A recent article on Music Radar caught my attention, mostly due to the thought provoking title – “Is Your DAW The Wrong Place To Write Your Music?” In reality, that proposition was really a way to frame the introduction of two new pieces of software – Jamdeck and Ignite. Along the way, the developers gave some interesting ideas about the downfalls of taking a new song from start to finish in a standalone DAW. They cited the feeling of overwhelm that can come with so many options, the distractions that come with choices in front of you, and the complexity of the platform that might just prevent you from moving forward in a fluid fashion. Some of this may depend on your experience level – there’s no doubt that modern desktop DAWs require a serious learning curve; if you’ve done this work, you’ll be able to work more efficiently in this environment. At the same time, even the most experience musicians sitting behind a DAW can fall victim to distraction and overwhelm; I can’t help but think that there might be some truth to their points.
Issues In The Process
Some of the issues surrounding music creation on a DAW come from the process around the platform. Think back to the analog age of creating music in a studio – musicians came into the studio with their physical instruments, recorded their performance, and the engineers took care of the production after the fact. When we’re faced with electronic instruments, studio tools, effects, and more all in one package, our brains start thinking about production alongside musical creation, if not before we write a single note. This is a distraction that will extend the writing process, if not dilute the quality of our music. There are compromises depending on the style of music that you’re creating – for example, if you’re writing electronic music, then the creation of synth patches might be an essential part of the creative process. When we start forgetting about music in favor of production value though, it’s time to question our intentions and revise our process.
Changing The Equation With iOS
While we could certainly debate the blame of the DAW in these issues, there’s no doubt that they are things that musicians face and in many ways, iOS apps have changed that equation. As music became a viable platform on iOS, a number of folks cited the benefits of taking music creation in your pocket. The mobile element is certainly an advantage, but as the world of iOS music has evolved, it’s not the only thing making this platform a great place to take a song from start to finish. There are distinct factors that iOS music brings to the table that we won’t find elsewhere, and these are things that keep people thinking musically. In several ways, iOS has gotten past some of the troublesome elements that prevent folks from going from start to finish on a desktop DAW.
iOS Music Apps As Stand Alone Instruments
Without a doubt, an iPad or iPhone is a perfect place to start a project; in many ways, it harkens back to the days of physical instruments in an analog studio. Just like an instrumentalist might sit down with a guitar or piano, each app is an individual instrument where someone can develop a musical idea. You’re not necessarily worrying about how that instrument will fit into the mix, you’re coming up with riffs, chords changes, and patterns. When you open a synth app like Animoog, Sunrizer Synth, or Magellan, you may be creating patches, but it’s going to be in support of the music that you’re writing. While you may be dealing with a piece of technology – just like on the desktop – you’re not programming, you’re actually playing music on the app. That’s a key difference between the two experiences that pushes individuals away from production and back into the act of making music.
Fortunately, the diversity that keeps growing on the App Store leaves you with a wealth of options that stay firmly focused on music creation. On the one hand, this certainly relates to your choice of iOS instruments – these days, you’ve got everything from drums to synths, virtual guitars, and more that you can use. As you install more of these apps onto your iPad or iPhone, your device starts looking like a huge room full of instruments free for jamming. It also relates to the different ways that you can make music on your iOS device; in many ways, all type of musicians can jam along. If you’re looking to make some drums, you can sequence something on a drum machine like FunkBox, you can loop audio recordings on something like DrumJam, or you can play your beat on iMPC. The bottom line is that all these options focus on the act of making music, not production.
More Focus Within iOS
One of the issue around working from start to finish within a DAW is a lack of focus, something that you’re not going to experience on an iOS device. Your focus is not split between a million different options – you’ve only got one app open at a time. When you’re coming up with with a series of chords in an app like SoundPrism, you’re not presented with options to pan the sound, automate the levels, or add a filter – you’re simply figuring out which chords sound good one after another. Coming up with a bass part in an app like BassLine doesn’t require you to try out any number of plug-ins or flip through a million different patches, you simply decide which notes give you the best foundation. When many of us hit an iPad for the first time, the lack of multiple window can be a bit disconcerting, but that forced focus has some distinct musical benefits.
This isn’t to say that an iOS music app won’t leave you without any technical choices – any significant iOS music app is going to give you a host of options within the app. You’re just less likely to face the same sort of distractions and loose your ability to think about the music. All the decisions that you make will get you to one end though; you’ll be making changes that will result in the development of a single musical idea. While you’re working in a DAW, you’ve got an overwhelming amount of options that you can apply to any number of tracks. It’s very easy to be thinking about the reverb that you’d like to place on the drums while you’re trying to create a great lead line. The more that you think about that reverb, the weaker your lead line becomes. When you’re creating a melody in an app like SampleTank, you might have the option to put a little reverb on your lead instrument, but you won’t even have the drum track in your sight. Once again, you’ll be presented with less distraction in the iOS world, giving you the opportunity to set your sight firmly upon the music.
iOS DAW Solely As A Production Space
When you’re not doing all of your creation within your DAW, its purpose becomes much more focused – your DAW becomes your production space. This is the point where you can take all of the musical pieces and think about the mix, worry about automation, apply effects, and more. You may end up returning to another iOS app to create more musical material, a natural step once you start putting the pieces together. The purposes of these apps remain separate though – you DAW app is about production and your iOS instruments remain focused upon musical creation. Of course, you could always send your iOS creations out to a desktop DAW for production, which is probably an ideal combination – you get the focus of using your desktop DAW for just a production space along with the power it holds. The nice thing about starting an idea on an iPad or iPhone is that you always have the option to finish it on the same device using a DAW app.
There are some iOS DAWs that attempt to recreate the desktop experience, diluting the advantage of treating each app as an individual instrument. When you work in NanoStudio, GarageBand, BeatMaker 2, and similar apps, you’ve got virtual instruments embedded in the DAW, so once again, you run the risk of dealing with distraction and overwhelm. You still have a limited number of instruments and effects that can be applied though; some may see this lack of options as a disadvantage, but it certainly hacks the overwhelm. As we move into the Audiobus age and beyond, this will most certainly change and at least some iOS DAWs will start to resemble the desktop even more closely. This may be a different discussion at that put, but for the time, we certainly have the advantage of simplicity on our side.
Where Is The Right Place To Make Your Music?
This all leads us back to the original question – is a DAW the wrong place to write music? The answer largely comes down to personal choice and your musical needs. A DAW such as Ableton Live, Reason, or Logic may be the perfect spot for some artists to create their music, but the bottom line is that it’s just not for everyone. Using an iPad or an iPhone may provide the focus, clarity, and vast musical possibilities that an artist craves, but users looking for a more comprehensive experience might be disappointed. A combination of both platforms might even be the smartest choice, bringing the best of both tools into one creative endeavor. In the long run, it’s probably best for a musician to weigh the pros and cons of each environment and make that decision for themselves.
With that being said, I do think that the iOS environment holds some distinct advantages over desktop DAWs that will only get better with time. The arguments against iOS music production, like a lack of power and a convoluted workflow are quickly becoming things of the past; in the coming years, it’s pretty likely that we’ll see an iPad comparable to a laptop as a music creation tool. The additional benefits of focus, less overwhelm, and a music centered process give iOS devices a huge advantage that many people can use. If you’ve got a tremendous amount of discipline and a sturdy work ethic, then maybe you can force yourself to stay focused upon musical creation on a desktop DAW. More than likely though, a desktop DAW will draw our attention to the shiny things sparkling in the background, while an iOS device will keep us thinking about music, and isn’t that why we do this in the first place?
It’s a pretty big question that will most likely result in some very personal and distinctly different answers . . . so what’s the right place for you to make music? Are you sticking to your desktop production studio until the end of time? Have you adopted the brave new world of iOS music, choosing to make your music on the go? Maybe you prefer a combination of the both, starting ideas in one venue and then taking them over to the other platform to finish the song? Let us know where you stand on the issue – LEAVE A COMMENT and let us know what the best place is for you to make music.
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