Create a studio you can use on the move
There’s a lot to be said for portability when it comes to recording your music. Sure, it’s great having a dedicated space setup to capture ideas, but every now and again a change of scenery can provide you with a burst of creative inspiration which you may not get staring at the same four walls. Alternatively, if you’re out on tour or travelling a lot, having a small, reliable setup you can sling in a bag means you’ll never again forget a line or riff you come up with while you’re out and about.
Nowadays, with tablet computers and the like, the opportunities for this kind of portable studio are endless. We’ll focus on the Apple tablet in this article because, as yet, Android-ready equipment isn’t exactly flooding the markets. It may be that will change in the future, but for now here’s a few basic bits of gear you can use to help you build a powerful yet simple to use iPad recording studio.
We’ve reviewed the Alesis IO Dock II on a previous occasion, and found it to be a well designed little interface with enough connectivity options to please most musicians’ recording needs. We especially liked the way it houses the iPad within the unit itself, giving it a strength which will allay any fears about the device getting scuffed or scratched while it’s being used. The IO Dock II boasts 1/4″ jack, XLR and MIDI I/O, along with phantom power for condenser microphones and a footswitch input for control over various parameters. All in all, a reliable and versatile conduit for getting audio from your instrument or microphone and into the iPad.
Novation’s Launchpad series has quickly grown into one of the most used and respected controller units on the market. Players love its flexibility and simple pick-up-and-play ethos, which means even non-musicians can be making tunes in no time at all. While the original Launchpad was designed exclusively with Ableton Live in mind, this newer iteration plays nicely with the optional Camera Connection adapter, which basically gives your iPad a ‘proper’ USB slot to plug into. There’s even a dedicated Launchpad app available in the App Store which has a few neat tricks of its own. Well worth a look.
For recording acoustic instruments you’ll need a good quality microphone, and they don’t come much better than Shure. The company behind the industry standard SM57 – the most used microphone anywhere – comes the MV88. What you get is a (relatively) miniature condenser microphone which features a Lightning connector, meaning it can plug directly into the iPad. There’s also an accompanying app – MOTIV – which provides a range of processing tools to ensure your recordings sound as good as they can.
Regardless of whether you’re on tour stuck in a hotel room on an off day having spent your PD’s the night before, or you’re at home with an electric and some very uncompromising neighbours, inspiration waits for no one and when it strikes, you need to catch that bolt of lightning before its gone for good. Sadly, hooking up a 30 watt tube amp and some microphones to record your next hit isn’t always possible. Enter the iRig. The iRig guitar interface by IK multimedia was a godsend when it hit shelves and allowed guitarists to capture musical thoughts in an instant via a handy little plug and play interface and their iPhone or iPad. The iRig 2 is an improved and updated model and just as useful, especially with the new FX/THRU switch, Gain control and amplifier output additions. Simply plug your guitar and headphones in and fire up the Amplitube app and you’re good to go. It can facilitate demo’s right the way through to professional recordings, all operated in the palm of your hand.
Finally, you’re going to need a way of hearing your recordings. Headphones are an obvious option, but can prove tricky for accurate mixing of your tunes. There are options here; if you’ve gone down the route of using a ‘proper’ interface, like the Alesis IO Dock II mentioned above, or the Focusrite iTrack Solo, then you can use any kind of active studio monitors. The Yamaha HS5 monitors are great value for the money, while the well-known KRK Rokit RP5 speakers are very highly thought of in electronic and dance music circles. However, if you’re not using an interface, you may consider the Samson MediaOne BT3 speakers, which use Bluetooth technology to wirelessly stream audio from the iPad to the speakers. These are a great option if your iDevice is used for other purposes like listening to music or watching films, so are a good choice as an all-rounder.
So there you have it. A fully-fledged, well-stocked music studio with not a lot of gear. It’s entirely feasible you could record entire albums onto an iPad, or you may prefer to use it as a sketchpad to keep you going while you’re on the road. Either way, the technology is compact, easy to use and will have you recording in no time at all.