AudioCopy Enabled Apps
The iOS platform has been excellent for music creation apps. The touch interface lends itself to creative new workflows. Cool music apps on their own are fun and inspiring, but Sonoma Wire Works went a little deeper by creating the AudioCopy/AudioPaste SDK, which allows apps to pass audio files back and forth. There is an additional format started by Intua that uses the general iOS pasteboard, but it can get complicated keeping track of which apps support one format over the other, or even both. Here I will focus on the more widely implemented Sonoma format. This inter-app collaboration greatly expands the iPad and iPhone's capacity to become a virtual studio to record your next mega hit. Most of these apps are universal or have both iPhone and iPad versions. I have included apps that lend themselves to many styles of music, don't require a huge learning curve, and generally all work really nicely together. Are you ready to rock?
GarageBand who? Your choice of digital audio workstation, or DAW, doesn't matter as much as the sounds you put into it. While GarageBand is popular, it doesn't support ACP. It will work with the General Pasteboard and some ACP apps, but on the other hand, it's also gigantic. MultiTrack DAW is a universal app that is expandable to 24 tracks and was just updated to handle 24 bit recording. Its UI is very simple and easy to use, but this DAW has powerful features focused on working with your tracks. MultiTrack DAW also has the most options for opening and exporting your jams, and as a bonus also supports the Intua Pasteboard. Want the ability to record eight tracks simultaneously on your iPad? Trust me, this app's crazy.
Do you miss those GarageBand instruments? So do I. Let's start with NanoStudio's Eden subtractive synth, TRG-16 trigger pad, sampling, sequencer, and effects. The drum triggers are good for pounding out rhythms, and you can get a lot of composition done using just this app. NanoStudio is a universal app that is deep and worth looking at if you want a good combination of quality trigger pad and synth instruments.
Here's another all-in-one studio environment that packs an entire table full of virtual music gear onto your iPad. Tabletop comes with 11 devices, including a tone matrix, pad sampler, keyboard, and turntable that you can arrange at will on your virtual table. You can also change how everything's wired up. The app is expandable to over 25 pieces of gear for your collection through IAPs. There are a lot of customizations possible given the modular environment. You can also ACP your own files into a few different places, put your own songs on the turntables, throw some effects into the mix, and then of course, paste the whole thing back into MultiTrack DAW for even more fun.
A different take on the complete music production suite, iSequence is for the most part all step sequencer, which is good news if you aren't the best keyboard player. You also have the option to program in real time with a keyboard or pads. This app takes a little more getting used to, but gives you a lot of control over every note you put in. There are also additional sound banks available through IAPs split up by genre. The included sounds cover a wide range of instruments, but the acoustic bank in particular has a lot of traditional sounds that are hard to come by in most other apps. It's worth noting that there is an iPhone version that is a little more crowded, and doesn't have the keyboard option. It also uses the non-Sonoma Pasteboard instead and hasn't been updated for a long time, but still works well.
EasyBeats 2 Pro Drum Machine - Beat or Program Drums!
For a less complicated workflow, we can record the traditional way. You start with the drums. EasyBeats 2 is universal, and as the name implies, not too complicated. In addition to tools for quickly laying down beats using live low-latency pads or a grid, I usually go to this over the many other drum machine apps I've tried due to one function: choking hi-hats. An open hi-hat followed by a closed hi-hat is silenced. So many drum machine apps overlook this basic functionality. EasyBeats also offers swing, a metronome, time signatures, pitch control, and an awkward, yet possible way of adding your own sounds.
Now if drumming using your own sounds is what you really want to do, this iPad app is just the thing. It also looks like a funky match-3 game. You get dual 16 step sequencers that can be bridged for 32 steps, lots of effects to process your found sounds, and a perfect blend of functionality and design. You just tap the bubbles where the sound is going to go, then make your sound. You can literally make an awesome beat in 30 seconds using just a pen.
Then if you want an even crazier interface, there's PixiTracker (universal). Alexander Zolotov made SunVox, which is a great but insanely complicated music app (also ACP-enabled). Then he made this. If you are new to the idea of a sequencer, start here. Place some rows of kitties, doggies, and flowers in just the right places, watch the full-screen animations sing your masterpiece, then paste it into your DAW and wipe that smile off your face.
After all that rhythm's laid down, it's time for some melody. We'll start with some nice acoustic guitar. You can't beat the warm sound of GuitarStudio. It covers all the necessary unplugged guitar sounds and plays very naturally. This one is iPhone only, but plays very nicely on the iPad. To me it feels more like a real guitar on an iPad with all of that extra surface area. Plus you have the ability to hit that 2x button when it's time to get fancy.
This is the electric guitar brother of GuitarStudio. The layout is the same, with both clean and dirty guitar sounds represented. There are also eight effects pedals to play through, including a wah pedal that engages by tilting your device. Both of these apps allow string bending, muting, and they sound very close to the real thing. ACP works just as well on iPad as iPhone for getting your sounds out and into the rest of your ACP apps.
Now what if you have a real electric guitar you want to use? The king of AudioCopy/Paste amp simulators is AmpKit (universal). There is both a free version and a paid version which comes with some of the available IAPs. There are also a couple bass amps available. The modeled amps and effects are based on real pro equipment, and sound awesome as long as you have a decent guitar connection. The bottom line is that this app lets you do all the crazy things you want to your signal path. Effects can be switched around, put before or after the amp, microphones can be moved, etc. This is all most excellent by itself, but with the addition of ACP, you can add sounds made from your other ACP-enabled apps into AmpKit to run through the gear or to use as backing tracks. So you can take that kitty/puppy beat you made in PixiTracker, send it through three different distortion pedals and a Marshall amp, then send the mangled mess on to its next fun stop.
SHREDDER - Synth for Guitar
At this point if unplugging your guitar so you can get to the keyboard tracks seems like a major bummer, don't worry. Technology is on your side. Shredder for iPad or iPhone lets you play synth parts with a guitar. Yes, you read that right. Just like any expensive guitar MIDI pickup, Shredder is monophonic, meaning you can just play one note at a time. Shredder has added a chord function to allow you to build chords anyway. The included synth sounds are good, but another surprise from this app is that with it you play other music apps using your guitar, even drum machines.
Time for some real keyboard tracks to fill things out. There are a ton of choices when it comes to iOS synth apps. NLogSynth and NLog MIDI Synth, its iPhone counterpart, are virtual analogue synths that have a very wide range of useful sounds including leads, bass sounds, and pads. There are also many oscillators and parameters for tweaking. It sounds very warm and professional and packs all of the features you should ever need in a synth, including an X/Y pad and velocity control accomplished by how high the keys are pressed.
If you need another synth app, Sunrizer is another pro-sounding choice. Another ACP-enabled app that has both an iPad and iPhone version, Sunrizer also has great features as well as warm sounds. What sets this app apart is that the iPad version has everything basically on a single screen, making tweaking a bit easier. It's also faster working with the preset list with buttons that bring up similar groups of sounds. A fast MIDI learn feature lets you assign any of the app's knobs or switches to external controllers.
If you can't play keyboard or guitar, you can still make those melodies. ThumbJam (universal) is a unique instrument that you play by tapping the screen. Basically the whole screen is a keyboard and you can control other aspects of your sound like volume, vibrato, and pitch bends by moving your device around or shaking it. There are lots of instruments to choose from or download for free and you can choose to limit the screen to certain scales, keys, or chords. No wrong notes for you!
When it comes time to record vocals, you could just record into your DAW. For more fun you can use a specialized app and paste it in. If you want to sing harmonies or beatbox, a looper comes in handy. Loopy HD is easy to use, and powerful enough for both live and experimental looping sessions. Plus with AudioCopy/AudioPaste, you can import loops from other apps as well as exporting a set of mixed loops into a new app. With an audio and visual metronome, tempo matching imported sounds, and smart touch controls, it's easy to make sure all of your loops are in sync. Did I mention ACP supports stereo tracks? So does Loopy. Loopy HD is a universal app, even though there is a note in the app's description that claims otherwise.
On the other hand, if you disapprove of your voice as much as I do, you want an app that takes care of pitch correction, harmonies, and effects. This universal app does all of that in real time. One pad gives you control of the effects, ranging from reverb to bit crusher. Another pad controls the harmonies, of which there are five styles to choose from. You can import backing tracks from iTunes, SoundCloud, or AudioPaste. There is a lot of control built into this app for producing an effected vocal track.
This universal app, even though it mostly just covers various dance music styles, is just too much fun to keep off the list. It is just like a hardware touchpad Kaossilator at a fraction of the price. If you can get past just playing with the preset rhythms and dancing to the disco lights, it is also a powerful music making tool. You can import your own sounds via ACP and play them back using the X/Y pad mixed with four other instruments. Kids love it, too!
These apps should cover all of the sounds you need. If you still need some inspiration, you could try NodeBeat HD or NodeBeat for iPhone. This is a generative music app with nodes all over the place that you could just listen to. You can also choose to build your own node universe with full control over gravity, speed, proximity, scales, waveforms, and you get the picture. As with all of these apps, you can export your creation with Sonoma AudioCopy. However, if you want a different sound you could use another radical iOS audio technology, Core MIDI, to send the note information in the background to an app like ThumbJam to hear what your composition sounds like with, say, a trombone.