For a long time I’ve had an interest in the power of technology, not only to create new experiences, but to democratize creative tools and “even the playing field”. It still amazes me that tools once costing thousands of dollars can now be had for a fraction of the price. In 2011, I released ‘The Rise’, which was the first album created with an Android phone. I used various sound generating apps to create the instrumentals and recorded the vocals through the phone's built-in mic. Also, writing lyrics in Google Docs made sure I’d never lose an idea. More importantly, it enabled me to discreetly create in public spaces. That solitude was reflected in lyrics that were mostly introspective. Still, the limitations of technology at the time forced me to handle a lot of the final mixing in the traditional way...in the studio on my computer.
In recent years, I’ve switched to the iOS platform. It’s vastly superior to Android for mobile creating in most ways. I’ve amassed a huge collection of music apps and enough sounds to last a lifetime. However, I’ve used them sparingly to just sketch out ideas or supplement a track here and there. This all changed with my newest release, ‘Beach Trip Beats’. A quick four-day vacation provided the right combination of inspiration, isolation, and opportunity to dive through all those apps.
From the onset, I knew I wanted to do this project completely on the iPad. No outside instruments, studio tools, computers, or trickery...just using tools that could easily be bought from the app store. The goal was keeping everything not only “in the box” but “in the iPad”. While sitting in a little coffee shop on the boardwalk, I looked out at the beach, watched all kinds of people walk by, and made a lot of music. After creating a pool of beats, i then wrote vocal ideas, preferring little mantras that could be repeated instead the usual verse/chorus/verse songwriting. Once back home I then recorded the vocals into my iPad using an old Alesis ioDock and a Audio-Technica condenser mic.
Ideas usually started out in Propellerhead’s Figure or Korg’s Gadget. A lot of tracks were Figure loops imported into Gadget, parts added or replaced, then transferred to Cubasis for additional AU synths and FX. All the arrangement, vocal, and mixing duties were handled in Cubasis. Additional hardware used included a Novation Launchpad (with the GridInstrument app) and a Korg Nanokey Studio. Reference monitors were my trusty Tannoy Reveals (in the studio), Sennhiser HD 280Pro and HD 25-1 II headphones, and my new favorite mixing environment: a car radio using bluetooth audio.
There were some slight headaches though. For instance, Apple currently limits the amount of RAM that AU plugins can access (ridiculous since they forced all apps to go 64-bit to increase memory capacity). During heavy use of plugins in Cubasis, I would often get graphical slowdowns and glitching even when the CPU usage was low. Freezing didn’t help much, only deleting the track (and I assume lowering the amount of memory used) would bring behavior back to normal.
On the tips and tricks side, I found using a stylus invaluable for mixing with precision. I developed a technique of rolling the stylus between my fingers like a knob for small incremental adjustments. Also automation in Cubasis worked great. Being able to touch the plugin GUI directly and record the tweaks was quicker than having to setup hardware controllers and map parameters as usually required with normal desktop applications. Cubasis’ Spin FX came in handy for quickly creating drum fills and filter FX. For vocals, TC-Helicon’s Voice Rack: FX app was used a lot for doubling effects and creating a female-sounding background vocalist. Also Fabfilter’s Pro Q was a vital for mixing, enabling me to balance the elements without using a lot of compression FX. Overall, I’m proud of the project and have plenty of unfinished tracks leftover for a sequel. Maybe next summer...
Gadget (including iM1, Mono/Poly, and Odyssei)
Cubasis (including Waves, FX, and Classic Machines IAPs)
Apple iPad Air 1
Korg Nanokey Studio
Novation Launchpad Mini
Alesis IO Dock 1