Building an iPad recording studio; Part 10 – What next?

finger on a tablet computer screenSo, we have reached Part 10 – and the final instalment – of the series on building an iPad recording studio. This series has covered quite a bit of ground:-

  • We outlined a brief context of DIY recording and how the iPad is perhaps the latest in a lengthy line of technologies that have gradually democratised multi-track recording and put it within reach of the musical masses (Part 1).
  • We have looked at the audio and MIDI formats as a means of recording musical performances and how your own needs here dictate a number of the additional hardware items your iPad studio might require (Part 2).
  • We have considered audio and MIDI interfaces, MIDI keyboards, microphones and monitors/headphones as essential pieces of additional hardware that you may need to sit alongside your iPad (Part 2 also, but also Parts 3, 4 and 5).
  • We have discussed the range of software – those iOS music apps – that you need to start collecting to allow your iPad to emulate (in software) many of the key functions that, in a traditional recording studio in days gone by, would have been done with hardware (Part 6).
  • And, in particular, we looked at the one absolutely key piece of software – the multi-track recording app – that will form the centrepiece of your recording process (Part 7).
  • Finally, we considered our budget. Just how much is it going to cost to assemble this iPad recording studio ‘starter kit’? If money was tight, can we still do this with a ‘bare bones’ option? Or, if we were feeling a bit more ambitious (and a little more flush), is there also a ‘next step’ option we can aspire to? (Parts 8 and 9).

In this last part of the series, I’d like to try and do three further things. First, while building this iPad recording studio may take some money and effort (and effort to get the money), for those new to iOS music technology – or music technology of any sort – there is still a further price to pay; you have to invest some time and effort into learning how to use it all. That is, of course, a huge topic. Easily big enough to fill a series (probably several series) of posts and even then you would just be scratching at the surface. Still, what I’d like to do here is give you a few pointers to resources that might help you on your way.

An iPad recording studio is a viable prospect and, even as a 'bare bones' system, offers a lot of features for a modest price.

An iPad recording studio is a viable prospect and, even as a ‘bare bones’ system, offers a lot of features for a modest price.

Second, now you perhaps have a better appreciation of the kinds of equipment (and costs) associated with building this iPad recording studio, I’d like to briefly return to the topic of where iOS music technology fits into the wider scheme of the music (and recording) technology world.

And third – and finally – I’ll try to draw together a couple of simple conclusions to wrap the series up.

Let’s get started….

Recording 101

In days of old – when bands wrote and performed songs and then ‘went into the studio’ to record them – the recording process was a science and an art that lay in the hands of a fairly select few; the engineers and producers and technicians who spent all their working time in those recording studios, watching bands come and go and doing their best to capture their performances in a recorded format. While not exclusively so, many of the musicians themselves may have had little grasp of the recording technology involved or how to use it.

In one sense, this was quite a good thing. As a musician, you could concentrate upon your creative art; the writing and performing of the songs. However, as recording technology both improved, and accessibility to it increased, that situation has changed. In addition, there are many amazing pieces of music/recording technology that now actually shape how songs are initially created and how they are performed.

And, as DIY or ‘home’ recording technology has become more widely available, musicians built their own studios. At first it might have been the mega-artists or mega-rich but now, as we have seen in our discussion of the budget required to assemble a basic iPad recording studio, with a little determination, the essence of this technology can be available to almost anyone.

DIY/home recording means everyone can release their music in one form or another....  but this doesn't always guarantee impressive results :-)

DIY/home recording means everyone can release their music in one form or another…. but this doesn’t always guarantee impressive results :-)

This is, of course, a good thing…  anyone with an iPad and the fairly modest budget required to furnish it with the rest of what’s required, can own a sophisticated multi-track recording studio.

There are, however, two obvious downsides… the first of which is that the internet is now awash with a mass of independently recorded music and not all of it is great :-)

More importantly though – and more challenging for this ever-growing army of studio-owning musicians – is that this is all DIY; no expert engineer to set up mics or fine-tune your mix, no technicians to fix the kit when it’s not working as expected and no producer (paid for by the recording company) to apply some artistic direction when, frankly, the songs and performances suck.

All of those tasks – as well as the writing and performing – are now down to you in your DIY iPad recording studio. And it’s not as though most musicians now learn their recording chops by going into commercial studios as part of a band and picking up the basic by watching the ‘experts’ at work. Today, for most musicians, DIY ‘home’ recording is the norm and you simply learn it by doing it.

That ‘learning by experience’ is not such a bad thing and, if you have ever read Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book ‘Outliers’, you will now that the most likely way to get very good at something is simply to do that something over and over (and over) again. Recording is no different…  make some recordings, keep making them and, no matter how bad they might be at the start, eventually things will get better…. But it is another set of skills you have to acquire and think about, some of which are technical rather than creative, and it can be a distraction from the actual creative parts of being a musician.

That’s not to say that you can’t pick up some training or useful advice along the way that can speed up the learning process however. That might be something formal and there are some truly excellent college and/or training school options out there if you have the time and budget to consider them. However, this is an iPad recording studio we have been putting together here and I suspect that most musicians contemplating this as a route to record their own material might prefer a less formal (more guerrilla?) approach.

So, what are the less formal alternatives?

There are lots of good tutorial resources available online that focus on computer-based recording.

There are lots of good tutorial resources available online that focus on computer-based recording.

The iPad recording studio is a relatively new phenomena. As such, when it comes to ‘teach yourself recording’ resources – books, magazines or websites – there are still very few that really look at this issue from an iOS perspective. There are a few books available that look at Garageband for iPad (have a quick search on Amazon for example) and there are, of course, a number of popular websites and YouTube channels that cater for iOS musicians in general (see the Links page on the Music App Blog for a list of the best of these). What there isn’t  – yet at least – is a whole bunch of different tutorial/learning/instructional resources that focus specifically on iPad-based recording. It will come with time….  but we are not there yet.

Fortunately, however, another branch of DIY/home recording – on the desktop computer – has been around for quite a lot longer and materials aimed specifically at that target audience exists in abundance. As I’ll discuss in a little more detail below, there are, of course, some differences between recording on a computer (Windows or OSX) system and recording on an iOS system. These differences are most apparent in the capabilities and workflows of that key software – the multi-track recording application – and that would need to be borne in mind when consulting these learning resources.

A lot of the additional hardware required for an iPad recording studio would also form part of a desktop or laptop recording system.

A lot of the additional hardware required for an iPad recording studio would also form part of a desktop or laptop recording system.

However, there is also a lot of common ground. Indeed, I’d go as far as to say that the common ground far out-weighed the modest differences. For example, how to set up a microphone to record a vocal or acoustic guitar, how to use a compressor to tame the volume variations in a track, how to EQ your kick drum and bass guitar so they don’t get in each others way, how to get the overall mix balance right between your various instruments, or how to apply a little post-mix mastering magic to your tracks….  all of these tasks (and many, many others) are essentially the same whether you are working on a desktop, laptop or tablet. The hardware and software you have available to do these tasks might be different, but the principles of the tasks themselves remains the same.

I guess what I’m saying here is, in looking for answers to your ‘how do I do that…?’ question when working in your iPad recording studio, be aware that there is a tremendous array of self-help resources out their for the computer-based recording process that will translate pretty well to your iPad studio. No, it might not tell you about the specifics of this or that setting in your favourite iOS synth or audio effect, or provide you with a ‘my recording app basics’ tutorial, but for lots and lots of the fundamentals of computer-based recording (and the iPad is just a compact computer), then just get Googling….  there is a World Wide Web of very useful resources out there once you start to look.

And if you want a few specific starting points? Well, you could do a lot worse that the website of Sound On Sound magazine. This is the biggest selling recording technology magazine on the planet and – bar the most recent six-month’s worth of articles – the entire archive for more than 15 years of content is available free via the site. There is also a very active user forum. There are other magazines also and, for example, here in the UK we also have the Computer Music title that has a lot of very good tutorial content aimed at those new to music technology.

If you can spare the budget and the time, there are also some excellent formal training courses out there where you can get hands-on training in the basics of recording.

If you can spare the budget and the time, there are also some excellent formal training courses out there where you can get hands-on training in the basics of recording.

There are also lots of very good books. While topics about specific recording software can become out-of-date with time, those that cover the fundamental principles of the recording process will have a good shelf life – the basic techniques for mic’ing up a guitar or vocalist have not changed too much in 20+ years – so having a couple of handy references available when you are getting started is not such a bad idea. I’ve made a few suggestions at the end of this post….

This is, of course, the internet age and almost every niche interest has its own collection of websites. As well as the dedicated iOS sites listed in the Music App Blog’s ‘links’ page, you might, therefore, start digging around in Google and YouTube for some help. Yes, the quality can be very variable but, amongst the chaff you will also find some wheat.

One of my personal favourites is the Garageband and Beyond YouTube channel – low key but informative – and covering lots of basic recording processes so it is not just full of ‘how to’ on Garageband for OSX. For something more formal, you might also try the Berklee Online YouTube channel. You have to explore a bit as it covers more than just recording issues (although there is lots of other material that will be of interest) but there is some good stuff there.

And there are plenty more….  DIY/home/personal recording is pretty well represented in the online world….

iPad vs the world

In passing, I observed above that the iPad is, essentially, a compact format computer. While the OS is different from OSX or Windows (and, therefore, some of the software that runs on the OS is also different), an iPad is simply a compact, touchscreen device that crunches zeros and ones just like a desktop or laptop computer. Equally, if you chose to, you could get a reasonably well specified laptop or desktop computer for around the same price as an iPad (although you could also spend a lot more it you wanted to pimp out the specification of that laptop or desktop).

Now, given that the iPad-priced laptop or desktop computer might well have more basic processing power than an iPad – and that pretty much all the other hardware identified in our various shopping list budgets in Parts 8 and 9 (with the exception of the iPad-specific audio/MIDI interfaces) could also work in a DIY recording studio build around a laptop or desktop computer, there is one very obvious question. Why use an iPad in the first place?

Desktop, laptop or iPad? Which platform is your choice to build your recording studio around?

Desktop, laptop or iPad? Which platform is your choice to build your recording studio around?

This is such a fundamental question that you might wonder why I’ve left it until the final part of this series to consider it. The reason is simple; I don’t think this is a question with a simple answer and, in fact, I think the answer will come down to a number of personal (and therefore individual) choices. And now we have looked at some of the issues surrounding the building of our iPad recording studio, I think we are better placed to consider the releative mertits of desktop vs laptop vs iPad.

There are some ‘logical’ reasons for deciding to build your studio around an iPad but, equally, there are some elements of the decision that will simply come down to personal preference.

I’m lucky enough to have access to both sorts of system although, in my case, my desktop system cost several times more than my iPad system, but I’m also happy to admit that the desktop system wins hands down in terms of power and the sophistication of the software I have available. So why go down the iPad route at all?

Let’s start with some of those logical reasons and one of them is cost. The basic additional hardware (interface, keyboard, mic, monitors) would be the same whichever platform I choose. However, while I could buy a medium spec laptop or desktop for about the same price as an iPad, in terms of the software I’d then need to create my virtual studio, the pricing model of Apple’s iTunes App Store makes the iPad a much more accessible option. Indeed, some of the iOS music apps are ridiculously inexpensive and – as shown in our budgets in Parts 8 and 9 – you can put together an impressive collection of music apps for a very modest outlay. On the desktop, that could cost you a lot more to achieve.

A second reason might be mobility. OK, this is perhaps a less convincing argument against a laptop computer as that is still pretty portable but I’d still rather travel with my iPad, CME Xkey and earbuds as a ‘mobile’ musical scratch-pad than lug a laptop around. If you want to make music on the move then an iPad (or even iPhone) is the most compact format available.

One of the beauties of an iPad recording studio is the mobility it offers....  you can record almost anywhere.

One of the beauties of an iPad recording studio is the mobility it offers…. you can record almost anywhere.

A third reason is noise – or, more accurately, lack of it. An iPad has no moving parts and, if you set it up in a quiet room to record a delicate picked guitar performance, you won’t have to listen to the sound of computer fans and hard drives humming on the recording afterwards. Yes, you can create silent computers, but it will cost you a premium price to do so.

The fourth reason is where I think I’m starting to cross over into the area of ‘personal choice’ and this might simply boil down to the wider set of reasons that you, as an individual, own a computing device in the first place. If you were designing your DIY recording system from absolute scratch – and didn’t own either a suitable computer or an iPad – then, clearly, and quite rightly, you would consider both routes before taking a decision as to which way was best for you. But I suspect some of that decision might also be based upon the other things you might use that computing device for aside from than music making…..

Computers today – desktop, laptop or tablet – are multi-functional devices. They can do multi-track recording if you add a suitable combination of extra hardware and software but, equally, they are just as good for graphic design, accountancy, book production, photography, video editing or many other specialist functions you might care to think of. If you have other tasks you want your computing device to fulfil – and the iPad format happens to provide you with your best all-round solution given those tasks – then, by default, it also becomes the choice to build your recording studio around.

Whatever the computer platform, all can handle the digital audio....

Whatever the computer platform, all can handle the digital audio….

And for the same reasons, there are lot of individuals for whom today – because of the things they use technology for (and the things they don’t) and the way they like to access those things – the iPad (or iPhone) is simply their computing platform of choice. They already own an iPad – it’s ‘their’ platform – and therefore it becomes that individuals obvious choice to build this DIY recording studio around. This would be particularly the case for those just starting out with music technology and without a budget to by multiple computer platforms for specific tasks.

In the end, therefore, while there are some ‘logical’ reasons for going down the iPad route, one system is not absolutely better than the other…  it is what suits you (as an individual) best that will dictate your final choice.

One final point; apps aside, the bulk of that additional hardware we mentioned – interface, mics, keyboards, cables, mic-stands, pop-filters and monitors – will work with any computer platform. With the exception of some iPad-specific audio/MIDI interfaces, if you eventually move from iPad to desktop (or desktop to iPad), that other equipment will generally come with you quite happily….

The iPad recording studio; some final remarks

A good number of years ago, I sold my soul to the Devil for good looks, eternal youth and the ability to play three chords and a blues scale. I am, therefore, somewhat older than I actually look :-) However, while I wasn’t around to see the absolute birth of DIY/home recording, I did experience that technology when it was still in its own youth. Back in my ‘yoof’, I know I paid around UK£1000 (and lived on toast for months) for a new 8-track, cassette-based multi-track audio recorder to replace a second-hand 4-track that used the same technology. I’ll leave you to do the math as to what that UK£1000 might be worth now….

The very humble Teac 144 Portastudio; the start of home recording for the masses.

The very humble Teac 144 Portastudio; the start of home recording for the masses.

In those days, that was cutting-edge stuff for the DIY recording enthusiast and, over the years, like many other recording enthusiasts, I’ve transitioned through a number of different technologies that have come and gone for the personal studio user – MIDI sequencing, digital tape, hard-disk recorders and, eventually, onto computer-based audio and MIDI recording. That last platform has, in the last 20 years, evolved into something both very powerful and, on the whole, very reliable. The iPad – with its compact format, pocket-money priced software and intuitive touchscreen control – is the latest incarnation of that technology.

The conclusion I’m getting to here is that today’s DIY recording wannabies are a pretty lucky bunch. Given the choice between the UK£1000 I spent back in the day on just an 8-track recorder (without any of the other kit required) and the UK£1000 ‘bare bones’ budget outlined in Part 9 of this series for an iPad recording studio (and which includes the price of the iPad)…. well, there is just no comparison; the iPad system is simply light-years ahead of what that old 8-track was capable of. I appreciate that finding that budget is still a significant challenge but, £-for-£ (or $-for$, etc.), right now, the value for money and level of sophistication you can get in your ‘budget’ home recording system has never been better.

And while music and recording technology will continue to progress and, with time, the next DIY recording platform will perhaps supersede the humble iPad (or perhaps the iPad will evolve into something else?), now is a brilliant time to be recording your own music in your own studio. So, go and get it done…. within your budget, grab your iPad, build that recording studio and then make it worthwhile…. record your own music.

Good luck,

John

 

Reading Matters

As promised earlier, here are a few book suggestions if you want some home recording background material. None of these is iOS specific but all have lots of useful material that covers DIY/personal recording best practice.

 

Be Sociable; share this post....

    Comments

    1. Miguel Marcos says:

      I have another reason for an iPad studio: Instant on. I don’t leave my Macbook Pro on all the time. From power on to Ableton Live running and ready to record takes longer than an iPad to Auria. For those times when inspiration strikes, I appreciate that shorter wait. It comes a lot closer to being like a toaster, practically on and off.

      On the other hand, a major problem with the iPad for me, which you mentioned, is working with dials and other controls via touch screen. That’s the reason I’m after a decent controller as per below.

      Here’s my setup:
      iPad Air
      Apogee One (the original version, I did think about replacing it with the new one)
      Qunexus keyboard
      Arturia Beatstep
      Powered hub, primarily so I won’t have to plug and unplug different devices from the iPad. (+ Mophie external battery is an option is no electrical socket is conveniently available.)
      A pair of Focal Spirit Professional headphones, an amazing pair of flat response headphone.
      Ironically, in contrast to my headphones, my monitors are a pair of powered Behringer MS16. They are excellent for such a low price but I’ll replace them at some point.

      Missing and still researching:
      A controller that plays nice with iOS daws. The Korg Nanokontrol 2 works with Auria. I tried the Samson MF8 briefly but mine was defective, maybe worth trying again.
      A good mic, yet to be determined but inclined toward an AKG 535.
      A decent reflection screen.

      The only other thing pending is for Auria to record MIDI tracks. A nice to have would be a larger screen iPad.

      Thanks again for the superb series. I’m sure lots of future musicians will greatly appreciate the series.

    2. Great series – many thanks!

    3. Hi Guys…. thanks for the positive feedback…. always very welcome….. :-) best wishes, John

    4. Thoroughly enjoyable and informative series John. I only wished I had read something like this 2 years ago.

    5. This could be the most valuable series of articles concerning iOS music making, and not just for beginners. For those of us that already had some equipment (kit), there is good info within to help sort out what may be needed to fill some gaps or just as a comparison. I waited a long time before acquiring an iOS hardware interface and having quality output for studio monitors was a key in making an interface choice. Getting to use all of my keyboards, mics, guitar, etc with the same device was a bit of a bonus really since USB MIDI was already working just fine for keys.

      Everyone’s needs are different but John has covered a lot of ground here and there is enough to help everyone, I think. So once again…great work John and we hope that you keep it coming!

      P.S. How does the weather in France compare to your old location?

      • Hi Toz… thanks so much for the positive feedback… I’ve already had some very useful suggestions from readers about other things I could add to this series… and I’ve a few other ‘series’ ideas that, time permitting, I’ll get around to over the next few months.

        As for the weather…. well, let’s just say that if I’d been back in Scotland, the last week of weather would have been the best week of ‘summer’ that I’ve experienced in 19 years of living there :-) It’s been beautiful here all week…. mid 20s (deg C) and bright sunshine :-) Slowly getting ourselves organised and I have been able to do a little ‘work’ so we are getting there….. best wishes, John

    6. Thank you very much, John.
      This is by far the best written and most informative series on starting in music production. Way better than similar special editions on CM magazine and all the others I saw.
      Would it be possible for you to put it into a dedicated subsection of “Articles” section of the web site and attach a table of contents, so that the parts are linked together and easy to find?

      • Hi Sergey… thanks for the very kind words. I’ve added a link under the ‘Getting Started’ menu that takes you to a single page with all 10 parts listed and linked to. Hope this helps? best wishes and thanks again, John

    7. Hello,
      I have read your article about iPad recording studio and it is really an awesome idea to do so. It will help people to record their songs at any place according to their comfort.

    8. Thank you John for your effort! Well written, comprehandable and very informative series! Reading this helped me alot building my own mobile training studio around iPad Air. BR, Tuomo

    9. Jack Fancy says:

      Reading through your series now, John. Great write up!
      I started recording with my iPad 2 and am now on iPad 4 (waiting out for an iPad PRO?).
      I’ve recorded over a hundred songs so far in a range of different styles thanks to the wide
      variety of easily accessible apps.

      I’m still surprised how small the iPad DIY recording community is but perhaps with a release
      of a more “prosumer” iPad then it’ll be taken a bit more seriously.

      Much enjoyed your in-depth article and it was fun seeing all my toys and apps referenced :)

    10. A fantastic series, thank you so much! So many questions answered for someone like me, who had many questions.

      To echo a previous comment, portability and the always on nature of iPad is quite a large factor for me as a personal choice. It’s sounds ace to be able to pick it up (or take it out) and lay down some midi ideas in, say, cubasis and then add some live instrumentation and vocals in the studio via methods describd in this series.

      If your requirement is to use pro stuff like Kontakt it’s not a great idea! But it’s about us, the users and what we need.

      Because I have an iPad and am seeking to re-engage my hobby of music I will endeavour to build a small studio around it. After hitting my 30s and bowing out of live playing this seems like a wonderful way to keep the hobby alive, but not have to spend silly amounts of time away from my Family, it’s probably cheaper in the long run too! :-)

      So I’m off to get a Scarlet 2i2, powered USB hub, monitors and dust off a few guitars, mic and keyboards.

      Thanks again

      DG

    11. Thanks for this article series, well done and giving plenty of ideas. I bought a Line6 Sonic Port VX for my iPad and I’m waiting for the delivery =).
      How does this interface compare to others in your opinion?
      now, technology a part, I need some serious guitar lesson =)
      thank you, bye
      Davide

    12. Chris Brown says:

      Hi John – this is a fantastic and we’ll informed article – just wanted to show my àppreciation. Best wishes

      • Hi Chris… thanks for the kind words – always appreciated – and glad the series has helped. Very best wishes, John

    13. Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed series. Very grateful. Cheers, Ben

    14. Good work John,
      As you say, there’s not a lot of iPad-specific DAW information on the ‘net as yet so you’re onto something here, and this site is the best I’ve seen …
      Well done!

    Speak Your Mind

    *