I have a very simple iOS MIDI agenda. In the next paragraph I detail this agenda, following it up with some basic examples, and finish with brief conclusions. Hoping for some comments on my idea – Here we go:
Allow for the midi-learnable parameters of iOS apps to be exposed to Desktop DAWs
Below I detail why I think exposing midi-learnable parameters is crucial for iOS apps. Probably as recently as a year ago, before Link, and Given the only recent availability of audio/midi from iOS back to the Desktop over a lightning cable, it makes sense why this functionality wasn’t baked into some standardized coding schema (there are other reasons as well). by as 2017 approaches, iOS music production apps have become wonderfully sophisticated sonic playgrounds, as well as usable for high level production. While it’s pointless to compare the overall desktop ecosystem to iOS, I think highly relevant is the relative value of many iOS apps to comparable desktop components.
For me, it’s no exaggeration to rate some $5-20 dollar iOS music apps as comparable (and yes even better in some cases) to desktop plugins at $25-200.
Let’s take a look at what features and capabilities a burgeoning iOS producer could acquire to have a fairly robust Production Setup – whilst thinking about what the desktop equivalent might cost: (In no particular order)
- Drum Machine $4.99 – Elastic Drums is my favorite. I love the default patterns it has, and I find the shaping of the drum synth sounds to be intuitive. In particular, changing tones and other parameters gives good sounds within the ranges of the parameters – for me drum synth sounds typically go quickly awry – squelchy. Elastic Drums sounds good. Strange, I was just on the ED webpage, where they describe the “Elasticity” of Elastic Drums: “..So the sounds can be changed drastically and combined with a very flexible effect section” As I wrote above, good range of parameters! I’m also a fan of its developers, MoMinstruments – which includes Mouse on Mars founders and CDM. I think Mouse on Mars are the Brian Eno of my generation – eternal pioneers. Also, seriously a genuine drum synthesis engine with huge modulation, midi – too much to list – 5 dollars!
- Modular Synthesizer $9.99 – Zmors Modular. Zmors does 96k Audio, has a 32 bit floating engine w/ 16X Oversampling, and you can send 8 audio/CV signals out over USB to Hardware. It can host other apps as Modules – has sequencers, and there’s about 250 free Presets available on the Zmors website. 8 CV outs alone is worth it.Okay, now we’ve got some good drums and a modular synth. Next, let’s pick out a synthesizer:
3. Synthesizer $12.99 – Moebius Lab. Moebius Lab is from Amazing Noises, who make some outstanding FX, synths, and other sonic tools both for desktop, and now iOS. On the desktop their Dedalus Delay & Dark Synth, by example, are sold via the Ableton store, which I think is a significant indicator of quality. I picked Moebius Lab as a synth, its synth is monophonic – however, the sound synthesis possibilities Moebius Lab offers – 250 Modulatable LFO’s, X/Y, Bluetooth LE, Core/Wireless/Network Midi – and it saves your sonic creations as a .plist file – meaning every single parameter is in a little text file – facilitates a broad sound palette – wrapped in a stateful, shareable, and dynamic set of parameters. It’ll also host about 7 IAA’s or FX. It’s got a gorgeous interface – and here’s the biggest one for me; I created 35 presets in the first 24 hours I had this app. Total app-binging. Moebius takes sounds and mangles them as uniquely as anything on the desktop. It’s got hyper vectorial synthesis, and FX like Blur, Klamper, Split Delay, and Swarm. You can reorder the FX, set modulations on any parameter, midi learn parameters to your hardware. Comes with a bunch of Presets – oh and you can import/export your own samples from and to just about anywhere.
I think between the Zmors modular synth and Moebius Lab we’ve got a good range of synthesis covered, if you need something different, you’ll probably find what you’re looking for. Next, let’s make sure we have the utilities we need.
4. Audiobus $4.99 – Audio Bus is a Bus for Audio. It Busses audio from one app to another. Audiobus basically brings the whole iOS ecosystem together, for 5 dollars. It allows an FX app to have the audio from some other app ran through it, or any 2 apps (presuming they are Audiobus compatible – which excluding a small few, developers serious about their, will spend a few minutes (literally) and get compatible with Audiobus). Audiobus also saves the State of your interconnected apps, so you can recall them, rather than reconnecting all the various apps you might from session to session. Audiobus basically created the interconnected iOS music app market. Also, the highly anticipated Audiobus 3.0 (if that’s what it’ll be called) seems to be imminent – though no official release date yet.
5. Studiomux $9.99 – Studiomux routes the audio and midi from iOS back to your desktop DAW, over the standard lightning USB Cable. Now, on this one I have to say there are some other tools that perform the same function. I’m inclined to called Studiomux the most prevalent – though that’s just an anecdotal observation. It’s the only such tool I’ve used, and it works really well. Studiomux brings all your iOS apps back into your DAW, now you can work with them as you would any other tool, and have high quality audio over USB and your (likely) better sound system. Similarly, some apps have MIDI In and Out – and can receive audio and midi from your Desktop tools.
Okay – by my calculations we’re in for $33 dollars ~ Well presuming you already have an iDevice….
What we have so far:
- Modular Synthesizer (Zmors)
- Sequencer (Zmors)
- Sampler (Moebius Lab)
- Drum Synthesizer (Elastic Drums)
- IAA, AU v3, and FX host (Moebius Lab & Zmors)
- Routing Audio & MIDI between our Apps (Audiobus)
- Routing Audio & MIDI to and fro our desktop DAW and/or Hardware (Studiomux)
And I am grossly under-representing the features you’d have – because there are so many I think cognitive dissonance sets in! It’s hard to register that you authentically get this functionality at this cost. But okay here’s a few more features you’d have with your $33 investment: , CV to MIDI, Oscilloscope, OSC, Sample/Hold, X/Y Pad, C/V Sequencer, 8 Audio/MIDI Outs, 14 Bit NRPN, Bluetooth LE Connectivity, State Saving of multiple Apps – Ability to save and transfer audio and midi files via Dropbox, iTunes Sharing, AudioShare, Cloud Drives, and others. You can also record directly to your Desktop Daw at 96khz.
As far as rounding up an end-t0-end iOS Production Studio – we left out Mastering & a (traditional) DAW. For me however, iOS is a modular production environment – your DAW is the amalgamation of the tools you require to achieve your desired workflow. In my case, I master on the Desktop – I already have the tools there, and I find Mastering more conducive when working on several big screens. That being said, ZMORS has an AU v3 EQ plugin that is great for $4.99. Moebius Lab has an excellent set of output tools, including a plate reverb, and an IAA Host Spot on the Output Chain, should you choose to pick up other FX.
Currently, the major headwind to iOS is the lack of stability and harmonization of standards and coding practices. These inconsistencies can cause erratic behavior when using apps simultaneously. This isn’t the fault of any particular developer, but rather the fairly routine brustle of externalities and incentives common to emerging markets As I mentioned above Audiobus has done a tremendous service harmonizing apps – Audiobus 3.0 will presumably harmonize MIDI as well – coupled and with the Advent of Audio over Lightning, and Ableton’s Link protocol which syncs your devices, iOS producers now have access to an array of inexpensive and desktop-compatible production tools.
My objective here wasn’t to illustrate the “cheapest” approach – I used examples of the apps I use, and selected solely based on functionality and my tastes – in other words, I didn’t compromise my choices for my own music, or this article! If I wanted – I could find Free apps to do the same, and so too could desktop producers – but what’s the cost for you to get everything you want vs. everything you can afford? For $33 you won’t get far with the established industry product lines. If you ported Moebius or Zmors or ED over to the Desktop – they’d be 3-4 times as costly. And of course, such arguments aren’t really arguments at all –
Why MIDI-learanable iOS Parameters are Crucial!
In my opinion iOS can completely close the gap with the desktop implementing some code allowing Desktop DAW access and expose an iOS app’s midi-learnable parameters – in Ableton Live this is the “Blue Hand” mapping that Midi control surfaces have, and allows for dynamic mapping of devices, preset saving, and a host of other features. In short, it would render an iOS identical in functionality to any other plugin!
If this functionality were added – iOS music apps would compete for Desktop Dollars very effectively – and I would conjecture put some downward pressure on pricing, while modestly increasing iOS pricing – this would drive competition and innovation, and encourage more stable and skilled iOS development. In years past this wouldn’t have made sense as app functionality, interconnectivity, and general stability were too prominent to allow for wider adoption. But with AudioBus, StudioMux and numerous other development achievements, anyone purchasing a newer iPAD can be a well-equipped producer for around $30 bucks.
iOS app developers would be wise to implement a midi standard as needed to level the functional playing field between the iOS and desktop ecosystems. As an end-user, it would improve my workflow very directly by allowing me to map app parameters to hardware, have blue hand control, include apps in racks and presets – a fairly seamless workflow becomes quickly possible with this simple implementation – and will likely have positive innovation and economic outcomes for end-users, and pioneering iOS developers.