20 Mobile Music Making Tips – Part Two

We continue our 20 tips for mobile music making…

Mobile DAWs are highly capable and not as expensive as you might expect


11: Link Up To Your Desktop
Historically, iOS and the desktop have been two separate worlds, and getting data from one to the other has meant exporting to iTunes or uploading it to the cloud first, then re-importing into your computer.

A new system called Music IO (www.musicioapp.com) does away with this. It uses a server app for the Mac (with Windows support planned) and an app on your iOS device, plus a VST/AU plug-in to seamlessly incorporate both systems, using only the regular USB cable you already utilise to charge the device. Four tracks of stereo audio can be sent bi-directionally between iOS and OS X, and MIDI can be sent too. This means you can record audio from iOS synths into your DAW, trigger iOS instruments from your Mac and even use iOS effects apps, such as guitar processors.

Music IO is invaluable for linking your iOS and desktop projects

12: Pack Some Cables
Always carry a couple of cables if you’re planning to record anything on your travels. A simple mini-jack-to-mini-jack, a small-to-big adaptor and a mini-jack-to-phono cable will allow you to record from almost any instrument or audio device into your iOS device. There’s no need to carry interfaces, though of course if you do, you will benefit from better audio fidelity.

13: Make Some Field Recordings
iOS devices make surprisingly good field recorders, though you are better off not simply relying on their built-in microphones to do the job.


The addition of a dedicated field mic, such as IK’s iRig Mic Field, or a Blue Microphones model, will greatly enhance the clarity of any recordings you make. Radio producers and interviewers often use an iPhone with a specialised mic attached, and you can too.

14: Transfer Between Desktop and Device
Increasingly, larger developers have started to bring together their mobile and desktop offerings, though it’s still the case that not every DAW has a mobile equivalent.

If you are looking to get started, or happen to already have a desktop DAW and want to combine it with a mobile equivalent, you can sort something out that will let you start a project on the move and then transfer it back to the desktop for more heavyweight work, either via the cloud or via iTunes file sharing. Some of the more prominent systems that do this include NI’s iMaschine and Maschine desktop, Steinberg’s Cubasis and Cubase, GarageBand for iOS and GarageBand or Logic Pro on the desktop, FL Studio Mobile HD and FL Studio for PC – and in a slightly different way, Propellerheads’ Take, Figure and Reason combo.

15: Use the Cloud
Take advantage of cloud services to transfer projects between your iOS device and computer, or to upload your finished tracks directly to streaming services. Some of the most commonly implemented cloud sharing options in iOS apps are Apple’s iCloud, Dropbox, Box, SoundCloud and Facebook.

You get a standard storage allowance with most services, that’s adequate for many users, though you can of course pay to expand this. Even if you don’t use the cloud to transfer or share material with others, it can be useful simply as a backup technique to ensure you always have a saved copy of a project stored somewhere other than the device itself.

Bear in mind, also, that if you are uploading data over a cellular connection, a DAW project with a few WAV audio tracks can quickly burn through several hundred MB of your data allowance.

16: Get a Dock for Your Device
If you already have a desktop audio and MIDI interface, you may not want to buy another one simply to add proper I/O to your iPad. In this case, you could consider an iPad Dock, such as the Alesis IO Dock or the Focusrite iTrack Dock. These are designed to physically hold an iPad, and can often be connected to a phone as well, even if it’s not held securely in place. Be sure to choose a dock that suits your iPad model, since there is some variation in what’s compatible.

They add phantom power, XLR audio, hardware MIDI and USB connectivity in various configurations; and if you plan on using your iPad for music a lot, can even replace a computer setup. Smaller accessories are available, too – many from IK Multimedia, such as the iRig MIDI 2, iRig HD and iRig Mic to name but a few. Each of these brings a specific kind of I/O to your device, and usually at a lower price point.

An iPad dock could be a good alternative to buying a second MIDI or interface

17: Record with iTrack Pocket
You can record audio and video of yourself from an iPhone at the same time, but in higher fidelity than the built-in mic allows. Focusrite’s iTrack Pocket is a clever device that is a stand for your phone with an integrated high-quality microphone and also a guitar line in with amp simulation. Record audio and video, apply the mastering effects and upload to YouTube.

An interface that can connect to both desktop and mobile devices will save you time

18: Don’t Run Out Of Batteries
If you’re making music on the go, always carry a battery pack to avoid running out of juice at crucial moments. Compact ones can cost more, but if you don’t mind a big brick, you can charge for hours without going near the mains. Remember that charging will tie up your Lightning port

19: Go Multi-Functional
Getting audio and MIDI into and out of your iOS device is key to leveraging its power as a music-making platform. You have a number of options, but an increasingly popular one is to choose an audio and MIDI interface that has both desktop and iOS compatibility.

Thanks to Apple’s CoreMIDI and CoreAudio frameworks, developers are able to design interfaces that can be plugged into a Mac, PC or iPad or iPhone and work right away.

The benefits are obvious: you get pro-quality inputs and outputs in a device that can be used both on the move and back in your studio. Check that an interface does specifically have iOS support, because not all do. However, more and more are becoming compatible: smaller models from Steinberg, Apogee and Focusrite to name but a few.

Focusrite’s iTrack Pocket will improve the quality of your recordings

20: Invest in a Mobile DAW
It might sound obvious, but if you’re making music on the move you will need a proper mobile DAW. These are now amazingly capable and dwarf the simple four-track recorders that were standard when iOS first allowed third-party apps. At the very affordable end, there’s GarageBand; and for a little more, FL Studio Mobile HD, NanoStudio and Cubasis.

All of these work differently, but support virtual effects and instruments, audio and MIDI recording and editing, and even mastering. Some, such as Tabletop and Auria, are even more advanced and allow adding modules. If you’re going to spend a few quid on a decent mobile DAW (and they’re still much cheaper than desktop versions), you’ll want to add some kind of audio and MIDI I/O device, as there’s no point spending on one part of the system and skimping on the other.