Mobile music creation on Apple's iOS devices

Second Anniversary

Garage Band

Today, I am celebrating the second anniversary of this blog that is dedicated to mobile music making on Apple’s iOS devices. Although I’d been messing around with music apps since 2011, it took a couple of years for the obsession to grow.

But it was two years ago, during the summer of 2013, when I decided that a blog would be a great place for my iOS music thoughts and creations.

In the beginning, I was very cautious about indulging at the AppStore, so the discovery of music making apps was a very slow one for me. I had a lot of fun with some apps that I would now consider music toys (Songify, for an example). I don’t look down on those at all. On the contrary, some of those “toys” helped to get my creative music juices flowing so I owe a debt of gratitude to a few developers whose apps I have sadly forgotten.

I do fondly recall another app, called SongMaker. The app’s name changed at some point and I have no idea what happened with it. It was my first experience working with loops, though I didn’t even know that’s what I was doing back then. It was quite a bit of fun to arrange pre made instrument loops into a song and then to use the built-in pitch correction and harmonizer features to sing with these arranged loops. I did end up writing lyrics for several songs, and I was pretty happy with some of those. I’d like to revisit those lyrics and create new, original music for them…like I need another project idea. But yep, I just added that on to the project list!

A brief bit of my iOS Music History

According to file creation dates in my PC archive it was during December of 2011 when I uploaded the first song that I had made using Camel Audio’s Alchemy Synth app. This is significant as it marks a point in time when my life changed.

I had used NLog synth (my first synth!) on an iPod touch but never used it after the iPad2 came bursting into my life (not literally). Alchemy Mobile Synth became the dominate (and still is to some degree) app used for my music creations. I made more progress in song creation by acquiring GarageBand and Music Studio. But it wasn’t until the advent of AudioBus, with its ability to allow music apps to connect with one another, that I discovered that I have appaholic tendencies.

In the pre AudioBus days it was a chore and sometimes worse to get audio out of an iDevice and into something else. I didn’t really have a “something else” like desktop DAW software, so I used the open source multi-track software Audacity to put various elements together.

Fast forward two years and I made “A String of Theories” my first all iOS album. While the album is not posted online, one song was featured in a how-to article on That album was completed on December 19th, 2013, just a few months after starting this blog. The list of apps used for the project was rather small: Alchemy, and Garage Band, plus a few effects apps.

The problem of choice

So many apps

So many apps

After AudioBus changed the iOS music making landscape, my subsequent music creations have used dozens of other apps, and the list tends to grow as new and useful apps get released. Which brings us to the problem of choice. Which apps to use and when to use them? Which synth app among the 25 or so available? What app to use for recording and mixing? Where to start?

When considering the feature sets and sounds of iOS apps compared to desktop software, apps are cheap…and so it’s been easy to accumulate too many apps. I know of others that face this dilemma and get bogged down in the decision and don’t get music made. My partial solution is using my iPad-mini2 as my main iOS music making platform. Since it’s only a 32GB device I am forced to make hard choices on which apps it will contain.

At the moment, apps occupying greater than 1GB of space on this device are: Cubasis, Module, and BeatHawk. In a real gut check moment, a couple of months ago, I deleted both GarageBand and Alchemy in order to free up an enormous amount of space. I had used those apps more than any and they still reside on my other iDevices but they were bloated and new apps needed to come on board.

As with other iOS music makers, I have some apps that I have not tried, some that I briefly checked out and want to use if given the time, and some that I just didn’t like and will never use. And again, because of very low app prices, it makes sense to grab the cheap ones and see if there is any value there. I’ve got more joy and value out of some free and cheap apps than I have from more costly ones.

The app economy and pricing is a strange one that I confess I do understand. And due to the large numbers of music making apps that are available on the AppStore in order to help me decide, I have made some rules about my app purchases:

1) AudioBus compatible apps that are $.99 or free are an automatic buy.
2) for more expensive apps, they must contain something new, or have sounds or features that I need for a particular piece of music that I want to create. Also, Doug at the SoundTestRoom, must have a video demo of the app or it will not be a purchase.
3) if a well reviewed app has a stupidly ridiculous price cut…it’s an almost automatic buy. Example; the app Diode-108, a highly regarded drum app, was reduced to $1.99…auto purchase!

Music contests:

I have made different types of music with a variety of apps, and recently did something completely new. KORG is running a remix contest for their Gadget app. Gadget is one of the best on iOS, and although I have a few pieces competed, I haven’t used Gadget all that much (so many tools and only so much time). The contest is to take one of the demo songs that comes with the app and remix it.

I don’t know if there are rules about remixing as I had never done it nor really thought about it before. I listened to some example remixes for the contest and decided to do one. This has been submitted and to my surprise I have had a few listens and likes, which made me feel good about doing this. I’m still not sure if what I did was correct for the contest but no one complained, yet…so I think I did okay.

Also KV331 Audio is currently running a song contest for their SynthMaster Player app. For this, I took a song that I was working on and changed all of the instrument tracks (non drums) to use only SynthMaster Player sounds. It turned out better than I thought, but I doubt that it will garner much attention.  But I did submit it, results will be known in a few weeks.

I am happy that I extended myself a bit and have entered these contests, something that in the past I would not have done. My constant use of iOS apps for music creation has given me quite a lot of experience and I feel like I know what I am doing (usually). Confidence in my abilities has been growing and I realize that I have plenty of knowledge to share. And with that I hope to write some how-to posts in the new future and a possible video to go along with such.

KORG Gadget remix contest entry:

Gadget Remix song

Be seeing you
–Bourne 18Aug15

Comments on: "Second Anniversary" (2)

  1. just celebrated my own 2nd blogiversary…am trying to integrate 21st century tools into my own music composition…this blog is helpful in that it’s very easy for a non-techie to understand…thanks.

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