Look ma, I made music on my iPad!

Max Harman

Image by Rock Portrait Photography via Flickr

Making music demos used to be a tough task. My first recording device was a four-track Tascam PortaStudio using standard audio cassettes, and I had to find a quiet environment, play things live, while limiting myself to the keyboard instruments I could actually play. Singing was out of the question because I couldn’t afford a decent microphone, and I was unable to play guitar or drums.

Things have changed dramatically over the years, and with the recent release of GarageBand for iPad, the possibilities for home musicians and bands wanting to create a quality demo fast have just increased dramatically

iPad Music Apps

The last week or so I’ve been looking deeply into what music applications are available on the iPad and how powerful they are. So far I’ve discovered that they are indeed very powerful and for no more than $20, and sometimes for as little as $5, you can own a full-featured synth that would cost you thousands if you purchased the real thing.
The cost of shipping my synths over from Australia is prohibitive, and I can’t yet afford a nice new one here, but I’m going crazy without a keyboard to play on!

It occurred to me that I can purchase a cheap midi controller and connect it to my iPad through a commercially available adapter.
I can then own as many professional synths as I like with no budget limitation, playing them effectively through a pro keyboard.

The MIDI Mobilizer (http://line6.com/midimobilizer/faq.html) is one option, and the Apple Camera Connection Kit is another.

The gadget shown above will work with any application optimized specifically for it. Plug those round leads into your external keyboard, and start playing. The Camera Connection Kit can be used for most of the other available keyboards.

Now this makes me drool – an iPad dock developed by Akai – The Synthstation 49. I am so getting myself one of these, as soon as I read the specs and make sure there are no gotchyas in there.

Of course I also have to to dig around to see if I can get one in Vietnam.

GarageBand for iPad

Not long after I spent about $60 buying all these great software synths, Apple goes and releases a monster application that blows all other music workstation apps out of the water: GarageBand for iPad. It is designed to work best with the iPad2, but it does work very well with the first release. I occasionally hear a click or tiny glitch as my older iPad struggles to keep up with the processing required, but these are insignificant and not noticeable on final mixes.


GarageBand for iPad – Video

Last night I started the download, and at around 350Mb on my terrible wifi it took most of the night to arrive. It was well worth the wait.  This morning I got right down to figuring out how to use it, starting with the absolute basics – a built-in guitar arpeggiator with my voice recorded through the built-in iPad microphone. It took all of 10 minutes to do this.

House of the Rising Sun

Yes, I know it’s not the same guitar riff, and it’s a different time signature. I’m just playing.

Once I’d worked out the basic instrument use I decided to try making a slightly more complex song with all 8 tracks in use. This was the result after about 2 hours of messing around.

Gimme All Your Lovin’

I still haven’t figured out how to open up an entire 4-5 minutes of song for live recording, for the most part it seems to prefer recording in 8 beat sections, which is great for dance and loop mixes, but I’m a live player. I’ll fiddle around with that aspect of it when I next get the urge.  Might even finish both these songs – we’ll see.

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