus-compatible apps could mic and capture my guitar, allow me to listen to a live metronome (or click track) and then easily let me record my output in an app like Cubasis (or GarageBand, if that floats your boat a little more).

Shut Up About Audiobus. What About Other Stuff?

Well, first of all, all the apps we’ve been talking about integrating with Audiobus can be used independently as well. Audiobus is like a daisy chain application. So keep that in mind.

I use Guitar Toolkit to help me with maintaining my instrument and fiddling with new chords.

I use Guitar Toolkit to help me with maintaining my instrument and fiddling with new chords.

But I’m also aware that there are plenty of apps that don’t integrate with Audiobus that are pretty good too. I’ve used a few. I have Guitar Toolkit, which is an essential tool for me — it lets me really easily (and accurately) tune my guitar. It’s also an encyclopedia of chords.

For songwriting inspiration, I’m using an app called Jamn. It’s meant to help inspire your piano, ukulele or guitar playing by presenting a chord wheel that I like to refer to as a “colour wheel” for musicians. When I jam with friends, we frequently refer to this app as a tool to help us identify where to take out music next. It’s a very cool tool. Version 3.0 is coming, if it’s not already out by the time you read this. I’ve been testing it, and it has some great additions and enhancements.

(Full disclaimer: My firm has recently been hired for some PR/advertising work for Jamn. I was planning on including the app in this post before that happened, and they have no idea they’re getting name dropped here. This is a sincere recommendation. If you’d like, you can read my full review from several months ago.)

For my own workflow, I don’t use a lot of MIDI apps. In researching this article, the previously-mentioned commenter suggested iOS Musician. It’s a great source of MIDI apps. (Also, good sir, thank you for that comment. It was a great starting point.)

Of course, this doesn’t scratch the surface either. What about guitar tabs? Ultimate Guitar Tabs HD does the trick, but requires a subscription plan. If guitar tabs aren’t your thing, but you need to write scores, give Score Creator a try — it’s free and supports MIDI import and export.

What Am I Missing?

This is far from a comprehensive look at what’s available for music apps in the iOS ecosystem. Really, most of what I’ve discussed is about my own workflow. But there are thousands upon thousands of music apps, and as many workflows as there are people who have them.

I’d love to hear about the tools you use to make music. I’d love to hear music you’ve made with an iPad. Let’s swap some notes in the comments.