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.



Aug.16.2017 @ 9:22 AM
I'd be into it as a VST. Easy enough to duplicate it functionally, but there is something to be said for interface guiding approach. Plus I like the idea of one platform seeding features in another, like Shapes in euro leading to Grind in VST.

Aug.17.2017 @ 6:52 AM
dj empirical
I'm curious about iOS production, in part because I usually have my iPad around at work, and it'd be fun to noodle at lunch (while eating my boring salad;).

Aug.17.2017 @ 3:13 PM
I never really got on the tablet train, as I have a desktop and a phone I haven't found a need for an in-betweener. But, some of my friends do amazing work exclusively on ipads. What software would be a good starting point if I wanted to get my feet wet?

Aug.17.2017 @ 6:19 PM
msouthard - On the cheap, you can get Audio Damage plugins from Free to like $6 and use them with the Garageband that is already on your iPad.

A bit more gets you the totally banging BeatMaker 3 at $20, to use with the same plugins.

I believe AUM is CR's DAW of choice, if you'd like a third option.

Aug.17.2017 @ 11:38 PM

Aug.18.2017 @ 11:16 AM
RIP Phaedra - long live Phaedra.

Aug.18.2017 @ 5:04 PM
Chris Randall
@msouthard: As Mr. James suggested, Beatmaker 3 is my weapon of choice. It isn't really a DAW as such; it has much more in common with a sampling drum machine. But it is relatively easy to learn if you're used to such things, and hosts AUv3.

AUM was mentioned, and it isn't really a DAW, more of a mixer. I have an upcoming video (just waiting on an audio interface) that shows how I work with it, but I wouldn't recommend it for exploration. It is more for routing and suchlike. (Ditto AudioBus 3, which is basically a different take on the same concept.)

Cubasis is more or less identical to its desktop sibling, as is GarageBand. The latter is intensely irritating if you're used to normal DAW behaviors, because GarageBand don't give a shit what you think you know about making music. There is an app called ModStep that is, again, somewhat outside the norm. It is the most similar to Live that you'll find on iPad; it generally works the same way.

Auria Pro is basically a full console-and-tape-deck style emulation, so if you're used to, say, ProTools, it will be the easiest to work with. It is the most expensive of the bunch, and I personally don't care for it at all. But it's there if you need it.

As for instruments and such, obviously a fair chunk of our line is in there, with more to come. Bram Bos (who the oldsters might remember as part of the Smart Electronix crew of VST devs) makes some really stellar synths; my favorite is RippleMaker, which is essentially a MakeNoise 0-Coast as a plugin. Probably the single best $6 spend you'll ever make on music software.

For more experimental stuff, iDensity and Borderlands are must-buys for particulate matter.

And then there's a whole fucking raft of other shit. You can drop $100 in all on software and have a really nice rig for experimental stuff. For ROI, iOS simply can't be beat. It is, of course, somewhat nonsensical and balky when trying to develop a Workflow™, but on the other hand, it's a bit more fun.


Aug.23.2017 @ 3:16 AM
VST pls! Would be very useful for me (win10 Cubase user).

Aug.31.2017 @ 6:57 PM
beauty pill
I'm seeing this post very late. I would love this plugin in AU form. I think it's a smart, simple idea. I like those.

- c



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