Fed Up with the Rubbish on the Radio?


synthmaster

Fed up with the rubbish on the radio?

Then make your own music!
Local author and musician Christopher Ritchie exposes the wonders one can find on the iPad and iPhone…

If music be the food of love, are you the indigestion? So sang Half Man Half Biscuit and it’s an interesting question: there’s so much music out there, it can’t all be worth listening to. But in these days where YouTube channels rule the internet and the charts are nearing complete irrelevance, it’s never been easier for people to make music and publish it.

Portable music making became easy-peasy with the iPhone. Apple can’t have predicted the revolution it would create – especially when the iPad arrived and knocked everything up a few notches. There are now hundreds of musical apps awaiting newbie or experienced producers.

Those owning iP devices must surely have come across some of the more marketable apps such as Auxy and DM-1 Drum Machine. The former is a no-frills, straightforward groovebox, in that you can very easily get a beat, a bassline and melodies going. It’s by no means a professional level sequencer but for learning the basics and sketching out some bare bones it’s great. DM-1 is a fully featured drum suite though, and equally easy to use. It’s remarkably cheap too.

Moving up to the next level, there’s Figure, a delightfully crisp sounding, superb musical sketchpad with a simple interface but just enough depth for producers who like to go their own way. It’s geared towards electronic music but it’s pretty versatile and there’s a large community of artists sharing their tunes.

audiobusInvest in one of the startlingly good DAWs (digital audio workstations) though and the possibilities really open up, mainly due to the revolutionary Audiobus. A brilliant piece of simple design, Audiobus is what really makes the iPad a viable portable platform as it bridges ‘perform’ apps (synthesizers, for example) through FX apps into sequencing apps. The iPad is awash with synths – from faithful retro re-imaginings to some really innovative playthings – and so, for example, you could run Sunrizer (a personal favourite) through a delay module (there are dozens of these) into Cubasis.

You might have heard of Garageband and that’s a pretty slick package but in my opinion, style over substance and it takes up a lot of room. NanoStudio is a better starting point DAW, easy enough to learn quickly and with built-in sampler, drum pads and the included Eden synth. You can assign sounds to the keyboard, played with or without the presets, and mess up the sound considerably with a suite of effects. It’s a cracking piece of software and available for just a few of your pounds.

Perhaps the best DAW is Auria, a fully featured, pro level sequencer with a range of add-ons that can take the investment dangerously close to £100 but it’s a fraction of the equivalent of the traditional desktop setup and if you’re serious about making music, a no-brainer. It’s also pretty heavy on the processor though, so if you’re using anything less than an iPad Air with loads of spare memory, it’s not worth considering.

Cubasis is Auria’s main rival and much less memory-intensive. Mimicking its desktop cousin, it’s designed in such a way as to be welcoming, more so than Auria, and includes some good FX and MIDI instruments. Not quite as pro then, but still excellent. Then there is Multi Track Studio, FL Studio and others which deserve attention. It’s all about what you are comfortable with, so if you just want to string loops together or act the DJ, you’ve got Novation Launchpad among a stack of others. Launchpad is great because you’ve got it all on the one screen and it sounds amazing.

An alternative to the DAW is the groovebox, the all-inclusive option where rather than dive deep into sound design you can just do everything without leaving the app. There are just so many of these but iMPC Pro and Beathawk are both superb and straighforward and deeper than expected; Electrify NXT is a cracker too, if somewhat trickier to access for newbies, but it’s all just so easy to use once you’ve spent a few minutes trying everything out.

The more obscure apps do all sorts of wonderful things. Yellofier is just one of many such apps where you record your own sounds and transpose them onto a touch screen. In Yellofier’s case you then mix everything up with FX and can sequence entire songs with ease. It’s mostly led by randomisers but you can edit down to the note if you want to. I love Yellofier, coming as it does from the superb electro outfit Yello.

A good number of the major players in hardware and software have had a go at iOS development, further proving Apple’s goldmine for budding musicians: Korg, well known for its hardware synths and drum machines, is one of the iOS leaders. Classic synths updated for the modern age, and costing a fraction of the price, are available alongside the superb Korg Gadget, a modular suite in which you can do everything, as simple or as deep as you like. It’s a great alternative to the more ‘pro’ level DAWs.

Granular synthesis is another focus and the range of apps on offer is quite astonishing. Take a look at Borderlands, iPulsaret and csGrain for a taste of what’s out there.

The iPad is capable of making pretty much any sound and with synths like the bewilderingly versatile iVCS3, the superb Mitosynth and the powerful Animoog you’ll be creating masterpieces in no time. And don’t forget to whack everything through Audiobus.

If you just want to make beats, get the incredible Patterning. It’s so easy to use and such a joy to play with. If you want more authentic sounding drums, Rock Drum Machine and DrumPerfect are brilliant. If you’d rather go a bit mad with a different approach, try Different Drummer, which turns beat creation into something quite splendidly, erm, different. For table-tappers there’s Impaktor, which is much closer to the real thing. Elastic Drums is another great and versatile app but perhaps a bit harder to get into.

circleSome personal recommendations: anything by Erik Sigth, who with his Humbletune apps combines the weird and the wonderful quite unlike anyone else. Sugar Bytes has created some of the crispest sounding apps such as Egoist and Cyclop and some true effects powerhouses such as Turnado. Anything from Kymatica is worth the money, as is the amazingnoises range. Soundscapers will want to check out the, erm, brilliant SoundScaper, while Memory Mosaic captures ambient sound from the immediate area and assigns snippets to playable dots. Crazy stuff. Other samplers of note include the slick SampleWiz, the experimental Samplr and other less impressively presented but still useful apps such as Triggler. The quirky WerkBench is worth a look too.

Guitarists are well catered for too. With a device like the iRig HD (don’t buy the non-HD version!) you can plug anything into it, and with all the DAWs mentioned earlier you can record anything from a single guitar to a whole band if you plug in a suitable audio interface.

It’s a veritable rabbit’s hole really. Jump in and you may become an appaholic, finding yourself joining the Audiobus forum or iOS Musicians Facebook group, and more than likely subscribing to updates for thesoundtestroom and iOS Mars, two of the best sites out there along with Palm Sounds, Discchord, musicappblog… see, we’re already pretty far down the hole. thesoundtestroom in particular is a global treasure. Set up by the lovely Doug Woods to help people get to grips with new tech and apps, it’s now grown into a cherished archive of tutorials and reviews that every iOS musician should follow.

A word of warning, though: technology doesn’t stand still and with Apple constantly pushing out updates to its iOS firmware, it’s not unusual for apps to become unusable, that is unless the developers are committed to updating those apps, which really is in their best interests. But you can choose not to update your device, of course. In any case, there’s a regular flow of new apps coming out and you might be happy to just take what comes.

Here at The Hersham Hub we like to help promote local creativity, so if you’re a budding musician or in a local band, why not submit your tracks to our new Soundcloud page – https://soundcloud.com/hershamhubmusic. If you’re already on Soundcloud, simply follow us and we’ll follow you back, or if you would like to submit tracks to be featured on our page, email hershamhubmusic@gmail.com. We can’t feature covers made without permission but we’d love to feature original compositions by local artists and bands.

So sign up to Soundcloud or Bandcamp or any of the other many places online to broadcast your masterpieces. Set up your own YouTube channel and you might find yourself the next big thing.

After me 🙂

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Chris Ritchie

Christopher Ritchie is a novelist, journalist and musician based in Walton-on-Thames.
A lifelong Elmbridge resident, his two children are at school in Hersham and he hopes one day to be able to afford to move back there. His novels, House of Pigs and The ordinary, are available at all good online stockists as paperback and eBook. He also produces free soundtracks for his books, which you can find at http://bubblectro.bandcamp.com

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