Mobile music creation on Apple's iOS devices

Archive for the ‘Music Instruments’ Category

New sounds for iSymphonic Orchestra

The developer Crudebyte has added a new IAP for the iSymphonic Orchestra app. ┬áThe “Arpa Sound Set” includes 15 presets of some interesting instruments and combination of instruments.

I have posted a sound app demo on YouTube ( see below) covering the new sound pack; and this,video includes a bit of an unfinished song in the form of a music video, this uses several of the new presets as perhaps a better example of the sounds.


Be seeing you

— Bourne 07Jun15



One hundred music apps

One hundred music apps.

Today’s post rambles on about the large number of apps that I have installed on my iOS devices (there are valid reasons…read on).

Also — some exciting iOS music community news will be be posted here soon, so check back by this weekend.


There are in total about one hundred apps installed across my three iOS devices that are used in music creation. So the question comes to mind, how many apps does one need to use in order to create music on an iOS device? A better question: How many apps does one need in order to fully explore the music making capabilities of iOS devices?

I’ve more than doubled the number of music apps in my collection over the last year, I also increased the number of iOS devices during that span too. This activity has helped me to expand and to branch out and create new and different kinds of music. As I explore new apps, and listen to what the iOS music community creates with them, I learn much about various genres of music for which I had little prior knowledge. Mostly it’s been the genres IDM, EDM, Dubstep, etc. All within the sphere of Electronic Music, or Techno. For me, it’s exciting and new.

Not all of my newer apps are dedicated to electronic music. No, that’s just been a side benefit. Most of my recent app purchases cover traditional instruments such as: brass, sax, piano, organ, orchestra, and harpsichord. I am gradually building a collection of apps that will allow me to create music in just about any music style. A large variety of instruments, and from all over the world are needed; its a big world and a slow process.

The high quality instrument and DAW apps run towards the higher end of the app price spectrum, while many audio effects, sequencer, and beat-making apps tend toward the lower side of the pricing structure. And there are free apps, some free upon introduction, some are free with IAP (In App Purchase) for upgrades and increased functionality, and other apps are 99 cents.

I have a lot of the free, and low priced apps. With such little risk it makes sense to check out most everything, even apps that normally would have no appeal. The possibility of real discovery exists within things that oft times reside just beyond our comfort zone. By exploring outside of my typical musical sphere I’ve let some of these apps guide me to new vistas and that has helped to expand my music horizons.; in both listening and in creating.

App/device innovations.

Each app has a learning curve, with some it’s quick and easy; others are deep and complex. Many iOS music apps emulate functions that music producers have used on desktop computers for a long time, or actual hardware units, while other apps have a totally new take on how to generate or manipulate sounds. The complexity within some apps can be within a familiar area, such as audio recording, or something totally new (such as slicing a running loop into 32 distinct, interconnected, and warped parts…a la Sector).

The unique touch interface of these modern devices has lead to many innovative music creation apps. Even with the more traditional style of music apps, the touch interface brings an intimacy that is just not found anywhere else.

For a long while, professional (and home) music production has been dominated by desktop software and therefore the keyboard/mouse has been the main interface (besides actual musical instruments and vocals, of course). As it turns out, most people don’t like the PC mouse very much and find a touch interface easier to use for almost everything PC related.

The Apple iDevices and apps are actually changing what we define as a musical instrument. Some apps, such as Orphion (with a unique sound between that of a string and a drum), are new musical instruments in their own right. To play Orphion’s interesting sound requires a new and unique playing method. Another app, Gestrument (which uses recorded samples for its sounds), has a totally new concept for how the sounds are triggered on a touch screen.

Figure and Thumbjam apps, as examples, both react uniquely to when, where, and how hard the user interacts with the screen. Both apps have a striped area for note entry but where they may seem similar in appearance; sound generation, play methodology, note entry and control are vastly different.

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, an aspect of the iOS touch interface that is a bit underexposed are the ergonomics. Often I find it easier to play notes on the touch screen rather than a traditional keyboard. My hand pain comes from arthritis…many others have a variety of physical problems for which touch screens can be a solution.

Interesting though that some apps are designed to work best with an external pressure sensitive MIDI keyboard. These are typically keyboard emulation apps, such as Korg: Module. This app has very high quality piano, organ, and electric piano sounds and as such needs the familiar musical keyboard interface for correct expressive play.

In the professional recording studio (and for the serious home based produce), beyond instruments and microphones there is the high-dollar software, usually expensive hardware interfaces, such as mixers (to route instrument and microphones signals) and DAC (digital/analog converter) units. The expense of a new PC is probably less than the total for the needed music production software.

My iPad (in comparison of function only; not of quality or capacity…got a long way to go on that yet) can be a complete recording studio just by itself. With the addition of a CCK (camera connection kit), a MIDI keyboard is easily plugged in and then used to control various instrument and effects apps. Other adapters allow for connection of microphones, synthesizers, and electric guitars directly into iOS devices. I have a desktop iPad interface that accommodates all of that, plus MIDI and output to studio monitors. These extras are great to have and can help improve the quality of sounds, but having studio monitors is essential for mixing and mastering.

The true beauty of mobile music making on iOS devices is that with a good mixture of apps (and ideas and talent and skill and desire…) one can compose, and record a complete work in any music genre with no hardware interface in sight. From a complex orchestral arrangement, to a jazzy ballad, to a glitched out, mangled and shredded piece of dark industrial techno; all one needs is the proper set of apps. Having additional hardware certainly enhances the capabilities but is not necessary.

It took me a while to realize that a healthy number of diverse apps are needed in order to fully explore and understand the capability of iOS devices. Not all apps used in music production make or record sounds. Some apps simply manipulate sounds, while others are used for organization or file management. There are apps that are educational, and others that can aid in written composition. I have about eight functional categories for apps, as shown below:


Breakdown those apps

Of the one hundred apps that I mentioned, here are the counts, as grouped by generalized function:

Dedicated instrument apps (guitar, keyboards, saxophone) – 11 apps

Multi-instrument – 9

Audio recording(only) – 4

Synthesizers – 15

Drums/percussion — 9

Voice effect — 7

Beatmakers/sequencers/controllers — 16

Audio effects and tools — 26

Okay so the above count is 97, but that can fluctuate as apps get deleted from one device or all, and then a new app or two appears. One hundred music apps is a fair number to state for how many music making apps are currently installed across my iOS devices.

Is that too many apps? How many are actually used? Are all of these apps needed?

Yes, it is too many; they are not all used, and no all of them are not needed. With the low pricing structure of the App Store it is quite easy to load up on apps. But especially with many acquired free or at very low cost, these app numbers have ballooned.

I have been consuming iOS apps for almost four years, however the majority of apps in my collection were acquired within the last year which reflects both the increased number of available apps and my dedication to and better understanding of music production on iOS.

When the cost of a quality effects app (like Aufx: Space, a reverb app), is the same or less than a cup at Starbucks, then it is very easy to justify the app purchase. This kind of thinking can easily steer one over to the path of massive app consumption. One can treat it like a disease, like a game, or maybe just accept that app exploration is a necessary part of the iOS musical journey.

The last that I checked, there were over 500 Audiobus compatible apps on the App Store. That is a significant number of apps and helps to explain why a large portion of the iOS music community is centered around Audiobus (both the app and the website/forum). If not for this pivotal app, the iOS music making landscape would be vastly different and possibly quite barren.

There are some incredible music making apps and there are some that are beautiful in form, but lack function. Other apps are very simple in design and function but deliver excellent results. There are broken apps and some have even been abandoned. Some apps have had millions of downloads (Apple’s Garage Band, Korg’s Gadget, and Loopy HD — all top notch apps). While other well written, fully functional apps linger with just a few hundred downloads.

I’m having a Forrest Gump moment, forgive me please:
Music making apps are a lot like people (diverse, complex, frustrating, yet full of beauty); and a lot like a box of chocolates (ya don’t know what you’re gonna get…)

As to the original question: how many apps are needed for music making using an iOS device? I suggest that the answer is within the range of 1 and 500. And how many apps are needed to be able to fully explore the universe of iOS music making? The same range: 1-500!

For me, one hundred seems to work okay, but that will change soon enough, I have app pruning and rearranging tasks ahead of me.

Be seeing you
— Bourne 03Dec14


Hybridizing music creation platforms


IPad and PC — side by side


I have expanded my music creation capabilities in an unexpected direction. The picture above could have been a test of “which object does not belong with the others.” Just last week, one could have pointed at the Windows PC and stated that it did not belong in Toz’s music creation process. But that has changed…by accident.

I shall explain because many people know how much I dislike Windows, plus I have little experience with PC DAW’s (Digital Audio Workstation), so this is somewhat uncharted territory.

I spent a good bit of time and effort doing research and online shopping for mini keyboards. From the various brands that work with iPad, I chose one and went to Guitar Center and bought it. This looks to be a larger decision then I realized as it turns out.

The Novation LaunchKey Mini was the choice. Novation has two (free) iOS apps that work directly with the keyboard; the knobs and buttons do specific things inside the apps and they light up–oh boy. The function of the knobs and pads is what sold me…and yes having it light up is very cool. On iPad2 and the iPad4 everything worked right from the get go. That is nothing special, it’s an iOS device, these things tend to work!

Novation has been around for a while now, a good company. Besides making hardware synths, they also make software synths and various plugins for some of the big-ass$$ music production PC software. It’s been normal for many years to include software with a hardware product. I still have some lite and demo versions on a CD I bet. These demo/lite versions ended up being worth less than most freeware, for me.

Well things have changed; the LaunchKey Mini came with download codes (no more cd’s, yeah) for free PC music software. The big one is Abelton Live 9 Lite. Okay, another lite piece of crap I wondered? Well no, it is a real deal. It’s reduced from the other version (the number of music tracks is limited and many higher end functions are not included), but instead of being crippled as seemed to be the case, this software is fully capable of producing music from end to end. From composing to playing all of the parts to mixing and mastering. I think I can have four audio tracks and four MIDI tracks? Not sure, but I do know I have a lot to learn.

But wait, there’s more…

The Ableton software can host plugins, which are software instruments, like a synth, or drums, or special effects like reverb. Also included in the freebie package were downloads for two Novation synth plugins, and a download for a huge set of samples and loops (zip file was near 900MB).

Okay all things look great and I have extra stuff…but we’re taking windows software, trouble was lurking, of that I was sure. I installed Ableton easily enough but before I tried anything, I first watched some vids, checked the help functions and have started RTFM (reading the f-ing manual). So when everything was ready I held my breath and plugged in the mini keyboard to PC via USB. I clicked through some menus — what the guy in the video had instructed and oh my…it freakin’ worked.

And it worked beautifully, not only that, but the sounds; the built in synths and drums…sound really good. Never had anything sounded this good that was generated on my PC, but the amazing thing for me is that it worked from the get go!!! Hot damn!!

With Ableton acting as host for plugins it was time to try to incorporate the free Alchemy Player and sound packs that I had downloaded a long time ago. I am not sure why I downloaded that stuff since at the time I had no software in which to use it. I had nothing but disc space to loose I suppose, but I really didn’t have a plan for PC music.

Well, it was big smile time again because it all worked. Installing several plugins in Ableton was mostly painless. Alchemy Mobile synth from Camel Audio is my all time favorite iOS music making app, so now with the desktop player up and running there is a way that I can transfer preset sounds from desktop Alchemy down to the iPad version. That’s the next hurdle in this process.

At this point things are, so far, very good. It all worked so well and easy because Ableton, Novation and Camel Audio are all masters of their game. Unlike a lot of software that I have used, or attempted to use over the years in Windows, these are practical tools, well engineered with artists in mind.

In just glancing over Ableton Live I can see what the fuss is all about. It’s a DAW but it is quite different from others and is geared more toward Live performance (it’s the name….duh), and modern electronic music production. I see delving deeper into this since I am sure it will lead me to new creative avenues. And the education factor is large as well; I will learn more about DAWs and sound processing, and mixing, etc.

Enhancing iOS music

None of this advanced PC software takes away from my music making on iPads, it will only enhance it. So far I have glossed over what got me here in the first place; the LaunchKey Mini keyboard. The thing is small, but feels pretty solid for a modern age plastic device. It is small enough to fit in a backpack, which was the main objective. It looks cool (with lit buttons and pads) when running the Novation Launchpad and Launchkey apps. Those apps work well together and there is a button on the keyboard that allows for fast switching between the apps. Plus the keyboard’s knobs and pad buttons can be mapped within Ableton, and various synth apps to perform selected functions. This is a great addition for performance in that one wouldn’t have to lean over and touch the pad (or PC keyboard/mouse) to change a setting, just twist the appropriate knob on the mini.


Having a portable keyboard may be the single largest factor in all of this, and gee that was my point for buying it. But I’ve been a bit distracted by the PC stuff which is all well and good. The mini keyboard itself has synth style keys, meaning they are not full sized keys, but they have a good feel and are pressure sensitive. The knobs and buttons are extras, very nice extras indeed. But having a keyboard when I travel should allow me to fully expand on ideas that I come up with. At times I have waited until returning to the Bourne Studios to lay down some parts using my big keyboards that I could not quite get right by just using an iPad app touch keyboard. The touch interface is great for a lot of music creation but sometimes, I need the touch of those physical keys.

Everyone has their own ideas on what they consider valuable; for me acquiring the LaunchKey Mini has been a huge bargain. For the price I paid, which was okay to begin with, I got more than that back in extras. I think if one were to purchase a lite version of Ableton it would retail at about the same price as the mini keyboard (hypothetically I mean). Add in two soft synths and over 1GB (uncompressed) of loops and samples and I feel like an expert bargain hunter.

Where this leads musically, I don’t know yet especially since I have been branching out more already in terms of new types of music. However there are other positive factors that have influenced me already and may change everything soon.

Not mentioned in today’s article, and shall be the subject of its own, is my recent purchase of a great old app. Yes, old in terms of iOS music apps, and it’s: Nanostudio, and she’s a beauty. I’ve only been using it for a couple of weeks yet it has fast become one of my favorite apps. More on that soon.

There is another potential huge event — an app really — on the horizon…a real true to life orchestral strings app. More on that as soon as I know more.

Be seeing you
— Bourne 08Aug14

The Emerson Moog Modular


This news is a couple of, three weeks old; which matters not really, just pointing it out because I did not know of this until today. And for me this is a fun, honorable, historical, and musically significant announcement.

YouTube vid of announcement with Mr. Keith Emerson:

From the site:

“On the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the Moog Modular, the first voltage controlled synthesizer, Moog Music is proud to honor Keith Emerson and his seminal collaboration with Bob Moog. Today, for the first time at Moogfest 2014, Moog Music reveals its three year effort faithfully recreating the iconic Emerson Moog Modular.”

They go on to mention…
“Moog Music is proud to partner with Keith Emerson and salute his pioneering artistry with the announcement that Moog will build a handful of these incredible, custom handcrafted Emerson Moog Modular Systems.”

For a big fan of both gentlemen, this was extremely pleasant news for me. This is a wonderful tribute to two men who helped to change the course of music history as well as a tribute to the fans. And as to the hardware itself; I am quite a fan of the actual machine, and it’s sonic capabilities. I think this is one of the coolest things I’ve seen within the worlds of synths; and there has been a lot of cool synth news over the past year.

Be seeing you
— Bourne 11May14

Emerson and modular b&w#1 —

KE with modular behind him b&w#2 —

KE modern day modular —