Song ideas are fleeting. When there is no digital audio workstation (DAW) on hand, you are compelled to record the tune you’re humming, the melody you’re playing, or the riffs you’re strumming on your smartphone or tablet so to keep yourself from forgetting them and to serve as a reference until you are able to actually lay down the tracks, mix them, and produce the finished song. Mobile audio workstations (MAWs) let you complete the entire production using just your smartphone or tablet, making the process significantly faster. The best part is that since MAWs are loaded onto mobile devices, you can produce a complete song from anywhere—even if you’re not in a studio and/or don’t have a computer with you—in one sitting, using only one device and one uni ed platform. There are already tons of MAW apps, but here, we focus on my top three.
GarageBand is perhaps the most painless tool for making music on mobile devices. Not only is the interface incredibly easy to get the hang of, GarageBand for iOS basically has everything you need right out of the box from virtual instruments, to a built-in recording interface, to a track editor, to sharing and exporting options.
The coolest thing about GarageBand is that it features a wide range of instruments that you can play and record with directly on your device. This includes the drums, the keyboard, the guitar, the bass guitar, synths, the drum machine, and even orchestra instruments like the violin and the cello. Just pick your poison, let your friends pick theirs, and you can instantly have a jam session like a real band using just your iPhones, iPods and iPads over a Wi-Fi or Bluetooth connection.
You can sync each device to the same tempo and key, record your jam, and each track automatically appears on the device of the “band leader” to mix and share the finished product to the rest of the gang.
Apart from a heap of virtual instruments and a built-in audio recorder that uses the mobile device’s mic, a track editor is also provided with the app. This gives you full creative control over the musical regions of your song and you can make sure that certain instruments only appear in select portions just by trimming and arranging tracks. GarageBand also gives you a handy note editor, guitar amp simulators, and ten stompbox effects that you can use to build your own virtual pedalboard.
On top of all these features for music making, GarageBand for iOS comes with iCloud integration, which means you can save your songs and projects across all your iOS devices and any change you make using one device will automatically reflect on all the others. Options for sharing directly to Facebook, SoundCloud, YouTube, and exporting finished songs to iTunes are also at your disposal.
FL STUDIO MOBILE HD
A descendant of the old FruityLoops desktop DAW, FL Studio Mobile HD lets you create and record multi-track audio projects using the built-in instruments and sampler tools. Actual instruments, too, can be used to make music on this app since it supports mobile audio interface systems.
The interface is a wee more complicated than good ol’ GarageBand, but for users who want a higher level of control over their audio projects and a little more room to wiggle, using FL Studio Mobile HD is a good way to level up.
Loaded onto the app are 133 high quality studio recorded instruments that cover a wide spectrum of genres, from classic to electronic. It has a pretty cool accelerator-enabled function where you can pitch bend your notes just by tilting your device.
FL Studio Mobile HD gives you more control over your song as it lets you edit not just tracks, but also bars and even individual notes. The Track Editor is where you can add, duplicate, trim, reverse and delete audio tracks. Each layer has its own volume, pan, mute, and solo controls, as well as an individual effect bus. There’s also a fully configurable metronome with tempo and time signature settings. The Step Sequencer, meanwhile, enables you to record only one measure of a beat or melody and re-loop it to construct an entire song. You can even tweak the pitch and velocity of each step. The Piano Roll Editor is the note-level editing tool, letting you write, move, duplicate, lengthen or shorten individual notes with the use of gestures.
To help you give your songs a bit more punch, FL Studio Mobile HD is packed with real-time effects, such as Limiter, Reverb, and Delay. You can also play around with EQ to modify the bass, mids, and trebles to perfection.
Best of all, if you have FL Studio on your computer, you can export your mobile projects to the desktop version and continue your work there. Aside from exporting in FLM (project) format, you can also choose to export MIDI and WAV files. iTunes file sharing is supported, and the iPhone version is compatible with Akai SynthStation 25.
AmpliTube turns your iPad into an on-the-go practice amp with real-time multiFX. It emulates the tones of different kinds of amps and guitar effects so that you are able to make your guitar sound as if you’re connected to an actual amp or effects unit instead of a tablet. It also serves as a mobile editing suite that lets you record and produce tracks.
Out of the box, AmpliTube is equipped with 11 stompbox effects: delay, fuzz, overdrive, wah, envelope filter, chorus, anger, phaser, octave, noise filter, and distortion. You also get five amps to boot—clean, crunch, lead, metal, and bass—with five speaker cabinets, one dynamic mic, and one condenser mic.
With these options on hand, you can set up your own virtual pedalboard and rig on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch and customize it—add, remove, and rearrange effects; control parameters; experiment with tones, and lots more— to create a unique sound for your guitar using just your mobile device.
The best part about your virtual rig is that you can keep adding more gear to it—just like a real setup—via in-app purchases, and you can get entire collections or individual gear models. You have a vast catalog to choose from, including official amps from Fender, Soldano, and Ampeg.
Unlike the developers of the two previously discussed apps, IK Multimedia made sure that their customers have audio interface accessories from the same brand that are readily available to be used with the app. iRig and iRig HD are digital guitar interface peripherals that connect your guitar to your mobile device. iRig Stomp looks and works exactly like an actual stompbox, while iRig Blueboard is a wireless interface that mimics the experience of controlling a pedalboard.
There’s a built-in single-track recorder and mixer that can be expanded through an in-app purchase to an 8-track studio with master effects, complete with mute, solo, pan, level and dual send controls.
The latest version of the app, AmpliTube 3, features an in-app purchase called the AmpliTube Studio—the MAW component of the app. It gives you the basic functionality of a full-fledged DAW, with waveform audio region editing and production tools, full track controls, and punch-in recording.
All these features simply mean that AmpliTube lets you create a song from start to finish. You get to compose, practice, arrange, record, mix, and produce your jam without an actual amp, pedalboard, or recording equipment—all you need is your smartphone or tablet, iRig, AmpliTube, and your mighty axe.
MAWs are clearly the most efficient way to maintain musical momentum without sacrificing experience and quality, yet putting the prime on portability. These tools, perfect for the musician on-the-go, are just some of the apps for mobile music making. As I said, there are a lot more, and frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the numbers rise and the features get more sophisticated over the next few months, what with the ever-increasing rate of innovation we have for mobile devices.