The iPad has proven itself to be an outstanding tool for normal daily activities, like surfing the web in your pajamas. In the arena of music production, iPads have changed the script completely. Audio and MIDI apps are a perfect fit for Apple’s generously-sized multi-touch device. Many pro audio products are now designed with dedicated areas for iPads (we’re looking at you, Casio XW-P1), and the popular tablets now regularly accompany musicians in the studio, practice space, and live on stage. Developers have been busy reinventing how audio software is used, and musicians have been treated to an unprecedented flow of new instruments and utilities that are all instantly available at insanely low prices.
The most striking thing about these new music apps is how much power and portability they offer, and the new ways in which they’re reimagining how you interact with music-making software. These programs consume no physical space, yet they enable you to make music anywhere you may be, at any given time. For example, when you get an idea, you can instantly be working on it with a full-blown digital audio workstation app, and when you’re uninspired, you can quickly launch one of these clever apps and create a new idea seconds later.
The following is a list of some of our favorite music apps for the iPad. Amazing new apps are being introduced all the time, but at the moment, these are our must-haves.
There are a great number of software synthesizers available for the iPad, but the Animoog is likely the most famous and beloved of them all (even though it’s relatively new). It’s made by Moog, an iconic brand that’s synonymous with sonic exploration. For a paltry sum, Animoog essentially turns your iPad into an amazing sounding and versatile polyphonic Moog synthesizer.
A large X/Y pad on its main screen enables you to adjust parameters in real-time with the iPad’s touch display. This area provides graphically immersive visual feedback from the synth as well. You can trigger multiple notes from Animoog’s virtual keyboard, and sliding your fingers up and down on the keys modulates the notes. You can create elaborate sounds that draw elements from selectable timbres, and then modulate them by automating these parameters into “orbits,” which move through the X/Y space for you, so you can use both hands to play the keys while still taking advantage of the powerful X/Y pad.
If that sounds too complex, don’t worry. Animoog is great fun, even for total beginners. You can easily mess around with the preset sounds, record and overdub parts, tweak its effects (filters and an analog-style delay), and play along with songs loaded on your iPad. You can even get away from the touch interface and control Animoog with a hardware keyboard, like an Akai MPK Mini. Because Animoog supports MIDI control, you can utilize a USB keyboard, a powered USB hub, and an iPad Camera Connection Kit to play Animoog with real keys.
The latest version of Garageband for iOS was initially outshined by another new product that was announced on the same day, the new iPad. In case you missed out on Garageband for iOS the first time around, it’s really worth a second look. It works on the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch, and it has iCloud support, so if you start a project on your iPod touch, you can finish it later on your iPad by accessing the file from the cloud.
Garageband for iOS comes with some great new features, such as an intuitive MIDI editor, and a sweet virtual instrument called Smart Strings. The instrument makes it really easy to perform sophisticated sounding string arrangements. Smart Strings displays eight long buttons that you simply touch to play. A tap makes the string section pluck a chord, or you can hold down a button to make the strings bow. If you slide and rock your finger on a button, the strings will swell with intensity. You can also bow and pluck individual stringed instruments from a graphical neck.
The new Jam Session feature in Garageband iOS is probably the coolest thing about the update. It enables anyone with an iPad, iPhone or iPod touch to wirelessly play music together with Garageband’s virtual instruments. You can also use real instruments and/or your voice by using either an iOS compatible audio interface, or the built-in mic on the Apple device. The players all need to be in the same location, and the devices need to connect to each other through a Wi-Fi network or Bluetooth. Up to four devices can jam at the same time, and a designated “Band Leader” can make a multi-track recording of the session on their device as they play along. Though it may sound complex, Apple has made the act of setting up a Jam Session painfully easy.
If you’re impressed by Garageband for iOS, but curious about the kinds of apps that smaller, more agile companies have been coming up with, you should definitely check out NanoStudio. NanoStudio is a true touch screen DAW. It proves that you can’t just take a music program that was designed for desktop and laptop computers and stick it on a tablet. A proper app needs to built from the ground up for touch control, and this is exactly what you get with NanoStudio.
Originally available for the iPhone and iPod touch, NanoStudio now features native iPad support, and makes great use of its 9.7-inch (24.6 cm) display. It’s a complete music production studio that comes with virtual instruments and a really smooth MIDI editor (which features classic iOS functionality, like double tapping to zoom). A fully-featured mixer screen enables you to insert effects, and create effects sends. Hitting the record button lets you easily automate fader movements and the mix. With the addition of an iPad Camera Connection Kit, you can map parameters of NanoStudio to a hardware MIDI control surface.
The included TRG-16 performance pad instrument has a decidedly MPC-like feel and layout, and it allows you to import your own samples. Some of the instruments take the iPad paradigm to the extreme and enable you to control parameters with the accelerometer. The effects, instruments, and overall sound of NanoStudio are very detailed and rich. Popping on a pair of headphones and experimenting with NanoStudio will uncover a very deep musical experience. When you have something to share, you can export various file types (including zipped WAV) or upload directly to SoundCloud. There are even free versions of NanoStudio for Mac and Windows, and you can sync your iPad with your main production computer to take your music even further.
When it comes to musical devices with interactive touch interfaces, the Korg Kaoss Pad (and later the Kaossilator and Kaossilator Pro) have been at the head of the pack for well over a decade. With the introduction of the iElectribe R app in 2010, Korg established itself as an early pioneer in the creation of music apps for the iPad. Korg has recently merged the graphical touch capabilities of the iPad with its Kaossilator approach to sound manipulation with its powerful iKaossilator app. It’s the perfect union of the two technologies, and a favorite app for many a user.
Originally designed for the iPhone and iPod touch, version 2 of iKaossilator features native support for the iPad. Think of the iKaossilator as a synthesizer that enables you to easily perform and sequence up to five sets of loops. You don’t need to know how to play keyboards at all in order to create complex sounding recordings. Operating iKaossilator is a breeze, and it features a very flashy, graphical environment that serves to push the user forward, and make the overall music-making process really fun. Most of the action of the app takes place in its large X/Y touchpad area (which looks more like a laser light show than an instrument).
iKaossilator features over 150 included sounds, and it allows you to import your own audio loops as well. You can also import loop data from the hardware Kaossilator 2, and you can export loop data from iKaossilator and bring it into its hardware sibling. It's possible to export your creations as audio files, upload them directly to SoundCloud, or just use the app to play live as an element of a DJ set. If you have multiple iPads on hand, you can sync-start iKaossilator with other apps, such as Korg’s iElectribe.
Regular people started using multi-touch devices for the first time in 2007, when the original iPhone first came out, but musicians had already been using them since 2005, thanks to the groundbreaking Jazz Mutant Lemur. The Lemur was the world’s first commercially available multi-touch hardware device. It enabled you to control music, lighting, and video software through MIDI and OSC, and you could build your own custom controller interfaces with the included Jazz Editor software.
When the iPad came out in 2010, the Jazz Mutant Lemur suddenly faced a pretty fierce new competitor. It wasn’t long before powerful new controller apps for the iPad arrived, and it proved to be too much for the tiny French company. Production of the hardware Lemur was discontinued shortly afterward. However, there was still demand for the unique Lemur interface, and all of the incredible freedom that the Jazz Editor offered.
Thankfully, the good people at Liine came through and ported the Lemur software over to an iPad app. The Lemur app is a must-have for the hardcore sonic experimenter. It’s a thing of beauty to those interested in modular synthesis, Max/MSP, Ableton Live, and Max for Live. If you need a custom controller for audio software, lighting software, visual synthesis software and the like, there isn’t a more powerful option. The Lemur app benefits from its unique physics engine, it offers access to templates from a large user community, and it has nearly a decade of work behind its development. How many iPad apps can claim that?
When it comes to hardware-based groove production, there have been few products that have had as much impact as Native Instruments’ MASCHINE and MASCHINE MIKRO. They offer a new approach to creating samples and sequences, and they make the process of creation inspiring and fun. MASCHINE hardware is very solidly built, and needs to be connected to a computer in order to operate. While very powerful, it isn’t the most practical tool to use to create music with when you’re riding the bus to work.
To satisfy the demand for a truly mobile MASCHINE experience, Native Instruments created the iMASCHINE app. The app has a very similar visual appearance to its hardware counterpart. It features 16 glowingly orange drum pads, a keyboard, a mixer/effects screen, and a mic. The microphone screen takes full advantage of the built-in mic on the iPad (or iPhone) by allowing you to sample sounds from the world around you and bring them into your creation. iMASCHINE comes with a library of different drum kits and melodic samples that you can quickly compose and sequence with.
It’s incredibly easy to customize the drum kits in iMASCHINE, and equally easy to adjust the tempo and swing of a project. Like the hardware versions of MASCHINE, the app was designed to prioritize music making over everything else. When you create something that you like on iMASCHINE, you can export it to one of the two hardware-based MASCHINEs and further evolve your idea. You can also upload the audio that you create directly to SoundCloud.
Figure is a new app from Propellerhead, makers of the much-loved Reason music production software. Figure is similar to Reason is some ways (it shares two synthesis engines with Reason: Kong and Thor), but in other ways it’s like no other music making tool on the planet. It’s incredibly easy to make music with Figure. It was designed for the iPhone and iPod touch, but the graphics were intentionally laid out to scale nicely and look really sharp on an iPad.
The interesting thing about Figure is that if you just look at screenshots of the app, it won’t really make sense. However, the second you start using and messing around with it, the once alien-looking interface suddenly makes perfect sense. It’s really one of the best examples of how mobile music apps are changing the very nature of music making software. The way that you interact with Figure is entirely new and addictive.
Figure gives you three parts to create music with: drums, bass, and a lead instrument. You can easily pull up new drum kits and instrument sounds, and start recording beats and evolving melodies by dragging a finger across its pad area. Wheels at the top of the instruments allow you to easily alter the rhythms, ranges, scale steps, and other key parameters of a sound. You can alter the song by playing with the tonality, mix, and compression of a track. Simply put, the overall feeling is that you’re effortlessly creating an instant dance music masterpiece. Words don't do it justice. You just need to try this thing out.
Thanks for checking out this B&H InDepth article. Since there are so many great music apps for the iPad, we would love to hear about your favorites. We encourage you to share your findings by submitting a Comment below.