Air Time

AirPad

 

If you’re reading this blog, then you already know how much I enjoy making music on portable devices. So it’s no surprise that I am one of those who was very interested in the iPad Air that was just released. Prior to it’s announcement, I had been giving serious thought to possibly downsizing to an iPad Retina when they were announced.

I liked my iPad4, but there’s no denying it was kind of heavy after awhile, and the shallow bezel on the back always made it hard to hold on too. However with the new smaller Air being announced at the same time as the Retina Mini, I knew that my biggest complaints had been addressed and I could keep the larger screen after all.

Not only was it thinner and lighter, but much more powerful as well. I’m normally not one to use CPU-intensive plug-ins to the point of bringing my computer to it’s knees, but some of the iOS audio apps coming out were already at the limits of what the iPad4 would handle. More CPU power is still a very good reason to upgrade each year if music making is one of your main activities on the iPad.  Sell your old one asap and it only costs about $200 a year to stay on the newest hardware.  Well worth it for me.

Luckily getting a new Air on release day was pretty simple, considering there was no pre-order this time. Pay online, pick up at store, and skip the (longer) line for those people who just walked up without buying first on the online Apple Store. 10 minutes later I was home and restoring my data to the new iPad.  In the past I always was fine with 16GB Apple devices, not that big of a deal to sync wirelessly at home if I needed something else.  But I figured for how much I use my iPad for music making, why not pay the small additional charge and double my storage to make my life easier.  So far having 32GB has definitely felt like a luxury compared to before!

Physically the new Air is a much different feeling iPad compared to the 3 or version 4 that came before it. Where as those felt like solid pieces of glass and aluminum, the Air feels like there’s a sort of emptiness that goes along with the decreased weight. The screen flexes slightly more like plastic than glass, and there’s a hollowness to the sound of your fingers typing on it not present on the last generation iPad.

Bass (cough) from the speakers can be felt through the whole body when you play music or watch videos, reminding me almost of the vibration functions of say an Xbox controller. On the plus side, the Air has stereo speakers finally, which is a welcome improvement. Though since most people will likely be holding the iPad in landscape mode while watching a movie for instance, the sound still only comes from one side. Oh well.

All this is not to say that iPad Air feels cheap, or flimsy, it doesn’t at all. It just no longer has the solid weighty feel of the previous versions. It’s not so much the weight difference you feel when holding it, it’s the lack of mass overall. Part of being lighter I guess, and not at all something that I would change at the expense of more weight anyway. The new Air really is much easier to hold overall.

At first I didn’t think there was a huge jump in performance in day to day app use, or with the new WiFi antennas. However, the more time I spend using the Air, the more I do recognize just how much faster it is overall. Pages load quicker, my sound banks for Alchemy downloaded and installed faster, and apps launch and perform app-switching faster and smoother too.

Of course the real thing most people want to know, is how is it for music apps?

I’ve spent much of the last two days working on writing some new tracks using the QuNexus and iPad Air, and I can say it’s definitely a noticeable improvement in how easy it is to get my ideas recorded. Using Auria and Audiobus to record various synth apps like DM-1, Alchemy, Nave, Sunrizer, etc was a much smoother experience than it’s ever been.

Auria has always gotten a bit laggy when you added a lot of tracks or events to a project, and now things are extremely fluid for almost all the time I was using it. At one point last night after using a bunch of audio apps throughout the day and not clearing the iPad’s memory, Auria started to navigate a little bit slower. Nowhere near as slow as it had been at the best of times on the iPad4 though, the new graphics power really is making things better here.  After clearing the RAM, and relaunching Auria, everything was once again smooth as could be.

Switching between apps running in Audiobus was another area where I really noticed the added horsepower. App changes were almost instant, and I didn’t have any issues with freezing or other mishaps. In fact, it was probably the easiest and most trouble-free iOS sessions I’ve ever had. Can’t argue with that!

So yes, I can definitely recommend upgrading if you’re considering it and are a fan of iOS music making. The differences even from an iPad4 were pretty noticeable, and the new form factor really is a lot better I feel. It does feel strangely hollow in the middle for me, but the large decrease in weight is definitely worth it.

Anyone want to buy a 16GB iPad4?  🙂

 

Veloant – New Downtempo Track

Veloant

Veloant

Well, adventures in music making on the iPad have been ongoing, and here is the latest result of that work, my new downtempo track called “Veloant”.

I’ve had a couple people ask me about my process for writing songs on just the iPad, so I figured this a good chance to go into the details a little more.  The main DAW I use to record and assemble all of the different parts of these songs is Auria, usually in conjunction with Audiobus.  For Veloant, I started with a simple drum pattern in the DM1 app, just a quick sketch that would give me a rhythm to play over.  Then, while I was recording the pattern playing into Auria, I would hit the Randomize button in DM1 to come up with some crazy variations on my simple drum beats.  The best of these random variations were sliced and diced into new drum loops in Auria after the fact.

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I also layered a simple kick drum loop over the initial drums, and came up with the more agressive sounding drums later in the song using the Alchemy app.  These were set aside until I got further along in the arranging process later on.

With a simple drum loop recorded to provide me the right timing for the song, the next step was mostly like it is for all my songs.  Using Audiobus, I would just jam over my drum loops with different synth apps recording everything in Auria to be picked through later on.  This part of the process is where the meat of the songwriting process takes place for me, I’m recording all the different synth sounds that will make up the rest of the song.  I think I spent about a week and half just jamming on different synths, going back now and then to trim out the best bits.

It certainly helped that so many awesome synth apps were released during the past week, namely Propellorheads Thor, Waldorf’s Nave, and a nice update for Sunrizer as well.  Add to that my KMI QuNexus finally arriving (full review later this week), and I was pretty set for playing iPad synths!

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At this point I had a nice collection of drum loops and synth parts recorded, and a rough frame work for the song itself, so I set about getting the arrangement completed.  I was specifically trying to avoid a lot of fills and fancy edits in this song, so it was more about creating groove and motion rather than little bits of ear candy.  It usually takes me a couple tries to get everything placed the way that works best for the material, but even then I think I managed to get most of the arranging done in one night.

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As you can see, this song has only about 12 tracks in total, which I find is about the limits of where my iPad4 starts to geel slow when navigating Auria.  I can certainly playback more tracks than this with no problems, but things like zooming and moving around the arrange page starts to lag.  Rather than deal with the frustrations of that, I just aim to keep to a simpler song structure.

After living with the song for a couple more days to make sure I’m happy with the arrangement (especially in a slightly weirder song like this one), I’ll finalize the mixdown I’ve been working with while writing so far.  In this track I ended up just a few EQ’s in Auria to tame some of the subs on the drums, and highlight different synth frequencies to avoid some clashing.  The EQs in Auria are actually made by PSP, so they sound quite good despite having some rather outdated GUI’s for a touch device 🙂

Finally I mastered the song using the Fabfilter Pro-L plug in available as an additional purchase inside Auria’s plug in store.  This was my first add on purchase from Auria, and overall the process was simple and went smoothly.  The Pro-L plug in in Auria is identical to the one for the OSX and Windows, so while some might balk at the $40 price, it’s still a lot cheaper than the normal version and has all the same functionality.  Given how much I use Pro-L for my mastering business, it was a no brainer for me.

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And for the most part, that was it for this song!

Because Auria can export to Soundcloud, I decided to see how far I could take this iPad only way of working.  I was pleasantly surprised too!  Within 5 minutes of completing the song, I had uploaded it online, then used the Soundcloud app to post to Facebook and Twitter for people to listen to.  While it’s not as ideal as hosting it in better streaming quality on my own website, it was an interesting experiment to see just how much I could use the iPad for music creation and sharing with my fans.

As always, hope you enjoyed the walkthrough on how this song was created.  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments, and look for my detailed review of the KMI QuNexus coming later this week.

Thanks!

 

Odds and Ends

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Well, as I mentioned when I released my last song “TH1”, I’ve been spending a lot of time making music on the iPad the last few weeks.  Not just messing around and coming up with interesting sounds or grooves, but making serious music.  I figure if something is interesting enough to keep me working in a particular way for more than a couple weeks, then likely it’s something I need to keep exploring as long as I can.  Most of the time these exercises where I limit my tools might only last a week or two before I get bored, but not in this case.

While not an entirely care free experience (still the odd bug or crash), it’s been a really exciting way of crafting full songs.  I’m really enjoying using Auria as a DAW, it’s a much more interactive experience arranging and editing songs just by dragging things around by your finger.  The biggest issue so far has been the iPad4 getting a little sluggish when navigating Auria’s Edit (Arrange) page when I have a lot of tracks in the songs.  I had hoped that upgrading to the iPad4 would fix this, but while it’s much better than the iPad3 was, there’s still a bit of slow down at times.  Nothing too major, but it’s the only really negative thing I can think of so far.

So, my plan remains to keep working on the iPad and try to get a new EP done in a couple of months.  So far I have 3 songs well on their way, and a few ideas for a couple more, so I feel right on track.  I do find myself wanting a new drum app though, anyone have any suggestions?  At the moment I’m using the excellent DM1 primarily, but I also have Bleep!Box and the sample-based apps like Beatmaker2 and NanoStudio.  Not really looking for MPC style composing though, I’m more interested in unique drum machine style programming.  Any suggestions are most welcome!

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In other news, a friend and local Seattle producer I know is working on a pretty interesting Kickstarter project I thought I would let people know about.  From the producer:

“It’s been my life goal to get people collaborating on art and music. I’ve been able to do that through my Subaqueous website, but I wanted to take it a step further with a new product that helps bridge the gap between musicians and other music producers. This lead me to create the USB Splash Drive. It’s an 8gb custom usb drive that is loaded with music, remix stems, samples, Ableton live sets, and more.

This remix album isn’t just about releasing a few produced tracks. It’s about releasing the information on how I made a lot of my music. I want to share with my community, fellow musicians, and friends the knowledge I have acquired along the way.”

As most of my readers know I’m really into sharing HOW people make music, and this looks like a great way to get some more insight into that from another producer. You can find more info about this project here:

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/cotec/subaqueous-usb-splash-drive-and-remix-album?ref=card

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Screen Shot 2013-05-31 at 8.25.18 AM

Finally, I’ve had a few people ask me about my live gigs this summer.  At the moment I’m currently only booked for Photosynthesis 6, on July 19-21st.  It will be a downtempo/midtempo gig, and I have a lot of brand new material prepped that I will be playing out for the first time.  This is one of my favorite festivals of the summer, so it’s definitely worth coming out to if you want to hear some amazing music in a beautiful location.

I’ll post more info about this show, and some other ones I’m still working out once I get more specifics.

Thanks, until next time!

Tarekith

 

 

TH1 – New Track

TH1-300

Tarekith – TH1

Over the last few weeks I’ve had a bit of a turnaround when it comes to making music on portable devices (iPhone, iPad, etc).  While I’ve always been a fan of making music on the go, over the years I realized I was far more productive if I just focused on coming up with simple ideas and grooves, versus trying to do complete tracks.  I’ve done it a few times, but honestly it was usually very tedious work done just for the sake of saying I could do it.

With the release of the Audiobus app however, that has completely changed for me.  And when I finally decided to take the plunge on Auria as my main DAW for the iPad, suddenly I had a very powerful and extremely compact music set up.  Even better, I was actually having a lot of fun using it.

So I decided to focus on making music with the iPad for awhile, though I do have a Qunexus arriving any day now that I plan to pair with it.  I’m hoping over the summer I can record enough material to release another EP or even a full-length album in the Fall.  Fingers crossed.

TH1 is the first of my new iOS music making efforts, done entirely from start to finish in the iPad.  Auria was the main DAW, and it works fabulously, I’m a huge fan now.  Drums were from DM1, Bassline is done with Figure, Thumbjam did the little acoustic sounding bits, and the rest is a combination of Alchemy Mobile, Sunrizer, Animoog, iKaossilator, and Addictive synths.  I used the built in Auria (PSP) dynamics processors when mixing and mastering the song.  I do plan on eventually buying some of the Fabfilter add on plug-ins to handle this in the future.  The PSP stuff works fine, I’m just used to the Fabfilter plug-ins I guess.

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In other news, I’m once again going to be playing live at the Photosynthesis Festival in Neah Bay, WA.  Stay tuned for more info on dates and details.

Oh, and Ableton featured my new DJ EFX Racks on their home page last week, which I thought was pretty cool.  Glad so many of you are enjoying using those new EFX Racks, thanks for all donations!  That really helps, so I appreciate it no matter the amount.  Hopefully I can find the time to create some more racks for Live 9, sooner rather than later!  🙂

Get On The Bus (or not)

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I’ve written this article 3 times so far, so I’m really hoping this is the one I keep.

Wait, wait, I should probably back up a little first.

For starters, sorry that it’s been so long since I had time to post something new to the blog.  I’ve had a lot of ideas for articles, but the studio has been booked solid for a few weeks now, so time has been hard to find.  On the plus side, I had my most successful month since going full-time as a mastering engineer, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Added to that, my own music making lately has been a roller coaster of ups and down, with quite honestly, a lot more downs than ups.  It happens, I’m used to it, it still sucks though.  Lots of time spent exploring new tools and ideas that ultimately ends up nowhere.  Sometimes you just run out of new ideas and it takes a lot of time fumbling about to find a new thread that’s interesting enough to follow for awhile.

But, there’s hope!  I see possibilities coming up that are starting to get me excited and the ideas flowing, and that’s a good thing as an artist.  One of the tools I’ve been exploring while hunting for a new direction, is the Audiobus app for iOS.  If you read this blog regularly, you know I enjoy writing music and sketching out ideas while out of the studio.

Obviously Audiobus is something that gets a lot of attention in the audio world these days, but other than a quick play with it, I really hadn’t had the time to spend diving in and exploring it more in depth until recently.  The last few weeks I’ve been trying to sneak in more and more time with my iOS apps for making songs (or ideas for songs), and I’ve been able to put Audiobus through it’s paces a little more properly.

I’m impressed.  So much so that I’ve starting writing a new article for the blog 3 times to gush over how awesome it is.  It will change my music making forever, it completely revolutionizes how I use my iPad, it’s making me come up with ideas I never would have done before

Except in use, I still wasn’t writing songs with it.  Every time I’d start coming up with something for the blog about this, I’d get stuck there.  Not much use writing about something that really doesn’t lead to any results, you know?

Now, I’m sure that a lot of this is due to just being in a musical rut in general, but it’s been perplexing to me how something I feel is so powerful and useful still hasn’t kick-started a new wave of creative.  Usually things like this tend to do that for me.

Initially I was trying to use Beatmaker2 on my iPad to capture audio from Animoog.  It worked, don’t get me wrong, but for whatever reason I never really found Beatmaker2 that intuitive to navigate around.  It seems well laid out, but the workflow just never embeds itself to the point where I don’t have to constantly stop and think “How do I do this again?”.    So it was a little frustrating, getting everything working from a technical standpoint, but really not finding a way of using it that I liked.

Then I remembered that Garageband was recently updated with Audiobus support, so I decided to explore that instead.  This is where the lightbulb turned on and it all started to make sense.  Being able to more or less use Garageband (GB) as a DAW to record audio from all my synth and drum apps was REALLY cool!  There was no way to sync anything (Jack for iOS hopes to solve this I hear), but at least I could overdub new audio tracks over my previous recordings, and start to build up some real song ideas.  And I wasn’t going to be limited to short phrases or patterns, either!

So I’ve spent a lot of time the last week or so working on some new song ideas and trying different app and hardware combinations to see what works for me and what doesn’t.  I thought that using GB on the iPhone would be lots of fun, since it’s so portable I can bring it with me on my bike.  Unfortunately from my experiments it seems that Audiobus compatible apps just seem more stable and plentiful on the iPad.

It works on the iPhone, don’t get me wrong, but you’re limited a little more in terms of what synths and effects are available.  And yes, that smaller screen is fine for sketching out simple ideas, but for comping and editing recorded audio, well… you can guess how tedious it gets.

So for serious audio work it just seems better to focus on the iPad for now.

I’ve managed to get some decent ideas started over the last few days, but it definitely starts to feel a little laborious after awhile.  GB is ok for basic audio capture, but trying to assemble a song like I want to is just slow, slow, slow.  Editing in GB is extremely basic, and there’s no provisions for organizing your tracks and audio clips really.  The other hang up for me was that playing iPad synths never really feels right to me.  Sure Animoog has those cool keys, and Figure has an interesting take on note entry, but it just is hard for me to be accurate AND expressive with a touch screen keyboard.

But there’s hope!

For starters, I’ve pre-ordered a QuNexus, which runs off the iPad USB port (via a Camera Connection Kit) just fine.  Having gotten a preview of one a couple months ago, I’m super excited that it will be here in a few more days!  That hopefully should solve my issue with playing the synths I have.  I don’t mind tweaking them on the iPad, just the actual playing part always felt off to me.

The other thing I plan on doing is saying goodbye to Garageband and going all in on Auria.  Having looked at all the options, I think it will allow me to record, and more importantly edit and arrange those recordings into something that I can call a song.  It’s a little pricey so I’ve been hesitant, but I think it’s the only way I’m going to be happy with using the iPad for more complex tasks like this.  Everything else is so slow it just makes me think “It would have been easier to just bring my laptop”, which sort of defeats the point!

So that’s the plan, focus on using Auria to record and capture the audio I play via the QuNexus.  I’d like to get it to the point where I could use a nice and simple set up like that to release a full album, or at least an EP.  But I know if nothing else I’ll get a couple solid ideas for some songs I can expand on back in the studio.  I’ll let you all know how I get on with the new set up once the QuNexus arrives next week, and I have some more time to mess around with it.

Until then!

“The Focused Mist”

The Focused Mist

This track was written using a combination of the Elektron Octatrack, and an iPad3 running the following apps:

– Figure
– iKaossillator
– Sunrizer
– Animoo
– Samplr

All of the original source audio for the song came from these apps, which was then arranged and mixed with the Octatrack.  The output of the Octatrack was recorded via a Lynx Hilo at 24bit/96kHz, no additional post-processing was applied except for normalizing to -0.3dBFS and converting to a 16bit/44.1kHz file format.

High quality FLAC and wav file versions of this song are available at Addictech.com

Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/tarekith/the-focused-mist

YouTube: http://youtu.be/-fKFHpjScgM

Recording Audio from iKaossilator to the Octatrack

A couple weeks back I talked about how I’ve been using iOS groovebox-style apps to come up with new song ideas while out and about, and then transfer those to the Elektron Octatrack once I’m back in the studio.  Had a few people ask me how I go about doing this, so I created a quick overview showing how I record and edit audio from the iKaossilator iOS app into the Octatrack.

http://youtu.be/QJ1kMQKt_rY

(Sorry, I had to remove the embedded player as it was killing my site bandwidth)

Hope people find this useful, and as always if you have any questions or comments, post them in the comments section below.  Thanks!

Pocket Grooves

I’ve covered in past articles how much I like using portable devices to make music on the go.  From the early days of things like Bhajis Loops on a Palm TX, to more modern apps on the iPhone and iPad, I’ve found it really fun to get out of the studio and still be able work on music ideas.

Even in the short time I’ve been using apps on Apple devices though, I’ve noticed that I’ve slowly started migrating from some of the more full-fledged apps like NanoStudio and BeatMaker, to simpler affairs that are much less like a traditional DAW.  I think part of it is the fact that I’ve always sort of been attracted to more of a groovebox mentality when it comes to writing music.  I like working with short patterns of notes that are tied to the sounds they trigger in a more immediate way than you find with DAWs and more complex tools.

And some of it has to do with the fact that often when I’m out and about making music on the go, I just don’t tend to stay in any one place long enough to feel I can really flesh out ideas in the more complex apps.  I might start something in one place, but by the time I come back to it, the initial feeling or ideas that inspired it just aren’t there any more.  I was finding that I was spending too much time trying to pick up where I left off, instead of just quickly creating something more complete in the moment.

But more than that, I think a lot of it has to do with the way we interact with these new tools on touchscreen devices.  Sure you definitely CAN use an iPad or iPhone to lay out a whole song, and I’ve done so many times already:

http://tarekith.com/mp3s/Tarekith-Slip.mp3  (Created with Garageband on iPad)

http://tarekith.com/mp3s/Tarekith-Slat.mp3  (Created with NanoStudio on iPhone)

But to be honest it just ends up feeling a little too tedious and fiddly to me.  Some people say it’s like interacting with your traditional tools with a sheet of glass over them, something I’m slowly starting to agree with.  Now, for some people, this is not really a big deal, but for me it’s just ends up starting to take some of the fun away from the process.

So these days I’ve been focusing using apps that make it simple to lay down grooves that I can expand on back in the studio.  I don’t worry about making a complete song anymore when I’m working on music at a local park, I’m more interested in capturing the basic ideas, the feeling of the moment.  On the go grooveboxes if you will.

I’m especially interested in apps that stop trying to mimic tools that work well on a laptop or traditional computer, and instead focus on creating new ways of interacting via the touch interface.  A nice side benefit of this is that these tend to work equally as well on the iPad or the smaller iPhone, which makes portability even easier.

With that in mind, here are the apps that I find I’ve been turning to more and more these days.  I won’t go into a review of them as the information on how they work or video demos is easy enough to find on the manufacturers’ websites or YouTube.  Instead I’ll focus on what it is about each app that I find so appealing.

Korg iKaossilator

http://www.korg.com/ikaossilator

I have to admit, this is one app that I’ve been using more than I expected I would.  Korg’s done a great job at making it really easy to come up with some really cool sounding grooves, and there’s even some decent support for live performance if that’s your thing.  Export to Soundcloud, mixing and matching loops from different patterns via a session view like Ableton Live, and some fun ways to generate fills for your recorded patterns on the fly are all pretty unique to this app.

I do wish it had more sounds you could buy for it though (you can import your own loops if that’s your thing though).  Some of the built in sounds are kind of cheesy at first, but the X-Y pad usually has enough range of control over them that I can get something decent with most of the stock sounds.  I also wish there way a way to control the volume of each of the 5 parts, sometimes the pads can be louder than your lead for instance.

Otherwise I’m a big fan of this app though, it’s probably the one I find myself using the most these days.

 

Propellorhead Figure

http://www.propellerheads.se/products/figure/

This was one of the first apps that I felt really nailed the way to interact with a touch screen.  It’s simple to lay down some really unique grooves, and even adjust the timing of each part after the fact.  Having only 3 different parts to work with can seem a little spartan at first, but for quick and dirty sessions where I just want to get some ideas down, it fits the bill.

Like iKaossilator you don’t get a ton of sounds with the app, but there’s enough control over how they can sound that you can often take the included ones in a totally different direction than they sound at first.  The included sounds however actually pretty darn good as is, the app does use the sound engine from Reason after all.  Plus, you have separate control over up to 4 parameters of each sound after the fact, including the ability to record automation.

Very glad that a recent update let us record longer patterns, 2 bars was pretty short in the initial release.  Not to mention that now you can chose to have recording start at note on, so it’s easier to make sure your patterns start on the first beat.  In the first version, I would often have a great pattern going, but realize that it was starting on the 2nd beat for instance, which was annoying when I exported the results to an audio file.

 

Zaplin Music TriqTraq

http://www.triqtraq.com

Not many people know about this app, but it’s definitely one of the better groove-based apps I’ve found.  You get 4 parts you can sequence, but each part can be a single sound or a kit for things like drums.  You can import your own samples as well, so I’ve been using this a lot for coming up with drum loops.  Great support for recording automation of most parameters, and some cool poly-rhythmic features as well.

It’s not the most intuitive app straight away, but they have some videos on the site that will get you up and running asap.  Editing some of the automation can be a little tedious on the smaller iPhone screen, but that’s about my only real complaint.

 

Anyway, those are the tools I’ve been finding myself reaching for more and more these days.  Generally once I get a few ideas recorded on the iPad or iPhone, I’ll record them into the Octatrack when I’m back in the studio.  I’ve got about 8-10 tracks like this in basic groove form, and I’m toying with the idea of doing an entire album using iOS apps as the original source material, but doing most of the writing and song sequencing in the Octatrack.

Works out well for me though, as I get to enjoy writing music while being out in nature, and I know I can actually create a more finished product with that material once I get back in the studio.  Definitely nice to break up the monotony of being in front of a computer all the time in the studio, that’s for sure!

So, anyone else have any apps or on the go music tools they find particularly useful?  Post them in the comments!

The iOS DJ?

Ever since the iPad was first released, I’ve been intrigued about using it for DJing. Light, portable, decent storage, and more than enough power for basic DJing. Plus, for your average DJ, more than enough screen space for controls to handle mixing two tracks. Of course you can also use one of the many iPad DJ controllers coming out now too, though to be honest I feel that if you’re going to carry one of those, you might as well just use a laptop and controller anyway.

So for awhile now I’ve been eyeing what’s out there, reading reviews, and now and then playing with a couple of the more popular apps dedicated to DJing. I’m not even going to attempt to try and cover all the options available for DJing on iOS devices, instead I’m going to focus on two of the more popular options, Meta.dj and djay. Both can cover basic mixing duties, but do so in ways different enough that there’s little overlap in how they work.
Before I start though, it’s worth talking about the one thing that I think still is a major limitation in the platform for DJing. Namely, all iOS devices can only output a single stereo channel, which means its impossible to cue your tracks while outputting a stereo feed for your audience. Currently the most popular workaround is to instead output a mono channel for the main out, and a mono channel for the cue out using a splitter cable. I’ve been using the popular one from Griffin, which works both with djay and Meta.dj (plus others too):

http://www.algoriddim.com/djay-ipad/accessories/dj-cable

It’s an ok workaround but probably not the most ideal solution. Still, you work with what you have, and on that front it does work pretty well as long as you like mono signals 🙂 A couple of other DJ apps (I.E. DJ Player) let you use something like an iPhone or iPad touch to stream your cue channel from but I haven’t had a chance to play with those yet.

So, first up is probably the most popular DJ app out right now, djay from Algoriddim. The interface will be familiar to most DJs, two virtual turntables are front and center. Buttons around these let you access your iTunes library and playlists, the EQ section, a loop screen, cue points, and in some of the recent updates 6 different effect variations. There’s also the ever present crossfader, and some small channel faders along with decent channel meters too.

The decks can be configure to show you your iTunes album artwork for songs, more or less like a regular vinyl record. Very handy for those people more visually inclined. The effects are pretty well done if a little basic, stutters, gates, delays, flanger, etc. The 3-band EQ is a little harsh to my ears, they give almost full cut when down all the way, but that makes it hard to do subtle EQing too. Loops and cue points can be stored for all your tracks too, which is really handy.

In many ways djay sort of reminds me of using Traktor, most of the basic functions for DJing are there, but it tends to rely on sort of an old school paradigm of mixing. There’s the option to sync tracks automatically, but its still up to you to start them on time. Pressing the sync button again will line up the tempos again, but it also advances the song a quarter note in case you have the tracks in sync, but the phrasing is off. There’s tempo nudging buttons to help get things in sync, but I find them to be really small for how often I use them.

Honestly, this is sort of thing is my biggest complaint with djay overall. The most important functions for a digital DJ are given some of the least screen real estate, while the pretty, but largely pointless, virtual decks always take up so much room. For instance, the loops, EQ, effects, and your cues are all accessed via different views of the same tiny pop up screen. So it’s impossible to set loop points while EQing, or add and manipulate effects while navigating your cues. You can only access one of these functions at a time, while the decks which you’ll rarely touch sit there taking up most of the screen real estate.

There’s a lot of really nice functions in the app, but too much of it is dedicated to looking nice (and old school) versus taking advantage of the screen real estate and touch interface of the iPad. By far my biggest complaint with the app.

On the other end of the spectrum we have Meta.dj from Sound Trends, which aims to reinvent DJing based on the specifics of a touch interface. If djay is like Traktor, then Meta.dj is like Ableton Live. Instead of just focusing on a traditional DJ interface, you also have access to built in drum and synth patterns (with more available as in-app purchases), a loop mangler and playback device, and all of your audio is synced to a global master clock at all times. You can up to 4 of the above devices in a project, in any combination you want.

Meta.dj automatically scans your tracks when you add them to a project, finding the tempo and beat placement fairly accurately in my experience. Like djay, you can set loops and cue points for each track too, though these are project specific. Meta.dj also has some really nice performance based effects that utilize an XY touchpad interface for tweaking. However, these are added to each song on a case by case basic, and not on a mixer channel as is typically for most DJ programs. This means that if you want to create a new projects with the same songs, you’ll need to redo all of your cues, loops, effects and beat-grids all over again.

As a result, this means that prepping your tracks for DJing can take awhile (again, like Live) and it’s not possible to share these settings across multiple projects in Meta.dj. So instead of having the app remember the settings for all your tracks and make them available any time you use them in a project, you basically need to make a one project with all the songs you plan on DJing with in one single project. All your tracks are accessible by scrolling across the bottom of the screen in a project, though the names of the songs get truncated making finding what you want difficult at times.

Mixing in Meta.dj is done via nice and simple volume sliders for each of the 4 devices, or via crossfader that works for the top or bottom two devices if you want. Sadly, there’s no metering at all, so you’re on your own to guess the correct levels while performing, with clipping from too hot signals possible if you’re not listening closely.

Meta.dj is an interesting concept overall, a real solid attempt to blend DJing and live performance into a single interface that uses a touchscreen in the best way possible. I didn’t really find the drum and synth loops to be my thing though, and since I use hardware for my live sets, I didn’t really have a need to prep my own material to use in the app that way either. Still, it’s nice you can work this way if you want.

As a strictly DJ tool, I’m really torn on how effective I found it. Lack of metering and difficulty in finding the tracks I wanted to play by scrolling the bottom bar with truncated names were real downers for me. The effects are nice and the beat detection was impressive, but without meters it was really hard to do a more traditional DJ set with this app. It’s one of those tools where prep work is everything (again, like Ableton Live). With better track library management and some real meters. I could see this being a really useful app. Luckily, it seems the developers listen to their user base and do frequent updates so perhaps we’ll see some improvement in the future.

I have to admit, that one of the biggest downsides of Meta.dj is that it’s so different that often times I found myself reaching for the manual, only to find there isn’t one. A quick start guide is linked to from their forums, but other than that you’re sort of on your own to figure out how things work. There’s enough basic functions missing that at times I wonder if perhaps I just haven’t discovered what more experienced might already know. Hard to say without a manual.

Which brings us to the end. Or the beginning. I think like a lot of iOS apps, we’re seeing two extremes of how companies approach taking traditional music making activities and apply those to a touch screen device. On one hand we have djay which aims to mimic the old school DJ set up of two decks and a mixer, and on the other we have Meta.dj which looks to incorporate a new interface scheme based on tablet interactions.

I think both apps have enough positive points in their favor that those determined to DJ on the iPad will get good results if they put in the time to learn and prep their material appropriately. However, I still feel we’ve yet to really hit the sweet spot of providing the tools most DJs use, in an app that makes the most of the touch interface.

As I said at the beginning of this review I’m only focusing on two of the more popular apps right now, I know there’s others out there that fill in some gaps in what these can do. But for now I don’t see myself leaving Live or Traktor on the laptop to go with a more simpler approach on the iPad. 

For one thing, having only a single stereo out is the biggest limitation, and I guess on that front were all waiting for Apple to step up and open up this door. But more than that, I think we’re still in the early stages of trying to figure out the best way to access functions that over time have proven to be useful, on an interface no one is used to.

In the meantime, iPad DJing is something I leave to small impromptu gatherings and other informal events. And for those that are curious, djay is the one I use for now.  What about you, anyone out there using an iPad to DJ with?  If so, what apps do you like, and how have you found the experience so far?

Festival Season

Well, summer’s here and that means the start of the festival season here in the US.  Lots of cool outdoor weekend long parties here in the Pacific Northwest, and once again I got asked to perform at Photosynthesis Festival.  This year I’ll be doing two sets it looks like, a downtempo/midtempo set in the H’art tent again, and a more upbeat one in some other tent.  Not sure which yet, this is all very preliminary 🙂

People who follow my blog know I’ve been talking non-stop about the Octatrack lately, which is my latest gear purchase.  Mostly I’ve been working on taking my previous Ableton-based live set, and transfering it to the Machinedrum and Octatrack for live performance.  Recent posts of mine will go more into the details if you’re curious, but it’s mostly been about remixing the old material into something new with the Elektron hardware.

For the most part, I think the sets are basically ready to perform, I’m pretty happy with both.  I think I’ll still work on the the more uptempo one some more now that I know I’m playing two sets.  I’ve mainly been focusing on the downtempo one, since I knew I had a couple of those gigs coming up this summer.  I’ll post some run-throughs of the uptempo set in a couple weeks when I’ve had a chance to work on it some more.

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Other than the live set, I’ve spent a lot of time the last few weeks diving back into iPad music apps.  Now that the weather is getting nicer, I can finally take the iPad somewhere and work on some music outside the studio.  I love my studio and writing tracks in there, but now that I work in there all day too, sometimes I just need to go somwhere new for inspiration.

In the past I’ve used everything from my laptop a couple MIDI controllers, to a much more compact Palm TX running Bhajis Loops.  Lately I’ve been using my iPhone running NanoStudio for out and about music making.  It’s pretty amazing how powerful the apps are now, and the newer touch based apps mean you really don’t even need to bring anything else but headphones.

Still, I have to admit there were times it was a little frustrating trying to work on such a small screen.  You COULD write a whole song on them, but it could be a little tedious trying to navigate around some of the more complex apps.  I could always bring my laptop, but to be honest I find it cumbersome to take on my bike or out in the woods for instance.

The iPad has fit the bill nicely though, I’m pretty impressed at how well it fits the role of portable studio.  Well, maybe not studio, but idea starter maybe 🙂  Fits in my Camelbak so it’s unnoticeable on bike rides or hikes, but it’s large enough to turn making music on it into something you WANT to do.  Good battery life too, I’ve yet to come anywhere close to running mine down all the way when out and about writing music for a whole day.

One of the biggest things that I’ve discovered working like this, or on iOS devices in general, is that I’m much more productive if I stop trying to write complete songs in them.  Instead I just focus on building up a cool groove, or some synth melodies.  I can record them into the Octatrack for further tweaking and arranging back in the studio.  Much easier doing that for me, that trying to sit there and be focused enough to do a complete song when it’s beautiful out.

I tend to go to a few different parks every time I work on music like this, so at each new park I start a new idea.  Usually I’ll switch apps to force myself to approach the next song idea a little differently.  It’s a fun way of working, because I know I have a use for anything I decide to keep and expand on later.  If I come up with something that ultimately doesn’t sound that good and just gets deleted, oh well, at least it was fun while I was making it.

Really digging Propellorheads Figure for this kind of work lately too, it’s deeper than you would think the first time you use it.  Now if they would just let us save our work so we can have mulitple songs in the app.  More sounds too! 🙂