Overcoming “Limitations” of iOS Apps

It’s no secret that I am a huge proponent of music created and performed on devices that utilize iOS. As an avid reader of forums designed for both casual consumers and professional musicians, I’ve noticed how professionals grumble about the limitations they encounter due to the applications being “dumbed down” for the average user. Conversely, I often read reactions from the average consumer that states how they cannot use these complex apps. The common thread I see from both sides is how many focus on what could/should be there instead of optimizing the tools available while developing creative solutions to perceived problems. On a slow Monday evening, I set out to demonstrate an example of a method that both an average user and professional musician could utilize to create their own music.

Instead of using all of the gear I have at my disposal, I decided to use as few pieces as possible. A self-imposed limitation I set was to use a small portable setup that I could fit into a shoulder bag. I grabbed an Alesis IO dock, my iPhone, my Zoom Q3HD audio/video recorder, my little Canon SD1100 camera, and a few cables to connect them all.

Using an 1/8″ stereo to RCA cable, I connected the headphone out of my iPhone into the stereo in of my IO dock, which would in turn give a signal to Loopy HD within my iPad.

Then, I took the an 1/8″stereo cable (also referred to as an “aux” cable), put a 1/4″ stereo adapter on the one end that I connected to the head phone out on my IO dock and connected the other end to the Line In port on my Zoom Q3HD video recorder. By connecting my headphones to the Line Out port of my Q3HD I was able to monitor everything played and recorded from both my iPhone and iPad.

Using two mini-tripods, I mounted the cameras on opposite ends so I could capture what I was doing on each device.

Two apps that I’ve been using very much lately are a Tasty Pixel’s Loopy HD and Propellerhead’s Figure. I was blown away by how simple Figure was to use the first time I picked it up, but was also surprised by gripes in reviews about its limitations. It’s a $.99 app! What does one expect?? Regardless, I devised a quick workaround to the much maligned two bar pattern limit in Figure. I simply would sync a two bar pattern recorded with Figure into Loopy, while keeping the pattern in Figure going after the Loopy recording finished. Then I changed the loop record length within Loopy to 12 bars. Once those 12 bars started recorded in Loopy, I was able to go to the Song screen in Figure and manipulate the chord changes. I decided to go with a simple version of the commonly used 12 bar blues form.

The Song Option Screen in Figure

After the form had been established, I simply laid several other instruments down that were programmed to play another frequently used musical device, the major pentatonic scale. My goal was to keep every element common… From the key (C major) to the tempo (120 beats per minute) to the chord progression (only three chords). Many of these specifics are included in the default setting or at the very least, a preset, of most apps.
The whole piece was loosely improvised over a span of about five minutes using very basic musical knowledge. My goal wasn’t to wow others and become a YouTube hero, but instead to offer an alternate approach to making music with a small setup. Surely I could have recorded straight into Pro Tools after using several HD cameras that would sync up flawlessly with the recorded audio, but that would have defeated my purpose. Limitations are actually very liberating, as they inspire creativity. Even so, the perceived limitations of these devices and apps are pretty insignificant considering where technology was as little as 10 years ago! Finding little tricks for syncing the recorded audio and video, such as realizing that 120bpm=two seconds per every measure of 4/4, are also simple joys that can be lost in the sea of whining about the apps!

Importing Video into the iPad via SD Card

The tools may have changed but the goal remains the same: make music! There are so many ways one can reach that goal that often we lose sight of our destination. So don’t focus on what you think is stopping you from getting there; focus on getting there!




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