I'm an iMusician — I like making music on iPhones and iPads. While I also like making music with a drum machine, in the studio or on a guitar, I consider the iPhone and iPad to be musical instruments in their own right. I have an iPad with all the cool music making apps, and while it is really fun, I can't help but feel underwhelmed by what the applications offer. I guess I was expecting a quantum leap forward in artistic expression with the big screen and fast processor. The problem is definitely not the sound; both the iPhone and iPad are capable of a big sound. The real problem is that most application developers haven't stopped treating this device like a giant iPhone. While it might look like a giant iPhone, the ability to use a large touch screen like this for music production unlocks the potential for a lot of amazing capabilities. So rather than sit back and wait for the developers, I decided to write about what I am looking for from the iPad — what could really tap its amazing potential for apps where you create music directly on the device itself.
- All apps that are also available for iPhone should be available in a higher resolution version for the iPad. Using apps on the iPad at a low resolution is a big waste of a great screen, and takes away from the "feel" of using this amazing, high-tech device. While it is all about the sound and not the graphics, musicians want to use nice instruments, and a low- resolution, crappy interface is not inspiring at all.
- Let us use the touch screen! Instead of just adding the traditional slider and knob controls that reflect mechanical limitations of the past, try something new. I should be able to draw an ADSR envelope for the synth sound I am tweaking. Being able to draw in an EQ curve instead of just turning some knobs would make using the iPad for music a unique experience. Reverb could be designed by spreading your fingers out until the right room size is reached. There are so many situations where apps could use untraditional controls that could be more intuitive and expressive than simply emulating old paradigms.
- Most apps can only use the touch screen capabilities of the iPad to its full potential if they use more than one screen's worth of controls to manipulate sounds. Too many apps are going for the simple all-in-one screen concept, which is a clean design and easy to learn — the problem is that it doesn't allow enough screen "real estate" for all the touch screen coolness the iPad is capable of. Having multiple screens can be easy to grasp and use if the navigation and UI are well though out.
- Let us use wireless/Bluetooth connectivity to collaborate with fellow iMusicians. Every app should have the ability to beam parameters, songs and audio tracks from one device to another.
- Use the accelerometer for something, anything! We spent lots of money on this weird device that lets you steer cars and fly airplanes by twisting and turning it. Then we open a music app and it's plain vanilla all the way. Musicians need expressiveness, and without having a velocity-sensitive screen, the iPad is short in expressiveness. Programmers need to use any means at their disposal to add expressiveness wherever they can. You could have a button on an app that when pressed would change tempo by shifting left or right. Being able to assign accelerometer movement to a filter would be instant fun.
- San Francisco vocalist and fellow iMusician Mavie Marcos also pointed out that for artists that regularly perform live, having an app that is visually stunning would be very useful. Fans can often see what is going on, and an app that has visual effects is much more entertaining to watch. She points that too many times with electronic music the performer is standing in front of a laptop, with nothing interesting going on. With its multi- touch capabilities, the iPad has the ability to change this by offering a more tactile and visually interactive approach. App developers would need a "performance mode," where the finger strokes only control a few meta-parameters and allow for lots of movements and visual effects, without destroying the continuity of the music.
- Fellow producer and musician James Cigler believes the iPad's touch screen has the ability to track multiple motions based on the sequence of events. If so, the first finger could be used to track pitch, for example, while the second finger tracked amplitude and so on. A musician could control many parameters independently based on the order of fingers laid on the screen. This could lead to some very expressive performance possibilities.
- There are plenty of third-party sound designers making products for music production nowadays, and the amount of sounds available for computer- based musicians are endless. It seems that these sound developers and app programmers could have a mutually beneficial relationship. iPad apps need more sound options, and sound designers would love to have access to the iPhone/iPad market. I would love to have more options to purchase sounds within apps — ones that are already set up and tested for the iPad.
- The speakers on the iPad are a big upgrade from the iPhone, and in a quiet environment the sound is decent enough to make music without headphones. But in noisy environments you need either headphones or a small set of speakers. While I have some small, battery-powered JBLs that are very portable, I am still looking for the perfect option to amplify the sound.
- For recording apps, compatibility with all means of external input is a must, since the built- in iPad mic is not designed for serious recording. Apple's iPad Camera Connection Kit is the current best means (in my opinion) of getting professional audio into an iPad, since it allows you to connect a variety of USB microphones directly into it. Unfortunately it doesn't seem it is compatible with my Blue Icicle interface, which would have allowed me to use any of my studio microphones. Major bummer.
Hopefully these thoughts will reach the eyes of some current or future application developers or other interested musicians who can help spread the word. We are living in a wonderful age where just about anything we imagine is possible, so let's start really imagining! r
Tom Freeman, as Freematik, made an album with an iPhone, called iMatik - www.freematik.com