As a once, semiprofessional musician from back in the day, I wanted to see just what kind of music could be made using only an iPad. I haven't quite forgotten everything I once knew about music theory, so, I decided to sift through the App Store, and put it to the test. Read on to hear the results:

For those who just want to hear the music, just click the player and enjoy. Read on if you would like to hear more about how it was done, and how you can get started on your own projects. Note, this was highly compressed in the upload process. It gives you an idea of what was done, not a bit for bit reproduction. 

Going pro

Many if the iPad's detractors categorize it as nothing more than an expensive toy, not useful for real work like a "real" PC. They are wrong. At this point, they likely know better and are just lying to you. Allow me to dispel any lingering doubt. You can not only make music with the iPad, you can produce something that sounds very professional. Many people have produced whole albums on the iPad. These days, you just never know if your favorite music came from a million dollar studio, or the corner of someone's bedroom powered by an iPad.

There are some things you will need in order to make this happen. Most of it is software. None of it is expensive. It can easily be done on a shoestring budget. Having said that, I did use Logic on the Mac for post processing. Mostly, I wanted to fix a couple of bad notes, and I didn't want to re-sing it. I also used Logic to punch it up a bit, but could have easily done that on the iPad. I was already in Logic, so it was a matter of convenience. You do not need to take your project to a desktop computer for it to turn out well.

Rack-mounted apps

Welcome to my music folder. These are just a sprinkling of the apps available for those who are interested in making real music on the iPad. Naturally, I wanted to include GarageBand in the process. That is a free app you get from Apple with the purchase of any iDevice.  Like many of Apple's apps, it is a good start, but you can go much further. 

Back when my studio was all hardware I had a lot of 1U, rack-mounted boxes that were not as good as the apps you see in this folder. I paid less for each of these apps than the cost of a decent patch cable. There are hundreds of music apps available for download. They range from novelty to professional. The most expensive app I have seen that I would consider purchasing was priced at $49 the last time I checked. Most are priced between $5 - $10. I will not review the apps in this feature. But I will tell you which ones I used, and what they do.

GarageBand - free, $4.99

GarageBand has multiple functions. I used it as my DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) for tracking. It is very useful for those who plug in guitars or midi keyboards. It only comes with a small library of sounds, and few, useful effects except for the guitar, where it is quite effects rich. The virtual instruments are strictly amateurish, unless you are into certain types of loop-based music. GarageBand, however, has a built-in method of taking advantage of virtual instruments from other apps, securing its place in the audio chain, and in my music folder.

SampleTank - free, $19.99

This is the first app a midi instrumentalist needs to download. A midi keyboard does not send sound to a computer. It sends everything else associated with playing the sound, such as, how hard a key was struck, and how long the note was held. This information is used to trigger sound that is provided by a virtual instrument. SampleTank is the premier library of virtual instruments on any platform. The cello in the song was a part of the free version of SampleTank. I keyed it from the glass. No midi keyboard was used in the making of this song. It was strictly from the onscreen keyboard.

SessionBand Acoustic Guitar - $5.99

I don't play the guitar. Fortunately, there are apps that do. SessionBand Acoustic Guitar happens to be one of them. It is a bit like Band-in-a-Box for acoustic guitar. They have other variants of the app, as well. All I had to do was enter the chords for the song. I found the lack of augmented chords challenging, as I use a full range when I compose. I understand that some chords are rather difficult to make on a guitar. Still, I did not find the challenge insurmountable, as you can hear. The app provides a selection of styles from which to choose. It sounds like a real guitar because it is a real guitar. Again, I did not play a single note of the guitar part. I just used this app, and a bit of music theory. 

Audiobus - $4.99

All of these apps are independent of the other. Getting them to work together requires a way to patch them together. Audiobus is the patch cable for music apps on the iPad. It is the the thing which allows me to take the song from SessionBand, and send it to GarageBand. It allows me to apply effects from one app, to the output of another. Not every app is Audiobus compatible, but most of the good ones are. No iPad musician should be without this app. 

There are other apps in the folder that did not play a roll in this recording. But, there is one other element that needs to be mentioned, without which, this project would have been impossible:

Apogee Mic - $199

Since singing was involved, I needed some way of getting my voice into the iPad. Sure, the iPad Air has a built-in mic, two, in fact. But those mics are insufficient for clean, professional audio. For recording a clean, audio track, you need a good mic. Apogee Mic is a $200 mic that was designed for use with the iPad. I picked one up earlier this year, and it came in handy for this project. It plugs directly into the iPad. A 30-pin to Lightning adapter is all that was required. Plug it in, hit Record, and you're recording. It is as simple as that. The sound is excellent when recording in a quiet space. Don't attempt serious recording without a good mic. 

Though I did not use them for this project, there are plenty of effects and finishing tools that will give your project that professional sheen. When I wrote this song several years ago, I produced it using a powerful computer and powerful, pricy apps. With a few hours of work, I produced this iPad version from scratch, using tools cheaply available on the iPad. It makes the original seem as amateurish as it really was. 

Microsoft ran an ad implying that the iPad was only good for kids playing a bad version of Chopsticks. Fools and liars! The iPad can anchor your home studio. I'm a singer-songwriter with a bit of keyboard, a decent amount of music theory, and no guitar. If I can produce the guitar piece featured in this post, imagine what someone with more time, talent, and a real instrument could do. There is no better gift than an iPad for a budding musician. Ditto for the pro.

David Johnson

Comment