Keep it Reel: Record, mix, and release a professional recording on your iPad
The iPad has become an incredible tool for musicians who wish to quickly and confidently record and produce live music on their tablet. Recently, I had the opportunity to produce and record a session for Ella Joy Meir, using just my iPad, software, and recording accessories. Last week, I covered when you might want to use an iPad and what you need to get started; now, let’s talk about the actual recording and post-production process.
Recording, editing, and mixing
There are two versions of the Auria app: one that allows you to record up to 24 tracks (Auria LE, $25) and a more powerful version that can record up to 48 audio tracks (Auria, $50). Auria’s touch interface is excellent: I really believe that using your fingers to trim, fade, cut, copy, and paste the audio regions is the easiest way to edit audio; it removes most of the layers (keyboard, mouse, and control surface) that stand between me and the music when I use more traditional computer-based recording systems. In my experience, the touch interface also makes editing a much speedier task. Another big advantage of Auria is that it offers many of the mixing features usually available only on a computer-based platform, including plug-ins (available via in-app purchase).
If you feel that the built-in plugins are not enough for your mixing needs, you can also get extra ones through the in-App purchase options, where you can find some really good compressors, convolution reverbs, equalizers, modulation effects, and amp simulators from companies like FXpansion, PSPaudioware, FabFilter, Over Loud, Positive Grids, and Sugar Bytes. You can even add the excellent drum replacement tool “Drumagog 5” or the pitch correction plug-in “ReTune” by Mu Technologies. For any serious mixing I highly recommend getting some of these extra plug-ins. They are very affordable, with prices ranging from $6 to $40, but with the majority being around $20. Auria features also a flexible input signal routing through the Input Matrix that allows me to route any physical input of my audio interface to any audio tracks inside the software.
While the combination of iPad and Auria creates a very powerful tool for music recording and mixing, there is still room for improvement. The lack of a “Take” or “Playlist” system, like that in Pro Tools, can make managing multiple takes cumbersome. This could be a potential deal-breaker for complex studio sessions.
Tips, tricks, and suggestions for a happy recording session
Want to tackle your own iPad recording session? Here are some tips I found invaluable in making my recording process run as smoothly as it did.
Maximize battery time: Fully charge your iPad before the session, and turn off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Reduce the brightness as much as possible.
Restart your iPad: Make sure your device isn’t using valuable processing power on background apps by restarting it right before your session.
Quit all other apps: If you’re not using them to record, you don’t need them active. Use your iPhone for any auxiliary apps; for all others, double-tap the Home button to open the multitasking screen and swipe up on the app screens to quit them.
Set Auto-Lock to “Never”: To prevent your iPad’s screen from automatically locking, go to Settings > General > Auto-Lock and change your setting to “Never.”
Use good pre-amplifier and microphones: Using quality pre-amplifiers and microphones will help you achieve great results. For the recording of “You’ll Return,” I used one API 512c, one Neve 511 and two Chameleon Labs 581s.
Location, location,location: The room in which you record has a big impact on the sound of your final result. For “You’ll Return,” I was fortunate to be able to record in one of the new Production Suites that Berklee College of Music recently built in Boston.
Back up your session: After each day of recording, use a program like Ecamm Network’s PhoneView to back up your app’s files for redundancy.
When it comes to post-production, mastering is a key element for any contemporary music project. While it’s possible to achieve some decent results directly in Auria, I recommend using a dedicated mastering tool instead. Positive Grid offers Final Touch ($20), the first real mastering app for iPad that features all the traditional tools of a professional mastering application.
Final Touch gives you full control over your final mix via two full multi-band equalizers (one pre and one post), a reverb, a multi-band compressor, a stereo imager, and a maximizer. It comes with a good selection of presets, and enables you to save your own presets, too. Sonically, this mastering app is very robust. It can’t currently compete with more professional (and also much more expensive) computer-based mastering tools such as iZotope Ozone, but overall I find it easy to use and extremely powerful for any work I do on the iPad.
Interoperability and process
As we all well know, interoperability between apps on the iOS platform can be convoluted and complicated (ever tried to edit the same document in Pages and Word for the iPad?). When it comes to audio production though, things work reasonably well. The main audio apps (including Cubasis, Auria, and Final Touch) can send mixes and multitrack projects to some of the most popular cloud services such as Dropbox and SoundCloud, FTP servers (Final Touch), as well as via iTunes file sharing and email. AudioCopy (an SDK for moving audio files between apps) is also available as a valid alternative to cloud-based sharing for mono or stereo tracks. These options make sharing tracks and mixes among different applications really easy.
Because of some of the limitations of iOS, it is vital that you plan your sessions meticulously. For my sessions I usually do all the MIDI pre-production in Cubasis. This is where I lay down my MIDI tracks (both final and/or temporary). Cubasis offers great MIDI features and some good audio tools. Once my MIDI tracks are ready I render them as audio and export them as audio stems via DropBox. The next step consists of opening Auria, creating a new session, then importing all the tracks previously exported from Cubasis from my Dropbox account.
In the case of “You’ll Return,” Ella sent me the pre-production temporary audio tracks via Dropbox, so all I had to do was import them from my Dropbox account into Auria. With the temp tracks (drums, piano, bass, and guitar) in Auria, I started tracking and replacing drums and bass in the same session. I highly recommend tracking them together in order to get a more solid groove (the drums was placed in an isolation booth for better separation). I then proceeded to record the guitars (electric and acoustic), then the background vocals, and finally, the lead vocal. All the editing and mixing was done in Auria and the final mastering in Final Touch. From Final Touch, it was a breeze to send the final mastered mix to SoundCloud.
After each day of recording I make sure to back up the session using Ecamm Network’s $30 PhoneView, a small Mac utility that allows you to see, manage, and copy the content of the packages of the apps installed on your iOS devices. As the recorded sessions are stored in the Documents folder inside the Auria package, to back them up I need only drag the Session folder to my Mac’s hard drive.
While using the iPad for recording a band might not be for everyone just yet, I am always surprised by the quantity and quality of the work I manage to do on this little device. I also think that, to a certain extent, having boundaries and limitations can make us more focused and our creativity more inspired. Overall I am extremely confident about the future of this platform for professional music production, particularly considering that this is a tool that is still in its “toddler” stage. In fact, I am finishing designing a new course called “Music Writing and Production with the iPad” for Berklee College of Music. An online version of the course is scheduled to be released in Janury 2015 for Berklee Online.
There is no doubt in my mind that this is the future of creativity in music production, and this toddler is fast racing toward adulthood.