Creating professional-sounding musical projects on iOS devices is becoming easier all the time, with dedicated equipment for phones and tablets. We’ve already covered the 100 essential apps, but here’s our essential guide to using them…
1: Keep it Tidy
You will need to practise good housekeeping and resource management on your iOS device, just like you do on your computer – perhaps even more so. Whereas computers can be upgraded with more RAM, faster hard drives and sometimes even new CPUs, iOS devices can’t, and so the amount of power available to you is determined by the particular device you have.
Very broadly speaking, an iPad 3 or newer and an iPhone 5 or newer are the baselines for decent performance – and the newer the better. There are some good rules of thumb to remember; make sure you have a decent amount of storage space free. Force quit apps you’re not using and restart prior to any serious audio work. Switch on Do Not Disturb so you don’t get calls, texts and other notifications in the middle of trying to record.
2: Get a MIDI Input Device
Touchscreens are great, but a dedicated MIDI input device will make your life much easier if you work on the move a lot. IK Multimedia makes lots of these: the iRig Pads, Keys and Blueboard in different versions. The company also makes the iRig MIDI, which can be used to connect conventional MIDI gear to your iOS device. Windows and Mac users can also use networked MIDI over wi-fi to iOS, though latency can be an issue.
A MIDI input device such as the iRig Keys is a very good idea
3: Get a Good Set of Headphones
The importance of getting some decent headphones cannot be overestimated. Aim for closed-back, over-ear models, as these will stop sound leakage if you’re working in a public space. They should be comfortable, too, for long periods of listening, and preferably pretty lightweight if you’re carrying them around. Don’t skimp on these, since a good pair will serve you well.
4: Buy an Amp/Effects Sim
Guitar effects have been one of the most popular uses for iOS devices, and they’re better than ever. Tools such as BIAS FX, AmpliTube and JamUp provide great functionality for guitarists. Add an interface, even one as simple as the iRig, and you can monitor and play with minimum fuss.
Amp simulators such as BIAS FX, AmpliTube and JamUp come with dozens of effects too
5: Plug in a Mic
There are an increasing number of microphones coming onto the market that plug directly into your iOS device, typically using a Lightning connector, because the older 30-pin version was discontinued some time ago.
The benefits of this are pretty clear in that such a model would allow you to plug in wherever you happened to be with no extra interfaces or cabling required and record a performance. Admittedly, only with a single mic, but this is enough for simpler recording tasks.
They range in form and price, depending on whether you want something more conventional and hand-held or more ambient and omnidirectional. There’s Blue Mics’ Mikey Digital, Apogee’s MiC 96K, Zoom’s iQ6, IK’s iRig Mic and HD, Blue’s Spark Digital, Samson’s C01U and several more. Some are better suited to the studio and some to field recording.
More and more mics that plug into your iOS device are available
6: Use a Controller App
iOS controller apps are sometimes bound to a specific desktop application, and at other times are assignable to control anything that can receive MIDI. Setting up a controller app means you can perform live, or join a jam session. Ableton Live and Traktor are particularly well catered for when it comes to iOS controller apps.
7: Work Remotely
Steinberg’s VST Connect allows users in different parts of the world to video chat and record audio and MIDI directly into Cubase in high quality. The free Studio Pass app lets someone broadcast a mix live to your phone as well as video chatting with you. So you can let people audition mixes and sessions without them having to be present.
8: Master Your Music
It’s even possible to master your tracks on an iPad. Probably the best app for this is Positive Grid’s Final Touch, which is amazingly powerful considering it runs on a mobile device. There’s also an app called Audio Mastering, which is a little more technical but similarly priced
9: Send Audio Between Apps
As music-making on iOS has become more of a serious proposition, Apple has beefed up the core technologies of the system to help you out. One of the most useful capabilities in iOS is Inter-App Audio, which allows you to send audio between different apps, despite them not being on screen at the same time.
So, for example, you could load a standalone synth and then route it into a mobile DAW, using virtual MIDI to trigger it, and then record the results – all inside the iPad. It’s also how new solutions such as the Music IO app work: you just need an app that acts as a hub for the audio streams. There’s also Audiobus, which is actually a third-party app, but enables a similar thing, with a little more flexibility for routing audio internally.
When your projects start to get serious you’re going to need some external storage
10: Get Some External Storage
iOS devices have never had expandable storage and probably never will. The base 16GB configuration of iPhones and iPads is not really enough to do lots of recording on, or hold more than a few high-quality DAWs and instruments – which can easily run to 1GB each.
So you might find yourself constantly struggling for space, but there is a workaround. Not everyone knows about the existence of wireless hard drives. These are fairly affordable standard hard drives that have Wi-Fi built in, and usually a companion iOS app as well. They can be used independently of a computer or an internet connection to transfer files to and from your iOS device.
They’re maybe not suitable for recording directly to because of latency, but you can use them to manage your data without having to lug a laptop around. Especially useful for saving and loading projects on the move.