Scenario 1: Writing music on a “real” computer (circa 2012)
- Fire up [DAW of choice]
- Lots of instruments are available
- Load “plugins” (little programs within a program) to compensate for shortcomings of DAW software.
- Write your parts
- Mix in context – correct mistakes as you go
- Upload to SoundCloud
- Go on with life (e.g. create dummy SoundCloud accounts and give yourself positive comments, etc.)
Scenario 2: Writing music on a non-iPad tablet
Scenario 3: Writing music on an iPad
- Fire up GarageBand (or a different DAW, but probably not)
- Think of an idea for a part; realize the GB instruments don’t do all the tricks you need
- Fire up $5.99 synth app; learn how to use it
- Maybe it works. Maybe fire up another $5.99 synth app; learn how to use it
- Switch back to GarageBand and check what tempo your song is
- Switch back to Synth app – switch that tempo to the right one
- Record an out-of-context loop, but try to envision the drum part
- Audio copy the loop
- Switch back to GarageBand
- Audio paste
- Whoops, wrong Audio paste method – use the other one (repeat last 3 steps)
- OK great synth part! That sounds so warm.
- Next idea…
Here’s a quick video illustrating the problem:
So. Despite this cumbersome process, writing music on an iPad is indeed the best music writing experience we can get on a tablet today, and it has gotten much better than when it started. (The days before Audio copy involved having to bounce loops back to the computer and then re-importing them into a DAW program).
But this is supposed the be the future of general purpose computing! What good are all of those 1000′s of $5.99 Synth apps when you can’t load them inside of the app you’re actually using to write the song?
My humble suggestion: allow a new kind of app. This solution could take a couple very different paths:
METHOD ONE: NEWSSTAND-STYLE
There is kind of a precedent for plugins in iOS5. Newspaper and magazine apps are a good example – they “live” inside of Newsstand as a kind of sub-app app. They can exist as full apps, but are by nature relegated to be managed by Newsstand. Why can’t audio apps allow a similar scenario? Imagine the possibilities if something like Figure could run inside of GarageBand as an instrument plugin!
On the desktop, many “big” plugin packages have AU,VST,RTAS versions as well as a standalone launch-able version – Celemony’s Melodyne is a good example of this way of doing things. When Melodyne is launched, whether as a plugin or as the standalone editor, it looks and acts the same – the only difference is that the output is either fed straight to the system audio out, or to the DAW’s output track.
This could possibly be a model to allow plugins on iOS – allow “instrument” apps to exist normally on the home screen, but also be accessible within certain programs (in the same way that Audio copy is enabled per app). How cool would it be to have an “external” option in iOS GarageBand to allow using another instrument app as a track? It would be a cleaner experience than ReWire, and really expand the utility of all iPad music apps. Apple would be the ones to lead the charge in this department, and if they allowed this with minimal changes needed on the developer’s end it would instantly make the world a better place.
METHOD TWO: REASON-STYLE
Another model might be more like Propellerhead’s recently announced Rack Extensions. This model would actually work with current iOS policies (which is maybe why they designed it this way). The hurdle would be convincing app developers to submit racks rather than apps straight to Apple. If enough developers jumped on the bandwagon, it would make the world a better place as well.
Imagine a big boy DAW like Reason having an In-App purchase “store” to buy addon instruments. Possibly very cool, and would redirect a lot of the smaller developers to rally around a standard rather than releasing good sounding apps that are unfortunately hard to actually use in songs.
FIRST ONE TO SOLVE THIS WINS
As far as I can tell, Apple doesn’t like plugins. They have halfheartedly accommodated audio sharing, but who knows? Maybe they’ll tackle this. If they did, it would signal the coming of age of iOS, and would probably be accompanied with a big release like Logic Express Express or something like that.
But let’s say instead that one of the AAA app developers comes in and nails this problem their way. I’m not a Reason user, but judging by Figure, they *get* mobile apps better than all but one other developer. Propellerhead is well positioned to lead the first wave of true pro audio apps on iOS if they want it.
One thing I think everyone will agree on: iOS is close, but it needs a way to marry the instruments with the method. Right now it’s the shiniest, most impressive toy for music writing…and it’s so close to really being useful for this it hurts.