I am an Ableton Live user. From the first time I used Live I was hooked. Live 9 was released not too long ago and I spent the better part of two weeks as a hermit, endlessly digging into all of the new instruments, effects, and samples that came with the thirty-plus gigabytes of Live 9 Suite. However, I think I may have gone a bit overboard because I feel (for the moment) quite burnt out. This Live hiatus has given me time to explore a somewhat different aspect of music production and performance; iPad apps.
Fortunately, there is no lack of apps (and FREE apps at that) for those wishing to make music on their mobile. I downloaded and tried around 25 apps before I narrowed it down to the list below, but there are still quite a few that I would like to try. Everything that I tried was completely free and most had either premium paid versions with more features or the ability to make in-app purchases to boost your experience. Lets take a quick look at what each of these apps does…
Recently released by Novation, the Launchpad app mirrors the look of it’s hardware counterpart and is setup much like you would set up a loop-based set in Ableton Live. It comes with eight sessions in different genres with audio content from Loopmasters. Each session has an array of buttons containing different audio loops and one-shots that you can combine as you please. Coupled with an easy FX an mixer section this is a great app for both beginners and veterans.
Also from Novation, Launchkey is a synthesizer that includes 60 preset sounds. With a keyboard and beautiful multi-function X-Y interface it is easy to play and morph your sounds. The big selling point, however, is the app’s full integration with the Launchkey hardware. Novation has released 25, 29, and 61 key hardware that allows you to connect and control every part of the synth.
Purmagnetik’s Clap Box is an iOS recreation of the iconic 80’s ‘Clap Trap’ synthesizer. All it really does is create clapping sounds, but with features like audio triggering and full MIDI integration you could have some real fun with this app. Nothing spectacular on it’s own, but when combined with other instruments, hardware, or other musicians, you have a definite winner.
From Propellerhead Software (the makers of Reason) comes an addictive little music making app that it extremely easy to use. You get to make a drum beat, bass line, and a lead synth all with very unique tactile interfaces. The sound quality from this app is great and it looks stunning. The learning curve is very minimal, but you still dig quite deep if you want to. Automatic iTunes export along with instant SoundCloud sharing make this a great app for creating beats.
By far, my favorite app that I downloaded was Tabletop. This modular studio workstation allows you to create your own setups by dropping various instruments and effects into the session. Everything you add gets connected through a virtual mixer and you have complete control over everything. This app works almost as a DAW, with the ability to use multiple instruments and effects, sequence them using MIDI, and have a complete mixing section. It comes with several built in instruments and effect, but you can also buy more in-app as well as use other third-party premium apps like iMPC from Akai inside of the interface. You can also import and play songs or samples from your library, which makes this the most versatile music making app I have seen yet.
All of these apps have a different niche, but they all serve the same purpose; making music. There are quite a few bad music apps out there, but I was pleasantly surprised at the amount and diversity of quality music apps. Whether you use them as your primary musical tool, a backup for DJing, busking on the street, or an impromptu dance parties, you should definitely incorporate some music apps into your life!
Special Note on DJing apps!
The new Traktor app is world-class and looks to be the one for two-deck mobile DJs. It isn’t free, but a full-service DJ app for $19.99 seems like a good deal to me.
I mentioned earlier that I am an Ableton Live user. Well, there are a number of apps available for Live that work as controllers, but I have been using touchAble in my live setup for a while now. Out of all of the apps that I tried, touchAble is the easiest, most intuitive, and best looking app that $24.99 can buy. If you are a Live user I highly recommend getting it.
If you want to learn more about DJing and gear we highly recommend you check out our online DJ School here at Spin-Academy.