Making music, mobile style
No doubt many musicians will be receiving a shiny new tablet device for Christmas this year. If it’s your first foray into mobile music-making then you’re in for a real treat, because the sheer amount of creative weaponry at your disposal is staggering. Everything is there from audio oddities designed with aural exploration in mind, through to fully-fledged multitrack studios aimed at filling the gap between home and ‘proper’ recording, and it’s all extremely reasonably priced and begging to be played. We’ll round up the 20 best apps for making music on your tablet device, covering each of these categories and helping you decide which best fit your needs.
Note – the recommendations below are based on Apple devices only. A small number of apps are available for Android systems, but for sheer choice and quality, we found it hard to look beyond Apple.
Six-stringers are catered for via a number of different apps, most of which either act as sound shapers or learning tools. For amp-in-a-box compendiums, you can’t look further than IK Multimedia’s excellent Amplitube app, which boasts faithful recreations of most of the big names in guitar amplification. There’s even dedicated apps for Fender and Orange, as well as built in tools to help record and edit your tunes. You will of course need a way of plugging your guitar into the phone or tablet to use the app, but there are dedicated connector devices such as Focusrite iTrack Dock and the Alesis IO Dock II which can get you up and running here with no bother. If tweaking and tone sculpting is more your thing, we can heartily recommend Positive Grid’s BIAS app, which puts you in control of every micro detail of an amp, right down its transformers and valves, enabling you to create a signature guitar sound from the ground up.
Elsewhere, the Ultimate Guitar app, from the website of the same name, does a superb job of displaying tabs from its enormous database in handy iDevice sized formatting. We’d also recommend the TC Electronic Polytune, a tablet version of the pioneering pedal tuner, and also useful to any guitarist is an app called Jamn, which provides handy, easy to understand chords and scales to aid your songwriting.
Synth fans are spoilt for choice on iDevices. From ported ‘mini’ versions of classic hardware synths, like Korg’s superb Polysix and MS20 (also available as a fully-fledged analogue synth, the MS-20 Mini), through to tools created specifically for the iPad and iPhone’s touchscreens like Moog’s glorious Animoog synth and Novation’s Launchkey, there is so much fun to be had playing around here. The MS20 and Polysix apps are perhaps the best demonstration of what can be achieved on such a small device. Admittedly they can appear daunting at first, with so many knobs, faders and changeable parameters, but the beauty here lies in simply fiddling and tweaking until you come up with something that sparks an idea.
Perhaps the most fun, as a musician, on an iPad is to be gleaned through one of the many drum machines available via the app store. From the confident quality of something like DM1, through to the esoteric madness which can be dialled in via Yamaha’s TNR-e, a scaled down version of the mythical Tenori-On, these apps just beg to be played. Cropping up once again is Korg, with its iconic Electribe drum machine, while sample-fiends can enjoy Native Instruments’ iMaschine and Akai’s iMPC samplers, both reasonably priced and able to chop up samples from your device’s iTunes library.
Plenty of options are available for recording direct onto your iDevice. Again, you’ll need a way of recording external instruments onto it, but once you’ve cracked this there is really no reason why you can’t use your tablet, or even your phone, as a full-blown recording studio. Garageband, by Apple, is the obvious one to direct new users to, thanks to the ease with which anyone can pick it up and know intuitively what to do. There’s also the added bonus that sessions recorded onto Garageband can be transferred and opened perfectly into Apple’s Logic Studio app on your main computer.
Cubasis, a partner app to the regular Cubase software, is another such example of this cross-platform synergy, while the now-veteran Nano Studio is a great alternative all-in-one recording solution. Perhaps most crucial to the mobile musician is a small app called Audiobus, which makes no sound on its own but instead provides the bridge between different apps to make them work together. Imagine using drums from iElectribe, guitars from Amplitube and synths from Animoog, and recording it all into a session in Garageband. Prior to Audiobus this was a massive faff, but now it’s as simple as tapping a few screens and you’re good to go.
It is here where the iPad and iPhone excel. Apps designed purely to be touched, tweaked, messed about with and generally tinkered with are available in their droves, and it’s tricky to pick a few which stand out. A good one to start with is another Korg effort, iKaossilator, based on the famous hardware sound generator. Even after so many years, the format still works and its charms show no sign of diminishing. Figure, by Propellerhead, is another app in which you layer up drums/bass/synths by simply moving your finger around an X/Y pad, and further proves that anyone can make music if they are so inclined.
So there you have it. A brave new world of musical exploration awaits you when you first start exploring. Find the apps which suit your needs best and you’ll find these shiny devices have a world of sonic adventure within them, just waiting for you to dive in.
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.