I posted an article earlier this week arguing the merits of ‘less is more’ when it comes to a working collection of iOS music apps. As I commented in that post, this is not a new idea. There are lots of musical examples where successful artists have made brilliant music using only a limited range of equipment or under some other sort of workflow constraints. The bottom line here is that access to shed-loads of ‘gear’ is not what limits musical creativity for most of us; it’s our skill level in using that available gear and, of course, our musical skills themselves (playing, singing, writing, arranging, etc.)….
…. if you want to ‘improve’ your musical results, investing in new gear is a tempting fix but investing in your skills is perhaps more likely to reap results. In other words, for the majority of us, there is no short cut to making better music; you have to work at it…. and a compact tool set (rather than endless choices) means less distractions and a streamlined workflow so you can focus on that skill development.
So, in order to put my money (well, apps actually) where my mouth is, what about a compact list of iOS music apps that can become my ‘core set’ for my iPad-based recording? As I stated in the earlier post, I’m aiming for a list of under 20 apps (a somewhat arbitrary number I know) so that I can (a) keep my workflow streamlined and (b) through regular use, find myself fully familiar with the full extent of what each of those apps is capable of. Both of those things in turn will mean that I spend less time being distracted by an ever-expanding app collection and have more time to do what really matters; make music over and over again (improving my skill set as I do) until I actually become quite good at it….
One final qualification before I dig in…. This is a personal selection aimed at recording duties. Undoubtedly, your own selections might well be different to mine to suit your style of music and the role iOS plays for you (live performance, composing, recording, etc.)….
….. so, here we go… a ‘less is more’ compact iOS music app collection for recording…..
If you are a long-standing reader here at the Music App Blog then no prizes for guessing the first app on my list; my iOS DAW/sequencer of choice, Steinberg’s Cubasis.
I could easily swap in Auria Pro here; it is, in many ways, more powerful than Cubasis and much closer in specification to a desktop DAW/sequencer. However, I’m a Cubase user on the desktop so Steinberg’s iOS take on the Cubase platform feels very much like home to me. Yes, I can think of a few features I’d love to see added (folders and group channels for example) but, on the whole, I actually like the fairly streamlined feature set as I think it suits the iOS format and, in this case, also suits my ‘less is more’ philosophy.
And, in workflow terms, as it’s probably the app I know best of all the iOS music apps I use, it also means I’m already pretty efficient when using it.
Guitar’s the star
My main instrument is the electric guitar so I’m going to want at least one of the many very good iOS guitar rig simulation apps within this collection. I’ve actually gone for Line 6’s Mobile POD here but it was a toss-up between that and Positive Grid’s BIAS FX. In the end, I think heart won over head (I’m a long-standing Line 6 fan) and many of the models within the app are familiar to me through their various incarnations in other Line 6 products I’ve used including the latest and greatest of these, the Helix.
Heck, I’m even OK with the rather abstract graphics that Line 6 introduced in the most recent update of Mobile POD. I’d seen these coming in their desktop/hardware products so it perhaps wasn’t such a surprise when they appeared in the iOS app. However, the bottom line is, of course, all about sound and I just like what Line 6 do with their modelled guitar tones…. and, with many years of using Line 6 stuff under my belt, familiarity wins here also.
I’m happy enough to go with a single guitar rig sim but, when it comes to drums and grooves, one app on it’s own wouldn’t quite cut it so, in this area, I’ve actually included three different apps; DrumPerfect Pro (for my ‘real’ acoustic drums), Patterning (for my electronic grooves and drum sounds) and Sector (simply because it is brilliant for off-the-wall electronic grooves).
I could easily make a case for one further app – perhaps a more conventional ‘drum machine’ style tool and, in this case, I’d go for either iSpark, Elastic Drums or DM2 but, for now, I’ll stick to my three listed above and let Patterning deal with ‘conventional’ drum machine duties while also being very happy that it is capable of much more besides.
Synth you’ve been gone
OK, not all of them are gone…. and, for this exercise, of my many iOS synths, I’ve retained three for my compact recording app set; SynthMaster Player, iM1 and iSEM. OK, so I know the synth purists amongst you are now spitting your coffee over your touchscreens but, as I’m really a guitar player, then cut me a little slack.
In my case, both SynthMaster and iM1, while they can most certainly be seen as glorified preset machines, also offer a huge range of sounds and, for my needs, just enough programmability to make things interesting but without me getting bogged down. Both work nicely via IAA within Cubasis. The SynthMaster environment is one I’m also familiar with as I use the desktop version as well….
My token ‘proper’ synth is iSEM. I do genuinely like this synth and particularly for bass sounds. It is not the most complex of synth engines so it also appeals to the guitar player in me (!). However, the fact that it is also AU compatible was a consideration; with Cubasis now offering AU hosting, this is an app I can call on multiple times within the same project if I need to.
On top of my three synths, I’m also including two other virtual instruments, although these are more of the sample-based variety; Module and SampleTank. I own a number of the expansion packs for Module and, as my go to source of piano and organ sounds – plus a few others that it also does – it serves me well. SampleTank is a bit of a ‘catch-all’ for everything else. There are perhaps better sounding apps for all of the sounds it covers but, as a single app that covers a lot of basic sonic ground, it does a great job. The fact that it is also four-part multi-timbral is an additional plus point.
Cubasis comes with a respectable set of basic effects processing options so, for routine compression, EQ and modulation, I’ll most certainly get by and, as I added the two IAP effects packs some time ago, I’ve got access to most of what I need. That said, iOS does offer a huge number of brilliant audio effects options….
…. but, if I’m going to stick to my ‘less is more’ principles here, I need to just pick a few of these to include within my core set. In my case, I’ve gone for four; Auto-Tune for iOS, Stereo Designer, AltiSpace and Turnado.
I’ve said before that I think the App Store is waiting for a really good pitch-correction app to arrive. Auto-Tune for iOS could be that app and, while it is not quite there yet, it is probably as good as it gets…. so, as my vocals often need a helping hand, Auto-Tune makes the cut.
StereoDesigner might seem like something of a random choice but this is an app that I love and, while any stereo manipulation tool needs using with caution, this app can bring almost any sound to life by adding that extra ‘pop’ that only stereo imaging can deliver. Underrated by many but included by me.
AltiSpace is here because I still think the stock reverbs supplied with Cubasis are a little under-powered. The fact that you can get a convolution app for an iPad (in fact, several, as AltiSpace isn’t the only convolution-based reverb app available) is still a surprise to me. It sounds great and rounds out the Cubasis effects nicely.
Turnado is my ear-candy effects app. I picked this over other contenders – Flux:FX or DFX, for example – simply because it is, for me, the wildest ride and also software I’m familiar with on the desktop. It takes some learning but is capable of some real magic when required.
Incidentally, I could easily be persuaded to tweak this particular selection – heck, and even add to it – it there was (a) a top-notch EQ app and (b) a top-notch compressor app that both came with AU support. Compression and EQ are perhaps the two most fundamental processing options required when mixing and, until I can use multiple instances of a 3rd party app within Cubasis via AU, then I’ll stick with the stock offerings Cubasis provides even if they do lack a little bit of character.
Quite a performance
Cubasis includes a ‘chord pad’ option and, while this is perfectly serviceable, iOS has a number of other MIDI performance apps that do a much better job. I’ve gone for Chordion here simply because it is the one I’ve used for the longest and know the best (it’s also a streamlined feature set so, again, suits the ethos of what I’m going for in this collection) but I’d have been more than happy to go with alternatives such as ChordPolyPad (more powerful) or Navichord (perhaps more helpful for harmonic guidance?).
Master of the audio
Having recorded my latest bit of musical inspiration based around the 15 apps listed above, it would be a shame not to give the stereo mix that final bit of polish. I’ll therefore round off this core set of personal choices for recording with a mastering tool.
You could, of course, chain together a number of different apps to make a mastering system, but I’m happy enough to go with a dedicated app for the job. While I do like IKMultimedia’s Lurssen Mastering, given the price for the full app, I think we have two more accessible contenders in this category; Mastering from Igor Vasiliev and Positive Grid’s Final Touch. I’d be happy with either as they both offer more than enough tools to get the job done. I’m a long-standing fan of Igor’s approach to development though so Mastering was my personal pick here but Final Touch is also very good indeed.
One folder, one page
So, as shown in a single screen shot, I’ve managed to confine my selection to 16 apps; rather neatly, this is one page within one iOS folder. It would, of course, be very easy to start adding additional apps into this compact collection but, as I stated in my earlier post that I was (somewhat arbitrarily) going to stick with a target of 20 or less apps, I will at least mention the four that I could have included if my OCD hadn’t got the better of me.
My recording experience has been built on using conventional DAWs such as Logic and Cubase. Cubasis is, therefore, a concept that is familiar to me and offers a similar way of working. However, just as the original version of Reason on the desktop was, essentially, a MIDI-only sequencing environment, we have a number of electronic music production environments available under iOS that offer brilliant and creative options for music creation. Two of my extra four picks would actually come from this category; Gadget and Oscilab… and both are great for getting some electronic ideas started (or even nearly finished) before handing off the results to Cubasis.
I’d include Gadget simply because I think Korg have created something that just works on the iPad platform so well. The visual design is great and the feature set strikes (for me at least) the perfect balance between ‘enough’ and ‘not too much’. And, with a really interesting set of ‘gadgets’, access to the sounds within Module, and a great MIDI sequencing system, this is hard to beat.
However, for a variety of reasons, I think Oscilab is a pretty good contender. Oscilab has been around longer than Gadget. It takes a similar concept and shrinks it down to something even more compact. However, where the app really scores is in the interesting way you can create sequences. This is pure touchscreen brilliance…. Oscilab is, in my opinion at least, one of the underrated gems within the iOS music app section of the App Store.
For my final two picks I’d simply add Guitar Toolkit (I use it every day even if only as a guitar tuner) and one of either VocaLive or VoiceRack:FX. If you write songs – as opposed to instrumental music – vocals are generally the most important element so making them ‘pop’ in a mix is a big deal. OK, I’ll toss a coin…. and it’s come up in favour of VoiceRack:FX….
Missing in action?
So, 16 main apps and 4 ‘extras’ that I would add if I was cutting myself a little more slack. However, what might seem surprising (well, it surprised me) was some of the high-profile iOS music apps that I didn’t make this final selection. For example, there is no Audiobus, AUM, Thor, Nave, Model 15, AUFX apps, (Stereo Designer aside) Holderness Media apps…. well, pick your own from the very many excellent others that, for some of you, would have found a place in your own version of this list.
For me, AUM and Audiobus are perhaps the most interesting exclusions and I think this simply reflects that I’ve built a collection here that allows me to work much as I would on the desktop; that is, everything would run via IAA or AU within Cubasis. And, with a fairly modest number of apps that need connecting anyway, apps like AUM and Audiobus – which are really about connectivity between different apps – are not something I really need in this context.
I think this would be very different if this was an app collection for a live performance context. Equally, it might be different if this was a recording system built around a MIDI sequencer such as ModStep as opposed to a DAW/sequencer like Cubasis. In both these situations, Audiobus and AUM would be very obvious choices as they would undoubtedly be required to ‘glue’ the individual apps together. In my compact recording setup, Cubasis is capable of fulfilling that role so neither would be essential.
More ‘less is more’?
This ‘less is more’ concept can, of course, be taking into other areas of iOS music making besides the ‘recording’ setup I’ve described here. The obvious candidates would be in a live performance context (where the app selections would depend upon your musical interests and core instrument such as keys, guitars or drums, for example) and then thinking about items beyond the apps themselves. For example, taking my collection apps for recording as an example, what would be the ‘core items’ of additional hardware you would need to add to make a viable recording setup?
This is something I looked at in my ‘Building an iPad recording studio’ series some time ago… but, again, this is a topic that it is worth returning to and seeing just how much fat you can really cut back on. Actually, I think it’s quite a lot… and if you are just getting started with iOS-based recording, perhaps that can form the next topic I’ll turn my attention to. Just how little additional kit do you need over and above the iPad and those ‘core’ apps in order to have a viable ‘recording studio’? Watch this space….
Your ‘less is more’?
Of course, we all make our music in different ways and are interested in making different types of music. My collection of 16 (or 20) apps, while ideal for me, might not suit you even if your intention is also to build a compact app collection for recording duties….
So, if these couple of posts have got you thinking, then feel free to share your thoughts below by posting a comment… or in an email to me through the Contact Us link…. It will be interesting to see just how diverse our ‘core set’ app collections might be… and, hopefully, to hear something of the reasons why those selections work for different members of the readership. Get commenting :-)
The Music App Blog ‘core apps’ selection for recording duties
I’ve reviewed all the apps mentioned above previously here on the Music App Blog and their are links embedded in the text so you can find those reviews easily if you want to discover more about the apps I’ve selected. After that, feel free to hit the icons below to check the latest details and current pricing on the App Store….