Friday, December 17, 2010

Reasons why the iPad rocks-#1 music

When I first heard Steve Jobs' keynote introducing the iPad, I was, to be honest, quite underwhelmed. It looked like a big iPod Touch and I was so wanting a fully figured Mac in tablet form. As I read the tech blogs, I became convinced that the iPad was going to be a massive fail, after all, it was so restricted as to what it could do, who on their right mind would buy such an expensive toy? Fast forward a couple of weeks and I'm in the Apple store in Newcastle having a play within one and I can completely agree with the tech experts, this a gimped toy. A nice toy but a toy nonetheless. There are a couple of cool games and browsing the web is nice but there's not a lot else you can do on it and its such a shame. And then I opened up Pages. A couple of minutes later, I had knocked up a worksheet combining some text and images and was sold. I now understood what this device was about, it was all about the touch interface. I have use iPhones and iPod touches and really like the IOS interface but its not until you have used an iPad with its larger screen that you fully appreciate how elegant the OS is. I have used lots of touch enabled devices, IOS, Palm, Windows CE, Windows Mobile and even Windows XP Touch (tablet and touch screen Eee PC desktop) but nothing even touches the iPad. It is accurate ( unlike Windows XP), it has all the gestures, it doesn't need a stylus and it is responsive. Two weeks later I bought one.

OK so I'm a big fan of iWork on the iPad, I spend a lot of time in these apps and much prefer them to the full versions on my Mac or Office on the PC's at work, despite their limitations (like no subscript/superscript) I would much prefer to work in these apps. Why? It's the touch interface, it is so elegant and ergonomic. So, I bought an iPad on the strength of Pages, what I wasn't quite prepared for was the music apps.

Finally, something about music on the iPad

Ah, yes. This is supposed to be a post about music on the iPad, just thought a bit of history might be apt, sort of set the scene as it where. Anyway, onto the apps.
I freely admit that my taste in music is appalling, I also admit that my musical ability is limited to say the least but I do like music and enjoy making a racket. I also have an unhealthy obsession with electronic music (blame an early Human League gig in the 1970's) so I was quiet excited when I saw Rebirth for the iPad. I have used Propellerhead software on a proper PC (Reason and Rebirth) and know that it is usually pretty high quality but I didn't expect much for £8.99 on my expensive, severely gimped toy. What you get is a brilliant software recreation of a Roland 303 bass synth (well, two actually), a Roland 909 rhythm box and a Roland 808 drum machine. Each unit is sequenced using a simple step sequencer, knobs can be turned, patterns can be recorded and saved and making music is really easy.

Patterns an be swapped on the fly and changes recorded in realtime to create a song which can then be shared on the web via Soundcloud. Best of all though is the touch interface, unlike using a mouse where you a detached from the device, this is like playing a real instrument. You put your finger on the knobs And they turn and you hear the sound change. The software looks complicated but in reality, you can make music pretty easily and you don't even need much of an understanding on musical theory in order to knock a tune together. This app is fantastic.

Korg iMS 20

If someone had said at the aforementioned Human League gig that in 30 years time you would be able to buy an analogue synth for £8.49 and run it on a £430 computer I would have laughed. Yet here I am, just about to blog about possibly the most awesome piece of software I have ever seen! And the cost? I always wanted an analogue synth but I could never justify buying one (my keyboard playing skills are pretty non-existent) so had to make do with VSTi recreations (a MiniMoog and a Prophet 5) and whilst these are pretty good, they are not like playing the real thing. The Korg iMS 20 is. You can play the keys, draw patch leads to link up the various oscillators, turn the knobs all with your hands (ok, fingers) anyway, its very tactile. You get a two oscillator mono synth, an analogue sequencer, a drum machine and a pattern sequencer. Routing via virtual cables is virtually
infinite and the range of sounds you can make is phenomenal.

Synth and oscillators

Step pattern drum machine (drum tracks can be assigned to synth patches)

Song pattern sequencer

To really explain what this app can do will take more than a few paragraphs on a blog so trust me, this is an awesome piece of software. Buy it, you will not be disappointed. If you ever have to teach synthesiser programming (BTEC Music Technology for example), then buy this app.

Tab Toolkit

Ok, so not everyone is a budding Martin Ware (one of the main creative forces behind the Human League and later Heaven 17) and not everyone reads sheet music (erm, I can't) or can play by ear (guess what!) so wouldn't it be nice if we had an app for carrying all our guitar tabs with us? Step forward Tab Toolkit, this excellent little app not only allows us to keep all our Tabs together, it has a bult in browser for finding and downloading tabs as well so you don't even have to leave the app.

But it gets even better as the app not only supports text tabs but also Guitar Tab Pro tabs. These are great, they have all the instruments tabbed so you can select the part you want. They play along (cheesy MIDI sounds but hey ho) and give you the fingerings. You can also mute out or lower the volume of selected parts and speed up/slow down the tricky bits.

A fantastic app for budding guitarists and a steal at £5.99


So you've got your tabs, practised quietly to yourself by slowing down the tab until you are note perfect. Now its time to turn it up to 11 and rock out. Enter Amplitube, an amp simulation for iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch. It costs £11 and you will need some way of connecting your guitar (I use iRig for £29) but for fourty quid you get a superb sounding guitar/bass rig with a good range of tones (unlike my £300 Ashdown combi which is fantastic but has one tone-it sounds like an Ashdown amp!) and through a PA it really does sound good. It looks the business too.

You get a couple of Amp presets, 8 effects pedals (you can use 4 at a time), 4 cabinet presets and 2 mic positions. Even better, the iPhone version and the imminent iPad version 2 allow 4 track recording (you can import songs from iPod to play along to or drum tracks etc) and exporting to Soundcloud or audio copy Paste to other music apps.

Edit: Amplitube 2 is now available, you can purchase an 8 track recorder for £8.99. This turns your iPad into a superb, on the go, recording device for a little over £50. An absolute give away given the amount of functionality this adds and the quality and ease of use. I can remember when a basic Tascam 4 track recorder was £100 and they didn't have half the functionality of Amplitube and iRig.

8 Track recorder for Amplitube 2, available as an in App purchase.

Also, IK Multimedia just introduced the iRig Microphone priced at around £40-50.

Multitrack DAW

So you made an acid house floor filler in Rebirth or on the Korg, played some killer guitar riffs and now you want to add some vocals and combine the tracks (or just sketch out some quick ideas), MultiTrack DAW is your answer. This is a simple 4 track recorder that can import from the iPod app, use audio copy/paste or record using the built in mic or an adapter like iRig. Its a bit limited but it does the job and only costs a fiver.

Admittedly getting music in can be a bit fiddly but a bit of pre-preparation and its pretty useful, especially if you are an acoustic musician or a singer-songwriter. Bearing in mind the cost of this (and indeed, all these apps) I think its pretty good and more features are in the pipeline.


So there we have it, my longest post to date but I think music apps really show off what the iPad can really do. Think about this (especially if you are a music teacher), for the price of a decent starter guitar/amp package you can have a couple of dance music/synthesiser work stations, a guitar amp and a simple 4 track recorder (and a decent tab organiser). Sure, techno weenies and then ICT experts would rather lug around a 40lb Windows Slate behemoth as it can do real work as well (I think they mean big spreadsheets-yawn) and then spend 20 minutes trying to find the stylus (there is no holder as it gets in the way of the 8 USB ports and card reader slot) whilst simultaneously telling you how gimped your iToy is but think about this. The iPad costs the same as a service on a medium sized car, weights very little, fits in a rucksack, lasts all day on a charge and fits nicely on your lap whilst you make your music. Oh, and in the 6 months I've had mine, it hasn't crashed once and neither have any of the apps. The touch interface is a near as you can get to a playing a real instrument but without the expense so if it means more people can make music, then brilliant. Also, all the apps encourage sharing of your work and its easy to do so no more lost masterpieces languishing in the depths of your hard drive never to be heard. But don't take my word for it, listen to these guys:

-Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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