August 02, 2012
iPad friendly ... Gorillaz.
You don't need a drum kit to be a drummer these days. All you need is a mobile phone packed with the right apps to create a portable sound studio.
The question is, is this more than just a high-tech game? After all, professional band Gorillaz created the album The Fall on an iPad.
The 20 apps used as instruments on the album are listed on the band's website and available to anyone who fancies himself a musician.
But beginners shouldn't expect to create a masterwork on their first try. Still, it's possible to have a lot of fun with the touchscreen. Plus, the music apps don't cost much.
The good news for beginners: it's child's play to make music with apps. It's not necessary to read music or know much about the technology. All you have to do is just start.
Some apps, like Garageband or FL Mobile Studio, turn iOS devices into complete sound studios. And you still don't need to be a sound engineer to make a decent recording.
These apps are very accessible to beginners, says Dieter Kahlen of the Association of German Sound Engineers: it only takes a little while to make some listenable music. "These things are designed for quick successes."
That's made possible, partially, with pre-produced samples and functions that automatically generate the proper accompaniment. Just pick a beat, a bassline and a guitar riff, record yourself singing 'yeah, yeah, yeah' and your first song is essentially done.
Of course, people who prize music played by hand might sniff disapprovingly. After all, it's "not really creative," notes Kahlen.
But there are different approaches. Some apps let a smartphone make the same sounds as an organ if they're connected to a keyboard, notes Nico Jurran of German computer magazine c't.
"Or you use your tablet as a note-stand," is another popular example. Apps like Tonara, which is free, even turn the page automatically and show at which point you are. These can be helpful when practicing.
Meanwhile, Avid Scorch will patiently play, again and again, how one part in a score should sound - even particularly slowly if desired.
An app like Amplitube means musicians always have a guitar amplifier on hand. Just attach the guitar with an adaptor and rock and roll can fill any room. It's perfect for practising while underway or recording something.
"This is more than just playing around," says Jurran. And it isn't that expensive. "You can get a lot here for just a few euros."
Garageband is available for only four $4.65. Comparable mini studios like FL Studio Mobile or Music Studio cost about 12 euros.
And the selection is huge - although only for Apple's iOS operating system, notes Jurran. Android is clearly second fiddle in this field. Nonetheless, apps like Pocket Band, Caustic or Reloop mean it isn't totally excluded either. Of course, mobile solutions can never replace a PC system with the right software, but they are a good supplement, says Constantin Koehncke of Native Instruments.
That company's app, iMaschine, allows people to create beats and to see how they sound with some accompaniment and vocals. It's practical for testing out musical ideas while on the road.
"You can, for example, sketch out a song while you're sitting on the commuter train," he notes. And whatever you create can be expanded on a PC, since anything created on the app can be transferred to a PC, or just put straight online.
Hobby musicians can also benefit from using their tablet as a remote control for PC music software. "It's great. It has a great future," says Kahlen.
Steinberg offers a free app, Cubase iC, that is perfect for one-man projects, says company spokesman Stefan Trowbridge.
It makes it easier for a musician sitting in front of a microphone in his living room and decides he wants to record a passage on his computer.
"This way he doesn't have to jog to the computer first to press record."
But the touchscreen controls on these apps are not so precise, notes Kahlen. That can be especially true for a music app on a mobile. It can be very tricky, editing individual notes on a small display. Even if it's possible to edit something precisely, it's always easier with a mouse, adds Kahlen.
So hobbyists still shouldn't expect too much. The app that creates the perfect hit with the push of a button still hasn't been created, says Jurran.
And Trowbridge is still sceptical of examples like that of Gorillaz, especially when people say it's a sign music will soon be sold only via iPad. "That's just dreams of the future," he says.