August 16, 2017
Some Thoughts On iOS Music Software...
by Chris Randall
When we started porting our products to JUCE 5, one side effect (and I mean that in the literal sense, as it was in no way a deciding factor to do this) was that I could check a couple boxes in the project manager and poop out a standalone app and AudioUnit V3 for iOS. I was already familiar with the iOS app submission process due to my previous experiences (remember Phaedra?) and Audio Damage already had a paid-up developer account so we could get the Apple signing certificate we need for signing our OS X installers and AAX plugins. So we figured we'd put one up and see where it went.
As it turns out, we sort of lucked in to an empty socket, as only two of our desktop peers (VirSyn and Waldorf) had really taken the platform seriously, and the market was mostly owned, with a couple notable exceptions, by companies building specifically to iOS, who didn't have a lot of experience in making plugins for the much more robust and demanding professional music production market. This is in no way a bad thing, as the market had some very inventive tools that you don't see in the desktop world. But we just happened to stumble in (through no planning of our own) to a situation where our product line, which has heavy competition in desktop DAWs, simply didn't exist in iOS.
Speaking strictly for myself, after I gave up on Phaedra, I kind of set the iPad aside as a music-making tool, and hadn't really thought about it again until late May of this year, when I saw I could build AUv3. I then had to acquire an iPad Pro and go learn what AUv3 was, and after some trial and error, and much crossing of fingers and scratching of backstays later, we shipped Rough Rider (for free) in mid-June. Since then, we've tried to maintain something of a parity with the desktop and iOS platforms. It naturally didn't turn out as easy as I thought it would be, and usually the iOS versions require rather extensive reworking of the user interface because of the space constraints. (The notable exception is Replicant 2, where I decided to use the iOS AUv3 aspect ratio for the desktop one.)
Since we started building them, I've necessarily spent a lot of time testing and poking and prodding, and had to acquire most of the top-shelf iOS audio software. I've made a couple tracks now using only the iPad Pro, and I'm willing to say that, while there are a whole raft of weird little Apple-isms to deal with (better than taming OMS on OS 9, but not as bad as trying to use MIDI in OS 7) in general, I'm confident you can go to the store and buy an iPad Air 2 or Pro 9.7 (my recommended devices for AUv3 hosting right now, as the Pro 10.5 and 12.9 have some nasty RAM allocation bugs), spend about a hundred dollars on software, and have something equivalent to a fully-kitted MPC. Which, as we all know, is a perfectly viable platform for making full tracks.
Can it do everything a blown-out MacBook Pro or Surface Book can do? No, it can not. And Apple spends a lot of time trying to make seamless experiences that hide the machinations we need to know about to get the most out of our machines. Forget about using huge sample libraries, as these devices simply don't have the RAM or horsepower to pull that off. But for scratchpad recording and electronic music production, it's hard to describe the vibe. "Fun," I guess? Not a word I usually use with music-making, which, as a former professional musician, I take seriously and equate to work. New and exciting, definitely, and for creativity that is important.
Anyhow, to make a long story short, yesterday we released Pumphouse, which the video above talks about. Most of the iOS DAWs don't have sidechaining, and love it or hate it, that's an important facet of modern electronic music production. (I don't make EDM at all, and I use it all the time on my pads and basslines.) So we came up with a simple work-around by giving Rough Rider a 16-step sequencer, so you could trigger an envelope to side-chain compress the input in a rhythmic fashion. We had thought this would be an iOS-only release, and had no intention of releasing it for desktops, as that effect is easily attainable elsewhere. However, we wrote the plug as a VST (simply because it is much faster to develop audio software on a desktop than an iOS device) and it would be the work of a day or two to "back-port" it to all our supported platforms. So if this is something you're interested in, let me know in the comments. If you have any questions about iOS music production, I'll be happy to answer them to the best of my knowledge, or point you at the appropriate resource.