Modern technology has changed how we communicate with each other, how we access news, information, entertainment, and has also removed the distance between musician and music producer. Gone are the days when you had to book studio time to record your ideas under the tutelage of a tech who actually knew how all of that mammoth equipment worked. Your other option in the day meant laying out tens of thousands of dollars on a “home studio” but there was still a significant learning curve with the gear. In the last few years this technology has gotten smaller, considerably more user friendly, and is remarkably cheaper.
It is now fairly straightforward to get your musical ideas into a digital file that can be uploaded and shared with as many people as you want. The one device that many don’t think of when considering their options for home recording is Apple’s iPad. Smaller and more portable than even a laptop, the iPad will surprise you when it comes to home music production. I will walk you through some of the considerations and the possibilities. Keep in mind that due to the sheer number of gadgets and applications, this will not be an exhaustive list of ways to go but should certainly cover some of the primary methods and requirements.
So, we will work on the assumption here that you have (or have access to) an iPad as well as the instruments, mics, and a song all ready to record, either by yourself or with a band. This is an important distinction as it is slightly more straightforward to record on your own one piece at a time than with a full band so we will work with that. The first thing that you will require is some form of an audio interface that will allow you to connect instruments and then send that data to the iPad for recording.
The easiest and least expensive way is to use an iOS compatible interface. iRig from IK Multimedia makes many different models for just this task. Some models like the iRig HD or HD2 are for guitars whereas the iRig PRE XLR are for microphones. The iRig Pro on the other hand will work for instruments like guitar and bass as well as microphones (both dynamic and condenser as it has phantom power capabilities) and midi instruments. This will allow you to potentially record guitar and bass directly into your iPad or you can mic your amps and input the audio that way. It will also work to record vocals as well as keyboards. It comes with both Lightning connectors and the older 30-pin connection, so no matter which iteration of the iPad you have, you are in business.
Simply connect the interface to your iPad and then plug your instrument or mic into the interface. If you have a USB interface rather than an iOS specific one, you will need an adapter (often called a camera adapter) that goes from USB to either Lightning or 30-pin which then plugs into the iPad. Other than that, the basics are the same whichever audio interface you use. Once this is set up and ready to go, you will need an app on your iPad to do the recording, mixing, and outputting to a digital file.
There are several apps available from the App Store including Apple’s own GarageBand. The iRig units should also come with access to apps like Amplitube and/or iRig Recorder although these are the free versions and you would need to upgrade to get access to the extras needed for this endeavour. Other apps include Auria, Harmonic Dog, Studio Mini, and Cubasis among several others. All have features you may or may not require so I would suggest trying out some of the free versions to see which might suit you best and then going with that. I will continue this blog under the assumption that GarageBand is being used and that is the app in the accompanying photos.
Once everything is ready to go, it is now up to you to input the music. Open GarageBand and start a new song. With GarageBand, you can use pre-set drums (select drummer) and that is the simplest way to get your foundational rhythm in place. If you have an electronic drum set you can also run a ¼” line out from your unit’s control module into your interface and record drums that way. A third way to get drums into your composition is via programmed touch controls in the app or by connecting a midi controller through the interface and programming the drums that way. A keyboard will work for this as you discover that the keys correspond to a particular drum sound allowing you to map out the full rhythm section that you want.
After the drums are recorded on the first track you can connect a bass guitar to the interface and record on the second track that followed by some guitar tracks and vocals on subsequent tracks. Just like that, you have multi-track recordings of the general song and structure all on your iPad for mixing. Remember that GarageBand defaults to recording 8 bar loops so make sure that you tap the + sign in the top right corner and turn the section setting to automatic so that it will continue to record what you are playing after the first 8 bars.
MIXING & MASTERING
Once you have everything recorded, go through each channel and adjust the slider to set the levels in relation to the other channels. Be VERY careful that none of the channels are clipping, that is to say that they aren’t going hard into the red. The app will try and fix these as it plays them and this creates distortion and noise. When you have each level set where you want it, go to the settings and you can add some master effects like reverb or compression. Mastering is arguably the biggest limitation of the iPad but you can transfer your multi-track song file to your Mac, and using the GarageBand app there, or Logic Pro X, do some more comprehensive mastering of the track. Then you can output the finished product and you are now a music producer. Easy breezy.
The iPad is a great tool for quickly capturing song ideas due to its portability and ease of use but you can certainly use it for more than that. With an audio interface, instruments, cables (and possibly adapters), and a song you can cross over into the realm of the recorded musician. This comes with little relative cost and a bit of trial and error learning. The end results can be quite amazing so keep on plugging who knows where it might lead you.