Get On The Bus (or not)


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!

8 Replies to “Get On The Bus (or not)”

  1. thanks for this entire entry erik … i’m also currently hip deep in iOS apps with the intention of doing much of what you’re talking about … have even had the same frustrations with beatmaker2. i get ten times as much done with far simpler software like isequence because it’s easier to see an idea through, despite its far lesser capabilities. looking forward to hearing about your experiences down this road … with luck a mnm will be arriving at my door in a few days and it’s likely to distract me for awhile from app exploration 🙂

  2. an understatement to say the least … it’ll be my second go-round with one so i hope neither of us goes through the wall at high velocity 😀 but seriously, slate tech columnist farhad manjoo wrote this long love letter to the iPad just a couple days back, and i think he’s largely right. imho we’re just beginning to see its potential for music making. the limits of a touchscreen notwithstanding, it’s already close to being the self-contained, portable generator of high-quality loops and tracks i’ve wanted since my first electribe.

  3. Yeah, I’m hoping this time everything clicks for me and it becomes a tool I use a lot more. Just bought Auria last night and it’s blown me away too. Expect to hear more about that on the blog shortly!

Leave a Reply