Why less can be more – just how many iOS music apps do you really need?

finger on a tablet computer screenI’ve been running the Music App Blog for just over four years and, in that time, I’ve published reviews of…. well, I’ve lost count of how many iOS music apps…. but it is well over 200 (use the ‘Search’ box located top-right of the side-bar area to find any you might have missed!) and I’ve used, dabbled with, and sometimes discarded, many more. That’s a lot of music apps but I suspect there are plenty of iOS musicians who can easily match – and exceed – those sorts of numbers.

Like me, I’m sure that many of you get something of a buzz from trying a new app and it is always interesting to see if the latest release (whatever that might be) might be ‘just the thing’ your app collection has been looking for. The question – and one so obvious that I’m sure everyone of us have asked ourselves – is just how many iOS music apps do we need in order to realise the music we can hear in our heads?

Of course, as with hardware synths, guitars and shoes (OK, I borrowed this one from my wife), the answer is always n+1 where n = the number of iOS music apps that you currently own. Well, it is if you are a music app addict and, on the upside, compared to hardware synths, guitars and, yes, even shoes, iOS music apps are pretty affordable; there are more financially challenging addictions that you can suffer from.

Cliched jokes aside, there is a genuine question here and, while I absolutely don’t think that I (or you) should stop looking at those new apps, I do think there is a very strong case to be made for ‘less is more’ when it comes to actually getting music made. In moderation, choice can be a good thing…. but too much choice can simply be a distraction and, while you wade through endless options, your muse will get bored waiting and leg it down the pub….

My iPad Pro 'music apps' screen.... so many folders and so many apps....

My iPad Pro ‘music apps’ screen…. so many folders and so many apps….

The history of music making is littered with apocryphal stories of great albums being made on very limited gear or in circumstances where the artist has deliberately set themselves some technological (or other) constraints. The underlying argument here is a simple (and obvious) one; that working within these constraints reduces your choices, forces you to get the most out of whatever tools you have available, and encourages you get creative within those limitations. Let’s look at each of these issues with a bit of iOS music context.

Choose fewer choices

We all know just what a slippery customer a musical idea can be. You hear an idea in your head and want to realise it with your iOS music production system…. so, in your own typical workflow, what’s the first step? Do you lay down a drum rhythm or groove, sketch out a bass line or knock out some chords on a guitar or synth?

All these (and many other) approaches are perfectly valid but the problem might come if, for example, drum app no. 1 doesn’t quite nail it quickly enough so you move on to drum app no. 2…. And then drum app no. 3 and…. Well, you get the idea…. Or rather you don’t because the idea (the musical one that is) has long gone in a puff of rotating drum apps….

We have some brilliant iOS drum and groove apps available - including the recently released DM2 - but how many of these do I need to actually get some music made?

We have some brilliant iOS drum and groove apps available – including the recently released DM2 – but how many of these do I need to actually get some music made?

The suggestion here is, of course, that if you just had one ‘go to’ drum app, you would simply stick with it until that rhythmic idea crossed the line (or at least got close enough that you could move on before that initial inspiration was treated to death by app overload). By reducing your choices you streamline your workflow.

Squeeze to the max

A second argument for less is more when it comes to music apps (and music software in general) is that, with a smaller number of apps that you use more often, the odds are that you will get to know them pretty well and, as a consequence, be able to squeeze something close to their full potential from them. Remember those 200+ music app reviews I mentioned earlier? Just how many of those 200 apps (or the equally large number currently sitting on your own iOS hardware) do we think that we really ‘know’? Well, if I’m honest with myself, the answer is probably quite a small number of them…..

Perhaps the category where this is most apparent for me is synths. I’ve an extensive collection of absolutely fabulous iOS synth apps sat in a folder on my iPad Pro but, in terms of those that I know well, the number is actually pretty small. That doesn’t mean the others are not worth knowing…. It’s just that for my rather small guitarist-sized brain, I can only retain the inner working of so many synths before my head will explode.

And while I’m happy to scratch the surface of a range of different synths in some downtime, when I really want the work to flow, I don’t need to be faffing about with YouTube tutorials, online reviews or PDF documentation just to get a bass sound I like…. No, I need a small set of suitable tools that I know my way around and can fully exploit to get where I need to go (or very very close to where I want to go) as quickly as I possibly can.

We have some brilliant iOS synth apps to choose from.... including Synthmaster Player which, as a preset-loving, guitar player, has become something of a personal workhorse for me....

We have some brilliant iOS synth apps to choose from…. including Synthmaster Player which, as a preset-loving, guitar player, has become something of a personal workhorse for me….

In short, having less, but really knowing how to squeeze the most out of those apps I do use, perhaps means I do more….

Get creative

The other element that a limited tool set can encourage is workflow creativity. You only have to scan back to the early days of multi-track recording for some very obvious examples. Being limited to four- or eight-track audio recording, a very limited range of ‘mixing’ options and not much more than picking a room that sounded right in order to add ambience to a drum kit, didn’t stop the likes of the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin et al. from making some breathtaking music. And while that music is, in the main, breathtaking for reasons other than the technology used in making it (great musicians and great songs can’t be purchased on the App Store or at your local Guitar Centre), what technology was available was often pushed to – and then beyond – its intended design limits.

The obvious lesson we can all learn from this is limited gear need not limit your musical creativity. As an iOS example, there is more sophisticated recording technology in my iPad Pro and Cubasis combination than in any recording studio the above listed artists had access to when they recorded some of those classic albums in the 1960s. Yes, a decent mic or two, and a great sounding room to record in would certainly help, but, otherwise, my inability to make music on that standard is absolutely nothing to do with limitations in my available equipment.

Your average home/project studio owner now has access to more music technology than was eve available when some of our favourite classic albums were recorded in the 1960s and 1970s....

Your average home/project studio owner now has access to more music technology than was eve available when some of our favourite classic albums were recorded in the 1960s and 1970s….

Limited equipment, therefore, ought to encourage us to ‘get creative’ in two distinct, but important ways. First, we need to ‘get creative;’ in terms of our use of that limited technology. Got a workflow problem? Well get creative within that limited toolkit and find a workaround solution…. Second, by not using an almost unending stream of music technology as a crutch, we need to ‘get creative’ in a music sense. If the music you are making doesn’t reach the heights you are aiming for, the odds are that the problem is not one that has a solution by acquiring more ‘stuff’.

Investment time

Back in the day, I used to play a bit of golf (my dad was a fan and encouraged me as a kid) and, before we moved to SW France 18 months or so ago, we lived in part of Scotland renowned for the sport. When I was out playing one day with some local friends (and, as usual, hacking my way around), I hit a particularly bad shot. By way of help, one of my playing partners shouted “Look…. there’s sh*t on the end of your club….”. I duly looked at the head of the club to see said sh*t that had caused my duff shot….   only for my friend to shout “No, not that end….. the other end.” That is, of course, the end that I was holding…. Ho, ho, ho, thought I while, inside, knowing my friend was absolutely right. I have, for information, since given up the game.

OK, so this is a pretty standard golf joke…. but it’s one that contains (a) a lot of truth and (b) obvious parallels to the world of music making. My poor golf shot had absolutely nothing to do with my golf club… the limitations of my golf were all down to ‘operator error’. My golf clubs were not the best in the world but, in the right hands (Rory Mcilroy, Jordan Spieth, etc.), the ball would undoubtedly have gone far and straight….

And, whether I like to admit it or not, give a Spike Stent, Andrew Sheps, Butch Vig, Nile Rodgers, Quincy Jones or Dr Dre an iPad Pro and a copy of Cubasis, while they might well roll their eyes, given the right artists and the right songs, they will produce a hit or three and I suspect I might not. The equipment is not what provides the most important/critical limitations; it’s the skill level of the operator.

And, by ‘skill level’, for the solo musician or indie band doing everything for themselves, ‘skill level’ applies to the song writing, arrangement, musicianship, engineering, mixing, mastering and promotion. ‘Gear’ might make some of these stages easier to work your way through but it is not a substitute for finely honed skills.

Computer software - such as Cubasis by Steinberg under iOS - now provides a complete recording studio environment within which to work.

Computer software – such as Cubasis by Steinberg under iOS – now provides a complete recording studio environment within which to work.

As Malcolm Gladwell demonstrated in his excellent book ‘Outliers’, the way to get good at something is to do it…. and if you want to get really good at it, you need to do it a lot; clock up 10,000 hours of focused practice at almost any complex skill – playing the guitar, singing, writing songs, mixing, etc., etc. – and, somewhat unsurprisingly, you will be significantly better at it than when you started. Investing in a new bit of music technology equipment might seem like a viable (and rapid) solution to ‘fix’ what’s wrong with your own music but it’s investing in you – through time spent learning and practicing the skills required – that is much more likely to bring the required improvement in results.

Which is, of course, why Andrew Scheps could record a classic rock hit on my iPad Pro (and I can’t) and Rory Mcilroy could hit a golf ball 300 yards with my budget-shop golf clubs (and I can’t).

Less is more

OK, let me try and bring all this back into focus for the iOS musician. If, like me, you are part of the solo artist/indie musician hordes, all those skill areas mentioned above – song writing, arrangement, musicianship (singing and instruments), live performance, engineering, mixing, mastering and promotion – may be part of what you have to work on.

Collaboration may well be part of the answer. You can collaborate with folks who might have expertise in areas that complement your own (and that’s why the credits on most hit albums are extensive; the producer/management/artist recognizes where their own skills need the support of someone better at it than they are). However, as a solo musician, there is most certainly a problem of being a bit of a jack-of-all-trades…. 10,000 hours on one skill is a challenge but achievable; 10,000 on each of perhaps 10 different skills is more than most of us could fit into a lifetime.

So, if you are with me so far (although feel free to disagree with my train of thought), and if you are willing to acknowledge that it is something about your personal skill set – as opposed to your equipment list – that is the most significant bottleneck for your musical efforts, what practical steps might you take towards addressing that skill shortage?

For us iOS musicians, one (small) suggestion is to limit the number of iOS music apps that you routinely work with. This satisfies the ‘less’ is more’ ethos on a number of levels but, most importantly, it’s fewer apps to learn and fewer apps to get distracted by. If you are really supposed to be (for example) working on your mixing skills, you don’t need to be distracted by having to learn about the ins and outs of a new synth/drum machine/effects processor (or all three) at the same time; practice your mixing skills within your chosen iOS DAW/sequencer and clock up some hours on those skills in an environment that you know.

Acknowledging a personal skill shortage does require some rather honest self-appraisal. Musically, where would you like to be and, in terms of your current skill set, what’s stopping you getting there? The answer might be multiple things (so, for example, for myself, it’s my singing and my mixing skills) but, for many of us, I’d be very surprised if the genuine answer was along the lines of ‘the lack of a really good XYZ app’ when, in all likelihood, we own several perfectly acceptable XYZ apps already.

I love new apps.... but, as demonstrated by the three pages of synth apps that I have installed (and there are others I own but that are not installed), perhaps lack of a good synth is not what's holding my music back?

I love new apps…. but, as demonstrated by the three pages of synth apps that I currently have installed on my iPad Pro (and there are others I own but that are not installed), perhaps lack of a good synth is not what’s holding my music back?

It is, of course, very tempting to go for the easy ‘buy a new app’ route, especially as the App Store pricing model means iOS software is sold at such low prices. Acquiring a new app is way easier than acquiring a new (or improved) skill…. but, in the long run, the new (or improved) skill is what will make more difference to your music. Much as we might wish for a magic X-Factor/The Voice instant transformation of our musical efforts, for the majority of us mortals, musical success (however you personally measure it), requires some graft… and those that want it most will be prepared to put that graft in.

So, if its really skill that we need to work on rather than equipment (app) collection, how about making some space in your schedule for skill development by pairing down your day-to-day working app collection to a ‘core set’? Fewer app distractions, fewer apps to master, and more time to spend on what might be the real source of some musical improvements; those missing skills.

How many is ‘less’?

OK, so we might define our own ‘core set’ of apps that form the heart of our music making system rather than, at a whim, dipping into any of the (very) many we actually have installed. But how many apps is ‘less’? And what apps should they be?

The second question will obviously depend upon what you use your iOS music technology for. Those primarily interested in live performance might select a different core set of apps to someone (like me) whose prime interest is in recording. Equally, a drummer, guitar player, synth player and singer might specify different core apps even if their interest was in the same application (live performance for example). I’ll come back to this question in a minute.

What about the first question? How many apps is ‘less’? Well, given my own primary use of my iOS music platform is recording, I could probably, at a push, make a case for 1 (and, for me that would be my DAW/sequencer) but I don’t think I need to be quite that draconian with myself. Is 10 a reasonable number? How about 20? I think once I got beyond 20 then I might be on the slippery slope to 30 and beyond…. so maybe that ideal number – for me at least – is somewhere between 1 and 20.

Perhaps this kind of app - in this case, a voice training app - is where I should be spending more time if I really want to reach my personal musical goals?

Perhaps this kind of app – in this case, a voice training app – is where I should be spending more time if I really want to reach my personal musical goals?

So, can I define for myself a ‘core set’ of something less than 20 iOS music apps to sit on my iPad that allows me to get the vast bulk of my recording tasks done via a (mostly) lean and (hopefully) mean iOS music making machine?

Well, I’m going to give it a shot…. and I’ll cough that list up as a post at some stage in the next week or so. However, I’d certainly be interested in your own take on this, whether it’s something you already do, something you might define for yourself or something you simply disagree with…. leave a comment below.

Let me finish with two final points…..

New and shiny

First, I think the argument for having a core – and compact – set of music software tools is a compelling one. Defining your ‘go to’ app(s) in every category of app that you need to use means you can streamline your creative workflow, maximize what you get out of all those core apps and, hopefully, make more time to work on your musical skillset….   all of which should, with time, mean better music.

However, I don’t think that’s necessarily the same thing as closing the App Store app or iTunes and ignoring the regular stream of new and exciting music apps. At some stage, something may well come along and trump your current ‘go to’ app in a particular category. Giving some promising new apps a quick spin to see if that’s the case is always interesting, generally a lot of fun and, given the pretty modest prices for most iOS music apps (compared to the same experimentation process on a desktop system), a pretty painless thing to do.

So, by all means, keep checking out the new releases (as I intend to) and, if something looks promising, take a little musical downtime to explore. Only then can you weigh up the pros and cons of the ‘new and shiny’ vs the ‘old, trusted and known’ to see if the downside of learning a new app is compensated for by the additional functionality it brings….

…. just don’t make ‘app upgrading’ (or gear acquisition in general) the primary means of upgrading your music making; for that, most of us need to invest in our skills.

I’m just starting….

The second point is something that will really require a further post at some stage but I’ll raise the issue here. Making an argument for ‘less is more’ is all very well for me to present when I already have more music technology at my disposal than I can possibly use. However, what about those just starting out who, aside from their iPad or iPhone, might yet have very little sitting beside it but want to get going? They already have ‘less’ so how more ‘more’ should they aim for before they have an excessive amount of ‘more’?

So just how much is it going to cost to build a recording studio around an iPad that can deliver both decent results and some flexibility?

So just how much is it going to cost to build a recording studio around an iPad that can deliver both decent results and some flexibility?

Again, there are different answers here depending upon just how you might see yourself using your iOS music technology in your own music making with ‘live’ or ‘studio’ perhaps being the obvious broad categories that might require different strategies. So, for example, if you want to start recording on your iPad, just how little equipment/software do you actually need to begin that journey? What’s the minimum amount of equipment required that the equipment itself isn’t the limiting factor but your ability to use and exploit that equipment is? If you are just starting out, from a recording perspective, I actually think the answer to that question is a surprisingly modest number of items….

So what are these key things you need to get started? Well, I’ve covered these topics here, here and here some time ago in posts here on the Music App Blog but, at some stage soon, I’ll try to bring these ideas up to date….

In summary

I’d be interested in your own take on this ‘less is more’ topic….   so please feel free to leave a comment below if any of the above has struck a chord (doh!). There is nothing radically new about the concept – it’s one many have preached before – but in an app-based environment, where software has never been so easy to afford, the danger of equipment overload is perhaps even more acute for iOS musicians than in the world of desktop or hardware-based music making.

And, as time permits in the next week or so, I’ll follow this up with my own selection of ‘less is more’ iOS music apps for my primary recording function for my iPad…. Until then, here’s hoping those skill sets are coming along nicely :-)

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    Comments

    1. Agree 100%
      I use my iPad Air as a sound module so narrowing down to my favourite synths and samplers was key.
      I tried to use the iPad as a sequencer or a grovebox but it never worked out for me. So now I have 1 page of synths, of which 4 are my go to, and some utilities like AUM and navichord.
      Thanks for this post, I hope you go more in depth on this topic.

    2. Correct about the number of synth apps needed being n+1. :-) Seems common to have a few that are current favorites or reliable go-to synths, but then it’s always nice opening up older ones for change of scenery/sounds. At least that’s what I tell myself – I haven’t really learned how to play the keyboards so I feel like I’m mostly collecting them now and once I learn how to play I will be glad I have all of the choices to create with. As far as music tools (DAW, effects, MIDI, etc) then yeah, I keep those apps as limited as possible – just what is needed to record or connect everything without much duplication in apps and try to avoid those with steep learning curves.

    3. I wouldn’t call myself a musician, I’m, a sonic dabbler. Sometimes musicians can’t tell the difference, but I know. In answer to the the question you posed, I need AudioBus, AudioShare and AUM. The ties that bind everything else together. After that it’s a matter of choice, and like you I already have more choice than I can handle. As for hardware, I bought an iPad Air 2, Mac Mini, iRig keyboard and iTrack Dock. A combo which gives me access to all the wonders of Logic Pro X, back into my iPad. With this two pronged assault of IOS and OSX, I can do ‘stuff’ that would’ve blown George Martin (producer not writer) and Phil Spector away, back in the day.

      Obviously, those two greats and so many others didn’t need the tech assist to be better than I’ll ever be, and change the world with the music they made. But the point is, we live in an age where anyone with a sonic imagination – and enough disposable cash – can make sounds that previous generations needed vast talent and even vaster amounts of money to equal. Compared to what a single sophisticated synthesizer costed when they were first developed, the hardware listed above is peanuts. The force – of music – is with us!

    4. I agree 1000% and wish I’d read an article like this before I started going crazy buying iOS music apps a little over 3 months ago.

      At the time, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do… so I could easily justify buying a little bit of different types of iOS music apps until I honed-in what I needed/wanted.

      Then, at some point I got sucked into some of the overly ecstatic hype from veteran “appaholic” users who’d go freaking crazy about every single new app that came out. They’d belt out “insta-buy!” “Great developer!” “Game Changer!” etc. Some seem to essentially by every single new app and crow about it even before they’ve had a chance to really use it.

      And don’t get me started on some of the “review” video sites that seem to go ape over every freakin app that they’re featuring and NEVER seem to mention anything at all that’s lacking. I dig those sites/videos, but I’ve learned to understand they’re likely getting paid to say something is “awesome” etc.

      Your site however, even though it’s obviously ad-supported… is always balanced. You point out what’s great about an app… what’s lacking… who the app is likely best suited… and who could likely skip this one, etc. Your site, as well as the dischord site… have become my main review sites to read carefully before I pull the buy button trigger. And, I’ve now started always going through the app links when I do decide to buy.

      Anyway, it’s my own fault for getting so influenced by the “appaholic” and “carnival barker” app sites without taking the time to read and evaluate whether I’ve already got all I need.

      I can say that when I only had my first half dozen or so fresh new apps… I made much more out of them with more experimentation… than I do now with nearly a 100 iOS audio apps. Too much choice can sometimes mean, no choice is made at all.. by some like myself.

      At present, I’m trying to get back to that first mentality I had when first exploring the iOS universe, and implementing self-imposed restrictions to force creativity instead of collecting more apps. And, reading thoughtful and well balanced reviews from site’s like yours that tend to keep the “app-selling carnival barker” vibe in check, and provide good info to make a more informed and less emotional purchasing decision.

      Thanks. :)

    5. Synth Nitouch says:

      I lost several hundred euros, maybe thousand in few month buying all apps. I dont regret but I think I Will have not enough a life to use them all deeply and correctly. I like your guide and reviews but perhaps you, thé soundtestroom and the others should give note (0-10 or ABCD ) ,stars or good bad average to help us more. I know it s a subjective stuff but an app without iaa, midi or link shouldnt be considered as killer-app or instabuy .Music radar computer music does it and have no problems with company or devs.

    6. I admit I’m an app addict. (I feel better already)

      If I see a new app that is remotely interesting I buy it. Not because I need it and not because I have a project just waiting for it. I buy it because the cost allows me to without any afterthought. I aways justify it in thinking it will come in handy one day and then forget I even have half of them. I’m a real sucker for the sales as well and a lot of apps have been bought at reduced prices, some quite significantly cheaper such as Cubasis and Animoog.

      I always think every app is a bargain until I add up all the apps I have bought and realise I have probably spent more on Apps than I did on the iPads (two).

      Think collective rather than individual and the cost is quite scary.

      I have now committed to Auria Pro over Cubasis and bought a number of fabfilter products which by comparision to most apps are a lot more expensive but when comparing to desktop costs, it is still very affordable for what you get. (They are outstanding value if you are into mixing and mastering)

      The bottom line is that I probably only use 7 apps regularly out of the 100s I have for what I do
      Auria Pro
      Drum Studio
      iM1
      Alchemy (still one of the best)
      Anytune Pro
      AudioShare
      Audiobus.

      I absolutely agree that less is more but in the world of being a music app addict it is impossible to ignore the next one that comes along.

      • What, no room for AUM?

        • Needless to say I have it but haven’t really had a need for it. It’s probably my lack of understanding of the App and how best to use it which is symptomatic of having too many Apps.

    7. Hi All…. many thanks to those of you who have left comments above… many of them quite detailed. I’ve had a number of private emails also today on the same topic in response to the post. It certainly does seem to have touched a nerve :-) Anyway, keep the comments coming… and I’m currently drafted the ‘part 2’ I promised with my own personal ‘core set’ for recording duties…. As and when I get that online, it would be great to read some alternatives from some of the site’s readership with some commentary about the selections…. Anyway, thanks again and very best wishes, John

    8. When it comes to mixing/automation and whatnot, I think it’s fine to use as many apps as you want to get the sound your after, but this should come AFTER the song is laid out. It’s within the crafting of the actual song that I find limitation to be necessary. This is why iKaossilator is one of my all time favorite apps. Not as a primary tool, but as more of a “reminder app”. Whenever I feel like I’m getting carried away trying to Link (pun intended) up a bunch of different stuff into this super awesome workflow, I just open up IKaossilator and bang out a whole tune in about half an hour. I’m then reminded how simple songwriting really is, it’s all the other bells and whistles that can get complicated.

    9. ConfusedKitten says:

      Hi John, thanks for the article, it was really interesting and I was looking forward to it as you have alluded to writing it in the past. It’s also really interesting to hear people comment on the subject above because of the contrasts in opinion and differences in individual needs etc, which is a driving factor in how much is enough. Coincidentally, I added up how much I’d spent on apps/IAP’s across my iPhone and iPad last night (as I keep track of it in notes) and so far its around £275, and I think of myself as being pretty restrained! However that’s bought me an entire studio worth of software and would have undoubtedly cost me thousands if they were desktop based so I feel to have done very well indeed!

      I also have practically everything I need (bar a few apps that don’t get enough TLC from their developers for me to invest in them at this stage) and remaining IAP’s for existing apps I use. I mirror some apps on my iPhone so that I can sculpt sounds on the move (Cassini, Animoog, Sunrizer and Mitosynth). There’s around 35 audio apps on my iPad Pro which I justify as everything has a purpose, and I use them all regularly. I have a variety of synths as I want to be able to cover different forms of synthesis (subtractive, additive, FM, sample and synthesis, physical modelling, wavetable, modular, waveshaping etc). I have Nanostudio and Cubasis DAW’s (because nano runs on my iPhone too), Arturias iSpark drum machine, some general FX (AUFX etc) Bias Amp/FX for guitar work, and some mastering apps. And finally some ubiquitous utilities to glue it all together (namely Audiobus, AUM, Audioshare) oh… and a partridge in a pear tree!

      An analogy I use for my own approach to acquiring apps (such as the wide gamut of synthesis above) is to think about an artist drawing/painting a picture. If you only had a few of synths (or general sound apps) it would be like only painting in 2 colours using say water colour and a brush. Everything looks and sounds samey. But add some more forms of synthesis (etc) and it’s then like having brushes, pencils, acrylic, oil, pastels, charcoal etc. Lots of textures, tones, shades and forms are possible. I don’t need each one every time I create, but I’m glad I have the choice when I’m exploring! At the same time I don’t need 10 purples, or 5 of the same brush either (goodbye to ‘me too’ apps)! Just a modest array of choice that covers each category.

      I have to admit though being a programmer in the real world, I need access to music technology that’s deep enough to keep things exciting (and challenging) or my head would explode; and with amazing things like BIAS AMP/FX (I just bought all the IAP’s this last weekend) we really are spoiled for choice when it comes to creative nerdy expression. I’m really looking forward to the follow up article as it will be interesting to hear about your own choice of ‘key apps’ based on your individual needs and the readership also for contrast and comparison.

      Many thanks John :)

    10. I’ve bought many apps to help spur development since the cost is so low. However if and when Synthmaster goes AU and there’s a reasonable Drum Sampler AU I’d be good to go with those along with Cubasis and the existing AU’s from Blamsoft and TC-Helicon

    11. Great article!
      I agree – for many of us being really great with a few apps is better than being poor at many.

      But I have to add that apps are fairly inexpensive compared to many things in life. I love nice clothes and the cost of suits, sports jackets, shoes and ties is hundreds of times more than what we pay for with apps. As addictions go, apps are a fairly inexpensive one.

      The other aspect worth mentioning is fun – sometimes it is fun to just buy an app and goof around with it and see how it works and what you come up with, even if you never fully master it.

      • Hi Simon…. thanks for this…. yes, it is an addiction where each fix is at least a fairly modest cost…. although it will, of course, eventually all add up :-) And, yes, I also like a good goof! New apps are great to explore…. you never quite know where it might lead so it can be a creative process even if, eventually, that new app is added to the ‘just occasional use’ folder….. best wishes, John

    12. The low cost and high quality of IOS music apps makes them hard not to keep buying. And then it becomes a matter of deciding which ones to use which for me would vary depending on the music I’m making.

      It can be distracting if it gets out of control.

    13. Hey John,
      What’s the Voice Training App called?

      Thanks!

      • Hi Izzi…. the one shown above is Voice Cross Trainer by Kim Chandler produced in collaboration with TC-Electronic. There are a couple of other good voice training tools out there but Kim’s is well worth a look and I have reviewed it here on the blog in the past…. Best wishes, John

    14. Psysword says:

      Yes have to agree with everyone above. Less is more but more is more too! I started out my musical journey with great trepidation knowing that I was an absolute musical clod. But thanks to Discchord, thesoundtestroom, and John here, they smoothened my entry in to this glorious IPad world where everything was super fast, lag free and it worked! As I collected apps and have bought almost all of them, it was my way of saying thank you to the market forces that have brought us this glorious development. Never forget the power of capitalism that drives Apple relentlessly. If we expand the market then the market will reward us later on with better returns! So I have no guilt in rewarding a hard working app developer that has done what I couldn’t do. Money has a way of appearing especially for buying synths as many old synth heads will attest to.
      So much so that I have made the jump to Ableton and have a nice synergy between iOS and the Mac OS. Life is all about moving from one graduation ceremony to another. I am a medical doctor by profession, and am supposed to be pressed for time! But since I am single I have made the most of becoming a metaphysical oriented person through at least music if not writing. Artists are metaphysicians and can heal what no physician can touch. The soul. So keep making music and this is the Good Work.

    15. Just counted. I have 283 music related apps on my iPad. About 25 get used on regular basis. Between those and my art apps, video apps and photography apps, not to mention games, I’m just about out of room for recording more music so I had planned on deleting a few. I will probably delete a lot more than a few after reading this. It makes perfect sense. I’ve always liked art apps that place restrictions on what I can do. It’s time I apply that to Music. I’m a guitar player myself so maybe I’ll eliminate synths altogether and only record guitar, bass, drums and vocals. I’ll still do some synthesizer pads but I’m talking about exploring my own creativity more than exploring apps.

    16. Ed Boland says:

      Great article John, and spot on!

      As an amateur recording artist for at least 35 years myself, this philosophy goes way back to the days before computers and all this technology became mainstream. Case in point, I had a buddy back in the early 80’s that came from a fairly wealthy family. (My circle of friends back then were all aspiring young musicians and future rock stars!) He always had all the nicest music equipment; fancy amps, guitars, etc. Whatever he wanted, his parents would buy for him! The problem was, he was a terrible musician… (if you could even call him that) All the best equipment money could buy, never made him a better player! We’d go visit him and marvel at the massive Marshall stacks and mixing boards that he had, albeit cringing at the sounds he produced. The sad part, is that he actually thought he was good!

      Most of us from the poor side of the tracks, could make better music with our old beat up pawn shop acoustic guitars, and we learned to appreciate what we had. I learned then, at a very early age, that musical talent couldn’t be purchased.

      With all that, and fast forwarded to today, I now do very well for myself and can afford nice things (within reason). I’m guilty as well, as I’ve become an “app-oholic” like the rest of us here, purchasing dozens of synth apps, guitar amp, modeling, and effect apps, and the like.

      My problem is, I’m always switching back and forth between the iPad and my Windows PC. On the PC, I use a BOSS ME-80 as my USB/MIDI guitar interface with either Guitar Rig 5 or Amplitube 4 Deluxe with a couple different DAWs for my recording purposes. I’ve yet to find an app for iOS that can match the amazing sounds and tonal capabilities of Native Instruments Guitar Rig 5. There’s simply nothing out there that compares!

      That’s for guitar. For my synth/keyboard needs, on the PC, Autura has a fantastic line of synth applications, as well as ikMultimedia’s Sampletank 3. I use iKMultimedia’s iRig Keys 37 Pro for my MIDI controller and love it. It has lightning to USB for the PC interface and works wonderfully!

      On the iPad and iOS though, I do love having the flexibility of being “mobile”! The iOS apps are like a whole other world. For guitar, my iOS interface of choice is the iRig HD, and I have my core set of apps that I use:
      •ToneStack (by far my favorite!)
      •Amplitube
      •Flying Haggis
      •GarageBand (for my iOS DAW)
      •AudioBus
      •AudioBus remote

      Apps I’d like to try: the BIAS FX/Amp suite

      For my iOS keyboard/Synth needs on the iPad:

      (Too many to list really! But a few standouts are:)

      •Propellerhead’s THOR (probably my favorite and most used!)
      •Arturia iSEM
      •Arturia iMini
      •Magellen
      •Sampletank
      •This list could go on and on! And of course GarageBand and AudioBus fit in here as well!

    17. STEPHEN Kirton says:

      What a fantastic site I,ve stumbled app on (pun intended ) the discussion of apps and technology is fascinating i can understand why people are hooked on apps I started learning bass guitar in 1974 when amps and speakers were the size of a bedroom wardrobe and if I wanted a stomp box (effects peddle ) I saved up then went to a music shop to buy one £50 -£100 maybe every few months funds permitting fast forward a few decades I now own a thing called an iPad and guess what I can buy effects peddles on line for peanuts without ever leaving the house a korg x3 workstation with don’t laugh a floppy disc cost me a £1000 in 1991 now technology 50 times better can be purchased for £2.99 upwards who wouldn’t be addicted at those prices to own all this as hardware back in my day would have filled my house not to mention empty my bank (did we have banks then?) so John as mentioned in previous post you have written we have technology today that the Beatles could only dream of or a final analogy (fact) the micro chip that sent the first rocket to the moon wouldn’t now be powerful enough to turn on a modern mobile phone wow we have more technology now than nasa had in the 1960s keep those apps coming great site John keep up your great work

    18. Artem Moroz says:

      Fantastic reading! Not have to add something yet, but THANK YOU ALL!!!

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