Updated: Sep 19
The iPad, in my opinion, is by far the most important development in music technology in recent times. It has become so popular and accessible to so many people that it has truly made an impact on our daily lives. So much so that for many of us it has nearly replaced our computer for everyday tasks, such as browsing the web, watching videos, sending email, etc. However, the real strength of the iPad is the nearly unlimited number of apps that are available to use on it. If you have ever had a good idea for a new app chances are there is one already available. And when it comes to music apps there are hundreds, if not thousands, to choose from. The fact that you can customize the device to such an extent is why it is so versatile for music production. It can be used for nearly any music application you need. It can be a synthesizer, a sampler, an effects unit, a looper, a multi-track recorder, and many, many more. I have long said that if you can only afford one musical device you should go with the iPad.
If you are just getting started in music production it can be a daunting task to decide what apps you should use to get the results you are looking for. To help you get started I have put together my top 5 list of digital audio workstations available for the iPad.
My first pick for the top 5 digital audio workstations is GarageBand. Because it is made by Apple, it has been optimized to run on the iPad. It includes many features from Apple's professional recording software called Logic and it comes pre-loaded on the iPad at no cost. It includes a host of instrument sounds ranging from traditional instruments to experimental synthesizer sounds. It will record midi and audio tracks, it has a loop launching screen, it allows you to load AUV3 plug-in into it, it includes effects, loop libraries, amp simulators, virtual drummers, and a whole lot more. It may not have everything a professional musician might need, but it is loaded with advanced features that will allow you to learn and create great sounding recordings. If you want to start learning music production on the iPad, GarageBand is the best place to start.
My number two pick in my top 5 list is Cubasis. Cubasis is the iPad version of the very popular recording software Cubase, from Steinberg. Cubase started life back in 1989 as a midi sequencer program that ran on the Atari ST computer. Today Cubase is a professional audio/midi production program that includes some of the most advanced features of any DAW. Many of those features have been included in Cubasis for iPad. As with GarageBand, Cubasis allows you to record multiple tracks of midi and audio, it includes its own virtual instruments and sounds, it comes with a large library of loops and samples, it allows you to load in AUV3 plug-ins for even more instruments and effects possibilities, it synchronizes the tempo with other apps, it plays external gear, and much, much more. It also includes automation features that allow you to record changes to anything from track volume to synthesizer parameters and have those changes happen automatically when the song is played back. One of my favorite features in Cubasis is signal routing. This allows you to send audio and midi notes from other apps that are open on the iPad, as well as, sounds coming from external instruments or microphones to just about anywhere in Cubasis. It is this freedom in the workflow that makes Cubasis one of the best DAWs for iPad.
My number three pick on my top 5 list is Zenbeats by Roland. Zenbeats, like the others, allows you to record midi and audio tracks, add effects, mix individual tracks, and so on. Two big reasons to choose Zenbeats are the available sounds and the loop launching screen. If you have ever wanted a Roland synthesizer with all of those amazing sounds then Zenbeats is the app for you. Roland has created a cloud service that allows you to choose the sounds that you want, depending on the level you wish to purchase. The loop launching feature is an excellent way to build up a live set of loops that you can use on the fly just by pressing the buttons. I have used this for improvisational shows where I have created a whole screen full of parts that can be played together and then I trigger them in random combinations to create a truly unique show each time I play.
My fourth pick in my top 5 list is Blocs Wave. Blocs Wave takes an entirely different approach to song-making. It is based on samples that can be time stretched and transposed to match the key and tempo of your song. They have a huge library of loop packs that are available as in-app purchases and you can add your own samples as well. You can even record straight into the app and quickly make new loops and parts. It all centers around a clean user interface that allows you to edit samples quickly and easily. You can adjust the loop start and endpoints in real-time, adjust the trigger point, reverse the sample, and even play the sample live by slicing it into sections and playing the sections with buttons on the screen. It offers you a very creative way to “play” your loops in a live performance. You can also control the volume, pan, and eq of each loop. Loops are also arranged in groups to allow you to build up different sections of your song and quickly switch between them. Up to 48 parts can be used at once and arranged into sections. You can record your live performances to a stereo wave file and share it with others as well. Personally, I use Blocs Wave to quickly sample loops from all of my external gear, and then I use the parts as backing tracks to jam over at my live shows. It is a very creative workflow.
My fifth pick on my top 5 list is iKaossilator. iKaossilator has by far the most unique user interface of any application. This app is the iPad version of the Kaossilator synthesizer made by Korg. It uses a touchpad to “play” the instrument by simply moving your finger around the pad. By assigning a key and scale all of the notes you play will sound correct. There are no wrong notes! Five individual parts can be used for leads, bass, chords, and drums. You can quickly and easily build up a song just by dragging your fingertips across the screen. Parts can be saved to user memory locations and switched between to create complete songs. Parts can be soloed and muted individually as well, giving you a lot of creativity during live performances.
The iPad is such a versatile device for music production. You can
perform a complete live show with a single iPad! Because of this versatility and the fact that so many of us already have one, the iPad is the perfect place to begin learning music production. Not only that, but as you learn more and start adding additional instruments and devices, the iPad can act as the command center, controlling them all.