Is Making Music On iOS Really ‘A Bag Of Hurt’?

Music technology blogger Will Kuhn posted an interesting take on the state of mobile making today, arguing that making music on iOS is ‘a bag of hurt’.

To explain why, he compares making music with a DAW to making music on an iPad:

  • Writing music on a “real” computer (circa 2012)
    • Fire up [DAW of choice]
    • Lots of instruments are available
    • Load “plugins” (little programs within a program) to compensate for shortcomings of DAW software.
    • Write your parts
    • Mix in context – correct mistakes as you go
    • Upload to SoundCloud
    • Go on with life (e.g. create dummy SoundCloud accounts and give yourself positive comments, etc.)
  • Writing music on an iPad
    • Fire up GarageBand (or a different DAW, but probably not)
    • Think of an idea for a part; realize the GB instruments don’t do all the tricks you need
    • Fire up $5.99 synth app; learn how to use it
    • Maybe it works. Maybe fire up another $5.99 synth app; learn how to use it
    • Switch back to GarageBand and check what tempo your song is
    • Switch back to Synth app – switch that tempo to the right one
    • Record an out-of-context loop, but try to envision the drum part
    • Audio copy the loop
    • Switch back to GarageBand
    • Audio paste
    • Whoops, wrong Audio paste method – use the other one (repeat last 3 steps)
    • OK great synth part! That sounds so warm.
    • Next idea…

Kuhn’s comparison might be a little harsh, but is basically accurate. If you want a mobile workstation DAW, you’re better off taking your laptop.

But musicians that only compare iOS as a music platform against powerful desktop computers are missing the big picture: a few years ago, your phone could do squat and tablet computers were bulky, niche products.  How much music making can you do on anything else that you carry around all the time?

What do you think about the state of iOS music making? Is it ‘a bag of hurt’ – or is it time for mobile musicians to put up or shut up?

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212 thoughts on “Is Making Music On iOS Really ‘A Bag Of Hurt’?

  1. I just try to make this topic larger ,my reply is nr 106.
    I heard that you can win an iPad 2 when you are nr 200 !

    Thumb up 11
    1. If I’d write the 200th posting I’d reject to win an iPad. Oh, wait, maybe I could use it to chop onions on it in my kitchen …

      Thumb up 15
      1. Now andy…don’t be like that, here is why I know you are lying or just hating!


        You really want one or cannot afford it

        You are too clumsy and might drop it and thus break the screen

        You don’t know that if you won one that you could sell it real quick and go buy a lame android phone!

        Some people astound me due to their need to incite anger from others, that’s a big dysfunction right there and the biggest causes of problems on the planet right now

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        1. “You really want one or cannot afford it”

          No, I still see no use for it.

          “You are too clumsy and might drop it and thus break the screen”

          Yes, that might happen. But it’s much more likely that I rather smash it than to drop it.

          “You don’t know that if you won one that you could sell it real quick and go buy a lame android phone!”

          I don’t need an Android phone either. But as I said, I think I’d have some use for an iPad in my kitchen. Provided that it is firm.

          But seriously. I mean, a new iPad costs a lot of money. Round about 500 bucks. Now considered you already have a small studio with a decent computer, a DAW software, just like most of us. Now, what can you do with 500 dollars or euro?

          Maybe you still use headphones to mix your songs. For $500 you could buy a pair of good, entry level monitors.
          Or you could buy Omnisphere, one of the most versatile and best softsynths you can get, and you’d still have some money left.
          Are you still using your crappy on board audio chip with an ASIO4ALL driver? You could buy a really good audio interface and you still have some money.

          BUT … you run into this iPad marketing trap and buy this shiny thingy + some 99ct apps which pretend to be synthesizers just to realize that you make a step backwards in music production because of its unergonomic handling and weak cpu power. But hey, now you have an iPad. Nice to show-off in your schoolyard.

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  2. I want to troll out on Zombitron, for a sec.
    Who are you? What makes your opinion more valuable than someone else’s? Tell us, what was your last hit record, if your so pro? I would like to hear it, so I can bash your style, workflow, and sound choice. Wow, you own an elecrtibe, big fucking deal. I bet your cheesie worn out sound is selling millions. Once again who the hell are you to say what someone else is doing is wrong? Are you the Hitler of electronic music? If it doesn’t if in your gear selection it must not be pro? Get a fucking life, go write the next top40 hit and leave us technophiles alone. In ten years we’ll call you up and say “hey we think it’s on a pro level now, you can multitask 48ch of protools and it will make coffee for you so you can get rid of your not-pro intern, oh and you can stable your high-horse so you don’t hit that big head of yours on the door-frame on your way into the new pro world of music making”

    Thumb up 11
    1. Oh jesus, one of these ‘You aint on no magazine’ jerks…I’ve had my credits, Ive had well known clients down to unknowns….thats what happens when you have the freedom to choose when you’ve worked to achieve something. Yes, I was in fact involved in a certain record that made the top 40…a surf record to boot….and used to make my interns fetch me Thai food. You know why? I worked hard to get there, I’m dedicated to my craft, and I was once that kid fetching coffee in a studio so really, Troll Hunter, what exactly are you trying to call me on? I dont like iPads for a number of workflow, creative, and audio pitfalls? I have a perspective you can’t have? My perspective is offensive to your tappy plate? The internet doesnt forget, Hunter….If I said something I didnt believe I wouldnt post it, as evidenced by douche #2 below Im easily found…You really want to leave immature assumptions under a snarky, childish alias then go ahead…

      I’m guessing you really did F up those kick drum mics pretty bad…

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  3. Based on the increasing amount of comments on iOS articles, the iPad is by far the most exciting thing in synth business in a real long time. And the resistance seems to grow more and more bitter and fewerish as rapidly as the iOS synths evolve.

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    1. come on, do you guys really forget your musical ideas in the time it takes to boot and run a program? are you senile? if your pc is truly that bogged use a dedicated computer/partition or something..

      Like this comment?: Thumb up 1
  4. I m not a professional musician, I don’t sell music, but line a lot of people : I really enjoy learning, playing music with friends
    I own an iPhone 4, it cost me about 100$. I’ve spent 15$ on beatmaker 2, and had a lot of fun recording and arranging small “music creation”with this setup.
    Add another 100 dollars, buy a Midi interface, an akai LPD8 or a midi keyboard. Your setup is just good for practice, educational purpose, sketchbook, travel gear, etc…
    Just don’t forget low budget people who want to learn and share, enjoy playing music. An iOS device is just a computing brain, software just need to evolve within the users needs.
    I would love to afford some expensive device to play with. As a graphic designer, I know that software tools are just a way to express an idea, but there is many other way to express them. If the melody is good, then whatever the device/instrument it will be played on : I know I’ll feel similar sensation.

    Thumb up 9
  5. I’ve noticed that almost every comment here that says iPad isn’t good gets thumbs down votes. At the same time, there is not one link posted by anyone with a real example of music made with an iPad. If it’s so great as everyone here says it is, then let’s hear the great music you are making with it.

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    1. Welcome to Synthtopia. Where people who loves their ipad so much they will blindly downvote anything that is critical about it. Suggestions are prohibited as well..

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      1. I think iPads are nice for reading books, browsing websites, watching videos, etc. i just think they’re not particularly good for making music. I mean these guys who say “but with my ipad i can make music in bed!” well i think if your work ethic is so bad you can’t get out of bed to make music then you probably aren’t a very accomplished musician, sorry.

        Thumb up 17
        1. That’s great. My iPad seems to be good at keeping me from making music and instead wasting time writing comments on a blog. But this brings up an important thing that isn’t being mentioned much. When you buy a synthesizer, it’s fundamentally designed to make music. A desktop or laptop is fundamentally designed to work and produce. An iPad is fundamentally designed to sell apps and videos and make apple lots of money. iPad is a consumer gadget that hooks into your wallet. This thread of comments religiously defending the iPad is a perfect example of apple achieving exactly what they set out to do… Take your money. You feel like a god because you can buy everything of your wildest dreams for $5.99. But you always get what you pay for.

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        2. Theres no harm in being able to keep your instruments always with you. Thats not taken away from studio time. Things are a lot more dependant on inspiration for musician, than many other occupation. You can still work in a studio with iPad for 8h days, many other instruments on the other hand are not available in the buss, where the inspiration can strike just as well. Artist works with emotions and things he sees in the world, no harm of having an instrument when walking around it.

          If you cannot make good music with an iPad, you are not a musician at all, sorry.

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          1. “If you cannot make good music with an iPad, you are not a musician at all, sorry.”

            This! For a musician the iPad is massively powerful tool.

            Thumb up 11
        3. Well I’m a drummer for 25 years, Dud. Do you expect me to go smash on a kit at 11:30 at night? And what happens when I decide that I need a bass part? Do I go ring up my bassist? Or maybe I should take up bass, too. Let me trot right down to the store and drop $500 on a nice Precision. May as well pick up a $1,500+ synth while I’m at it; wouldn’t want to appear less “accomplished” to a bunch of anonymous gearheads!!

          Like this comment?: Thumb up 9
    2. Bebot jam on the beach is another good example of a touchscreen performance. And its usable as a powerful midi controller, sequencer, and it has great softsynths, so you can find it in a lot of modern music, although you might not recognize it from the sound alone.

      Like this comment?: Thumb up 5
  6. Does anybody else wonder why Reason has not been ported “as is” on IOS?

    Reason’s interface works really great on touchscreen (I use it on my Motion Computing tablet). Also Reason does not need that much resources, I used to work with reason on a 1ghz computer with 512mb of ram 10 years ago, I’m pretty sure the 1ghz/512ram iPad2 could handle the complete Reason software, but instead we were given a ultra-simplified version of Reason on IOS.

    I’d pay much more to get the full Reason experience on IOS.

    Thumb up 13
    1. I think the Propellerhead didn’t have/allocate resources into iOS until Figure, and something like Reason 4(which is something, that I think that would run smootly on iPad 2) takes longer to make happen. Figure is just a first, very small step into iOS for them. Its a matter of time(I hope not too many years) until Reasony app arrives from ome one.

      Like this comment?: Thumb up 5
      1. IOS is based on OSX, they could have used the OSX version and build a touch interface around it, like they did for Rebirth (although they could do a better job).

        Like this comment?: Thumb up 10
        1. I still think the work would have taken too much time. I don’t think you can just throw intel or old G4(don’t remember mac processors names from the times of Reason 4) stuff into the ARM’s shoulders. The big players might also find it hard to continue to sell their DAW apps for pc @ 500$ if there was at all similar offering for 20$ for iPad. Thus we have only seen iPad apps evolve small steps at a time, and taken from ground up by indie or external teams.

          Like this comment?: Thumb up 2
    2. Because……

      Reason wouldn’t run without more ram and faster processors, since Propellerhead didn’t stop developing Reason in 2001;

      Reason wouldn’t work well on iOS without a UI update to support multitouch;

      Propellerhead wouldn’t devote that level of resources when the market won’t support a $200 iPad app, and….

      If they did it, Synthtopia readers would complain that Propellerhead should really be updating the desktop version of Reason.

      Other than that, though, your idea makes a lot of sense, Goode.

      Like this comment?: Thumb up 2
      1. It would probably be good enough for people used to Windows – but not up to the standards set by iPad apps.

        Tablets need more power and RAM, and apps need to be written to take advantage of them!

        Like this comment?: Thumb up 0
      1. Sorry mr Goode, but it seemed as some people wanted to win, not me, I don’t care, I enjoyed the discussion but it did get a bit silly:)

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  7. I’m utilising GB for iPad by sketching my ideas on the bus or train and if I’m happy with results, I will upload my project to Logic for fine tuning.
    I also ue my iPad extensively as MIDI controller for Ableton Live Suite, Cubase and Reason,
    Also, my iPad serves very well as sound module for rathere excellent synths like Sunrizer, Moog, Korg, Addictive, and so on…
    My other sketch pad sequencers are: NS, BM and Genome.
    Love them all 🙂

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  8. Is that some sort of futuristic band practicing at Starbucks in the photo? I dig the baby blue smart cover the drummer is rocking out on.

    The photo seems to answer any questions about using the ipad for music.

    Thumb up 10
    1. Actually, that makes a good point about the way people perceive “non-musicians” as the champions of iOS music.

      As a drummer, I don’t have a lot of direct experience with piano theory or guitars. So the iPad is a great tool for me, because:

      A) I have plenty of musical ideas, but I’m not interested in spending thousands of dollars on proper hardware synths and controllers, because…

      B) I already HAVE an iPad!

      So I take exception to the musical snobbery a few people here have exhibited, because the fact is, I’ve torn it up for years w/ a live band, delivering both speed and tight syncopation for your listening pleasure.

      I’m a musician, and the iPad is my best friend for expressive audio creation (when I don’t have 4 other people around).

      Thumb up 11
  9. I just wanted to comment that comparing the Haken Continuum and an IPad is a comparison that should not be made. The IPad has virtually no tactile feedback and it’s not velocity or pressure sensitive nor would I ever considering using it as a keyboard.

    Are IPad synths soft synths? Sure. Are they anywhere near as powerful as

    Like this comment?: Thumb up 1
    1. Its not that simple. Screen can change its layout, you can show tons of knobs and still play continuum like things. With that waldorf synth you can interact with waves directly. Theres also differen’t input methods, like gyroscope, camera and microphone. And you can keep it always with you, it works by it self, and it doesn’t cost ridiculously much. Both have their good stuff. iPad is not only cheap, its actually stunningly powerfull, and just plain damn good and versatile synth module, which in addition to its affordability and mobility is also quite unique instrument.

      Thumb up 13
      1. true, is there anything like the tc-11 synth on any os or “real” synth? no, only ios! i’ve been doing this for 35 years and it has one of the best control inputs i’ve ever seen.

        Like this comment?: Thumb up 5
    2. Actually there’s not that much tactile feedback on the Continnum, its one continuous flat surface, you don’t really know what note you’ll play if you don’t look where you’re putting your fingers, unlike a piano.

      I wish it didn’t cost something like 3000$, the Madrona Soundplane looks very interesting too, and is a little cheaper.

      Like this comment?: Thumb up 6
  10. Oops, sorry, are they as powerful as PC/Mac soft synths? Clearly not! I’m not bashing I synths but to put them on the same level as other soft synths does not make sense.

    Like this comment?: Thumb up 7
  11. While it’s by no means groundbreaking, making this song in ikaossilator on my iPhone (didn’t have an iPad yet) led to me putting more interest in the iOS music scene. I have plenty of vsts ,(kvr’s buy/sell section is a godsend) have done 70-80 track productions, have hardware synths blah blah blah. What really matters is I HAD FUN making this track with ikaossilator. That’s why most of us do this right?? The classic “chasing the dragon” scenario… Trying to find that spark, that excitement we had when we first started out… Well my friends I experienced that, and that’s why I purchased an iPad.

    Song is called ikaossilatorlive

    Like this comment?: Thumb up 3
  12. i have an iphone and it’s fun to play with. no, i don’t make real music with it. yes, i am a real musician. that bebot on the beach thing sucked. whatever

    Like this comment?: Thumb up 3
  13. If the iPad would run on lion and contained normal processing power and you could choose from different sizes.
    it would be a great concept.

    But the only interesting thing about the iPad is the touchscreen,
    the rest sucks big time.

    Most software is useless.
    And the useful software i would rather see developed as software instruments.
    that can used on normal daws.

    The problem i have with apple is that they leave you no choice.
    It is their way or no way.

    The result is perfect computers.

    But toyboy innovation.

    Like this comment?: Thumb up 0
  14. Making music on iOS is a friggin bag of orgasms!

    I have all kinds of synthesizers; analog and digital, subtractive and additive, soft and hard, but I still found iPad to be a great addition to my arsenal. I would have paid twice the price to have this kind of synth, but fortunately this isn’t synth but an iPad, so this is a bargain!

    Like this comment?: Thumb up 3
  15. i think people are kind of wasting their time if they think the ipad is going to replace a computer based workstation any time soon. iOS in its current state isnt meant to be a multitasking powerhouse. hell, even multitasking on iOS is still pretty clunky when you think about it. iPads and the like are meant to be instruments, not DAWs.
    the thing people overlook is this – with the iOS apps out there, the device can be whatever you need it to be, when you need it. That’s far more valuable to me than being able to trade a five pound laptop for a two pound tablet.

    Like this comment?: Thumb up 3
  16. Garageband is limiting, it is good for the average guitar and vocals but for other types of music it’s just not right.

    This guy obviously hasn’t tried nano studio, or better yet something like Sunvox, which is 4.99 and is highly versatile. Nano studio. Ones with a great synth called Eden, sunvox has a basic generator, analog synth, fm synth, spectra voice, etc. everything is modulized, basically I could have 20 or more lfos connected to a synth, if I wanted to. Also sunvox and nano studio both have free Mac and pc versions. The only thing lacking as of right now is the lack of vst support but with so many nice synth apps which yes, are around 5 bucks (way cheaper than vst computer versions) the need for vst’s is minimal. I’ve spoken directly to the developer of sunvox, he listens to his customers. The developer for nano studio is very interactive on the websites forums. If you don’t think music production is mobile head over to soundcloud and look up the sunvox, nano studio groups as well as groups from other apps. Proof is in the pudding.

    Like this comment?: Thumb up 5
    1. +1 for Nanostudio, i love it. I wouldn’t try to make a finished, complete track on it, though you could if you wanted to. What i use it for is as a musical sketch pad, on the train or wherever (once i wrote a track while walking to work), and then later export the audio out into a desktop DAW (i use ableton). Nanostudio has great export functionality where you can export the midi and the audio from all of your tracks, seperately or mixed together. The synths in Nanostudio are truly excellent.

      Like this comment?: Thumb up 2
    2. iOS synths evolve at such pace, that now even the acclaimed Sunrizer is actually left far behind. It still sounds good, but after Cassini, it feels distressingly limited. The Cassini iPhone sounds great, but it has some of the most stunningly powerful features that I have seen in any subtractive synth!!! 3+1 oscillators, 6 LFO’s 9 envelopes etc etc etc. Its massive monster. Every one should get it today.

      Like this comment?: Thumb up 0
  17. In the way it truly is(A Bag Of Hurt); the butt hurt whiners are in so much pain now, that they have bitched 6 iOS topics into the top of the most discussed topics.

    Like this comment?: Thumb up 1
    1. This seems like one of the key debates among electronic musicians right now.

      Reminds me of all the complaining about virtual synths when they came out. That’s died down because nobody can really tell the difference anymore – at least not once it’s recorded.

      Like this comment?: Thumb up 2
      1. Yes….and there seems to be odd symmetry to this cycle. The expensive hardware dudes, who didn’t accept VSTi’s, seem to be accepting iPad synths. Now the VSTi dudes are considering the iPad synth apps as toyishly cheap sounding trinkets to children, the same as hardware dudes said about VSTi’s.

        Like this comment?: Thumb up 1
  18. I guess I can come around by saying id like to give a whack at libpd at some point, Im just having a hard time justifying $500 for a touch screen netbook that cant multitask or take any of my multichannel sound cards. I cant leave it at this for me personally…I dont like the idea at all, but Im always willing to explore something further if I see a used one around for around $200. Makes it a little more on par with a netbook to me.

    Like this comment?: Thumb up 0
  19. Trying to produce some music in your spare time via computer:

    -Fire up your computer, DAW, plug ins, and get your soundcard/interfaces working, set things and navigate with mouse… tick, tock… yes, you have already forgotten that great idea… although you’ve got a couple of thousand Euros in front of you to mess arround with till something interesting happens.

    -Learn how to get everything going and doing what’s in your head, producing and playing/programing every single sound… tick, tock… yeah, a year has passed and you already hate your unispiring set up, room and what not.

    Like this comment?: Thumb up 4
    1. That’s funny, when I want to make music it’s
      -fire up daw(usually ableton)
      -drop an instrument in(usually operator)
      -start making some noise
      What kind of shitty gear/programs are you using that require you to configure everything every time you start it up?
      Besides, if you’re really that gung-ho about speed of workflow, you’ll have project templates and instrument presets saved for your most common tasks. Do you make EDM that always has a sidechained kick/bass? make a template with that already set up on it. You just cut 5, 10 minutes off your work time. do you always use five copies of one particular VST in every song? Make a template with them already set up.

      Like this comment?: Thumb up 0
    2. ^^This sounds idiotic. How about Turn on computer PC/Mac and fire up Reason or FL Studio and get bizzy. Simple as that.

      Like this comment?: Thumb up 0
  20. I used to make music with real proper hardware, and then with a real proper computer, but then life got in the way what with job and children and wife etc, I could never get to spend the time to record anything, and as about a thousand people here have mentioned by the time I got to the computer, got everything running etc I had forgotten the idea anyway. Then I was given an ipad at Christmas and now I can record music on the bus for 40 minutes a day, or in my lunch hour, or between meetings. There may be limitations, but the benefits outweigh the pain.

    Like this comment?: Thumb up 4
    1. I got a life too…if I cant fire up my set up I’ll just use my laptop…My set up in my bunk when I was a commecial fisherman was a Powerbook running Reason 4 and Cubase Le…and a DSi with a DS10 cart. I have a Macbook these days, I still do Reason on the bus a lot…Max on the train…the other day I pulled out my laptop on my lunch break in the parking lot and recorded a Gleetchlab jam for a half hour sitting on the curb….

      To each his own…there seems to be a lot of ‘Fuck you if you dont use what I use people’ around but personally, I dont really want you to use what I use…you might find out Im not really doing anything! =-0

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      1. This discussion was always more about “fuck you if you use an iPad, because I don’t.” Pointless.

        Like this comment?: Thumb up 4
  21. I don’t think the iPad is a great replacement for a laptop or desktop with a good daw. That being said, my iPad and iPhone are an integral part of my live performance. I use a midi keyboard with my iPad, and iPhone (sometimes), I use a hardware analog modeling synth, and an electric guitar. The iPad is a great way to carry several synthesizers at once. I love my animoog, iTNR-I, addictive synth, various noise making apps, etc. Would I use the iPad exclusively to make music? I have. But I think for any musician that loves electronic music, it is the Swiss army knife of musical tools. There is so much flexibility. You can use it in so many ways and combinations of ways. To put it down would be like saying that a keyboard with sequencing and arpegiator is a way for non musicians to make music. It is simply another powerful tool, and the music that comes out of it is still only as brilliant as the person using the tool. Every day I find more uses for it, but it doesn’t quell my lust for analog synths or guitars or even my piano. I’ve recorded music with my iPhone while playing my iPad combined with my baby grand piano. I wouldn’t be surprised if it showed up on a new Eno record or the like. My two cents.

    Like this comment?: Thumb up 4
  22. Use what ever you need to, if a sound is found on an iPad synth use it, if not don’t. Didn’t
    Albarn make a full album on the iPad!!!

    Like this comment?: Thumb up 0

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