Beyond GarageBand: iOS Recording
Date: November 22, 2013
Last week, we talked about some microphone options and ways to get audio into an iPad. There are a wide range of setups, from a simple single microphone to a full digital audio workstation, that let you record the audio that you want to work with and share. The next question is what apps to use to record, edit, and produce it. Like with the microphones, the best option will depend on how in-depth your project. You can use a very simple process to record a quick example for playback in rehearsal, but you may want to do more editing and production before you publish to the web. This is a very small sample of some of the tools that you have at your disposal however complex the process.
Now that it's free for devices running iOS 7, GarageBand is the default for recording audio. If your goal is to take a quick recording for immediate playback, GarageBand is an easy way to accomplish this. It's helpful to remember what GarageBand was designed to do, though-- let people write a basic song with minimal music or audio experience. The audio feature is designed to let the living room songwriter put a vocal track or guitar track on top of their synthesized drums or strings to finish their demo-- not be a full-featured audio editor. Like its big brother desktop version, GarageBand's strengths are in synthesis, not audio. Luckily, there are other options that work with GarageBand.
The Workflows-Leaving GarageBand (and Coming Back)
Because iOS works fundamentally differently than do either the Windows or Mac platforms that we're traditionally used to, there are a couple of things to consider before we start using apps in combination. The key is that where we're used to using one program on a desktop or laptop to accomplish our tasks (and occasionally we might add a plug-in here or there to extend the function of that program), apps tend to be more single-task. For that reason, you may use multiple apps what you used to do in one program.
At first, this may seem unnecessarily complicated and annoying. After you get used to the idea, though, the idea of combining forces between multiple apps (some of my peers in the Educational Tech realm have started calling this "app smashing") has some advantages. For example, instead of buying a one-size-fits-all solution which may be a compromise of certain features, you can choose your favorite app for recording, another for editing, and another for the sweet, sweet reverb that you love. Additionally, since they're much less expensive ($3.99 for an audio app is not uncommon, versus several hundred dollars for a piano patch for a desktop DAW), it's easier to experiment and find the tools you like.
Moving audio between apps is not as complicated as you may fear. Unfortunately, iOS doesn't let us save directly to the "Music" section of the iPad, which is controlled by iTunes. Because of this, you may have to occasionally use your e-mail as a bridge between apps-- e-mail a file out of one program, for example, and open it from e-mail in another. This gets messy both in creating unnecessary e-mails and having to worry about how big the audio is. Far simpler is to use apps which are compatible with AudioCopy/AudioPaste. This is a common audio language which apps have started to adopt in order to be able to share audio data amongst themselves. This became a much more integrated ability in iOS 7, but it's still a huge advantage to have apps which know how to shake hands and pass your audio data back and forth. GarageBand, by the way, will allow you to paste audio in from AC/AP apps. You cannot copy audio from in GarageBand to paste to another app, though.
Beyond the simple handshake language, Retronyms also created an app called AudioCopy based on the language. The AudioCopy app is a clipboard to store audio clips from AC/AP-enabled apps. Since iOS doesn't let you move audio from your recording apps into the Music Library, this is a place where you could store recorded sounds that you wanted to use in rehearsal on a regular basis-- warmup tracks or cue pitches if you're warming up away from the piano (or without a piano player), for example. This app is not required to use any of the other AC/AP apps.
(AudioCopy from Retronyms)
I Want My Audacity
If you've had any interest in computer-based recording, chances are that you've used or at least know about Audacity. The ubiquitous open-source audio program has been the basic quick-and-dirty recording and playback tool for both Mac and PC. There is no Audacity for the iPad, nor is there likely to be anytime in the near future. People looking for the equivalent experience on the iPad may want to consider TwistedWave. Audacity users will be at home with the look and function of the audio editing, and while it's not free, it's a very good way to accomplish the same trimming/editing tasks for a simple record and playback job.
TwistedWave - Look famiiar?
The Portable Studio
As we talked about last week, you can use the iPad as a full digital recording studio with the proper hardware. If you have multiple microphones involved and are looking for an ability to do a complete mix, you need a more robust toolkit. Again, GarageBand could do this, but there are more desirable options available. If you have an iPad interface or hardware device that you're using to connect your microphones, that hardware likely came with a multitrack recording app. The heavyweight champion, though, is undoubtedly Auria. A full 48-channel recording and production environment, Auria is the full DAW experience on the iPad. By app standards, it's positively exorbitant, weighing in at $49.99 (plus more in-app purchases). By DAW standards, though, that's not much at all to pay for the software-- compare to Cubase, for example.
Again, as with hardware, consider your goals. If you're looking to record in rehearsal for instant feedback for your ensemble, GarageBand or TwistedWave will accomplish these things easily. If you're recording multitrack/multi-mic audio to produce for a website, conference submission, or audition, Auria may be worth the investment.
A Nod to the King
If you have an interest in taking your iPad audio knowledge to the cutting edge, I highly recommend subscribing to iOS Music and You. Chip's blog is full of reviews, workflows, interviews and suggestions. His iOS Music Weekly updates are required reading for iOS recording enthusiasts. Most of what's there is oriented to the "commercial music" production realm, so it may not map directly to our choral needs, but there is still plenty of gold to be found here for all musicians.
What About You?
What audio apps are you using?